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Flying to the furthest corners of the planet is always going to be challenging. So how do EBAN readers smooth the way? We asked a selection of long-range and not- so-long range operators about their experiences.
Visiting far flung destinations can throw cultural differences into sharp relief as Twinjet's Frauke Schreiber relates. For a flight taking an African head of state on an Airbus into North Korea, the planning at least was straightforward as the passenger had been was invited by the North Korean government.
"On arrival the crew had to surrender their mobile phones, and when one of the crew wanted to go to the corner shop to buy some stamps, they were driven by hotel staff 50 yards down the street and then back again.
"Next they were taken on a 'cultural tour' showing all the highlights and successes of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea under the leader Kim Jong-il and the crew couldn't talk to anyone other than their escort."
According to Schreiber, the company performs a very mixed bag of flights, some long and some here in Europe. "There is no real pattern to the flights that are being booked on the aircraft at the moment. The only continent we haven't been to this year yet is Australia, and that trip is planned for later this year."
ABS Jets has experience flying to many out of the way destinations around the world and can offer an interesting insight into each location's individualities. For example, at Narsarsuaq in Greenland, the main issue is always weather due to high operating minima (ceiling, visibility); in winter there might be a problem with the runway friction coefficient due to the snow and ice. HF-radio is mandatory for flights to and from Greenland. Operators should hire a polar survival kit before setting off.
Entebbe is Uganda's largest commercial and military airport, situated in equatorial Africa. The main worry here would be security. Fortunately communication with the local handler and CAA is good.
A flight to Chittagong in Bangladesh could cause concern about security due to the unstable political situation in the country. Payment for handling services in cash should be expected, as well as for fuel if you do not have fuel release arranged in advance.
Communication with local people is sometimes a little difficult which can result in delays on the ground.
When flying to Agra, a military airport operated by the India Air Force, ABS Jets has managed to gain approval in much less that the 30 days it officially takes for landing at any military airport in India. Operators must also apply for standard landing and overflight permission from the Indian CAA.
"Air Force officers are usually very strict and it is hard to persuade them to give you permission," says director of ground ops Jan Kralik. "There are also no charts available for Agra airport, we got them just days before operation from our local contact in India."
Forrest airport is located in the south of Australia. "Around the airport there is only desert, railway and only few houses – probably one of the most lonely airports we have ever flown into," he says.
Yugorsk-Sovetsky Airport, Russia, is not covered by any usual source of basic aviation information or contacts. Kralik says: "At first, runway analysis was not available, then computed only with obstructions depicted on navigational charts that we had got from our Russian handling provider, but without respect to surrounding terrain due to lack of data. An escort navigator is strictly required who will accompany the crew for the whole trip and stay in Yugorsk."
With a vast amount of experience carrying out flights across the globe, ExecuJet Europe has completed the last round of pilot training for the German Air Force. The final training, on Global Express aircraft, took place in South America, covering eight countries over seven days. Lufthansa Technik chose ExecuJet to provide landing and line training to six Air Force pilots in the necessary skills to become flight instructors on the Global 5000.
Training covered pre-flight inspections, ground training, and many approaches and landings in various extraordinary locations, including a touch down at the highest airport in the world, La Paz, Bolivia, and the challenging mountain-based airport Cusco in Peru. South America was chosen as one of the most demanding and diverse flying areas of the world, embracing the Andes, where pilots face further challenges such as language barriers and stop-overs in high altitude locations.
Captain Cedric Gitchenko, manager flight ops and training, says: "We did all the training for the German Air Force to difficult places and we even did landing training at those places without any problems. But I must say that the planning needs a good knowledge and a lead time of a couple of days, and for special training even weeks.
"The students were highly motivated, enthusiastic and appreciative about experiencing some challenging flying in some of the most demanding environments."
