Operating to India

Complex, expensive and time consuming, but getting better.
Know the rules as they are very strict in this part of the world.

By Grant McLaren

Security and ramp patrols of general aviation areas at HYD (Rajiv Gandhi Intl, Hyderabad) are adequate, as they are at most major airports of entry in India.

India can be a complex operating arena for international GA, so it's important to be aware of all applicable requirements to avoid delays or issues. The good news is that the operating environment is gradually becoming more user-friendly due to expansion of the domestic bizav fleet. India is currently the 8th largest civil aviation market, with plans to grow to becoming the 3rd largest by 2034, according to Flightworx data.

"Routings can be difficult to plan as some airways are available only for domestic flights, parking can be problematic at certain locations and foreign-registered aircraft can only stay in Indian territory for a maximum of 14 continuous days," cautions Flightworx Specialist Services Mgr Steve Barker. "In some cases crew must be flexible and allow additional time to move from airport office to office to have documents stamped and payments made. Bureaucratic procedures can be frustrating at times for crew operating to and within India."

Permit lead times are not too onerous. It usually takes 1 business day to obtain overflights and 3 business days for landing permits, but this jumps to 7 business days if you're originating from 1 of 8 Prior Reference Countries (PRC). If you're operating an aircraft registered in China, or operating any aircraft from China to India, plan on 7 business days lead time for overflight and landing permits.

"When operating to joint use civil/military airports, including AGR (Agra Airport) or PNQ (Pune Intl Airport), plan on 30 days lead time along with enhanced documentation mandates," notes World Fuel Expert Advisor, Business Aviation for India Ryan Medeira.

"Be aware that you may need to request airport slots a week in advance and parking is usually limited to 72 hours at busy locations, such as BOM. Also, permit revision options may be restricted and you'll need to list the number of passengers onboard for each flight leg with every permit request. This can, at times, lead to lack of short-notice operational flexibility."

"Particularly for operations within India and to domestic-only airfields, plan on additional lead time," advises UAS Regional Ops Mgr Duke LeDuc. "When flying into secondary or domestic-only airports it's advisable to work with a supervisory agent from a major center such as DEL (Indira Gandhi Intl Airport, Delhi) or BOM.

For some smaller locations you may have difficulty sourcing charts and it usually works out best to position someone in to oversee coordination of your flight handling. Several days additional lead time is recommended, customs/immigration options must be confirmed and crew/passengers should be aware that local road congestion can often be extreme."

Cabotage restrictions within India are also a consideration. While it's usually not an issue picking up and transporting foreign nationals in India, it can be problematic moving Indian nationals within country aboard foreign-registered business aircraft. "We caution operators that cabotage considerations are often interpreted locally," says Avfuel Account Exec David Kang. "While we try to give crews a range of cabotage scenario interpretations, the rules seem to vary from airport to airport and can change without notice."

Popular airports and ground handling options

Bombardier Global on final to BOM (Chhatrapati Shivaji Intl, Mumbai). While it is possible to obtain 72-hour visa-free stays for flightcrews at this location, there are risks are associated with this practice.

"Most GA operators visiting India use either BOM or DEL but there are also routine ops into CCU (Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Intl Airport, Kolkata), MAA (Chennai Intl Airport), AMD (Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Intl Airport, Ahmedabad) and BLR (Kempegowda Intl Airport, Bengalore)," says ITPS Operations Mgr Ben Fuller.

With prior permission it's also possible to use smaller airports such as AGR, PUN, JAI (Jaipur Intl Airport) and GAY (Gaya Airport).

While the general quality of Indian ground handling is good, there are no networks of Western-style FBOs or general aviation terminals (GAT) to take advantage of. "The only exceptions are BOM, which has a GAT, DEL with a GA lounge and MAA with a separate GA entrance into the main terminal," says LeDuc. All handling agents in the country must be approved and listed by the Airport Authority of India (AAI) and only approved agents are permitted to apply for permits.

Be aware of assorted restrictions when operating to military airfields. "Officially it takes 30 business days to set up a permit to land at a joint use civil/military airport in India but we're often able to do this in 15 to 20 days," says Universal Weather Associate Trip Owner Adriel Wilson. "Once your permit is approved, however, schedule revisions can become difficult. And if you decide later to add a passenger, this will kick in a new permit application requirement."

Permits and airport slots

For overflight permit purposes, be aware that India has a large FIR covering vast ocean areas. However, as long as you avoid land masses such as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands by 12 nm, you may travel through the FIR without an overflight permit.
Only standard aircraft documentation and certificates are needed for landing and overflight permits. Barker points out that although local sponsor letters are not required for India ops, you do need to provide a statement showing the purpose of your trip.

As mentioned, note that permit lead time increases to 7 business days if your flight is originating from a PRC, including Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka or Sudan.

"Several major airports of entry in India are governed by slots as well as arrival and departure curfews," notes Barker. "Airport infrastructure in India is constantly under development so it's wise to check for NOTAMs. Work in progress is frequently a factor in operational restrictions. PPR is always needed for ops into joint use civil/military airfields such as AGR and PNQ."

Permits are processed Mon through Fri during normal CAA business hours and are valid for 48 hours or sometimes more. Only emergency, medevac and humanitarian permit requests are processed after hours or over weekends.

Be aware, also, of assorted curfews and operating restrictions. To operate between China and India you'll need to plan a dogleg to the west over Pakistan or to the east over Myanmar and/or Bangladesh. DEL has a Stage 2 night curfew in place from 2200 to 0600 local and BOM currently has a 1430 to 1630 local curfew active due to runway work.


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