Diligent pre-planning with the help of local ground handlers is paramount when visiting these unique GA operating environments.
By Grant McLaren
While international bizav traffic remains steady to and over India and Pakistan, this is a region of the world which often requires additional planning and day-of-operation precautions. Overflight and landing permits for India and Pakistan are relatively easy and should not take long to obtain, and ground handling services are good at major airports of entry (AOEs), but there can be a number of local restrictions to be mindful of.
Should you wish to visit a joint use civil/military airport in India, official permit lead times range from 20 business days, in the case of navy-controlled GOI (Goh, India), to 30 business days in the case of air force-controlled AGR (Agra, India).
Earlier this year, Pakistan closed its airspace for several months to overflight and landing of GA aircraft due to tensions with India over the disputed Kashmir region. “It was a total shutdown of overland airspace from Feb 28 through to mid July,” explains ITPS Sr Ops Specialist Chris Linebaugh. “Avoiding Pakistan’s closed airspace added 2–3 hours of flight time to operators flying from DEL (Delhi, India) toward Europe.”
Avfuel Account Mgr David Kang adds, “Kashmir is still considered a war zone and both countries have large weapons pointed at this region, so operators should try to avoid it.” Adds UAS International Trip Support Mgr Duke LeDuc, “India can be one of the most challenging operating environments in the world for business aviation.
There can be just so many pieces of the puzzle to juggle in order to make successful trips and avoid day-of-operation delays and potential complications.
In this part of the world it’s particularly critical to focus on advance planning, and to work with capable international support providers (ISPs) and local ground handling services.” Changes to permits are possible in both India and Pakistan, but they tend to be more difficult to make within 24 hours of operation. India, at times, may allow only 2 permit revisions, so ISPs caution that it’s best practice to limit schedule changes in this part of the world.
Ops to Pakistan
Primary bizav destinations include LHE (Lahore, Pakistan), ISB (Islamabad, Pakistan) and KHI (Karachi, Pakistan). Although permits are often issued within 2–3 days with standard aircraft, crew and pax documentation, the situation can change at short notice.
“You cannot rely on the airspace always being open. Besides, sudden reactive moves are possible by the military in terms of closed or restricted airspace,” says Kang.
“Pakistan is not a country we recommend operators travel through unless they have a need to be there. It’s always best to have contingency plans for destination stops, tech stops, or overflight routings.
And, when closed airspace does reopen, it’s not always clearly communicated, unless you’re carefully monitoring FIR NOTAMs.” ITPS recently organized a client trip to 3 destinations in Pakistan – ISB, LHE and KHI – and the operation proceeded smoothly and without issues.
“The operator was initially worried about the trip, so they arranged for a local handling agent to fly with them up in the flightdeck,” recalls ITPS Sr Ops Specialist Jon Wells. “But permits came through within a few days, and there were no real issues, no delays or security concerns, plus ground services were more than adequate. Airport slots were not a factor either, fuel uplifts worked well, catering was organized within 48 hours’ notice, and permit revisions were possible.
After the trip, the operator felt it was a good experience overall.” Jeppesen Vendor Relations Mgr Ian Humphrey says that GA traffic to and over Pakistan remains steady, although at relatively low volume. “Just be alert to pop-up airspace closures and prior permission required (PPR) mandates that can involve several days’ lead time,” he adds.
ISPs point out that there seem to be no restrictions within Pakistan on GA domestic movements, and that cabotage is seldom a factor. However, crew and passengers may need visas, depending upon nationality, and these can take some time to obtain.
Ops to India
Popular bizav stops in India include DEL (Delhi, India), BOM (Mumbai, India), BLR (Bengaluru, India), HYD (Hyderabad, India), MAA (Chennai, India) and CCU (Kolkata, India). In terms of joint use civil/military airports, AGR and GOI are the most visited. ISPs recommend 3 business days for overflight and/or landing permit processing.
Note, however, that this takes up to 7 business days if your aircraft is registered in Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, China, or North Korea. Plan on official permit lead time of 30 and 20 business days, respectively, for landing permits for air force or navy-controlled airfields. “We’re often able to process military airfield permits faster, but it’s best to plan on at least 15 days’ lead time,” advises LeDuc.
Note that operating to both civilian and military airports in India requires a special permit number. GA access can be most challenging in the case of DEL and, especially, BOM. “There are airport slot and parking issues to be mindful of at BOM in addition to routine runway closures and sporadic GA closures,” explains Kang. “Periodic closures of the primary runway began Nov 4 and will be in place Mon–Sat between 0930 and 1730 local through March 2020.
