COVID operating tips for business aviation
COVID-19 has changed everything about daily life – including how we operate business aircraft. More than a year into the pandemic, we’re continuing to learn and adapt, as rules, restrictions, and best practices continue to evolve.
Although there is optimism that restrictions will start to ease toward summer 2021, as infection numbers fall and the number of vaccines distributed rises, operating internationally will never be the same. This article will attempt to compile and keep current a running list of business aviation operations best practices for now and operating in a post-COVID environment.
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Start planning international missions even earlier
Even pre-COVID, it was essential to plan as far in advance as possible. As many Civil Aviation and Airport Authorities are working on reduced hours throughout the pandemic, it’s become even more vital to give yourself ample lead-time for delayed responses.
Start talking to your passengers early about where they may want to go, so you can begin your research. Find out who will be accompanying them and where everyone has been the last 14 days, as you’ll need to find out if the trip is feasible based on travel history and the country’s entry and testing requirements.
Also, research local curfews and lockdowns. Just because you can get in doesn’t mean you want to go if you’re going to be restricted to not leaving your hotel for 10-14 days or staying in a government-operated facility. As we’ve seen, some countries have enacted harsh lockdowns, restricting all movement outside of the absolute essentials.
Lastly, remember, what you can do today you might not be able to tomorrow.
COVID Testing Tips and Best Practices
- Nearly every country now requires proof of a negative COVID PCR test (with varying validity periods), taken in advance of arrival, and one or more health forms for entry.
- PCR tests are the gold standard. Most countries will not accept a rapid test.
- Our blog article answers FAQs on the U.S. CDC’s testing requirements.
- Source a local PCR testing center near you to ensure you can get a last-minute PCR test before departure.
- There’s been a lot of demand for a global database of COVID viral testing providers, so we decided to build it. We’ll soon have providers identified in over 350 top destinations. You’ll find this information in our Feasibility Guides, which you can request from your Universal Trip Support team.
- Schedule Your COVID Tests ASAP –We’re hearing accounts of operators having to cancel travel plans because their passengers can’t get a COVID test in time. Schedule your lab appointments now. It’s much easier to cancel last minute than to find a last-minute testing slot. For Hawaii, remember that you must use one of the designated testing providers.
- For all PCR testing, advise passengers and crew to have a Passport Number, Driver’s License #/local ID #, and Full Name included on the test results. An increasing number of countries are requiring this. It is a general best practice to avoid potential issues. Testing providers should be able to accommodate this with no problems. Also, note that countries’ validity window is usually based on swab date/time, not results date/time.
- COVID Testing for Relief Crew on Airlines– This continues to be a hot question. Technically, relief crew are active crew and, thus, exempt. NBAA has suggested this template letter that active crew could present to the airlines to be exempted. However, it’s our opinion that doing the testing is a less risky, more straightforward option than trying to get exemption authorization from airlines – and reports from other operators confirmed the same.
- Easier CDC Attestation Forms – We’re now providing these automatically, pre-populated with your leg and passenger information, on Universal-managed trips where we’re handling your inbound U.S. Customs. Free.
We’re receiving a TON of inquiries on vaccine passports. While there isn’t widespread adoption of vaccine entry exemptions by countries yet, IATA is working on its Travel Pass initiative, which is reported to launch next month. A BIG HOWEVER is that IATA’s program is NOT being written for GA. We’re all over this with IBAC, NBAA, and other GA advocates and will keep you posted.
Our blog article has a running list of countries with vaccine passport programs.
Be mindful of crew exemption restrictions when exiting “dirty” countries
Crew exiting “dirty” countries with mutated COVID strains should double-check the requirements of the country they’re entering, as many countries have eliminated crew exemptions in these scenarios. We’re also seeing fewer total bans of entrants from dirty countries in favor of just more stringent testing and quarantine requirements.
Don’t forget local curfews and don’t break the rules
- While many places are open without a full-blown quarantine requirement, be mindful of local curfews. Night and weekend curfews are common.
- More countries are re-enforcing their domestic measures, threatening fines and jail time for those who break quarantine and mask mandates. Do not break curfew. In some locations, foreign nationals have been fined and made embarrassing international news for breaking curfew.
- To crack down on travelers trying to cheat the system, the UK is now imposing jail time of up to 10 years for travelers who lie about their travel history. Don’t MESS with the UK.
COVID travel log best practices
- Maintain daily travel logs of both crew and pax should include everywhere you’ve been the last 14 days. Most countries are requiring health questionnaires and documentation of travel history. Start a daily diary documenting where you’ve been so that you are prepared. 14 days minimum, but longer is better. Even if you’re currently grounded, you’ll need this once restrictions are lifted. Here’s a travel log one of our customers shared with us.
- Travel history tip – If a country has an X-day clean travel history restriction – for instance, 14 days – your travel history must be clean for the entire 14-day period. Plan on being subject to the restriction until the 15th day (X + 1). We’re seeing cases where passengers are trying to make trips on the 14th day, and they are getting denied or told to quarantine. The 14th day must be completed before departure or entry, based on whatever the country’s regulation says explicitly.
Renew travel documents early
- Passport renewals – Passport renewals for some countries, chiefly the U.S., are taking longer than usual, in some cases up to six months, to process. If your passport expires within the next 12 months, it’s a good idea to get that process started earlier.
- Many countries require a 3-to-6-month passport validity to enter—making these renewal delays a real trip killer.
- U.S. Visa Delays – Non-U.S. nationals needing to enter the U.S. should start their visa applications/renewals sooner than later. We’ve heard multiple accounts of U.S. Embassies in various countries being slow to process these.
