Head of State Flights – Part 2: Permit and Service Considerations

PT 4 M minute read
Head of State Flights – Part 2: Permit and Service Considerations

This business aviation blog post continues from our article last week, entitled “Head of State Flights – Part 1: Special Considerations.

The process of obtaining permits and coordinating aircraft services for Head of State operations differs from conventional general aviation (GA) flights due to the nature of these types of operations. And these types of flights are often very short notice. Fortunately, local airport authorities usually do what they can to accommodate these missions and make the necessary allowances even if the host airport is very congested with major event activity.

The following is an overview of what you need to know:

1. Permit requirements

Permits for Head of State flights are arranged through diplomatic channels. In some countries the military is involved in the Head of State permit process and there may be strict additional protocol and lead time considerations to plan for. Permits are normally coordinated through an Embassy, as trip support providers aren’t able to participate in these arrangements. For permit requests operators and/or the embassy must provide registration and airworthiness certificates, worldwide insurance, Air Operator Certificate (AOC) for charter flights, crew and passenger information and planned routes. The operator or embassy will then forward the permit number and approved routings to the trip support provider. This allows the provider to arrange flight plans, insert required remarks in Item 18 of ICAO flight plans and notify all applicable authorities at the destination. Lead time to secure Head of State permits is normally three to four business days, but short notice permits are always available for these types of flights.

2. Setting up the trip

Full schedules must always be provided to the host country for Head of State operations. For example, in the U.S. you cannot apply for a diplomatic clearance without providing a scheduled departure time out of the country. However, if your schedule should change, diplomatic clearances may be revised. It’s normally necessary to provide a complete crew and passenger manifest with full names, genders, dates of birth, nationalities, passport numbers and expiration dates, and visa information. A General Declaration (gen dec) will also be needed for crew. It’s recommended that the trip support provider communicates with customs, immigration, and quarantine (CIQ) and the embassy involved two or three days prior to arrival, to ensure there will be no issues or delays upon arrival. Most Head of State flight services and airport charges are arranged on credit, with prior arrangement, although cash payments may be involved in certain cases.

3. Parking and servicing the aircraft

At many international locations you’ll be able to use a “presidential” or preferred parking spot at the airport. These areas, however, do not usually permit aircraft services such as fueling, offloading luggage, lav/water, cleaning, and in-flight catering, so you’ll need to reposition after arrival. In the case of larger wide body aircraft you’ll need to provide information of which door(s) passengers will be exiting from and arrange any special equipment requirements – such as stairs, belt loaders and catering lifts – well before the estimated time of arrival.

4. Ramp operations

“Ramp freezes” at both civilian and military airports are common during Head of State arrivals. Ramp movements may shut down for 20-30 minutes to allow passengers to complete CIQ formalities and leave the airfield. Head of State flights often have security personnel onboard with weapons and ammunition who’ve been pre-approved via diplomatic clearance. At many international locations, but not all, airport authorities will permit armed foreign guards to remain with the aircraft. Private vehicles access to the ramp is usually also possible for plane-side pick-up/drop off with prior arrangements.

5. Service and motorcade considerations

Note that at some locations around the world government services, rather than conventional ground handlers will look after servicing a Head of State aircraft. It’s important to confirm this in advance. For Head of State motorcades you’ll need to provide a list of all vehicles and license numbers to local authorities in advance so that ramp access approval can be obtained. As these vehicles will all need to be security swept time must be allowed for this. Organizing crew hotel accommodations can be a challenge for 3rd-party providers as a Head of State Boeing 777, for example, may have 22 crew members onboard. For this reason, as much as advance notice for such requests is recommended, especially for large events like a UN convention.

6. Compliance with local regulations

Head of State flights do not supersede safety, CIQ, and agriculture regulations. For example, if the host country has a requirement that the pilot in command of a charter flight be no older than 60, the Head of State operation must comply with this. If any passenger or crew onboard require visas these must be obtained in advance. For example, upon landing in the U.S., all remaining onboard in-flight catering must be properly disposed of just like any other international arrival. And, if you have pets onboard they must have proper documentation, including health and vaccination certificates. Even Head of State passengers go through CIQ formalities.


It’s always recommended to have a dedicated trip support provider onsite to oversee the handling agent in order to help coordinate the unique requirements of Head of State operations. This is beneficial in ensuring that all services rendered at the destination go smoothly as such flights can be complex due to the status of the operation. Note that permits are obtained through diplomatic channels and this information should always be provided to the trip support provider to ensure that flight plans and the ground handlers have the required information for the flight.


If you have any questions about this article or would like assistance planning your next trip, contact me at charlesgabb@univ-wea.com.

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