Taking your aircraft outside the comfort zone brings challenges such as selecting fuel stops and making sure the paperwork is right. Charter operators with longstanding global remits may have all the contacts needed for ensuring that flights through regions such as Africa and Asia run smoothly. However, many smaller operators based in Europe and the Middle East might be advised to carry out intensive advance due diligence and learn from those that know how to overcome problems and delays in remote regions. EBAN this month details what operators should watch out for when operating outside their regular zone of operations.
The global economic recession may be receding but it has forced some operators in Europe and the Middle East to widen their geographic catchment areas to take in new frontiers in continents such as Africa and Asia.
Germany's DC Aviation, Africa's Phoenix Aviation and Abu Dhabi's Royal Jet are among those who have already built business and experience in Africa where oil, minerals and raw materials have attracted investment and interest from economic super powers such as China.
The continent is attracting growing business that is forcing operators in Europe and the Middle East to look outside their comfort zones. The Maghreb, Arab speaking North Africa, has an affinity with the Middle East while firms from Europe are also prospecting and investing, and therefore demanding private charter services.
European and Middle Eastern operators know they can ill-afford to ignore burgeoning demand as the need for raw materials drives international companies to build commercial relationships with African firms and governments.
But operators have to know how to overcome the security risks and the scarcity of FBO and maintenance facilities compared to the more developed markets of North America, Europe and Australasia. This usually involves taking specialist advice.
DC Aviation confirms that private charter navigation through the problems of Africa requires "tremendous know how of uncommon itineraries."
Steffen Fries, ceo, points out: "Transportation infrastructure on the African continent has still not been fully developed, which is why executives often use business jets to fly directly to their destinations. DC Aviation has a wealth of experience in operating onward flights in Africa but every trip to, from and within Africa has to be meticulously prepared down to the last detail. Passenger and crew safety, in particular, is our top priority. When you service multiple destinations on the continent, though, you also have to consider numerous other aspects, such as board and lodging."
There are complex logistics involved, for instance, in transporting sufficient food and water to provide high quality, on-board service throughout the duration of a week-long journey.
Fries adds: "Before the trip starts, flyover permits and landing slots for individual destinations must be secured, and on-site accommodation for passengers and crew have to be organised. Due to political instability in certain countries, travellers are only booked into safe hotels that are audited in advance. The aircraft is also guarded during layovers. Additionally, DC Aviation employs flight attendants from Africa, who are familiar with local customs and this helps facilitate a smooth flying experience."
The Nairobi-based Phoenix Aviation also puts safety first and says clients prize local knowledge because they know it helps anticipate and avoid problems. The company's Karen Bromham confirms: "The planning of flights is one of the most important aspects of flying, but this is especially true in Africa. One has to consider the location of airports with appropriate runway lengths to suit our aircraft, fuel availability, fire fighting capabilities, and working navigational aids. Luckily, our Citation Bravos can land at many airports that other jets are not able to due to their excellent short field performance."
She adds: "A large number of our flights are carried out at night and, therefore, a safe alternate airport must be identified in case of a diversion. In many parts of central and western Africa this can be a difficult task, especially at night where alternate airports are few and far between."
Her colleague Ingrid Strahammer adds: "From the start, we use an internationally recognised online planner in order to provide our clients with the safest route available. This also ensures that we have the most up-to-date information regarding security, airports, navigational aids and fuel availability. We back this up using internationally recognised planning support service companies."
Getting overflight clearances and landing authorisation can be a major task in Africa, especially over the weekends. "As we carry out many medevac flights where time can be critical, this is an important consideration in our planning. We sometimes find it necessary to re-route our flights in order to get where we are needed in the shortest time possible. However, this may not be the shortest route between two points and may necessitate flying longer routes in order to avoid delays waiting for clearances."
But weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable in this part of the world and stand-by plans may have to be abandoned. Bromham recalls: "An incident which comes to mind is a medevac request we received late one afternoon to collect a patient from Accra, Ghana. By the time the overflight and landing clearances were processed, it was early morning before the aircraft departed from Wilson airport. Our first technical stop was Bangui in the Central African Republic where the weather indicated was isolated thunderstorms throughout the region.
"On approach to Bangui and shortly before joining the final approach, air traffic control asked us to join the hold for an undetermined delay, as there was a broken down fire truck on the runway. After holding for approximately 25 minutes, the truck was finally towed from the runway and we were able to land, though a significant amount of our fuel had now been consumed. Should we have had to divert to our alternate, Younde, we would have had the minimum required fuel onboard and landing would have been problematic due to the inclement weather and unreliability of weather reports."
Clients who have travelled in Africa know that such setbacks may have to be overcome and tend to opt for operators with exemplary safety records.
