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Cabotage considerations


Regs differ from country to country. Consult with your ISP.

To ensure smooth and trouble-free movements for foreign-registered in-country flights, always double check for applicable cabotage limitations.
By Grant McLaren

In the air travel sense, cabotage is the prohibited or restricted transportation of persons or cargo within a country by a foreign-registered aircraft.

This covers domestic pick-ups and movements between, for example, Paris and Nice in France, Lagos and Abuja in Nigeria, or Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand.

Each country has the right to refuse or regulate movement of passengers within its territory via aircraft registered to another state. Also known as an ICAO Ninth Freedom of the Air, cabotage involves the transport of passengers entirely within the territory of a particular state.

“The challenge for operators on day of operation and during trip planning is understanding exactly how cabotage restrictions apply, as they vary so much from country to country,” explains ITPS Sr Ops Specialist Curt Kurshildgen.

“In most cases, cabotage is permitted in the case of private non-revenue operations. However, while you may often be free to pick up and transport passengers between domestic points, there are often gray areas, complications, and idiosyncrasies to consider that could impact your freedom of movement.”

In order to sidestep potential cabotage-related issues, it’s important to know what you can and cannot do prior to day of flight. “Different countries look at cabotage in different ways,” says UAS Ops Mgr Duke LeDuc.

“In China, for example, GA ops are generally considered to be private flights, based on size of aircraft, so cabotage is generally not an issue for GA. In Germany, on the other hand, all bizav movements are typically viewed as commercial flights, so cabotage becomes more of a consideration.

The official line in Mexico is that you cannot pick up and move passengers point to point, but often this can be arranged with prior approval. If you plan to pick up passengers and move them domestically here and there around the world, our recommendation is to talk with your international support provider (ISP), local ground handler and/or customs officials at destination to understand any requirements or restrictions that may exist.”

Taiwan is particularly strict in terms of cabotage. This foreign-registered Gulfstream G550 will not be permitted to make an internal stop within Taiwan after departing TSA (Taipei, Taiwan).

Cabotage penalties

Cabotage infractions can lead to delays, fines, impoundment of the aircraft, and/or being barred entry to the airspace. In most cases, say ISPs, cabotage infractions are uncovered during the outbound clearance process. If your pre-filed outbound paperwork does not match who’s on board, this can lead to questions, delays, and possible cabotage infraction enforcement.

“Penalties for cabotage infractions vary by country, with the most extreme cases resulting in aircraft impoundment and/or crew and passenger detention,” points out Avfuel Mgr Ops Heath Beasley. “Monetary fines, however, seem to be the more popular enforcement route.”

Kurshildgen also suggests that cabotage repercussions can, potentially, be very serious. “Over the years, we’ve seen fines imposed, rare impoundments of aircraft, and operators being barred from certain airspace for periods ranging from months to years,” he relates. “There was a case on the west coast of Mexico where the crew failed to report a schedule change to the civil aviation authority (CAA).

The aircraft was impounded for days and the crew was ordered to stay with the aircraft. Outside of a major mechanical breakdown, one of the biggest issues an operator can encounter overseas is getting caught operating against regulations and/or without proper approvals.”

Always be mindful to properly declare your operation as either private or charter. “There was a recent case in France where a private operation uplifting fuel mistakenly checked the box for ‘charter’ on the fuel ticket,” adds Kurshildgen.

“The fueler took this to CAA, and then there was some question whether the flight was private or charter. The crew had to prove to authorities that the flight was, in fact, private, causing several hours in delays.”

Charter vs private ops

While cabotage restrictions and enforcement vary by country, private GA flights are usually less affected by cabotage. “Most countries have regulations and protocols in place to allow private operators to move about fairly freely in-country, so long as passengers are related to the company,” says Beasley. “Charter ops, in general, are impacted more severely by cabotage rules.”

Charter operators must ensure that schedules and passenger manifests are reported correctly to pertinent CAAs, and that they have all required approvals for the planned schedule. Additional stops, other than a tech stop, generally require permit re-approval, and this can take as much as 72 hours to accomplish.

Country-specific traps and considerations

cuador is especially tight on cabotage restrictions, and does not allow foreign-registered aircraft – private or charter – to move local passengers within country. “Normally, a private flight cannot pick up and transport passengers within Ecuador, even if the passenger is a company employee or a family member of the aircraft owner,” says Jeppesen ITPS Account Mgr Jodi Tanner-Perkins.

Point-to-point passenger travel may be permitted within Indonesia aboard foreign-registered aircraft, but obtaining permission can be a difficult process, as various agencies need to vet all requests. LeDuc adds that, in the case of Taiwan, internal flight legs are not permitted.

“Taiwan is especially strict in terms of cabotage, and will deny internal flight legs, even if you’re operating as private,” he comments. Asia Flight Services points out that the same set of passengers must generally be carried inbound and outbound to and from Thailand.

You may not ferry a foreign-registered aircraft into Thailand to carry passengers out, or vice versa. “In practice, if you fly into Thailand commercial, you cannot be taken out of the country on a private foreign-registered flight,” adds Jeppesen Business Consultant Nancy Pierce.

