April 3, 2017
No matter your level of personal flying and trip-planning experience, when it comes to scheduling international flights, many business aviators prefer to avoid the often complicated, time-consuming and costly process of making international flight arrangements by handing some or all of the duties over to a flight planning service provider. As seasoned pros, not only can these flight planning services spare companies the hassles and aggravations that often come with international pre-flight planning and post-flight follow-up, but they actually can save operators money and time by ensuring that a trip goes off without a hitch and that they’ve complied with all of the regulations associated with their travel.
How do business aircraft operators decide about whether to use contract flight planning and flight support companies? What are the latest services these companies provide to help NBAA members with their operational challenges and make international trips a success? This special report provides helpful information for members exploring their options.
THE VALUE OF A PARTNER
“You want someone who is going to be your partner and take ownership of a trip and ride along with you,” said Tim Bartholomew, manager of ARINCDirect Flight Support’s International Trip Support Flight Operations. “You want someone you can trust and have confidence in, because it’s so complicated now to do an international trip.”
Regulatory and licensing requirements vary from country to country, even from region to region within a country; as do fees. Even the most seasoned operator can easily overlook a detail that can lead to delays, fines or worse.
“People don’t do things because they are choosing not to be compliant; they do it because they don’t know,” said Adam Hartley, manager of the Charter Team Orange at Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc. “Having someone there watching your back is hugely important.”
Case in point – Cuba, which people often erroneously think is now fully open to U.S. business aviation. “Cuba is a sanctioned country,” said Hartley. “Parts of it are restricted. There are [U.S.] regulations requiring you to keep data for up to five years. Our compliance department not only is helping us protect ourselves, but also the operator and their clients.” (Read more on flying to Cuba from the March/April 2017 edition of Insider).
The best international flight planning service providers also will manage visa and passport requirements, arrange ground handling and various permits, obtain TSA waivers and submit APIS information. At your destination, they also can arrange for aircraft and passenger security and create a detailed quote for the entire trip, including any special fees. Having a specialist managing the many facets of an international flight from start to finish, and even after-flight follow-up, also enables the flight crew to focus on what’s most important – flying the aircraft.
“One of the primary benefits we offer is expertise,” said Bob Overby, director of Jeppesen FliteSupport Services. “We are working trips globally every day, from the more commonplace to less common ones, so operators rely on our knowledge and experience, especially to places they may not frequent often, or have never been to.”
In fact, experience is one of the primary attributes operators should look for when researching a trip planning service provider, whether it be for international or domestic support services. Take for example, Honeywell, which has worked in the aerospace business for more than 100 years. Its flight services business was established 30 years ago.
Having a specialist managing the many facets of an international flight from start to finish, and even after-flight follow-up, enables the flight crew to focus on what’s most important – flying the aircraft.
“We were the very first business aviation datalink provider,” said Kiah Erlich, director of Honeywell’s flight services. “We’re going off a long history of really understanding aerospace, so starting with what we do and what we know specifically, we really know the airplane.”
Jeppesen’s International Trip Planning Services is celebrating 40 years in business in 2017. Its Jeppesen FliteSupport Services provides a mix of customized, flexible trip planning solutions.
Flexibility in what services an operator chooses to use is also an important factor in picking a flight service provider. And much of that depends on the level of experience and sophistication of the flight department in managing international travel arrangements. For that reason, many flight planning and support services catering to business aircraft operators that fly overseas offer a full menu of international trip planning support services that are customizable to the needs of its clients.
“Depending on the location, we can customize what we provide,” Bartholomew said. “Someone running to the Caribbean may not need all the services we provide because they make the trip five times a year, while someone flying to China may need all of our services.”
From pre-flight trip planning, through flight following and arrival at the destination, ARINCDirect’s services typically include providing optimized custom flight plans, making fuel and handling arrangements, and providing support via a network of global airport service providers.
24/7 SUPPORT FOR ALL NEEDS
Having international offices and regional assistance capabilities, as well as the ability to provide weather tracking, manage cockpit and cabin connectivity needs, and offer expertise in handling the morass of regulatory, licensing and ATC requirements, are just some of the things companies look for when hiring a flight planning service provider.
