5 Tips for Regulatory Compliant Business Aircraft Operations in Mexico
Is operating a business aircraft into Mexico in compliance with applicable domestic and international laws and regulations possible? That was the question was debated from operators on both sides of the issue recently in a popular business aviation industry forum.
As both a ground support provider in Mexico and a TSS provider / ISP that coordinates missions to Mexico for our business aircraft operating clients, we firmly believe and know the answer is YES YOU CAN. However, it does require planning, an understanding of official procedures, and how exceptions are granted (which are never guaranteed).
In this article, we’ll lay out some best-practice tips for how you can do this.
1. Regulations change by country, so do your research in advance
Each country has its own set of regulations that operators need to abide by. Some of these regulations are targeted at specific type of operations—for instance, private non-revenue vs. non-scheduled commercial (charter). Other times, how a regulatory concept is defined may differ. An example of this is cabotage, which is present in many countries, but each country has its own interpretation and enforcement policy.
It’s imperative that business aircraft operators plan ahead for any trip they have and take the time to research applicable regulations and how they may affect this mission in question. Many issues can be avoided when given time to review the details for the particular trip with the local ground handler and authorities. If you are working with a TSS provider / ISP, they should be able to assist you with this.
2. Avoid the “that’s just the way it’s always worked down there” mindset
We often encounter situations where an operator may state “I’ve done trips to Mexico many times, I’ve always done things this way, and I have never had an issue.” It’s important to understand that though you may not have had an issue during that trip, that doesn’t mean that you were in compliance with Mexico’s regulations. Although civilian aviation law in Mexico was written decades ago, authorities didn’t enforce the regulations to the full extent and operated on a “convenience” sort of model. However, in recent years, the Mexican government has been on a mission to diminish the “convenience” sort of model, and have begun implementing checks and balances that would prevent such actions.
3. Choose the right ground handler in Mexico
To operate compliantly in Mexico, one of the most critical factors is choosing the right ground handler—and this really applies anywhere in the world where you operate.
You have to do your due diligence in selecting a handler to ensure that the handler is taking the appropriate steps to help you conduct your missions in a compliant manner. Here are some questions you might ask when selecting a handler:
- Is the handler aware of and compliant with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?
- Does the handler understand and have a reputation for following both local and international regulations?
- What process does the handler have to arrange authorizations from local authorities?
- What is the handler’s practice and policy regarding “tips” or “facilitation payments” to officials in order to expedite the process of authorizations?
- What types of training programs have been implemented by the handler?
- What audits has the handler undergone (safety, compliance, financial)?
- Has the handler passed a background check?
4. Understand Mexico’s charter ops requirements
As with any country, Mexico has its own specific requirements and regulations for non-scheduled commercial (charter) operators. When looking to operate to Mexico as a charter flight, an operator isn’t permitted to make more than one stop in the country, unless special authorization (i.e., exemption) is received from authorities (e.g., The Comandante).
However, each Comandante has the authority to grant special authorizations as he/she sees fit. This can create the appearance of procedural variances at different airports across Mexico, so it’s really important to have a discussion with your ISP and/or ground handler in advance before attempting to conduct such a mission.
Another regulation unique to Mexico is that charter operators aren’t able to pick up passengers that the same operator didn’t transport into the country. It’s important to note that this regulation is specific to the operator and not the aircraft registration.
Operators looking to obtain Mexico specific regulations on operations into and out of the country can do so via the Reglamento de la Ley de Aviacion Civil, Article 11, 22, and 32.
5. Tipping government officials – Avoid the appearance of a bribe
When traveling to Mexico, operators should not give tips to government officials as it may appear to be a bribe, even if that’s not the intent. Additionally, operators in these cases will have to prove a negative if confronted by a regulatory agency. For example, if an operator is confronted by a regulatory agency on a tip given to a government official with the accusation that it was given so that the official wouldn’t look inside a passenger’s bag, the operator will need to prove that it did not have a corrupt intent – but the payment was made in cash and no receipt was given to justify the payment. It’s not worth being in that situation. In general, all transactions should be conducted between the service provider and government officials. Moreover, operators should have a policy for zero tolerance for facilitation payments for themselves and the same expectation of any third party provider—handler, TSS Provider / ISP, etc.
Remember: If a provider makes a payment on your behalf to get things done, which may later be considered a bribe, you could be held accountable, and the burden is on you (and your legal team) to prove otherwise. However, claiming not to have knowledge of what your third party was doing is not a defense.
In general, enforcement of local and international regulations in on the rise, and Mexico is no different. You can operate to Mexico compliantly, but it will require due diligence on your part—and possibly changing how you’ve operated to Mexico in the past. Best practice is to do your research and only work with a partner that you absolutely know shares your commitment for operating in a compliant manner.
Please note that this article and the materials available herein are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.