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Business Aviation Operations for the 2016 Olympics

Brazil & South America: Complex, intricate & geographically diverse

Dave Higdon   |   27th July 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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Dave Higdon continues his examination of what pilots are likely to experience operating in various ATC systems throughout the globe, this month focusing on South America. In particular, he addresses aviation procedures for the 2016 Olympics.

South America is a continent of diverse geography and operationally-complex systems of airspace management. Much of our focus here will be on Brazil, largely because of its geographical dominance of the South American continent. Brazil hosts the world's second largest population of General Aviation aircraft, and the nation boasts an extensive network of airports open to both private and commercial aircraft. Furthermore, authorities there are imposing special procedures to address the Summer Olympics.

For this summer’s Olympic games, Brazil’s authorities are planning to resurrect a system of airspace control featuring concentric exclusion zones with tighter restrictions and more exclusions as the diameter shrinks around the venue at the center of the zone. But the normal rules of access, including domestic operating permits, quarantine, and clearing customs and immigration remain largely status quo.

The hard news is that authorities started issuing slots months ago, so slots may already be in short supply if you’re planning to fly on short notice.

And only 80% of the available slots were up for grabs to begin with, since authorities reserve approximately 20% of all slots for use by heads of state, designated VIPs, private non-revenue flights and charter (non-scheduled commercial) operators with less than 30 passenger seats.

Speaking of charter flights, aircraft seating more than 30 passengers get treated as scheduled commercial operations, requiring operators to apply for a scheduled commercial permit to access the designated commercial slots. Now as the Brazil-flying veterans can attest, the process for obtaining accreditation for scheduled commercial permits can be a long, arduous process.

Restriction Zones

Along the same lines as Brazil used during the 2014 World Cup, authorities have organized the airspace using various radii around key sites for this summer’s Olympic games. Each different radius defines a level of exclusion – and all three areas within each circle will be active at altitudes up to 14,500msl, excepting those in Rio de Janeiro where exclusion areas reach up to FL195.

  • Reserved Area (White): Size varying, the white zone will cover most of the airspace over the Olympic cities. Aircraft flying in the white zone must follow flight plan rules, have an operating transponder and maintain radio communication with ATC.
  • Restricted Area (Yellow): Seven nautical miles from event coordinates. Aside from medevac and government-designated flights, GA aircraft operating in yellow zones must follow specific security measures, such as third-party inspections and 24/7 surveillance over their aircraft while parked.
  • Prohibited Area (Red): Four nautical miles from events. Only military, on-duty police and medevac flights are permitted to fly in the red zone.


International Arrivals

Fortunately, all six airports impacted by the exclusion zones are primary airports of entry (AOE), and include Rio de Janeiro (SBGL); Sao Paulo (SBGR); Belo Horizonte (SBCF); Brasilia (SBBR); Salvador (SBSV); and Manaus (SBEG) well up the Amazon River. A few alternates exist for flying into events in these cities, but only one of them is an AOE, and only on request.

To move within the country using non-AOE airports, operators must obtain a domestic-operating permit when they enter the country. Operators of non-Brazilian-registered aircraft must obtain a Temporary Admission (TA) to fly domestically inside Brazil. A TA requires an application and:

  • Aircraft registration and certificate of airworthiness;
  • Crew certificates showing type, and medical certificates; and
  • Proof of aircraft insurance – a copy of the policy works.


Adding to the complexity of flying within Brazil during the games, eight airports are operating under slot rules (slot coordinated) during the games. These are: Rio de Janeiro, both the main airport, SBGL, and Santos Dumont (SBRJ); Sao Paulo, both Congonhas (SBSP) and Guarulhos (SBGR); Belo Horizonte, both SBCF and SBBH; and Brasilia (SBBR) & Campinas (SBKP).

Except for Brasilia's SBBR, the slot requirement becomes effective August 1 and continues through September 20. For SBBR, the slot requirements run from August 3-14. It's important to note that a slot allows you only a few hours on the ground (as little as two at SBGL). Operators need either to obtain an overnight parking permit or move the aircraft to another airport.

Adding to the complexity, authorities had not yet revealed whether a slot is needed for only the arrival or both an arrival and departure at the time of writing, so be prepared to exercise some flexibility in your plans – unless a trip planner or your flight department has confirmed what's required just before you depart. Even then, things can change...