“Bangladesh, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar have no current cabotage restrictions,” notes Jeppesen Vendor Relations Mgr Jefferey Rupprecht. “However, Indonesia does not easily allow foreign-registered private or charter aircraft to pick up and move domestic passengers within the country.

In Malaysia, pick-up is generally not permitted if the passenger arrived in the country via a commercial flight. And in Papua New Guinea, no passengers, other than those who arrived in the country on board the aircraft, may be carried on either domestic or international flight legs.” ISPs say that Russia has become more restrictive in terms of allowing internal point-to-point GA movement.

The European Union has a variety of cabotage-related operating restrictions. Prior to departing FRA (Frankfurt, Germany) for an internal flight within the EU, this foreign-registered business jet may need to be temporarily imported.

And Saudi Arabia has its own cabotage limitations, with approvals possible on a case-by-case basis. Manny Aviation Services says that, according to Mexican civil law, if cabotage is detected by the aeronautical authority at the time it’s being committed, or within 24 hours after it has been committed, authorities may order the aircraft to be secured, for which he airport commander must fill out a report specifying the reasons for doing so.

Both Brazil and Japan require operators to secure domestic operating permits for internal movements, but generally do not impose cabotage restrictions on private ops. “This may depend on how the situation is interpreted by the official meeting your aircraft,” cautions Rupprecht.

“At some larger airports in Brazil, they may be more inclined to look at possible cabotage issues, but, generally speaking, cabotage restrictions in Brazil apply mostly to airline ops.” New Zealand is particularly strict on cabotage and interpretation issues – much more so than Australia – and foreign-registered charter operators generally may not fly point-to-point within country.

On the other hand, India and China seem to be liberal in allowing point-to-point domestic charter and private flights, say ISPs. Moving European Union (EU) nationals within the EU on a foreign-registered aircraft flying a private GA leg may or may not be an issue.

ISPs advise that, in some cases, you may need to import your aircraft into the EU temporarily to avoid cabotage issues. “In some countries, such as the Bahamas, foreign-registered charter aircraft normally are not even allowed to make point-to-point movements within the country,” reminds Beasley.

“Mexico, meanwhile, is the age-old gray area in terms of cabotage. It used to be that it was up to local airport authorities to allow or prohibit operations that could be deemed cabotage, and this is still the case at a couple of airports.

By regulation, Mexico generally does not allow point-to-point travel within its borders by foreign-registered operators. Special permits for domestic movements are possible, but are considered on a case-by-case basis.”

Canada seems to have reinterpreted regulations so that cabotage is often possible, depending on particular circumstances. “This is determined on a case-by-case basis and depends upon your specific itinerary,” remarks Kurshildgen.

Best practice is to confirm with your ISP or ground handler, or directly with CANPASS, whether your particular domestic movements and passenger profiles constitute cabotage.”

Best practice tips

“When flying overseas as a private operator, it’s always best practice to avoid last-minute passenger changes,” recommends LeDuc.

“While some operators like to change passengers on short notice, this is best avoided in terms of cabotage. Within the EU, you’ll usually need to obtain clearance from local airport police, and this can increase chances of a flight delay.

We find that, for security and other reasons, many flight departments often don’t allow additional passengers to be boarded outside of the home country.” If you’re flying private to and within Mexico, it’s important to carry a letter, on company letterhead, specifying the relation of each passenger to the company or aircraft owner.

“This became a requirement a couple of years ago, and you’ll need to have this letter before you’ll be able to confirm local ground handling arrangements,” says Tanner-Perkins.


Each international flight is unique, and comes with different challenges to address. As cabotage restrictions and compliance issues vary from country to country, and can change on short notice, it’s critical to understand what is and is not possible in terms of domestic movements. “One of the challenges is that it can be difficult to source definitive information on local cabotage rules,” says Pierce.

“For certain countries, cabotage restrictions are mentioned here and there in AIPs, but they’re not always obvious, and there are many gray areas. It’s best to give yourself a few days to check and verify country-specific cabotage limitations.”

Kurshildgen adds, “Cabotage risks need to be identified early, when you begin to put an international trip together. Make cabotage clearance a priority sooner rather than later.” Still, you’ll not always be able to obtain iron-clad approval for your planned domestic flight movements within country.

“Government officials are not keen on providing guarantees in writing, so you’re more likely to just get a verbal okay,” says LeDuc. “Best practice is to work with your ISP and ground handler to research the situation in terms of flight legs and the passengers you’d like to transport within the country.

ISPs handle a high volume of international movements and know the right people to talk to for getting cabotage requests cleared.” Always be upfront about your particular situation and desired flight schedule.

“Don’t try to make last-minute schedule or passenger changes, or try to circumvent the system, and be mindful that if someone says, ‘Yes, this is fine,’ they may or may not have the authority to make that call,” concludes Beasley.

Editor-at-Large Grant McLaren has written for Pro Pilot for over 40 years and specializes in corporate flight department coverage.