U.S. Sanctioned Countries Series: Business Aviation Operations to and from Syria
This business aviation blog post is part of a series on operating to U.S. sanctioned countries.
Due to the policies and actions of the government of Syria, the United States and other countries have imposed a wide range of sanctions on the Syrian government. Among other things, the U.S. sanctions on Syria prohibit U.S. persons and companies from exporting or re-exporting most products to Syria, engaging in most financial transactions with Syria and providing many types of services to Syria. These restrictions present major obstacles and challenges for operators of U.S. and non-U.S. registered aircraft.
Operators of U.S.-registered aircraft must obtain temporary sojourn licenses (export licenses) from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) to operate aircraft to or from Syria. Obtaining the required licenses for Syria takes time, and successful outcomes are not guaranteed. In addition, 3rd-party providers must obtain a specific license from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to make payments to the Government of Syria in connection with the overflight of Syria or emergency landing in Syria by non-U.S. registered aircraft. Not all 3rd-party providers have obtained such licenses.
Because the U.S. sanctions on Syria are complex and can be changed on short notice, it is important for business aircraft operators to work closely with an experienced 3rd-party provider who can provide the most up-to-date information, assist in obtaining the appropriate licenses and guide during the planning and operations phase of flights involving Syria.
1. Current scope of U.S. on flight operation involving Syria
The U.S. government has maintained a variety of sanctions on Syria for many years. For example, as a result of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act (SAA) of 2003, an export license must be obtained from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) in order to export or re-export to Syria all items subject to the export administration regulations (EAR), which include U.S.-origin aircraft and aircraft parts and components.
In addition, as a result of a Presidential Executive Order issued on August 18, 2011, U.S. persons (including U.S. companies and individuals that are U.S citizens or green card holders) are generally prohibited from engaging in all financial transactions with Syria, engaging in transactions with blocked persons and entities in Syria and providing services to or in Syria.
Unlike the U.S. sanctions on Cuba, travel related transactions involving Syria are generally permissible, and the arranging and facilitation of travel to and from Syria by 3rd-party providers is allowable, as long as the reason for travel is acceptable, and the appropriate temporary sojourn license for the aircraft has been obtained.
Because an export license is required to export or re-export U.S.-origin goods to Syria, a temporary sojourn license must be obtained from BIS before a U.S.-registered aircraft travels to Syria. A temporary sojourn license must be obtained even if the aircraft will be traveling to Syria for a short period of time. These licenses are issued by BIS on a case-by-case basis, and there is no guarantee that they will be issued. In addition, it can take 30-45 or more days to obtain such a license, and there is no guarantee that the license will be approved. Your 3rd-party provider can only provide limited flight planning and support until the temporary sojourn is obtained.
Because of the restrictions on providing services in Syria, a U.S.-based 3rd-party provider may not be able to provide or facilitate certain trip support services involving operations of non-U.S. aircraft to Syria.
Unlike those of certain countries, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not yet issued any special federal aviation regulations (SFAR) for flight operations involving Syria; therefore, no FAA approval is currently required to conduct flight operations to or from Syria. However, operators are advised to check the latest FAA restrictions and Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) for the latest information.
Operators are also encouraged to review the following websites for more information on OFAC and BIS restrictions on Syria: www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/syria.aspx (OFAC) and www.bis.doc.gov (BIS).
2. U.S.-based 3rd-party providers may only assist “licensed” U.S.-based operators
U.S.-based 3rd-party providers can begin arranging a trip to Syria for U.S.-based operators as soon as a BIS license is in place. Such trip support services include:
- Preparing itinerary and changes, crew/passenger manifests, APIS and master crew list (MCL).
- Preparing and filing flight plans with Syria’s Civil Aviation Authority.
- Providing weather and other flight-related information.
- Handling local transactions and arrangements, including paying for landing fees, aircraft parking, airport slots and navigational fees.
- Arranging jet fuel, in-flight catering, ground handling, hotels and transportation.
- Making arrangements to organize and pay for ground services, handling, in-flight catering, transportation, aircraft parking, refueling, landing fees, customs, hotels and necessary credit arrangements.
Because of the significant restrictions imposed on travelers in Syria, all necessary travel arrangements, including visas, should be made as far as possible in advance of the trip.