South American destinations are all challenging for several reasons, reports one anonymous respondent, citing crew fatigue on long flights that can be 11.5 hours or more and dealing with sometimes questionable air traffic control. He also mentions the unpredictability of the weather when crossing the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ). Known by sailors as the doldrums, this zone encircles the earth near the equator where winds originating in the northern and southern hemispheres come together.
Josh Fletcher is managing director and captain with US operator CPI Aviation. The company manages a European-based G-IVSP flying approximately 1,000 hours a year. "We are a global operator and our trips extend to all points on the globe," Fletcher says.
"It is hard to point out any areas that we find difficult to operate to, our crews are all very high-time and well trained captains on the Gulfstream.
"Our schedule does take us to some interesting destinations, some of the most enjoyable and challenging are down in the Caribbean. Landing on short island runways after making the long flight down from Europe or beyond always calls for the utmost concentration."
CPI Aviation does not use an international trip planning service, with its own in-house dispatcher organising all flights. "He does everything from flight planning, overflight permits, handling requests, to arranging car services. A good dispatcher can make flying globally as stress-free as flying in your home country."
Fletcher estimates 80 per cent of the company's flights are long range and beyond Europe and the Middle East. In the last few years this has remained fairly constant, with a slight increase in flights this year.
This year, a new aircraft is expected to replace the G-IVSP, but will be from the long range Gulfstream family.
Fletcher adds: "As an American I feel very fortunate that English is the language of aviation but, in an aircraft that can reach all parts of the world, language can be a major barrier to overcome when working with handlers and controllers. If you remain patient and remember their way of doing things may not be what you are used to at home, and you keep an open mind, there is practically no place on earth that you can't operate with the proper planning and dispatch support."
At AMAC Corporate Jet AG, postholder flight ops Thomas Allemann says that the most difficult long range operations take place where crews check in during the WOCL (window of circadian low), fly an ultra-long range trip of more than 12 hours and then need to land at an airport that requires special considerations, for example Kuala Lumpur or Saanen in Switzerland.
Av8jet does a run down to Australia every few months, along with Brazil, Japan, Korea and more.
According to the company's John Norris, a typical trip might go like this: "A three legged jump to Australia on a Falcon 2000 starts with a 7hr25m trip to Muscat for an efficient fuel stop. The trip to Muscat takes us over the golden alps as the sun sinks behind us. Down over Turkey and then west of the border of Iran while at 41,000ft-45,000ft, we are above any weather that may venture into Europe.
"From Muscat to Jakarta we are lucky enough to have a completely storm free journey. Storms around here do venture up to the late 50s early 60s in thousands of feet. Blessed with accurate weather radars, even these night flights are carried out with the least amount of stress possible.
"Leaving Jakarta in the evening at a time ensuring a sensible and early start to the day in Australia, encountering the last of the daily tropical thunderstorms is not unheard of. With the use of the radars, avoidance is no issue. We are witness to St Elmo's fire, a fantastically beautiful phenomenon caused by static and friction, producing a lightening effect on the windscreen.
"Six and a half hours later and on the final leg descending into the Gold Coast, the weather is beautiful, the sun rises and the trip is nearly over."
One corporate operator of very long range jets makes frequent trips from London to Sydney via Malé in the Maldives. "The flight eastbound to Malé is easy – except during the monsoon season as it is an island destination with a single runway," he says. "Using Gan as an alternative can work but it is also a single runway destination suffering the same monsoon rains at the same time. Luckily, the Global Express can carry sufficient fuel to allow for a distant alternative and still have more than two hours island holding fuel onboard upon landing…. going east.
"However, there is a problem returning from Sydney via Malé. Beating against head winds, cruise must be reduced to Mach .83 to save fuel and there can be difficulties keeping the minimum reserves in hand. The datalink is always active downloading the latest weather."
He adds: "The monsoon element is impressive. We witnessed flooded runways in Malé, yet while we waited for a window in order to depart safely, an A340 belonging to AirLanka blasted off the same flooded runway."