“We provide 24/7 logistical support to manage new and/or changing conditions of a trip, including new locations, time changes, additional passengers and more, all of which have a direct effect on the services needed on arrival,” said Jeffrey Briand, senior vice president of global trip support for World Fuel Services/Colt International (WFS-Colt), a provider of fuel services, trip support and aviation insurance. “These changes also can impact regulatory issues, such as landing permits, slots and customs.”
A program like Flight Sentinel – which offers Honeywell Global Data Center benefits with international trip support powered by Jetex – can serve as a 24-hour worldwide flight support services partner for a company. Using state-of-the-art tools and experienced flight data specialists, the Flight Sentinel team monitors airspace and ATC initiatives to help operators fly more efficiently, avoid hazardous weather and ATC delays, and ensure on-time departures on a global scale.
Jetex offers a full range of trip support services outside the Flight Sentinel partnership as well. It has established state-of-the-art operations centers in Dubai, Miami and Beijing that are fully staffed around the clock and ready to meet the needs of business aviators in any area of the globe.
When considering whether to use a flight planning service, the experts say it’s important to analyze your needs. If you’re flying internationally, not only do you want a service with that expertise, but you also need to consider the level of support they offer.
“Make sure they offer international charts that are up to date,” said Erlich at Honeywell. “Also, is someone going to greet you at your destination, and will you have a ground handler?”
For operators that prefer to handle all or part of the trip planning themselves, many flight handling services today offer web-based and mobile application services providing a complete menu of easily accessible tools to accomplish the job.
For example, ARINCDirect’s flight planning and weather service enables operators to create and file electronic flight plans anywhere in the world, using aircraft performance data and the latest atmospheric forecasts for the most precise fuel burns and time calculations. Operators also can run flight plans, check weight and balance, track flights and more.
Looking at these offerings, it’s interesting to note that the definition of “domestic operations” is changing, at least with regard to international flight planning, according to World Fuel’s Briand.
“Now, domestic includes North America. Going to Canada is considered domestic, so [some new-generation pilots] don’t outsource that work,” Briand said, adding that the trend extends to the Bahamas and, in some cases, Mexico. “So, domestic is creeping past what you traditionally would define as being that country you’re in. Even in Europe, for a customer based in Frankfurt, domestic is all of western Europe.”
THE TRIP-PLANNING PROCESS
While everyone enjoys the flexibility business aviation offers and the convenience of being able to hop on a flight and travel on a moment’s notice, for international flights, the experts advise to plan ahead.
“The sooner you can get us the information, the better,” said Bartholomew. “That doesn’t mean your flight service provider can’t do it in a heartbeat. Things happen in business aviation, and we can do whatever is needed to make a trip happen. But would we like to have two weeks of planning for a trip? You bet we would.”
Many flight planning and support services catering to business aircraft operators that fly overseas offer a full menu of international trip planning support services that are customizable to the needs of clients.
The obvious reason is the time required to secure permits and meet regulatory requirements, both in the U.S. and in the destination country.
“Permits take a long time,” said Erlich. “Experience is that the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol sticker that is required on the inside of your aircraft door when you fly internationally should be ordered a couple of weeks in advance.”
In short, you should proactively plan ahead, which is an added value offered by most experienced flight-planning service providers.
For example, World Fuel offers a services and regulatory database that enables all landing/departing airports to be checked for regulatory items (customs, immigration, slots, landing permits, etc.). Each city pair is evaluated for the countries overflown and the need for a permit to be obtained in advance of the overflight. The company’s trip systems automate this process, and monitor for these requirements, helping operators avoid missed countries, according to Briand.
“Each regulatory and service item (handling, catering) is then considered for when it should be set up, although not too soon because the schedule might change, costing the customer money for a change of arrangement, and not too late that getting the item arranged is in breach of a lead time,” he said. “All of the services needed on a trip are then worked individually through to confirmation, while at the same time changes in schedule are being applied and vendors notified accordingly.”
