Jan. 27, 2022

International business aviation operations have been on the upswing in recent months, but challenges remain due to the dynamic nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well geopolitical turmoil.

During an NBAA News Hour webinar – “New Year, New Considerations for International Operations” – experts stressed the importance of research, planning and real-time information gathering, both prior to and during the trip, to ensure a successful international operation. This Thought Leadership edition of the webinar was sponsored by MedAire.

“A lot of countries are taking a more risk-based approach to travel,” noted webinar moderator Brian Koester, CAM, NBAA director of flight operations and regulations. “With the Omicron [variant of COVID], we haven’t seen a reemergence of travel bans.”

MedAire’s Dr. Leemeshan Moodley, deputy medical director, aviation and maritime services, stressed the importance of complying with the local health regulations and authorities of the destination country or location.

“If a crew member tests positive, the first thing you have to do is abide by local regulations, especially if quarantine is required,” said Moodley. “Then, you have to look at the requirements of your return destination to see what you need to show to get back in.”

Moodley noted that MedAire can help with compliance, accessing necessary testing and obtaining a ‘recovery letter’ from a local health care professional that attests the traveler is COVID-free. The recovery letter is the “main access to get back into the country,” he said. For Europeans, the EU has a standard recovery letter that can be used by its citizens.

For flights that may be bringing a COVID-positive passenger back to the U.S. for treatment or recovery, an attestation form must be completed, which provides the necessary documentation for all U.S. agencies involved. “The attestation form outlines the risk profile for both the patient and operator,” said Adam Hartley, global regulatory services, Universal Weather & Aviation.

Even though the crew is required to review and collect attestation forms, the form actually places liability on the passenger, not the operator.

John Tuten, chief pilot/flight operations for Honeywell International and vice chairman of NBAA’s International Operators Committee, cautioned attendees to always have necessary paperwork for authorities on board, citing an instance when all passengers on a Honeywell flight returning to the U.S. were spot-checked on arrival for negative COVID test results.

“They matched passports to the valid PCR tests,” he said. Tuten cited another instance where thorough pre-planning made a difference: a crew member tested positive on a critical trip “and we had to pull out all the stops to replace the entire crew,” he said.

International operators should not assume that their only concern is COVID, however.

John Cauthen, security director, aviation, MedAire, noted the current political turmoil in Ukraine and Russia, as well as other regional issues in countries such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan, resulting in airspace concerns and possible security problems on the ground.

“You need to be thinking about these risks and how to circumvent them and find alternatives,” said Cauthen. “Pay attention, think globally, but hone in on local issues.”