3. Syrian overflight permits and emergency landing authorizations are permitted
The U.S. Treasury Department’s OFAC has issued a general license (General License 13) that authorizes 3rd-party providers to obtain Syria overflight permits and pay for Syria-related navigation fees and emergency landing authorization for U.S.-registered aircraft. Some U.S.-based 3rd-party providers have obtained specific licenses from OFAC, allowing them to arrange and pay for Syria overflights and emergency landing permits for non-U.S. registered aircraft. An “emergency landing” must be an unscheduled event that occurs during an overflight of Syria. In event of such an unscheduled landing in Syria, operators will need a contingency plan, since arranging services or support in the event of a technical problem will be difficult, particularly as it relates to parts for and service of aircraft located in Syria.
4. Travel to Syria is permissible without an OFAC license
Unlike travel to Cuba, travel to Syria is permissible without having to obtain a license from OFAC. Of course, U.S. citizens traveling to Syria must keep in mind the current restrictions on engaging in business and other transactions with Syria, including facilitating transactions involving Syria. In addition, you should check with your 3rd-party provider regarding visa requirements for passengers and crew.
In addition, because of the large number of Syrian persons and entities included on OFAC’s specially designated nationals list and the other restricted party lists maintained by the U.S. and other countries, it is important to screen all companies and individuals against the various restricted entities lists. Your 3rd-party provider should have a process in place to pre-screen your ground handling company and other service providers in Syria. If you confirm that you’ll not be meeting with any restricted entities in Syria, you’ll only require a BIS license for your aircraft.
5. Obtaining the required licenses
It can take many weeks to apply for and obtain a temporary sojourn license from BIS to operate U.S.-registered aircraft to Syria. A great deal of information needs to be provided to BIS via the SNAP-R electronic licensing system. The required documentation includes full details on the aircraft, proposed flight schedule and purpose of the trip to Syria. Once the license is issued, it is important to review and understand the restrictions and conditions contained in the license.
Your 3rd-party provider can assist you in working with BIS to obtain the necessary license and help secure legal guidance regarding a planned trip to Syria. Keep in mind that U.S.-based 3rd-party providers cannot assist with any services to Syria for U.S. operators until the proper licenses and other authorizations are in place. Non-U.S. operators, however, may request services immediately, as long as their country does not have sanctions against Syria (check with the applicable authorities).
6. Other restrictions to consider when conducting flight operations to Syria
Your insurance, lease agreement and/or company operations specifications may not permit you to operate to, or overfly, Syria. Even with necessary licenses in place, you could have challenges paying for services, given the increasing number of Syrian banks that have been added to OFAC’s Specially Designated National List. Use of credit cards issued by U.S. banks is also restricted, and other credit arrangements involving Syria are prohibited or severely restricted.
Keep in mind that U.S. 3rd-party providers cannot be involved in Syria-related travel transactions unless they are ordinarily incident to travel to or from Syria. If an operator requires additional services in Syria beyond what is deemed ordinarily incident to travel, this must be arranged using a non-U.S. 3rd-party provider, and operators will have to obtain such assistance on their own.
7. Plan “B” contingency considerations
Due to the current geopolitical situation in Syria, it’s best practice to consult with legal and security advisors at your organization prior to operating to Syria. When flight planning, always use alternates outside Syria where you can obtain reliable 24-hours-a-day services if required. Be aware that, if you have a technical issue inside Syria, it may be challenging to obtain replacement parts. While a service technician may fly to Syria via commercial airlines, without a specific OFAC license, it may be difficult to bring in tools and parts (or even a cell phone or computer.) Always have an exit plan in place. In the event of a mechanical issue, passengers are free to exit Syria via airline options without any restriction.
In addition, it is good idea to have a satellite phone available, so that you can communicate with your operations department and 3rd-party provider without having to rely on local cell phone service. Depending on the credit arrangements that are available, you may need to carry cash to pay for some services. As previously noted, it is important to think about other contingency plans in the event that the aircraft encounters any maintenance issues while on the ground in Syria.
For additional pointers on contingency planning, read this two-part article by Tonie Gorham: Mitigating Risk when Operating to Volatile Areas – Part 1 and Part 2.
The current security and political situation in Syria presents unique issues for U.S.-based operators conducting flight operations to or from Syria. As a result, advanced preparation is critical, as is working with an experienced 3rd-party provider. Operators should be realistic in their expectations and not assume that licenses will always be granted or issued in a timely manner. Your 3rd-party provider can assist operators in providing the most up-to-date information, guidance on obtaining the appropriate licenses and overall guidance through this complex process in order to make the trip as smooth as possible.
If you have any questions about this article, contact Christine Vamvakas at firstname.lastname@example.org.