Urs Maienfisch in charter sales at Premium Jet AG finds the most problematic flights to organise are those to India and China, mainly because of the time required to get permissions. Also challenging are flights into certain areas of Africa where infrastructure and communication are somewhat lower than those Europeans are accustomed to. "Beyond the Urals, Kazakhstan and the -stan states, the planning, weather and communication sometimes provide for some intense thinking before the flight starts, but with our accumulated experience and positive attitude we overcome all those hurdles," Maienfisch states.
"Our aircraft are continuously spread all over the globe, consequently the most distant destinations are on the other side of the world, in our case Australia and New Zealand."
Premium Jet has its own 24/7 ops department, but on occasion will work with international trip planning services. "We flew a lot last year, especially in the second half," says Maienfisch. "But the trend is clearly for an increase of long range activities for this year. The coming months will have to show this."
Recently Premium Jet commenced operations with a Swiss-registered Global Express that was joined by a second, M-registered Global Express mid-July.
Omnijet Europe is one operator that has carried out the taxing trip to Paro in Bhutan, east of Nepal.
Flight planning is provided by Signum Aviation. "The best by a mile," according to managing director Stuart Payne. As a specialist in long range operations, these flights make up the greater part of Omnijet's workload.
Since its expansion, Payne reveals that the company has the capability to take on a further three long range management aircraft.
DC Aviation GmbH's most distant flight was from Buenos Aires to Stuttgart, a non-stop flight of nearly 14 hours. The company's Sabrina Bühler says: "We organise our flights internally – flight planning, overflight permissions, handling etc. We expect that we will carry out more long range flights this year than last."
Gulfstream pilot Carlo Brio says his company is operating its GIV-SP under Part 135 for Solairus Aviation and when in Europe is based in Geneva, mainly during the summer months. Brio says: "We do a trip around the world almost every year and so we have several occasions to operate in remote and very interesting areas, mainly in the Pacific. Some of the most unique of them have been the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Fiji, Bora Bora and Easter Island. I would say that the most challenging part is with flights mainly over water for more than seven hours, with fast changing weather conditions."
The ability to receive updated satellite weather is a must, Brio points out, and parking slots are at a premium at tiny island airports. "In several of these locations it may not be that easy to arrange a parking spot for several days so this might require moving the aircraft several times during a stay, and in some places towing is not such common practice."
Brio uses Universal for flight planning and permissions in conjunction with the company's flight dispatch department. Few flights are destined for Europe, more frequent flights are to the Emirates, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo. "Along the route we generally stop in different places such as Seychelles, Maldives, Bali/Denpasar, Thailand and the Pacific rim where passengers like to relax. When operating from the US, based in Los Angeles, our destination's mix is Hawaii, Mexico, South America and the Caribbean, with trips generally lasting for several months away from home."
The Gulfstream's three-person crew is pilot Brio, a second pilot and flight attendant Patricia who has lived and worked with Brio for 19 years. "Unfortunately we have problems keeping the same first officer due to the long periods away."
Brio says the company has a real need to upgrade to an ultra-long range aircraft and has chosen the GV, but over the last couple of years the market has not offered a good opportunity for a fair selling price for its aircraft so they are still waiting on an improvement in the market.
A new Falcon 900EX has joined the fleet at Heron Luftfahrt GmbH & Co KG. Christina Fries reports that Nassau was the first long range destination it flew to, at under ten hours. The most difficult flight she recalls was to Juba, South Sudan, a politically sensitive area and an operation that had to be planned within 24 hours. "Flights are planned internally, but for overflight perm-ission we sometimes use agents," she says. "Most of our flights are in Europe and the Middle East, but we also carry out long range flights to the Maldives, Seychelles or Africa.
"Within the month of June alone, the Masterjet fleet has been through north and south America, Africa, Asia, Oceania and of course the Middle East," says Edward Queffelec.
