Bizav meets unique transportation needs in Europe, but faces a complex regulatory environment.
By J Peter Berendsen
While many factors, such as business, medical, and government needs, drive this demand for point-to-point transportation, one underlying reason is that, while the transportation infrastructure is good in countries such as Germany or France, the newer members of the EU in Eastern Europe, such as Romania and Poland, cover vast stretches of land with long surface travel times between cities.
This translates into tremendous economic opportunities for European business aviation. However, in a very environmentally conscious political environment, this also highlights the challenge of growing in a sustainable, safe, and secure manner within increasingly congested infrastructures, airports, and airspace.
Bizav benefits Europe
Laws and regulations are the result of politics, and politics in the EU are complex. The task of explaining to politicians and regulators the benefits of business aviation for the wider economy falls to the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA).
EBAA was modeled after the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), and cooperates closely with its US counterpart. While the media may hype Russian oligarchs and the Mediterranean jetset, with their comfortable lifestyles, as the primary beneficiaries of business aviation, bizav in Europe actually contributes €90 billion to the European economy, employs 375,000 people, provides more than 100,000 unique routes within Europe (3 times more than airlines), and represents 8% of European air traffic.
As one of the most innovative sectors of the aviation industry, business aviation supports local communities, especially in the more remote parts of the continent, with more than 70 medical flights a day. It contributes even more significantly to local communities and economies by flying to places not served by airlines.
Business aviation in Europe is a time machine, as highways, railroads, and airline hubs are increasingly congested, or not available at all, as is the case in the more remote eastern parts of the continent. The European business aviation market ranks second in the world in terms of size, right behind the US. And although the number of potential clients is rather limited due to comparatively higher travel costs, this market segment has seen considerable growth.
Rules and regulations
The complexity of the legal structures that govern the EU and neighboring countries means that, while flying in Europe – whether EU member states or non-EU states – European Union law always has a large impact on business aviation.
Although Switzerland and Norway are not members of the EU, they are subject to the regulations of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which was founded in 2003 as a successor to the Joint Aviation Authorities, and has since taken over air safety-related competences from the member states.
Its tasks range from the development and enforcement of safety and environmental standards in European civil aviation to licensing flight personnel. The relevant political–legal environment is characterized by the increasing influence of EU law.
Business aircraft pilots and dispatchers feel this the most when it comes to slot allocations at 30 European airports with strict capacity limits. A landing in FRA (Frankfurt, Germany) may not be possible at the desired time due to the preference given to airlines. EBAA lobbies for better access to airports and airspace for business aircraft.
While airlines are seen as a public service, business aviation is the last in line for slot allocation. The EU tries to unify ATC and slot allocation in EU airspace, but, in practice, national aviation bodies and ATC units still control each country’s airspace. The Single European Sky (SES) initiative aims to allow for a better use of capacities on air routes and at airports.
Your flight plan will trigger a target off-block time (TOBT). If you are not able to meet it due to an unforeseen delay, you will need a new TOBT, even for as little as a 10-minute delay. This can be achieved through the tower at smaller airports, but in many cases you will have to go through your dispatcher or service provider to request a new TOBT.
EU and country-specific taxation
Another EU directive regulates that commercial operators of flight services are exempt from fuel taxation, whereas flights carried out with company aircraft for internal company business are not. Numerous EU-wide taxes already affect business aviation. European member states also impose taxes at national levels, such as the British air passenger duty (APD) or Italy’s luxury tax.
Finally, national legislation has an influence on business aviation operators. Not only are individual states responsible for issuing air operator certificates (AOCs) – they also have an impact on location and business model decisions due to their respective taxation.
While EU AOCs allow operators to offer their services in the entire EU, some countries offer better conditions than others. This is why many operators register in Cyprus, Ireland, or Malta. These countries also seem to be more flexible when it comes to the national interpretation of EU laws and EASA regulations – for example, in the areas of operational management, licensing, or flight duty times.
These rules are written mainly with the needs and safety requirements of airlines in mind, so they do not reflect the operational realities of a smaller business aircraft operator.
Political environment and business models
Politically, the EU is essentially California to the Nth degree. Business aircraft operators know that European society is increasingly aware of ecological issues, and sensible behavior in this regard is expected from companies.