Phoenix Aviation has worked hard to develop its reputation. It was the first BACA member based in Africa, and in October 2008, it became the first fixed wing private air charter company in Africa to be awarded an ISO accreditation for the provision of domestic, regional and international charter flights, aircraft maintenance and worldwide medical air ambulance charter for both UKAS (UK accreditation) and ANAB (US accreditation).
"We have also been certified with safety accreditations from several other recognised bodies, including Wyvern International, Hart Aviation and IAS UK and SA.
"We have 18 dedicated pilots with years of experience of Africa. All of our aircraft are operated with two crew and cabin attendant when required. Phoenix Aviation is a private executive charter company but has its own maintenance section with engineers and ground staff on-call 24 hours a day."
Phoenix Aviation has also recently been CARB approved. Strahammer says: "This makes us the only company in Africa to have met the international standards they require and receive the certification. We underwent an indepth audit in both flight operations and maintenance in order to qualify and are extremely proud of this achievement."
It regards the very best avionics as essential. "All our jets have avionics including TCAS II and EGPWS," Strahammer adds. "They are JAR OPS compliant, which includes the RVSM. Our Citation Bravos are all equipped with Tandem Lifeports, and we operate air ambulance flights together with AMREF/Flying Doctor Service. AMREF/FDS is the only aeromedical service in Africa with more than 50 years of experience and expertise."
She says AMREF/FDS in partnership with Phoenix Aviation is the first non-European, non-US air rescue provider to receive an accreditation by EURAMI.
Phoenix can also offer a varied fleet which includes three Citation Bravos and four Beechcraft King Air 200s, a King Air 350, two C208s and an AS350 B3. The aircraft are based in HKNW-Wilson airport, which is about five minutes flying time from Jomo Kenyatta.
Royal Jet, which is adding a Lineage 1000 and two more BBJs taking the total to seven by 2014, sees growing potential in Africa. "What we found during the recession is that demand from government missions, heads of state and delegations have increased," says president and ceo Shane O'Hare. "In addition, we have emerging markets in Africa where there is very strong trade despite recession, such as between China and countries in Africa."
The group, jointly owned by Abu Dhabi Aviation Co and the emirate's government, operates a fleet that also includes the mid-range Gulfstream 300, the long-range Gulfstream IVSP and the Learjet 60. It serves corporations, governments, jet-set individuals, royalty and heads of state globally.
O'Hare says the emphasis always has to be on safety, forward planning and comfort but Africa provides exceptional challenges.
Gama Group's Dave Edwards underlines the advice that operators must give priority to constantly developing expertise of different global private charter hotspots.
He says: "A substantial proportion of Gama's flights are over six hours' duration. Experience really comes into play with these flights where the knowledge of which airports and which FBOs to use becomes priceless."
Edwards says that FBO selection is perhaps one of the most important factors. "They can easily make or break a trip for you. You want an FBO that is going to deliver exactly what you ask of them, whether it is a landing permit, ground transport or a quick turnaround, it's imperative that they provide you with that service without your ending up doing the work for them."
Edwards points out that it is "only through experience that you know which ones to use." He advises: "While we have deals with some excellent chain handling agents, sometimes we use small local agencies because in the past we've had the best service from them and they've ensured that the passengers and crew are looked after incredibly well. A strong relationship with a flight support company can also be invaluable for last minute permit requests or for sorting out 'local' arrangements. Our aim is to make the pilot's lives easier by taking care of all the arrangements for them, so that they can focus on safely operating the aircraft and looking after the passengers."
Few small European and Middle East operators can achieve the scale of inhouse expertise demonstrated by Phoenix, DC Aviation, the Gama Group and Royal Jet. They will need to rely on building experience and contacts and listening to experts and people in the industry that travel so much they know the problems and how to avoid them.
Asia is a region that can provide challenges to rival those of Africa. "Asia may be the world's smallest market in terms of business jet infiltration, but it accounts for some of the largest headaches in terms of getting there," says Simon Wagstaff, ceo of the ASA Group, an ASEAN specialist aviation services provider. "Fortunately, there is a growing raft of expertise available to smooth the journey."
He stresses: "Good planning is always vital in aviation, but in Pacific and southeast Asia it is absolutely crucial. Due to the different regulatory restrictions and levels of bureaucracy in the region, as well as varying degrees of proper facilities, it is critical to plan carefully ahead of any flight."
He points out that the range of on-the-ground services and facilities is probably as varied as anywhere in the world. "There are both first-class FBOs and obsolete airfields throughout the region. Knowledge of these as well as the paperwork requirements is vital. Arranging visas, flight plans, landing and overflight permits, as well as sorting out fuel with the different payment schemes associated with each location are daunting tasks for even the most seasoned crew."
