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Tips for Business Jet Operations in India

Flying to India: permits, complications & closed for weekends!

Dave Higdon   |   22nd August 2016
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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For flying to, over and within India the considerations are considerable and complex, notes Dave Higdon, who continues his examination of operating within the various ATC systems throughout the globe…

With any international trip, advance planning is key. Arguably that’s even more so for India than for international visitors to the US or Europe. For example, under current rules the agency with authority to issue permits in India closes over weekends – and, of course, for holidays—meaning any permits needed for a weekend flight (entering, leaving or over-flight) won't get any action between Friday evening and Monday morning.

Permits can also take days, if not weeks to obtain and are difficult to impossible to change. Business aircraft are limited to 14 days in the country without either a new permit or a revision to the existing permit – and revisions needed to extend a visit by a day or a week may take weeks to obtain. Thus, due consideration of these requirements and limitations is essential.

Visas Before You Fly

Professional handlers and international trip planners all advise India-bound travelers to apply for, and obtain visas well in advance of departure, specifying your planned arrival date. Both passengers and crew must obtain visas for their visits.

There are exceptions, among them to nationals of Nepal and Bhutan, while visas may be obtained after landing for nationals of Finland, Japan, Singapore, the Philippines, New Zealand, Luxembourg and Laos. And there are exceptions for other nationals that allow a visa to be obtained after landing – but that is strictly at the discretion of the immigration authorities. Even with these exceptions, obtaining visas on arrival for nationals of Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Bangladesh come with restrictions.

Your best bet? Use a visa provider to be sure you are working from the latest information. In India, visa requirements can change on little-to-no notice.

Be prepared to show details of your landing clearance, since part of the process includes establishing a Minimum Holding Altitude (MHA) before the visa is granted. The requirement exists for air-traffic management purposes and to meet requirements of India's security apparatus.

Trip planning professionals know that this requirement can be a hassle because of the lead-time involved. India also takes into account whether passengers are on business or holiday in their requirements with varying treatments. And most airways are closed to foreign traffic on weekend, with only one airway open – and only by an advanced permit.

Indian diplomatic missions, embassies and consulates have been authorized to grant these visas – preferably within three days of applying – as part of the process established and run by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The DGCA must provide details of the aircraft landing clearances to the Bureau of Immigration and Director General of Police well ahead of the arrival of the flight.

Obtaining a visa on arrival isn't completely off the books – but limited in use. For example, at New Delhi's airport (VIDP) it's possible for crew to obtain a 72-hour crew visa on arrival; passports and crew IDs are required – but even that service isn’t guaranteed. Upon arrival, customs officials take possession of crew members' passports while issuing them a paper visa.

Best practice is for crew members to obtain their visas before departing. Visa-on-arrival should be considered a last resort.

Timing Permit Applications

India wants you to obtain a permit for landing, departing and for overflights. For example, flights to an Indian airport from outside the country can be acquired on relatively short notice, according to a number of trip planners. But applying on a Friday or the day before a holiday is an invitation to remain grounded, stranding passengers and crew until the permit arrives.

Further, all foreign-registered aircraft using Indian air space need DGCA approval. Unlike scheduled carriers, business jets need permission each time they fly into, or over India as do those seeking to fly overseas from the country.

Keeping front of mind the closing of DGCA operations on holidays and weekends, a flight may be forced to detour around India without the over-flight permit, adding time and expense to what might have been a direct flight had the permit arrived on time. Only emergency requests have a chance to receive permission on weekends and holidays, but constraints – and permit requirements – on others remain.

The weekend closure of DGCA offices impacts not only Business Aviation in India; the commercial carriers struggle under the same constraints.

India's airlines that fly weekend routes obtain their approvals in advance, something possible for non-VT-registered aircraft. If the same rules applied in the US, business aircraft operators would need to obtain permits for weekend flights sometime between the start of the business day on Monday and the end of business on Friday; no pop-up trips on the weekends because the offices would be closed.

