Tips for Planning Your First Mission to Mexico & Central America
For business aircraft operators planning their first trip to Mexico or Central America, preplanning is key. While these are relatively straightforward business aviation environments, local regulations, permit lead times, and operating requirements vary depending on destination. It’s best to coordinate with your 3rd-party provider and ground handler to avoid snags. In general, Mexico has more issues to consider – in terms of permits, regulations, and operating restrictions – than Central America.
Here are some useful tips when operating to Mexico and Central America:
1. Some unique aspects about operating to this region
Many countries within the region require overflight permits, and there are restrictions, particularly for Mexico, on how charter (non-scheduled commercial) carriers operate. Regulations differ country to country, and in some cases regulatory compliance can be complex. It’s important to remember that SENEAM overflight fees for Mexico must be self-calculated, reported, and paid to avoid issues when operating to Mexico. Failure to do so may result in denial of overflight or having your aircraft detained on arrival in Mexico. Also consider language, security, and cultural issues within the region. Security risks must be taken seriously when operating to Mexico.
2. How the operating environment has changed in recent years
Traffic has increased, and there’s more locally based general aviation activity within the region. Tech stops are also on the uptick due to expanding business and trade between North and South America. Security concerns, meanwhile, continue to crop up in Mexico. It’s important to coordinate security briefings and planning with your security department and 3rd-party provider and to network with operators who’ve recently traveled to the region.
3. How operations differ from those in other regions of the world
Compared to European and Asian operating environments, Mexico and Central America have lower traffic density and fewer airport slot and Prior Permission Required (PPR) requirements. Operating costs are typically lower than those to other regions, and permit lead times are usually less demanding. Many 24/7 international airports are available to operators, and international tech stops do not require customs clearance.
4. Permit and documentation requirements that need to be considered
Be mindful of permit lead times especially if you plan to do frequent charter operations to Mexico. In general, with the exception of Mexico, permit requirements are similar for both private non-revenue and charter operations. PPRs are required at some locations in Mexico and Central America, and landing permits will be needed for some destination and tech stops.
Aircraft documentation requirements differ depending on the country, and it’s important to consider crew and passenger passport and visa requirements. Try to have at least six months’ remaining validity on crew and passenger passports. Operators to Mexico require special wording and coverage on aircraft insurance policies. Depending on where you enter the region, there may be vaccination requirements and incubation lead times to consider. Work with your 3rd-party provider and ground handler to confirm all documentation and vaccination requirements.
5. Aircraft service issues to consider
Full services can be arranged on credit at major airports throughout the region. It’s best practice, however, to provide at least 24 hours’ notification of catering and required 4th-party services. While aviation fuel cards are accepted at many locations, there are some airports where fuel releases are recommended. Fueling delays, for the most part, are not an issue within the region. But it’s best practice to avoid scheduling fuel uplifts during peak periods of commercial activity. Service levels are generally high, but there are exceptions when landing at smaller airports with limited business aviation activity.
6. In-flight catering tips for this region
Some operators prefer to use in-flight caterers while others like to source catering from local restaurants and hotels. Consider availability of refrigeration – at your fixed-base operator or ground handler location – if catering is not going to be delivered directly to the aircraft. Check security screening restrictions that may impact bringing self-sourced catering airside.
7. Some tech stops that are better than others
While there are many good 24/7 tech stops for operators traveling between North and South America, both San Jose (MROC) and Tocumen Int’l (MPTO) are two of the most popular. When planning tech stops, consider fuel availability, quick-turn services, permit requirements, availability of credit, and ease of repositioning crew and/or bringing in aviation maintenance technicians if needed.
8. Some permit considerations
Official permit processing lead time averages five business days, but it’s best to provide one week’s notice for permits. Shorter-notice permits are often obtainable at discretion of local civil aviation authorities. Schedule changes are usually easy to confirm once a permit has been issued. Be aware that cabotage is a concern in Mexico. And, private non-revenue operators must carry a letter stating who is onboard and their relationship to the company that owns the aircraft.
9. Information required to set up ground handling arrangements
Provide your ground handler with tail number/call sign, aircraft type, itinerary, crew and passenger information and any special service requests. If your ground handler is assisting with permits, be sure to provide all documentation and required information in advance. Have your ground handler complete and prepare arrival/departure cards in advance to expedite arrival/departure process. Check options for onboard customs clearance or expedited customs clearance within the main terminal.
10. Hotel and local transport considerations
Many excellent hotels, including major-chain hotels, are available within the region, and rates are comparable to, or lower than, those at other locations worldwide. Particularly when operating to Mexico, operators need to consider hotel security for crew and passengers. Rental cars and local taxis are not recommended for local transport. It’s best to arrange prepaid transport (car and driver) with your ground handler.
Successful and smooth operations to Mexico and Central America require pre-planning. It’s important to work with a 3rd-party provider and ground handler on permit and lead time requirements, security considerations, and local documentation and requirements for all airports you plan to visit.
If you have any questions or would like more information on operations to North, Central, or South America, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.