At these times, GA has the lowest priority. Note that these closures may not be announced until a week prior.” If you plan to operate to BOM, it’s best to put in your slot and parking requests at least 2 weeks in advance, and be prepared to move your schedule around. In many cases you’ll not get the slot time, or even the date, you want. The good news for India is that online visas can now be obtained for crew and are normally processed within 4–5 business days.
Online visas, however, are good for only 1 year, as opposed to 5-year-validity visas obtainable at Indian embassies. Another plus, according to ISPs, is that ground handling costs have come down somewhat throughout much of the country. “India had been a much more expensive operating environment, but there’s now generally more competition among ground handlers,” says ITPS Sr Ops Specialist Stephen Bone.
In terms of customs/immigration clearance with pets on board, you’ll need to pre-notify and have all required documentation and vaccinations up to date. “There are specific procedures and requirements, depending upon the airport and type of pet you’re carrying,” remarks Kang. “The customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) officer may show up. However, if the animal inspector does not arrive or the animal inspection room is not ready, your pet may not be cleared.”
Airway planning can be complex within India, as you have Whiskey domestic-only airways as well as 1-way and timed airways to comply with. “A planned routing may work one day but not the next because a timed airway may reverse,” says Humphrey.
There are no airways accessible to GA between India and China, so you’ll need to loop around to the east via Bangladesh or to the west via Pakistan and the PURPA intersection.
Direct routings are not permitted within India, so you must always be on airways. “In some cases, there’s some flexibility in using W domestic airways for international sectors,” says Linebaugh. “In the case of BLR, for example, the only airways in/out are W airways, and these will be approved for international arrivals/departures.
Ground handling, fuel, catering, transportation and tech stops
Ground handling is often excellent within India and Pakistan, and handlers offer the benefit of guiding you through the high levels of bureaucracy here. “India is particularly bureaucratic, and it’s not a very electronic-oriented or online-friendly environment, as lots of signatures and carbon copies are involved,” says Jeppesen International Trip Support Specialist Adrian Owens.
“Ground handlers are indispensable in assisting with filling out required forms, coordinating taxes and fees, and navigating you through a highly complex environment.”
ISPs often recommend fueling on arrival in India and Pakistan, as it’s not uncommon to wait 2 hours or more for a fuel truck. “GA is a low priority for fuel services, and we have operators who show up on the ramp 4–5 hrs prior to departure to ensure fuel delivery,” says Linebaugh. “Be mindful of long departure delays at DEL, where it may take 45–60 minutes just to taxi. This can impact fuel and range for longer-leg trips.”
Good catering with Western options is available at all major AOEs in India and Pakistan, but it’s best to provide at least 48 hrs’ advance notification. For local transport, always use pre-vetted providers. “Traffic here, particularly in Delhi, can be intense and chaotic,” says Kang. “It’s a different level of madness to the rest of the world.” In terms of crew accommodations, you’ll find absolutely luxurious and expensive 5-star hotels as well as very basic 1-star properties, with few choices in between.
ISPs recommend that you take the best hotel available. Tech stops are rare in India and Pakistan, say ISPs. For a tech stop, you’ll need landing permission and permit processing, and possible fuel delays. In India, you’ll pay tax on any remaining fuel on board if your next flight leg is domestic. “There are better and more efficient alternates for tech stops in this region. Instead, use Sri Lanka, the UAE, Oman, and Bangkok,” recommends Humphrey.
Charter and cabotage
In Pakistan you may fly internal legs so long as you don’t carry paying Pakistani nationals on board. India, on the other hand, is stricter with charter and cabotage. “India is sensitive to domestic transport of Indian nationals on foreign-registered aircraft, even on private flights, and you’ll need specific permission,” says Kang. “You must prove the connection of passengers to your company, and it takes longer to process these requests.”
India and Pakistan are unique operating environments. Diligent pre-planning is important prior to day of operation, and you’ll need to have capable ground support set up for each location. “There are so many pitfalls to be mindful of, particularly with India, in terms or airway and airport restrictions, high levels of bureaucracy, and often chaotic conditions on the ground,” says Wells. “In addition, you must ensure you obtain all required clearance numbers.
For departures, for example, this clearance will be issued by ATC, after approval from the military, and you cannot depart without it. On international inbounds, you must have your approved clearance number as you approach the FIR.” Despite the occasional complexities and perceived challenges, India and Pakistan are considered stable operating environments. “We have clients who travel to India every month.
Their missions are successful with pre-planning and capable ISPs and ground handlers,” remarks Bone. “However, having effective contingency planning is always important, and you do have to roll with the punches from time to time.” Linebaugh is cautiously optimistic when looking to the future. “India has not become a more difficult operating environment for GA. In fact, it’s slowly changing for the better, but there’s still lots of bureaucracy and restrictions to deal with compared to other GA operating regions.”