Operating to West Africa – Airports & Considerations
Business aviation is a necessity in West Africa in maximizing efficiency of global business opportunities. Whether you’re overflying the region, making a tech stop or landing, there are assorted requirements and occasional challenges to be aware of and prepare for.
The following is an overview of what you need to know:
1. Frequently visited destinations
Permit requirements and lead times vary depending upon the country but it’s usually best to provide four to five days notification for overflight and landing permits. You’ll rarely encounter airport slot or Prior Permission Required (PPR) mandates in West Africa and overflight and landing permits often have validity of 48-72 hours. If you need to leave an hour or day later than the approved permit validity it’s normally not a problem. However, best practice is to try to stay within the validity period of your permit. Nigeria, for example, wants four to five business days permit lead time along with all the required paperwork which includes airworthiness and registration certificates, radio license, noise certificates and maintenance logs. Nigerian authorities want to see at least the last three signed off pages of your maintenance logs. GVNP, in contrast, does not require any advance documentation but you must present your certificate of insurance on landing, even for tech stops. In the case of DGAA, operators must provide local business contact information for all stops other than tech stops.
3. Airport charges, fuel and services
It’s important to ensure that fuel credit is organized for each destination. While fuel and credit is seldom an issue at larger locations, fuel availability should considered and credit arranged well in advance for smaller locations. In this region we recommend carrying some cash to cover possible fuel uplifts and airport changes in the event that a fueler, handler or airport authority requires cash payment. There could, for example, be unexpected fees or may have to pay prior to departure and certain vendors/handlers in this region prefer cash. It’s recommended that you speak to your 3rd-party provider for more information on your specific location.
4. Handling services
While there are a few dedicated fixed-base operators (FBOs) in this region, most ground handlers work out of main terminals. Terminal based handlers usually come out to assist you and some have a lounge in the terminal where customs, immigration, and quarantine (CIQ) may be cleared. It’s always important to have detailed information on exactly who it is that will be handling your aircraft.
5. CIQ clearance
In West Africa you’ll normally clear inbound/outbound CIQ within the main terminal or in certain cases within a handler lounge. With special permission it may be possible to clear onboard but this must be set up and confirmed in advance.
6. Parking and GSE equipment
General aviation (GA) parking availability is seldom an issue at any airport in West Africa. In the case of some small airports, larger aircraft types may not be accommodated and you might only have four-five hours on the ground. GA parking stands are usually power in/power out but its best practice to carry a towbar, especially to smaller airport locations.
7. Tech stops
GVNP is good 24/7 tech stop, as is DNAA and DGAA, when transiting between the U.S. East coast and Southern Africa. Gas-and-go turns can often be accomplished in as little as 45 minutes and, in most cases, there’s no CIQ clearance required, no visas needed and passengers may remain onboard. At most stops your ground handler will look after all the paperwork and the procedure is straight forward. Less frequented destinations, including Lome (DXXX), Ouagadougou (DFFD) and Freetown (GFLL) are not recommended for tech stop purposes as they have fewer resources to cater to the unique requirements of GA. There may also be challenges in terms of quality of service. Ensure that any onboard pets, weapons or exotic animal parts are disclosed to local authorities, prior to landing, in order to avoid unexpected delays.
8. Passports and visas
When operating in Africa it’s important to have at least six months remaining validity on passports. Visa requirements depend upon your nationality and the country you’re visiting. For example, in Ghana all passengers must have visas prior to arrival but crew can stay for up to 48 hours without visas. In the case of Nigeria, passengers need visas prior to arrival but crew may stay up to 72 hours without visas. If you know you’re going to be in Nigeria for a week it’s important that all crew members obtain valid visas prior to arrival.
9. Permit documentation
Documentation requirements vary by country but it’s best to carry original aircraft and crew documentation onboard when traveling to and within Western Africa. Documentation mandates are virtually nil for certain West Africa locations, such as the Cape Verde Island where no documentation is needed to set up permits and only an insurance certificate needs to be presented upon arrival. At the other extreme, Nigeria wants extensive documentation, including maintenance logs, for permits to be processed. Be mindful that insurance policies are often rigorously inspected in Africa so ensure that the operator name exactly matches the name on the policy. Some locations, including Ghana, require operators to provide local business contact information. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will reach out to your contact to verify who is coming onboard your aircraft and for what reason.
10. Permit revisions and short notice permits
While permit lead times are normally four – five business days in this region, local CAA’s are usually good about accommodating shorter notice requests and revisions. About half the countries in this region have some sort of on-call permit option available after hours. While short notice permit and permit revisions are not always easy to obtain, they can usually be accomplished quickly when needed.
11. Airport security
Airport security is very good at major airports in West Africa. Most airfields are patrolled by the military and some locations do not even allow outside vendors airside. Confirm all contact information for those who’ll be providing services to you at your destination and be sure that the person who approaches your aircraft is the correct handler or fueler.
12. Off-airport security
In terms of off-airport security there are risks to consider in this region and it’s important to be cognizant of these risks. It’s recommended that operators obtain security briefs for each location. You may want to consider secure transport and personal security protection for crews at some secondary locations. It’s best not to rent cars in this region, to stay close to your hotel and to ensure that local transport is appropriately vetted. When operating to West Africa be aware of the local geopolitical situation, keep up on local news and ensure you’re dealing with reliable and vetted fuelers, handlers and 4th-party service providers.
13. Additional tips
Note that yellow fever vaccination may be required for your next stop, if you’re continuing on to South Africa for example. This requires a 10-day inoculation lead time. At some locations, such as the Cape Verde Islands, you must spray your cabin prior to landing with an approved product, document this on your gen dec and provide evidence to local quarantine officials. For catering uplifts in West Africa we recommend providing notification of requirements 24 – 48 hours in advance.
While West Africa is a fairly easy and straight-forward GA operating environment it’s important to be mindful of longer than normal permit lead times. Additional planning is also required in terms of handling services, fuel, credit and security, when operating to smaller or secondary airfields in the region.
If you have any questions about this article or would like assistance planning your next trip to West Africa, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.