Wagstaff adds: "Some civil aviation authorities require no clearance at all to enter their airspace, while some insist on a week or more notice."
Because it is so fragmented, flying around Asia presents many difficulties. Japan and Hong Kong can be problematical to get into and Hong Kong requires its own special insurance policy.
"China is becoming easier to enter, but still requires strict conditions and operators must apply for overfly slots to get in and out. India is challenging because of the sheer volumes of new aviation, so parking is an issue," Wagstaff says.
General aviation is growing exponentially in Asia along with wealth and investment. "Consequently, some governments are relaxing the more stringent requirements imposed on GA flights. Since the region is a patchwork of different styles of governance this process will take more time in certain jurisdictions," Wagstaff warns. "Having strong local relationships is essential and a good company will help operators by establishing lines of credit during their journeys so that crews do not have to carry large amounts of cash in several currencies. We step in and act on our clients' behalf and pay the airport and other fees."
Wagstaff outlined a trip from Paris to Shanghai which meant a European operator had to have a business sponsor in China. He says: "The principals also have to file the usual information, such as name, address, home and cell number. The sponsor will ask for entry permission in a letter to the Chinese government to vouch for you. We can take care of all this."
Most business jets will become thirsty on such a long journey. A common tech stop en route to Asia is Mongolia, where aircraft will refuel and the crew receives the latest weather updates, recent NOTAMS, and any pertinent information for that leg of the trip. The stop lasts approximately an hour and because the passengers do not deplane, they do not require visas.
Flight planning companies will offer a detailed package for clients which include flight plans, winds aloft charts and so on.
But Wagstaff says: "They then contact companies like the ASA Group to see if there is a problem at the destination. The first thing we do on arrival is escort the passengers and their luggage through customs and immigration. Once cleared we assist with the transportation and ensure a seamless transition from the aircraft to their final destination."
Wagstaff predicts: "There is a growing movement throughout Asia to push for easier travel. With so much investment pouring into the region and experienced companies ready to provide a wide range of services, the future for general aviation in Asia looks very promising."
ASA is not to be confused with the ASI Group whose Matt Burdette has compiled a list of what crews need to do in prepping for their flight for a destination. He says: "Google it. Check the security department for info and ascertain whether internal regulations carry insurance restrictions. Consider overflight countries for at least baseline risk issues in case of a medical or mechanical divert."
He says there is a need to evaluate both the physical presence of security measures and overall quality of those arrangements.
"Charter operators really must identify potential risks to aircraft, crew and passengers when they travel outside familiar locations. They should check for changes just prior to departure and ensure there is adequate support in-country, including evacuation procedures if the balloon goes up. An important question is whether the flight department has integrated crisis management procedures."
There is a consensus that thinking ahead is the first priority. "As with any international trip, pre-planning is the key," said Shawn Neckelman, senior trip owner, large aircraft team, Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc.
"Obviously, the longer the trip, the more planning required. What I help my clients do to prepare for complex, multi-leg trips is assist them to plan every detail and think about anything and everything that could happen.
"If you're used to doing the same route over and over and all of a sudden are travelling to a new region, it can be easy to overlook details that may impact the trip. For example, I might ask 'did you remember to arrange for a cell phone that will work in Asia if you are operating to Seoul or Tokyo? Did you arrange for crew visas in locations you are planning to use as tech stops?'"
Neckelman adds: "This is often overlooked because for a tech stop, visas are generally not required, but I always advise clients to arrange for them anyway. I remember a trip where a crew stopped in Novosibirsk, Russia, to refuel. However, that morning the passenger was running late and by the time they got to Novosibirsk, the airport was about to close. They hadn't planned on staying overnight and hadn't arranged crew visas. Consequently, they had to spend the night at a less than ideal hotel at the airport."
Neckelman warns: "It's things like that that can really derail a trip. It's really just not possible to make these kind of trips on your own with all the regulations and requirements you must comply with today. It's essential to work with a service provider that can give you the information you need that may not be obvious to someone less accustomed to travelling to certain areas. For instance, there's a lot more to planning a routing than looking on a globe and identifying tech stops en route. What may look like a suitable tech stop to the less experienced operator could be a poor choice to someone with more comprehensive knowledge. When picking tech stops for clients, we take into account everything that could impact their trip. Fuel price, VATs applied by that country, level of service, any political unrest that could impact the trip."
Neckelman says: "It is essential that you have a solutions provider working with you, as your handler is probably not available 24 hours a day. So if you're on the other side of the world, and your passenger requests a last minute change, you have a 24-7 team available to begin working on the request immediately."