Trip Planning: What to Consider With COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has created several more factors for flight departments to work around when planning international travel. Mario Pierobon discusses these with David Camargo and Henry Le Duc of UAS...

Mario Pierobon  |  17th June 2020
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    Mario Pierobon
    Mario Pierobon

    Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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    Airplane passenger wearing facemask looks out of window

    As if there wasn’t enough planning ahead of a business trip (with the actual flight plan, aircraft preparations, and multiple other aspects of the mission), more recently COVID-19-related issues are adding to the complexities.

    According to David Camargo, global risk mitigation manager at UAS, preparation (in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic) must begin well before the flight leaves. “The crews need to make sure that they are actually going to be able to enter the location where they’re trying to fly. Not every country has lifted the restrictions yet and several are still enforcing them.”

    Having done that, crews also need to check whether they’ll be able to leave the aircraft at the location. In many places, the airplane can land, but people will not necessarily be permitted to exit the aircraft.

    “It is also important for people to know what safety precautions they should take,” Camargo adds. “Flight crews have to assume that wherever they’re flying, resources will not be available.

    “Even in the United States you won’t know what you’re going to be able to access or not,” he warns, so it helps to travel assuming that you won’t be able to acquire resources on the ground.

    A by-product of the pandemic is that it’s forcing sound security practices at many locations, where “people are not even let off the aircraft in order to minimize risk,” Camargo reiterates. It’s therefore important to keep up-to-date with restrictions and, if possible, have an accessible alternate.

    Flight Planning With Moving Targets

    “The planning phase of a flight is where most of the work is going to be, which is important in order to minimize exposure on the ground,” Camargo notes. Operating requirements have changed, however, and they continue to change in many countries on an almost daily basis.

    “In this context the role of the trip support providers has become more important as they keep up with these requirements every day,” adds Henry Le Duc, regional operations manager, UAS.

    He highlights that while operators may wish to travel to the same location they did just two weeks before, operational conditions may have changed there completely.

    “Initially, right after COVID-19 began and things started shutting down in the Western world, China started to open up,” he recounts. But if an operator flew into China’s busy airports in Shanghai and Beijing to pick up people and cargo, such airports have become inundated with requests.

    “Each trip has been different. For someone who may not be going there every day, it can be a real challenge, and here is where the role of the trip support provider comes into play. They keep up with all the changes and can help make the trip go smoothly – whether from a service, security or a credit standpoint.

    “It’s the job of the people we have on the ground to ensure that they help us gather this information, along with the information that is readily available from the airport authorities,” Le Duc continues. “We also have people that are involved in the aviation industry across the world that will get the updates to us and we can accumulate those.”

    Partnerships with intelligence providers and regular governmental regulations updates [not just those pertaining to aviation] are also critical to trip support providers getting an accurate depiction of what a client is going to face when on the ground, Camargo explains.

    “Local relationships allow trip support providers to give Business Aviation operators more accurate information as to what is available on the ground and what is not.”

    Security Situation Heightened

    As far as the security situation in general is concerned, the parts of the world that were inherently dangerous for foreigners before COVID-19 continue to be so now. “The threat of theft/burglary that might be posed to, say, an American crew as a result of perceived affluence won’t have changed,”

    Camargo says. “It’s simply that COVID-19 has been added to the threat within the region.” Camargo predicts that we will to start to see the economic impact affecting the security situation a lot more than it did before, “because economic problems are going to happen on a global scale. So, when one enters a security-sensitive country one has to be cognisant of the fact that governmental resources are going to be short-staffed. And that poses an additional risk.

    “Access for operators to supplies in a security-sensitive country is going to be restricted,” he continues. “There might also be currency issues, as it is very difficult for some countries to offer credit.

    “A lot of places are functioning on a cash-only basis,” he explains. “Therefore, having an accurate intelligence profile of the country ahead of a visit, while always important, is now critical.”

    The Impact on Crew Duty Days

    Other considerations might include whether curfews are in place. “The crew definitely needs to think about not just when the aircraft is authorized to land at the airport, but also how long it takes to secure the aircraft and pass through customs and immigration – and whether this will put the crew in a situation whereby they have to transit the city close to curfews,” Camargo says.

    During the pandemic, fuelling hours have often been changed repeatedly by airports. “The fuelling hours for many airports have been scaled back because of personnel and airport accessibility issues,” Le Duc explains.

    “Many of the handlers in this field around the world scaled back their operational hours. A few have even closed completely, until further notice.” While operators may have grown accustomed to flying virtually anywhere with little or no notice, Le Duc argues “it is not going to be that easy for some time.”

    The majority of countries have incorporated some new health screening processes (e.g. checking for temperature, questionnaires, and separating the testing facilities from the main terminal).

    “It is important to know how long the health screening adds on top of a long duty day,” says Le Duc. 

    “Many countries have an immediate quarantine requirement when somebody arrives, and this has forced a lot of operators into situations where they’ve had to extended duty days. Augmenting the crew and paying close attention to this is going to be important,” he suggests.

    Underscoring the challenges of travelling in times like these, Camargo says this is where the real value of trip support providers shines through. “Leaning on the trip support provider, asking questions, working with them and really exploring what they have to offer will make essential travel at this time not only easier, but much safer,” he concludes.

    Read More About: COVID-19

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