"In terms of our most distant flight, we have two interesting milestones. We have just been recognised by Airbus for the longest flight ever performed with an ACJ320 with 8hr48m non-stop for Doha to Pretoria. And in the meantime we have the longest Falcon 7X non-stop flight with 12hr45m for Moscow-Caracas. I have to say it is always rewarding being able to optimise the aircraft performance and using its full potential." Currently, Masterjet operates a Falcon 900EX EASy, two Falcon 7X, and an Airbus ACJ320 in its long range fleet.
Dr Mark Pierotti, ceo at AJA, singles out long range flights from Glasgow to Newark at a little over eight hours and Abu Dhabi to Shanghai at 7hr58m. AJA does its own flight planning and dispatch including flight watch for all flights operating worldwide. "During the past six months we have operated slightly more than 120 sectors and flew 390 hours in total," he says.
AJA operates two Legacy 600, two Lineage 1000 and an A318-Elite Plus to worldwide ETOPS standard.
Acropolis Aviation ceo Jonathan Bousfield tells of many long range trips, each presenting its own challenges. "Heathrow to Rochester, Minnesota, landing in blowing snow with 19 passengers on board, non-stop in nine hours and 50 minutes. Iquitos in Peru was a very remote destination with limited facilities and limited navigation aids."
A trip from White Plains, New York to Walvis Bay, Namibia, via Dakar meant arriving at a remote runway with limited facilities where it took eight hours to re-fuel the aircraft for the return due to the single, very small fuel bowser.
Flying from Los Angeles to Moscow in mid-winter over North Canada required a 30-minute tech stop and a crew change in Keflavik, with poor weather both at Keflavik and Moscow airports.
"Finally, the advantage of 180 minutes ETOPS, allowing Europe to Barbados and return possible in all seasons, due to the 30 minutes of time saved and the long range on the non-ETOPS leg. Acropolis Aviation is also approved by UK CAA for low visibility operations."
Jet Aviation has seen long range flight numbers increase on last year's total as a result of its growing fleet. It organises all flights internally through its 24-hour dispatch and ops centre.
Although aircraft ranges are improving, the company feels that regulatory requirements have grown considerably with increased security precautions. Conducting risk assessments, completing required documentation, arranging an adequate crew and dispatching it to new points of departure all take much more time than in the past — and involve a lot more paperwork.
Careful forward planning was required last year to ensure that a flight to the remote international airport in Paro, Bhutan, went without a hitch. Jet Aviation's Gulfstream 550 charter flight from Osaka, Japan, to Paro took almost two months to arrange from the charter request. The dispatch team contacted local handler Bhutan Air to organise landing permits, visas and other special requirements of the CAA. As there is no defined landing procedure for Paro, the IFR had to be cancelled and a visual landing with a local navigator accommodated, resulting in some surprising twists to the standard flight preparation.
Because weather conditions in Paro are often less than ideal, three alternative flight options had to be fully operational. "We also needed someone with in-depth knowledge of the terrain who could navigate and communicate with us, which meant retaining an experienced pilot from the local airline, Druk Air, to accompany us on the flight," says Captain Reto Laubscher. Procuring a Japanese visa for a Bhutanese pilot meant getting all original documents to the nearest consulate of Japan in New Delhi.
The navigator directed the captains through the light cloud cover to the runway by describing various landmarks or reference points and providing exact altitudes at which to fly at them. "Pilots love to fly visually," adds Laubscher, "because we get to do it so rarely, but our navigator knew the area like the back of his hand and knowledge of that kind is crucial where landing conditions are so inhospitable."
Corporate operator Air-Service Werkflugdienst carries out up to three long range flights a year. Account manager Tobias Oberschäfer says that the most tricky trip so far has been inbound to Mexico Toluca airport, a challenge with the high altitude profile of the airport in hot conditions. For long range flights like these the company uses service providers such as Rockwell Collins.
Rizon Jet Qatar has conducted long range flights as far as the eastern coast of the US, western Africa and into China. Each flight has been interesting in its own way due to the detailed trip planning and technical stop coordination. "The logistics involved in planning the flight from ground up is challenging and it is rewarding to see satisfied repeat customers," says the company.
