GA flying to Europe

Getting airway and airport slots for almost anywhere on the Continent has become more difficult but bizjet trips to the EU are still easier than ops to China, Russia, India or Africa. And TCAS 7.1 certification is necessary.

Airway and airport slots

With no new airports being built in the EU, existing facilities are often becoming more and more congested for GA purposes. The GA ramp at SXF (Berlin Schönefeld, Germany), just like at other popular locations throughout the continent, is filling up on a more regular basis.

As popular airports in the EU become increasingly congested, airway and airport slots are more and more of an issue. "We've noticed many airports, including GVA (Geneva, Switzerland) and ZRH (Zurich, Switzerland), have become much busier over the past year," notes Kang. "Just last month we tried to get a flight into LTN with 24-hours notice, but it was not possible as the ramp was full.

As airports become increasingly crowded, it's becoming more critical to do your homework to find, or at least to consider, other options."

Eurocontrol airway slots are often not as easy or as flexible as they used to be. Airway access in and out of the UK is still pretty flexible, but airways into the Paris area tend to be more iffy. Spain can also present real challenges these days. "BCN (Barcelona, Spain) is a coordinated slot airport, so your slots and flight plan must match exactly," says Kang.

"If they don't line up exactly, or if there is airway mismanagement, the whole thing can just fall apart. Miss a slot in Spain by 15 minutes, particularly on departure, and you could face a 2-hour delay. And you could be blacklisted from future slot access if you're a repeat offender in misusing slot times."

Customs and immigration considerations

Customs and immigration is normally cleared at FBOs or general aviation terminals at larger airports. But at other locations, or if you have more than 20 passengers onboard, you'll clear via the main terminal. To expedite the process, many operators like to use "remote clearance" at UK and other airport locations. With this option your passenger can avoid physical customs/immigration clearance, but there are catches to consider.

"Remote clearance can be easier, but if you get a minute detail wrong or don't provide border control with names and documents early enough, the knock on effect can impact you in negative ways," explains O'Carroll. "We had a case where 1 number was off by a single digit and this caused a delay of about 2 hours. To ensure that any customs/immigration clearance goes smoothly, it's always important to have all paperwork in order prior to operation."

Traveling with animals and weapons are other considerations to be mindful of. In the UK, for example, a pet may only enter the country at certain designated airports and rules for weapon declarations and storage often vary airport to airport.

In terms of documentation, passports should have at least 3-month remaining validity and passengers/crew who require Schengen visas must obtain these prior to international arrival. While US citizens currently do not require Schengen visas, for EU arrivals/departures by air this may change. "The EU has just put out guidance to member states to not allow US nationals to fly without visas, and this new requirement could be put into place this year or next.

Keep in mind that even if you may not require a Schengen visa for air travel, it's recommended to have one if you plan to do any land border crossings within the EU. While this is not mandated, having a visa expedites the land border crossing process and Schengen visas are easy to obtain online," says Kang.

Assorted ops challenges

While 1st time international operators to the EU may find the operating environment a little more daunting than operating within North America (mainly due to difficulties in obtaining airway and airport slots, equipment mandates and parking limitations), few issues are encountered in practice. "While SAFA ramp checks are occurring on a more frequent basis, you can get through this in as little as 15 minutes if properly prepared with all documentation ready and available," says ITPS Sr Ops Specialist Curt Kurshildgen. "Zika virus concerns seem to have diminished in Italy this year and aircraft spraying is usually no longer required unless you've been in a region where the virus has been active."
Labor strikes are still a regular occurrence across the EU but these are often published via NOTAM.

Additional pre-planning is recommended when operating to smaller regional airports, as there may be service limitations, language barriers and lack of GSE equipment. To alleviate potential issues, it's often recommended to reposition in a supervisory handing agent who speaks your language.

The UK's exit from the EU will surely present assorted GA operational and regulatory issues in the future, but the potential impact of this remains unknown at this time. "It's a bit of a blind alley at the moment," says Cornillez. "BREXIT will no doubt have an impact and there will be operational changes to contemplate in future, but the UK and EU are user friendly GA regions and we do not expect the operating environment to become much more challenging as a result of these potential political changes."

Heading to Europe

As congestion increases on European airways and to popular EU business and tourism destinations, there will be capacity and infrastructure considerations to address in the future. "There are no new airports coming on line and there's little room to grow support infrastructure and available parking. Looking forward, additional pre-planning will be necessary when operating to popular destinations or busy event venues. This may impact some short notice or last minute operational flexibility. But there are always ways to get the mission accomplished," adds Wilson.

Being prepared, having contingency plans and knowing before you go is always good advice when operating anywhere in the international arena. "While planning trips to the EU is certainly easier than to China or Russia, it's still important to understand all applicable regulations, assemble relevant information without delay and make requests for permits, slots, parking and crew accommodations as early as possible. While you're not likely to run into significant operational problems or issues when flying your business aircraft to and from Europe, there's always the potential for something to complicate or delay your operation," LeDuc concludes.

Editor-at-Large Grant McLaren has written for Pro Pilot for over 20 years and specializes in corporate flight department coverage.


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