Getting In & Out

These intricacies are the daily purview of trip-planning companies and their broad range of services. As noted in our prior articles, planning international flights requires some common basic steps regardless of destination and should begin when the decision is made to make a trip. These include:

  • Itinerary and route planning;
  • Permits (both for landing and overflights of nations on the route and your destination; you'll need both in Brazil);
  • Hotel accommodations and travel services;
  • Airport slots, where required;
  • Weather information and airport-change information;
  • Ground handling.


After determining the route, crew and fuel requirements, planning must include a thorough check of overflight- and arrival-permit requirements, slot requirements and airport curfew or closing times. The effort should begin far enough ahead of departure to assure receipt of all required approvals by take-off time. That time required can vary widely with the country, circumstances and demand.

The permitting process is also likely to drag during the Olympics, if the World Cup is an accurate reflection. As a normal procedure, Brazil requires permits for both landing and over-flying the country. Be prepared for delays in obtaining these permits. According to several flight-planning firms, obtaining them – under normal circumstances – can take up to 48 hours. With the Olympics close at hand, they suggest starting the process as early as possible to help avoid those potential delays.

Crew Issues

Normally, Brazil requires a visitor's visa before arrival in-country, a process that typically involves a visit to an embassy or consulate of the country. For the Olympics, Brazil introduced legislation rescinding that requirement for visitors attending the games. The exemption applies only for the games and is not unlimited once you are in the country.

For crew, however, other conditions apply. In Brazil, flight attendants need a visa – largely because the FAA does not issue flight attendants a certificate comparable to a pilot's license, dispatchers or maintenance technician's certificate. Lacking such documentation, Brazilian authorities have long-treated flight attendants as passengers.

And double check cockpit-crew documentation, to ensure they all carry their first class medical certification, as well as their pilot certificates and passports.

Patience, Patience...

The pace of business in Brazil and South America overall differs somewhat from that of the United States, Canada and Europe. Local practices can vary significantly from region-to-region, airport-to-airport.

Gaining the sign-offs for moving the aircraft varies widely in the time required, so be prepared by giving advance notice of your plans.

The effort could save you time waiting for an official release – while the clock ticks on the time allotted by your slot.

Depending on your arrival airport, you may face a long wait to clear customs – or be required to find transportation across the airport to the airline terminal and mix with the commercial passenger arrivals. And the same challenges will exist for your departure.

South America's Most Explosive Issue

You probably aren't used to asking a Flight Service briefer for an update on volcanic ash in the atmosphere. In South America, however, volcanic activity is a regular element of life. So advance and short-term flight planning should always include questions about volcanic activity in the region.

Weather scientists today excel at identifying eruptions and tracking the circulation of ash-bearing winds – and that's airspace you’ll want to avoid...even at the flight levels above the service ceiling of most jets.

Fun With Fees...

Brazil's myriad fees for permits, entry, exit and, in the case of the Olympics, slots, make flying in South America's largest country among the more-expensive propositions in world flight. These fees are particularly onerous for business aircraft.

The fees are government-set and unavoidable. In the case of the 2016 Olympics, expect to see higher fees from the private businesses servicing the aircraft flying in for the games.

Trip planners from across the spectrum warn that fees for everything from ground handling to parking, fuel to car services are already higher than typical – and may escalate further depending on the intensity of aircraft arrivals.

Health & Welfare...

You probably know of the latest contagious-disease scare in Brazil, a virus called Zika. The virus can cause major defects in newborns of infected mothers – or show no symptoms whatsoever. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers some guidelines for those planning to travel to Brazil.

Mosquitoes in Brazil are infected with the Zika virus and are spreading it to people. CDC recommends that visitors to Brazil take extra precautions to protect themselves from bites. Currently there is no vaccine or medication to protect against Zika. For more information, see the CDC's information on the Zika Virus: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/alert/zika-brazil

Going Elsewhere in South America?

Other parts of South America offer their own procedures. As a collection of independent nations, each has its own rules regarding everything from landing permits to merely over-flying the nation; some requiring separate permits for something as routine as fueling.

Of course, each operates on its own schedule –which often dictates significant lead times between filing to obtain a permit, receiving the permit and using the permit.

That means, depending on your routing to Brazil for the Olympics – or to any other South American nation – you must take into account the requirements of countries you may fly over...or merely transit the airspace it controls.

Do your research; plan ahead; and if in doubt, consult a professional!


Read more about: Operating Costs | Flight Planning | Global Markets

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