However, the desire for mobility is just as strong as in the US. Low-cost carriers have had a tremendous impact on leisure travel behavior, and have developed a new market segment by introducing low fares that made air transport accessible to many.
Nevertheless, public opinion on the use of business aircraft is rather critical. Traveling in a business jet is done quietly and is not considered a status symbol that people boast about. Many do not view business jets as necessary and efficient, but as a luxury. EASA is responsible for licensing aircraft for use in Europe.
It works closely with FAA, and aircraft manufacturers take European regulations into account when designing their aircraft. The introduction of very light jets (VLJs) led ultimately to the certification of single-pilot operations, just as the PC-12 cut the path for commercial single-engine flight operations.
Some 70% of all European business aviation flights can be attributed to 6 countries – France, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland. Almost 1/3 of all business aviation flights in these 6 countries are domestic flights (except for Switzerland due to the comparatively small size of the country), and the remaining 2/3 are international flights.
Most of these flights involve economic centers and holiday destinations. Eastern and Central European markets had been experiencing strong growth, but the effects of the war in Ukraine remain to be seen. The EU offers 1400 civil airports suitable for business jets, of which only 500 are served by airlines. Just as in the US, European business aviation uses different business models, from full and fractional ownership to charter and jet card membership programs.
The charter/air taxi business model is the most common model in Europe. Charter flights include the aircraft and the crew, and can be booked via a broker or directly with the operator.
Flying US-registered business aircraft to Europe
As you prepare to fly your US-registered aircraft to Europe, you should work with an established international service provider (ISP) to make sure that you do not overlook any regulation or other requirement that may affect your flight, such as cabotage restrictions or value added tax (VAT) rules.
If you plan to fly into the EU as a Part 135 air carrier, prior authorization by EASA under the third country operator (TCO) program is required. This rule applies to any operator that performs commercial air transport under an AOC that has been issued in a non-EASA member state or territory.
If you file flight plans using the flight types “N” or “S,” then, by EASA’s definition, you are conducting commercial air transport operations. This encompasses airlines and charter companies, including US Part 135 operators. Bear in mind that the reciprocal rule applies to European operators in the US as well. When you land on the continent as a commercial or non-commercial business aircraft operator, expect and be ready for a random ramp inspection.
This may include a check to make sure your traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) meets the latest airborne collision avoidance system (ACAS) standards. EASA is one safety organization for most of Europe, whose authorization is valid in 32 EASA-member states, so there are no more national safety assessments on foreign operators as all countries follow EASA rules.
A TCO actually reduces foreign operators’ administrative requirements when flying to multiple European countries. Member states still grant operating permits and traffic rights, but the EASA TCO safety authorization serves as a prerequisite. A TCO authorization is also required for technical refueling stops (but not overflights), and applies not only to the 28 EU countries, but also Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, and the territories in which the EU Basic Regulation applies, such as the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.
The TCO system is the EU’s approach to identifying, out of a big pool of foreign operators, the few about whom they should be concerned from a safety perspective. EASA considers the US and FAA close partners, so usually this is not a big obstacle. Bilateral aviation safety agreements are in place between the US and EASA, which increases the level of confidence in the regulatory systems on both sides.
Mixed fleet operators
EASA recently eased the paperwork burden for operators of mixed fleets. Previously, EASA distinguished aircraft types by their ICAO designator. For every new aircraft type added to its fleet, an operator was required to seek a separate TCO authorization, which could take up to a month. But EASA now groups most business aircraft types into a single category that includes multi-engine passenger airplanes not used for scheduled operations or operated by multiple crews.
Other specifications mandate that aircraft may not exceed a MTOW of 45,500 kg (100,310 lb), may carry a maximum of 19 passengers, and must hold an EASA type certificate. TCAS/ACAS systems must meet the latest standards, as well as VHF radios (0.33 kHz channel spacing).
While certainly more complex than in the US, flying in Europe is fun, very professional, and rewarding. The variety of cities, landscapes, hotels, and restaurants with their local cuisines makes a trip to Europe a special time in any pilot’s logbook. You will find that, once airborne, the sky is the same, shared with other professionals as they fly over the historic landscapes of old Europe.