Middle East Flight Permits – Maximizing Schedule and Revision Flexibility
Over recent years the permit situation has relaxed somewhat for general aviation (GA) operations to the Middle East. Still, there are longer than average lead times to consider for this region, varying and stringent visa requirements and, in some cases, unique documentation mandates to be mindful of. Best practice is to contact your 3rd-party provider early to determine applicable lead times as well as any and all permit requirements.
The following is an overview of what you need to know:
1. Permit lead times
While landing and overflight permits for the UAE average about 48 hours and are often turned around in as little as 12 hours, other destinations in the Middle East typically have longer lead time requirements. For example, Oman requires five business days to process landing permits while lead times for Israel are usually a minimum of four business days. The permit process for Saudi Arabia has eased over recent years, and landing permits can now be secured in as little as 24-48 hours, depending upon when you make the request. Pakistan, by contrast, requires six business days to process landing permits. Throughout the region lead times are similar for both private non-revenue and charter (commercial non-scheduled), but it’s best to add a day or two for charter permit requests. This is because some Civil Aviation Authorities (CAAs) may consider charter operations as commercial, and you may need to explain, or prove, that your flight is a non-scheduled charter rather than scheduled commercial.
2. Sponsor letters and business contacts
Qatar requires operators to have a sponsor prior to landing permits being issued. Note that your sponsor in Qatar must send a request directly to CAA as this cannot be done directly by the operator or a 3rd-party provider. While Saudi Arabia no longer requires sponsor letters, they do mandate – along with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen and Pakistan – business contact details with your initial permit request. CAA will reach out to your business contact to request any additional information they need.
3. Visa considerations
In most parts of the Middle East it’s necessary for passengers to have visas prior to arrival. Some locations, however, will allow visas to be processed upon arrival. There are currently no requirements in the Middle East Note to obtain all visas prior to requesting landing permits.
4. CAA operating hours
In much of the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, weekends are Friday and Saturday. So, if you request a permit on a Thursday you may not receive it until late Monday or Tuesday. When CAA is closed, there is usually no option to fast track or expedite permit requests other than for air ambulance or emergency operations. For short notice air ambulance flights, air traffic control (ATC) may be able to assist in issuing permits when CAA is off duty.
5. UAE operations
Each Emirate in the UAE handles its own permit requests. Permits for this region are relatively easy and quick to obtain, usually within 12 to 72 hours with average permit turnaround being 48 hours. Only standard aircraft and crew documentation is needed, but specific requirements are often in place regarding worldwide insurance and policy wording. Many countries in the region require operators to have War Risk coverage, and liability limits may need to be listed in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), rather than USD or Euros.
6. Operating to Oman
Plan on a full five business day lead time when applying for an Oman landing permit. If you make a request with less than five days you may have to wait until the last minute – perhaps 12 hours prior to flight – to receive a permit confirmation, or it may not even happen at all. This lengthily application process is due to specific regulatory requirements that must be met and to ensure CAA has enough time to vet everyone on board and determine if nav fees are outstanding.
7. Operating to Israel
While permit lead time for Israel is four business days it’s best to add a little more lead time due to the rigorous and specific permit application process. Aviation Security Operations Center (ASOC) wants full crew and passenger information along with a local business contact. They’ll pre-screen crew and passengers, verify business contacts, and issue a provisional permit with a user name and password. You’ll then log into a specific website to answer security questions and validate your permit. Before departing for Israel, and only from a list of specified airports, you’ll validate the permit again. Your permit will require a subsequent re-validation as you approach Israeli airspace.
8. Operating to Iran
At this time Iran is still under UN and U.S. sanctions. U.S.-based 3rd-party providers are limited in terms of services they may coordinate for operators traveling to or over Iran. While official permit lead time may be four business days, actual permit processing can take much longer. U.S.-registered aircraft and U.S. national passengers need to meet additional requirements from both the U.S. State and Commerce departments, and this often takes 30-45 days to organize. Non-U.S. registered operators can usually plan on permit lead times of four business days when using non U.S.-based 3rd-party providers and six to eight business days when working with U.S.-based providers.
9. Permit revisions
In the Middle East certain schedule and manifest changes are often just notifications looked after by your ground handler. One exception is Israel where permit revisions are necessary when arriving with additional passengers, but not when leaving with additional passengers. Permits for Saudi Arabia have +/- 48 hour validity, but if you choose to depart early, even within permit validity window, you must request a change to the scheduled departure time. Be mindful that changes to your departure point routing or stops within Saudi Arabia require new permits with lead time of about 24 hours. Permit revisions/notifications for Saudi Arabia are straightforward during CAA operating hours and often confirmed within a couple of hours. During nights or weekends, however, CAA may not respond to revision requests until the next business day.
10. Flight restrictions
Note that flight routings must be provided for certain Middle East permits – including permits for Oman, Iran and Pakistan. When operating flights with aircraft made or registered in Israel, or with Israeli passport holders onboard, be aware that you’ll not be able to obtain landing permits for most Middle East countries. If a passenger or crewmember has an Israeli stamp in their passport this will likely disqualify them from entering other countries in the region as well. Overflight permits for Israel-connected operations may or may not be possible. Note that when flying from Israel operators must always file legal routes. From time to time operators request to fly down the flight information region (FIR) in middle of the Red Sea to avoid flight restrictions on Israeli operations, but this is not legal, and 3rd-party providers cannot legally assist with such requests.
When operating to the Middle East it’s important to be aware of permit validities, CAA operating hours, specific documentation requirements and permit revision procedures. Knowing the rules for each destination in the Middle East will let you know what is and what is not possible, and this will make your operation easier from the permit and permit revision perspective.
If you have any questions about this article or would like assistance planning your next trip to the Middle East, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.