- Applications for signatory carrier status under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) are still being processed. All U.S.-based operators (including some international companies with U.S. subsidiaries) and non-U.S. commercial operators are eligible to apply. If you are not a signatory carrier and qualify, we recommend applying to increase your operating flexibility. We can help.
Consider the Golden Visa
- Golden Visas– Countries like Portugal, Cyprus, Malta, and others have programs that grant you – and your immediate family – citizenship or residency status to make a real estate investment in the country. These programs were previously popular for tax purposes, but now they’ve taken on an entirely new life.
- A rapidly growing trend of aircraft owners and charter passengers pursuing this route for access into Europe.
- Based on current regulations, most EU countries are open to other EU countries’ citizens and residents, making this a potent travel instrument. Note: This can change in a moment, as recently witnessed with the mutant UK strain, so always check for the latest restrictions.
COVID Insurance Requirements
- Individual insurance: Be prepared to show proof of your own individual health insurance policies when operating internationally. Several countries such as Israel and Colombia require travelers to prove they have funds to cover medical costs should they be quarantined or hospitalized.
- Insurance with COVID Waiver – On your insurance, in addition to having documented coverage for COVID-related illness, many countries want to see coverage specifically for their country. If you have destinations planned, get them added to your policy so that you can show proof.
Business Aviation COVID Regulatory Best Practices
- The National Interest Waiver (NIW) is another avenue foreign nationals can seek entry into the U.S. and can be an effective means of entry. Allowed purposes of a visit include Business, Education, Training, and Medical. Application for entry is available for the following U.S. AOEs: KLAX, KEWR, KDFW, KJFK, and KIAH, as well as through the U.S. Embassy in France and the UK. Our Global Regulatory Services team has worked out the repeatable process to apply at each of these and can provide support.
- The U.S. STEP Program is an effective risk mitigation program that U.S. nationals should be using on every international trip, especially now with COVID. When the first wave hit and we saw the massive wave of lockdowns, this program helped get people on the U.S. Embassy’s evacuation list to return home. It has a whole host of other benefits like if you lose your passport or have medical issues, if there is a terrorist incident or civil unrest, etc. Our Global Regulatory Services team offers an optional, turnkey STEP Registration Service for your trips with us.
- Any operator entering the U.S. from the south should be taking advantage of the CBP’s Border Overflight Exemption (BOE) program to avoid having to make an extra stop at the first designated AOE when returning home. A BOE is good for 2 years, and it dramatically increases your operational flexibility. We can take care of this for you.
- Non-U.S. charter (non-scheduled commercial) operators flying to/from the U.S. with less than 12 flights per year MUST have a DOT Part 375 Ops Permit and/or Special Authorization. We can assist.
COVID aviation disinfection requirements
- COVID Aircraft Disinfection – More countries are requiring proof of this on arrival. We’re also hearing reports from operators asked to provide documentation showing when the aircraft was last sanitized. However, it’s not explicitly stated in the restrictions. Bangladesh, Egypt, Mali, Nicaragua, Thailand, Ukraine, and Tanzania are examples of countries that have enforced this requirement. Please share if you’ve encountered others.
- Plan Tech Stops Carefully – If you transport non-U.S. nationals, remember that U.S. Proclamations count tech steps as part of your travel history.
Hotels are at limited capacity
- Sold Out Hotels – Preferred hotels/resorts are filling up – especially ones with the most roaming space and on-property amenities. Get your reservations in now. Remember that we have a Hotel Services Team that you can lean on for help. We have contracts with a lot of hotels and chains – sometimes giving us access to rooms, others can’t get, as well as extra benefits specifically for crew.
Always confirm information – even if it’s on a government website
- That’s not what the website says. – This has been a common theme throughout the pandemic, so you cannot rely on what is on the web alone. Many countries struggle to keep their official websites current with the latest restrictions. It seemed to get better for a while. Still, with more governments issuing rapid changes to their regulations based on changing COVID infection rates, their websites are not keeping up.
How to operate with a sick pax onboard
- On the international missions we are supporting, a growing number of flight departments have asked us for help with WHAT IF scenario analyses on what to do if a passenger begins showing COVID symptoms for the particular trip leg being flown.
- Many countries, especially those in Europe, have procedures specified in their regulations, but others do not. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend always contacting us, your handler, or local authorities at your destination if this happens. Also, of course, take preventative steps by following your own screening processes before allowing passengers to board your aircraft.
Miscellaneous tips and best practices
- Be honest: You must be honest with the authorities regarding your travel and health history. It is in the best interest of both you and everyone else. Convince your passengers of the same.
- Have patience: Things are not going to operate as usual. Regardless of where you go, be prepared for things to take longer. Everything will be under additional and heightened scrutiny, and there will likely be extra health screening measures and precautions.
- Be flexible: There is no black and white when it comes to operating restrictions. Despite what an official government policy or circular may say, everything is subject to “interpretation” by authorities on the ground.
- Insurance claim documentation: Document any trip that has been canceled due to coronavirus restrictions. Many operators have already sunk costs into trips that were canceled last minute. For others, cancellation is a loss in business revenue. This will help as you’re navigating your claim options with your insurance company.
- Follow OEM guidance on aircraft sanitizing: Many have issued guidelines in direct response to coronavirus.
- Consider at-risk crew: Assess if any crewmembers fall within an at-risk category before assigning them to a flight. Several flight departments mentioned this one.
- Keep crew pairs consistently matched: Avoid rotating and intermingling individual crewmembers into different crew pairing. This can help limit exposure to the entire flight crew.
- Hold crew in reserve: If possible, consider holding some crew back in reserve if assigned crewmembers become symptomatic.
Have more tips?
If you have additional tips to share, please send them to Operationalinsight@univ-wea.com.