What does an international operator need to know before flying into Europe? Dave Higdon lists some of the top tips provided by those in the know…
The act of crossing international borders requires a level of preparation well beyond the typical domestic pre-flight briefing, flight plan filing, and clearance receipt.
In the lower contiguous states of the United States the 48 sets of political borders mean next to nothing when it comes to flying. Although most of Europe is positive-control airspace and IFR flight plans are common, permits, travel visas and sundry other bureaucratic requirements can come into play.
Even something innocuous like the departure country can prevent a flight from routing directly over some countries.
Over the following paragraphs, we'll provide a ‘Top Five Tips’ list to help plan for and overcome obstacles and avoid potential pitfalls of flying in Europe, as gleaned from experts in international flying.
1. Pre-Flight Preparations
If you’re flying into Europe, consider contracting with one of the many excellent trip-planning services available.
These service providers know the intricacies of international travel, likely have representatives with local knowledge, and can help ensure that you're prepared with the proper paperwork, filings, fees, permits and authorizations.
Of course, all the usual provisos apply to making and securing trip arrangements. One thing not to be forgotten is to file (at least an hour in advance) with eAPIS – the electronic Advanced Passenger Information System operated by the US Customs and Border Protection Service.
Guidelines and filing information requirements are available via CBP's web site. This is one filing detail applicable at both ends of the trip (like your international flight plan).
2. Documentation Duplication
Consider anything irreplaceable as a candidate for duplication in a legally accepted form. For example, extra passport photos, certified copies of birth certificates, in the event your originals are lost. A certified copy of the data page of your passport may also be helpful in the event the original is lost or stolen.
Additionally, duplicate pilot licenses; flight-attendant qualifications; mechanics credentials; aircraft title and registration; aircraft insurance; passenger’s and crew's citizenship papers and passports; visas and travel permits.
3. Deadlines & Commitments
Flight planning a trip across the North Atlantic to Europe necessarily involves air-traffic and airspace authorities in multiple nations.
For as seamless a trip as possible, filing necessary paperwork – particularly the International Flight Plan – must be done at least 24 hours in advance. (That time spread may be longer, however, depending on the destination nation, and will be a repeat process for operators unable to cross the North Atlantic non-stop.)
Depending on the nations involved, flight permits or over-flight permits may be in order. It's up to the aircraft commander to be sure those items are resolved before take-off.
For flying between FL285-420, inclusive, taking the North Atlantic route puts the aircraft squarely in the busiest oceanic airspace on the planet with more than 450,000 flights annually.
4. Don't Leave Home Without...
Flying within the EU can be expensive, given the sundry fees and levies applied to aircraft, crew, passengers and luggage. Internationally-recognized credit cards can be helpful, as can a safely stowed horde of traveler's checks.
For those who prefer plastic to paper, remember to check in advance about the preferred card's utility overseas. Is it accepted? Is it widely accepted? And be sure to look into exchange fees of some cards.
The answer may vary with the destination, but it’s better to know in advance than to discover after landing. (Incidentally, cards are another item worth carrying a spare.)
On the topic of personal items, be sure to check the compatibility of cell phones with the areas the flight will be landing. Not all cell phones used in the US work in Europe.
5. Aircraft Status
Though the European Union and its nearest neighbors welcome foreign-registered aircraft, the EU community's rules mean different treatment for Part 91 operations and Part 135 commercial charter flights.
Operators should know and understand those differences, or risk the potentially expensive outcome of owing both duty fees and Value Added Tax (VAT). VAT fees range between 15-27% while duty fees vary between 2.7-7.7%, making the failure to prepare for landing in the EU a potentially expensive mistake.
But these are two options on the same coin – you do one or the other. And the operator can pick between full importation or temporary importation. Either can be accomplished free, with no payment of either VAT or duty fees.
Full Importation: According to the EU’s rules Full Importation procedures are available for aircraft operated as corporate aircraft by (or for) a company; for aircraft operated under a management agreement; and for companies with a charter certificate.
There is no fee involved for VAT or duty on subsequent flights after full importation, which also relieves the operator of restrictions on cabotage and customs regulations throughout the EU.
The Full Importation must be done in Denmark, but once undertaken the aircraft can be operated freely within Europe with no restrictions on crew or passengers carried.
Temporary Importation: Per EU rules, Temporary Importation (TI) subjects every flight to complex regulations each time an aircraft enters an EU member state's airspace. Flight privileges and restrictions vary according to whether the flight is considered private or commercial – and whether it carries any EU-resident passengers or crew.
Adding to the complications of this approach is the individual EU states’ ability to enforce their own rules on who may be carried within their borders under TI rules. Thus, a TI aircraft may experience zero hassles in one EU state and be questioned about the purpose of the flight in another.
Complicating things further are rules that let the EU treat corporate aircraft as “commercial” flights.
And with each EU state able to draft its own rules defining use, there’s no consistent path available for operating within Europe on a Temporary Importation.
Flying intra-Europe under TI paperwork can still require VAT and duty payments; and depending on who's on board the rules against cabotage can come into play.
Finally, some countries consider ‘corporate’ use as ‘commercial’ use – but not all. Yet ‘private use’ means just what it says – private aircraft flown for the pleasure or travel of its owners.
The overall theme to emerge from our above tips appears to be pre-planning and well-thought-out preparation before embarking on a business flight into Europe. As mentioned, you’ll find no shortage of quality trip support companies able to make that planning easier with the advantage of experience and local knowledge.
Ultimately, executed correctly, there should be no reason not to enjoy a productive, trouble-free flight to and from Europe as your business aircraft helps expand and enhance the reach of your business activities.