Business Aviation in Spain: Flight Planning and Airport Operations

PT 5 M minute read
Business Aviation in Spain: Flight Planning and Airport Operations

Business Aviation in Spain: Flight Planning and Airport Operations

This is a post by author Gonzalo Barona. Gonzalo is Managing Director for Universal Aviation Spain, which has aircraft ground handling facilities in Madrid, and Gerona. Gonzalo is an expert on business aircraft operations in Spain and can be contacted at

This business aviation blog post is part of a series on operating in Spain and continues from our last article: “Tips on Making Aircraft Ground Handling Arrangements in Spain.

Before conducting operations to Spain – or anywhere else, for that matter – it is critical to understand requirements for flight planning, airport slot and parking. Working with an experienced 3rd-party provider and/or local ground handler can be key in getting it right. In addition, charter (non-scheduled commercial) operators must ensure they have correct permits in place when operating to Spain. Below are some tips help you through this process:

1. Know Air Traffic Control (ATC) procedures prior to operations

Secure airports slots when required prior to filing a flight plan. ATC will check to ensure that airport slots have been obtained for arrival/departure. Airport slots have a deviation of –5/+10 minutes, and typically more leeway will be permitted on arrival slots. For departure, ATC will ensure your flight plan is filed for the time approved on your departure airport slot. Best practice is to obtain the earliest practical airport slot. This is because it’s easier to delay a flight plan than depart earlier than the time filed on it. Should you decide to depart early, this will require a new airport slot and a re-filed flight plan.

2. Know the rules in filing flight plans

In Spain, flight plans must be filed via AFTN or SITA, or in person with ATC. There are no charges or fees for filing flight plans. However, if you’re not using a 3rd-party provider or a ground handler, the pilot will have to physically go to ATC and pay all arrival/departure fees prior to filing flight plan. It’s more efficient to have a 3rd-party provider or ground handler do this, and full credit will be extended for all the arrival/departure fees. Non-European Union (EU) charter operators must have a landing permit prior to filing any flight plan, as they may be fined at Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) determination.

Also, Western Sahara airspace is in the GCCC FIR, which is controlled by Spain, but Morocco administers all CAA activities for that area, so all permit requests should be sent to them. Overflight permits for this area are needed flying over the Western Sahara landmass using airways UA600, A600, UB601, UG851, or G851. No overflight permits are required over water.

3. Be aware of required aircraft equipment

TCAS II and 8.33 KHz radio channel spacing above FL195 is required for all operations to Europe. Aircraft must be equipped and certified for reduced vertical separation minima (RVSM), and both pilots must be RVSM qualified. Stage 2 aircraft are banned in Spain. If you’re operating a Stage 2 aircraft that’s been upgraded to Stage 3 standards, you must furnish appropriate documentation. Be aware that airport authorities conduct random ramp checks to confirm that operators have correct aircraft and crew documentation.

4. Understand day of operation procedures

When crew arrive at the airport in preparation for departure, the ground handler will have your flight plan, crew briefing, weather package, and confirmations of any in-flight catering and other requested services available. If you are doing your own flight plan, advise the ground handler of this on arrival in order to make the appropriate arrangements. Whoever files the flight plan needs to ensure that the route is correct and accepted through Eurocontrol’s Network Management (NM). Madrid Control will forward flight plan information to ATC only 30 minutes prior to flight. So, if you contact ATC more than 30 minutes prior to departure, they will not have the flight plan information in their system yet. If you choose to depart early, you’ll need to secure a new departure airport slot and re-file the flight plan.

5. Passengers may have to leave the aircraft during refueling

When refueling with passengers onboard, you’re required by regulation to have the fire squad present. While some airports in Spain do not enforce this, be aware that the regulation is in place. Having a fire squad on standby may incur additional charges, particularly for nighttime operations. For domestic and international tech stops, passengers are permitted to deplane or go to the fixed base operator (FBO) during refueling.

6. Be aware of airport curfews and operating hours

Most large airports operate 24 hours a day, but this may change due to economic and austerity measures in Spain. Overtime is not available after posted closing hours. In the case of Madrid Torrejon (LETO), a joint use military/civilian airfield, operating hours are 0600 – 2359 local with no overtime available. Peak commercial movement hours at larger airports in Spain are normally between 0600-0900 and 1200-1330 local. Also, from time to time, airports have construction activity underway as advised by NOTAM.

For more on Madrid, reference our previous article: Tips on Picking an Airport in Madrid, Spain for Business Aviation.

7. Most airports are close to city centers

Airports in Spain are located outside city limits but usually within 30 minutes’ drive time from town centers. During rush hour, and when special events are taking place locally, drive times may be extended.

8. Understand aircraft parking considerations at airports in Spain

In Spain, aircraft parking must be approved in advance, and this is done when airport slots are requested. Ground control will advise crew of the assigned parking spot, and “follow-me” carts are typically used to direct the aircraft on the ground. For extended aircraft parking, or if you decide to remain on the ground longer than initially anticipated, a departure airport slot may have to be revised. Most airports try to separate scheduled commercial from corporate aircraft, and you’ll likely be parked in a separate area. Aircraft may have to be repositioned on the ramp (your ground handler will notify you of this), but crew do not need to be present if brakes are left off. If the crew prefers to leave aircraft brakes on, they’ll need to return to the airport in the event of aircraft repositioning. Condition of airport tarmac, taxiways, and runways is typically good throughout Spain. Be aware that hangar space is not available other than for maintenance purposes.

9. You’ll usually depart the aircraft parking area under your own power

In most cases, throughout Spain, aircraft depart assigned parking spots under engine power, but there are locations where aircraft must be towed. Confirm towbar requirements and availability in advance with your ground handler. Towbars may not be available for less-common-type corporate aircraft.

Closing Thoughts

Always use a ground handler when operating to Spain. This is because all flight plans must be filed via AFTN and SITA. It can be problematic and time consuming to pay for services independently prior to flight plan filing. In addition, your ground handler can advise on how to maximize operational flexibility and manage airport slot requirements.


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