Flights are scheduled, coordinated and planned in-house by international qualified flight dispatchers. Some support services such as overflight permits are requested through third parties to support short notice ad-hoc operations.
Rizon Jet Qatar is increasingly operating beyond mid-range destinations and is achieving greater experience in managing long range charter requests. "Planning long range flights requires experienced dispatchers with sound knowledge of key flight operational fundamentals and a solid ground logistics mind set," concludes the company.
Sister company Oryx Jet UK is increasingly asked to operate deep into Africa – a recent commercial charter involved flying an African head of state back home from Europe. It was a logistical challenge to coordinate with the officials of the country, but rewarding to be told they had done a good job at the end.
The company has an ops team with many years' experience planning long range flights, and has contacts worldwide to obtain permits quickly and efficiently. For short notice flights departing within four hours, this function will be outsourced.
Oryx Jet UK has performed more long range flights this year than last year and is actively promoting its capabilities to sales brokers worldwide to encourage more bookings. The long range charter requests received have prompted a search for another managed long range aircraft to deal with the demand.
The company believes that it is very important that the operator has an experienced team of professionals who know what needs to be done to operate long range flights successfully. The most important task is to ensure a comprehensive support programme down route to include maintenance, crew healthcare insurance and thorough reviews of the airfields. "For example we know that Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo has a runway that is harsh on tyres and it is not uncommon to have to replace a tyre, so we carry a decent spares kit and have an engineer on-call in the region to dispatch if required. The maintenance company keeps the items we may need in stock," says the company. "This support is pre-planned and worth the effort as it helps solve any AOG issues quicker."
When looking at the furthest distance in nautical miles that one of its aircraft has flown, NetJets Europe cites Buenos Aires to Athens at the top of the list. Globally, the company flies to 5,000 destinations, and will go wherever clients want, as long as it is deemed safe for them, the crew and the aircraft. When operating to remote locations with a known security risk, a thorough risk assessment is conducted by the NetJets Europe security department using intelligence from a number of sources.
Operating company NetJets Transportes Aéreos received approval in October 2010 to conduct extended range operations under commercial rules meaning that NetJets Europe is allowed to fly its twin engine Gulfstream G550 aircraft 180 minutes flight time from an airport at any given point along a route, previously limited to 120 minutes. This has enabled NetJets Europe to fly more direct routes, with fewer fuel stops.
Manuel Tirado, Gestair Flight Support ground ops director, says that the greatest distance clocked up by the operator was 6,536 miles in 13hr52m from Santiago, Chile, to Farnborough in a Gulfstream V. "But there have been other memorable milestones, such as when we made a world distance record with a F900EX flying directly from Toluca, Mexico, to Madrid," Tirado adds.
"The most challenging flights for us are the ones departing from Hong Kong back to Europe, due to the mandatory routes in China that increase the distance of the flight, the flight level restrictions in Russia, and the headwind you face all along the flight that mean we do all we can to avoid any technical landings, but of course, this is not always possible."
Gestair carries out long range flights almost every day, operating six long range aircraft itself. As with most companies represented in our report, trip planning is carried out in-house. "Our experience, after more than 35 years operating our own fleet, has led us develop Gestair Flight Support brand, offering this service to aircraft worldwide."
Language barriers are a definite consideration in some countries. Komal Qaiser at Jetex reports that it can be hard to get permits when language is an issue. "In such cases, our supervisors in that particular country have to arrange it."
Another major obstacle can be the time it takes in some countries to process requests. "With the limits we work to due to so many short notice flights, timing can be challenging when dealing with some countries.
"Each airport and country has its own capabilities – they are not the same everywhere. We need to make our own checklist when handling a flight to each country. For example, in some countries we have dedicated FBOs for all the services we require, in others we use the national carrier or the airport authorities," Qaiser adds.