For most services, the pre-planning starts immediately, especially if the trip is to a congested airport or for a special event.
“They [operators] submit the trip details to us, and often our first step is to determine the best airway routes or to reconfirm that any preselected routes are optimum,” including Eurocontrol Network Operations Center (formerly CFMU) approval for flights to Europe, said Overby at Jeppesen. “The route verification process will often affect the enroute times and the permits required. We then verify all the services required for the trip and what the customer would like us to perform.”
Depending on how much lead time there is, Jeppesen will start requesting the appropriate support services.
“In many cases, we may only request the most critical services first, such as slots or parking, and then fine tune the handling details as it gets closer,” Overby said. “A few civil aviation authorities have limitations on the number of permit changes that can be submitted, so we take that into account when we plan the timeline of applying for those permits.”
Jeppesen also confirms the credit for third-party billing in conjunction with setting up the required services. “The customer is able to view the status of the services we’re providing as they are being coordinated,” Overby said.
PRICING AND PLANS
Another important consideration for any operator in researching flight planning service providers is cost. And what one pays for these services depends, naturally, on the level of support required.
Many providers offer services both on a subscription and a la carte basis. Charges typically fall into two categories – trip management fees offered by the provider, which include trip feasibility, planning and other associated services, and third-party charges, which include airport and regulatory fees and more.
At Universal Weather & Aviation, clients can customize services to fit their budgets.
“It’s important for operators to know what their costs are, so we offer trip estimates,” said Hartley. “We also provide a good estimate of third-party fees, so you don’t have to wait to see what the trip costs until it’s over.”
Honeywell over the last few years has simplified its pricing and currently offers only a subscription plan, said Erlich.
“In the coming months, we will be launching an a la carte plan, which is more GA focused,” she said. “But really, everything is subscription-based.”
Honeywell also is launching a new service, GoDirect Flight Bag, which is a new flight-planning electronic flight bag.
“It’s going to shake things up in terms of pricing,” she said. “There will be several options based on the kind of operator you are and what your price point is.”
Over at Jeppesen, the company has two published pricing models for trip support services. The first is a traditional ad hoc model where there is a specific price for every service the company performs – for example, a fee to set up ground handling service, a fee to request a permit and more, according to the company.
“This works well for customers who want that level of invoicing detail, or who might piecemeal what services they outsource to a service provider,” said Overby.
“We also have a sector pricing model,” continued Overby, “where we have an established fee for all core services for a sector (Point A to Point B), including revisions. This model works well for customers who outsource a fair amount of services to us and who also like greater predictability of the trip set-up costs upfront.”
For a new customer, Jeppesen discusses both models to help determine which would be the best fit. Also, the company can tailor a specific pricing model for a client, depending on their needs.
Meanwhile, World Fuel offers several pricing models.
“The most common is the first-party – an ad hoc per-service charge… for making the arrangement,” said Briand. “If there are 10 things wanted on a leg, each service would be considered for an individual ad hoc charge.”
World Fuel also offers a flat rate program, which offers the customer consistency in what to expect in their bill.
“For example, on leg one, the client may buy one service, but it would cost him $100,” said Briand. “However, leg two might be five services, and it would still only cost him $100. All services done through a third-party vendor [on the ground] are subject to a pre-agreed-upon administrative fee. If the agreement is 10 percent, then this would be added to any vendor charge billed to WFS-Colt on behalf of the customer.”
Briand said this is standard practice throughout the industry. Entities such as ATC organizations, airport authorities, civil aviation authorities, etc., are billed the same way, he said.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
In summary, while expertise and reputation are among the most important factors to consider, the experts advise operators to look for the following when booking a flight planning service provider:
- A configurable, scalable flight-planning system that integrates well within their current business environment.
- Highly experienced global trip specialists with five to 10 years of minimum experience, which may include a dispatch or pilot license.
Finally, look at the personnel and look for a company with employees who have some longevity, because this means they enjoy what they’re doing and like working for the company.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Business Aviation Insider.