But there is good news to come out of India's aviation authorities: They are working on improving access.

And then there are the time limitations. Foreign-registered aircraft on the ground in India are limited to 14 days in the country; the operator may leave the country and return, however, as long as the proper permits are in-hand for the aircraft's movement. The good news is that some of the past permit problems have been resolved and involve more airports where a temporary landing permit can be issued.

Customs Clearance, Ground Handling & More...

While India works to attract Business Aviation operators, other sticking points currently remain. For example, business aircraft crew and passengers may need to visit the airport's airline terminal to clear India's customs, immigration and quarantine processes.

If the airport happens to be a military airport with civilian use allowed, the requirements for obtaining permission to land and depart increase in length significantly. The window for using a permit to land at a military field allows only a one hour window; outside that, a new permit will be required – with the ensuing time delay replayed.

Operators with permits to land at civil airports enjoy a much broader window for their arrival time. Landing permits for non-military fields remain valid for 48 hours. And revisions to landing permits are not required for non-military locations if a flight is delayed within that timeframe.

But add passengers to your flight and you will need to give 24 hours’ notice to revise a landing permit. And when preparing for a flight involving a landing at a military field, consider the high degree of information required by India's bureaucracy. Military airport permits require 30 business days to arrange but handlers advise operators to apply at least 60 days prior to help cushion the time needed to coordinate required documentation.

And there's more. Before granting a permit to land at a military field you'll need to submit significantly more personal information for each person on board – beyond the basic full passport information. India's military requires the name of each person’s father, all their home addresses, plus birth place, nationality, and, for crew members, the pilot license number.

The level and cost of services can vary widely in India, which boasts precious few full-service airports with FBOs serving business aircraft.

Not all are port-of-entry airports, so a technical stop may be needed to clear customs, immigration and quarantine.

Fuel prices vary widely, as does the fuel tax – and you can be taxed for fuel remaining after arriving from outside India if the next flight is to a destination within India. No sales taxes are due for fuel when departing India, however, provided you can prove you're headed to another country.

Many airports within India are both uncontrolled and lacking basic fuel service, maintenance and parking. In such cases, carrying enough fuel to ferry the aircraft out is both necessary and helpful when passengers must remain in the destination city overnight.

Where there is parking, you face added expense. Most airports charge by the ton of operating weight, applied per hour. This system can put parking/tie-down fees in the hundreds of dollars per day for many common aircraft types.

The combination of fuel costs, parking fees, taxes and permit fees can make a trip to India very expensive.

Accommodations & Security Issues

India, thanks to its close proximity to Pakistan and China, stands out as a nation where foreign visitors should consider using a trip planner, expediter or ground-handling agent able to help arrange security – for both the passengers and crew, and the aircraft itself.

Sadly, most of India's cities are under a moderate threat level where security is concerned. A first step widely recommended is to acquire up-to-date country and city security briefings well before departing. Then, depending on the trip, the people and the time you'll be on the ground in India, you find comfort in having your ground agent or trip planner arrange for security for your aircraft, for the personnel on the trip and ground transportation, depending on your needs.

Working with a local agent well ahead of the departure date can also help you connect with the best hotels available in any given city. India's two main business destinations, Delhi and Mumbai, both boast international hotel chains and good selections of 4- and 5-star crew accommodations.

But outside of the larger cities, the supply of such accommodations may be limited on a good day. Your best bet? Investigate and book hotels as early as possible.

Summary: Research, Planning & People…

Give yourself plenty of time to work out arrangements for your itinerary. With different airports operating under different rules, knowing the availability of fuel, services, security and hotel choices can be resolved far enough ahead that those processes don't conflict with, or complicate your plans.

With the help of a ground agent, trip planner and arrangements for security for the airplane and its people, a trip to India can be as productive as any other international destination. But remember: Any changes to your travel dates, itinerary or passenger list may incur delays while waiting on updated permits.

Read more about: Flight Planning | India Business Aviation | Indian Aviation | International Operations

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