Customs and rules vary from destination to destination such that, in certain countries, the bar in the aircraft must be sealed prior to landing and elsewhere, female flight attendants must be dressed according to the laws of that country, with their head covered before they exit the aircraft. Most passengers are aware of these rules as they fly to these destinations regularly, but doing your homework before departure is vital to save time, not to mention embarrassment.
A PrivatAir ops manager relates a challenging flight to Durango in Colorado. The ground handler there didn't have the aircraft step for a B757-200, but after weeks of email exchange they were proactive enough to build a homemade step to allow the aircraft to land there.
"One of the most original trips we had to plan and operate was a trip to Svalbard, Sptizberg Island, located 78° north (we are allowed to operate up to 80° north)," he says. "The flight took place from Kiruna, north of Sweden, where we picked up our passengers with about 40 huskies. We dropped them off in Svalbard, from where they continued to the North Pole. About 10 days later, we flew back to Svalbard to pick up passengers and dogs after their successful expedition. Our engineers had to create a wooden panel in the hold of the aircraft in order to ensure a full flat hold floor to load the boxes with all the dogs."
During one flight from Hawaii to Australia, PrivatAir had planned a fuel stop on an exotic island in the Pacific. The aircraft was half way to the fuel stop when a call came into the Geneva office from the handling agent that no more fuel was available on the island. All ended well though, when an alternative island where there were some fuel supplies was found and the crew contacted via Stockholm radio and advised to re-route to the new fuel stop.
Pre-planning is the backbone of any successful international operation, but even more imperative on a multi-leg long haul trip, stresses Greg Linton, master trip owner, Universal Weather and Aviation Inc. "The more legs a trip has, the more contingencies you need to prepare for. I try to help my clients think beyond what's planned because if there is one consistency about long haul ops it's that plans will invariably be altered at some point. One issue that I've seen happen repeatedly involves crew visas and tech stops. For most countries you don't need a crew visa if you are just stopping and refuelling. The problem arises when things change and that tech stop becomes an overnighter because of bad weather or a late passenger. Now it's too late and you're in a jam."
A good example of this happened in Russia. A crew was going from north west US and tech stopped in Petropavlovsk for fuel on its way to Astana. En route from Petropavlovsk, they were advised that Astana's weather was down and they wouldn't be able to land, so they stopped in Novosibirsk. Linton explains: "We were able to get them a landing permit for Novosibirsk, but because they didn't have visas for Russia (Russia requires visas if making consecutive tech stops on the same trip), they had to overnight until the authorities would – under special consideration – issue visas to everyone." The passengers were allowed to go to a hotel in town, but the crew was ordered to stay in a cramped hotel near the airport with a guard outside their doors.
Laura Everington is Universal's manager of regulatory services and has plenty of knowledge about the pitfalls of long distance travel: "A commonly overlooked and potential trip stopper is the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) waiver for non-US operators travelling to the US. During a long trip with a single stop in the US a crew will overlook obtaining a TSA waiver because it's not required for foreign operators making just one stop in the US.
"Recently, there was a scenario where a foreign crew had planned all of the details of an around-the-world trip perfectly, with layover in Los Angeles for crew rest. However, the passengers decided that they wanted to go on to Las Vegas before leaving the US, which requires a TSA waiver that had not been applied for. Subsequently the crew were in the uncomfortable position of explaining to the passengers that they had not prepared for all contingencies."
Everington points out that, although a security briefing on every country on an itinerary may have taken place before the trip, situations can change rapidly. "As we have seen in the recent Middle East uprisings, political and security situations can deteriorate. What was a safe stop three days ago, might not be now. Did you plan for an alternate? Did you apply for landing permits just in case? If not, you could be delayed."
Because of the myriad of issues that can arise, it's almost impossible for a crew to plan everything on their own, so Everington recommends working with a provider that is available 24/7. "A handler on the ground is a great source of local information, but they're not always available at all hours, and when things go wrong in the middle of the night, you're going to want someone you can call on with answers."
Top tips for long-range operations:
Compiled with help from all our pilot contributors, and flight support experts at Jetex and Universal Weather & Aviation.