April 2, 2012

Apparently realizing they have overlooked unpaid overflight fees dating back at least a decade, Mexico’s air traffic authority, SENEAM, has published the names of hundreds of aircraft operators who are officially in arrears. In some cases, operators could be denied overflight privileges if they don’t pay up.

“This is not something where people were receiving a bill and electing not to pay it,” explained NBAA’s Scott O’Brien. “These operators had not even received a bill.”

NBAA, which is investigating the issue, has so far found that the unpaid balances may have been incurred by operators who didn’t realize that aircraft flying through Mexican airspace must self-report their aircraft size (as determined by wingspan), their point of entry into Mexican airspace and their point of exit. In some cases, along common routes, this information is published by the Mexican government. In other cases, for instance, when the flight crew is using GPS navigation, there is a formula used to calculate the fee.

John McClelland, who manages permit services at Universal Weather and Aviation, said he was surprised that the Mexican government had created a list of operators with unpaid overflight fees and actually denied overflight privileges to those with outstanding balances.

In cases where clients were listed among those with unpaid overflight fees, McClelland said, “We’re validating those and trying to match up dates and trips and routes and such.”

For operators that land in Mexico, the Mexican government captured some of the fees through fuel charges, explained McClelland. Now, with the advent of a self-reporting program for aircraft that overfly, but do not land in Mexico, Universal is also investigating the best ways for its operators to stay current with Mexican overflight fees.

Recently, Venezuela has implemented a similar practice of denying overflight privileges for operators with overdue fees. As for paying those overdue overflight fees, McClelland said that can be rather complicated, especially in Venezuela where as many as 300 operators are on the so-called “black list.”

“I’ve lost a few hairs over the situation in Venezuela,” McClelland said. To have a customer removed from the list of operators denied overflight privileges for lack of payment, McClelland said the Venezuelan aviation authority, INAC, required a letter, properly formatted in Spanish, requesting reinstatement. Upon receipt of that letter, he said, INAC would confirm the amount owed by the operator. That amount can be transferred by wire, McClelland said, the receipt for payment must be physically presented to INAC.

To make matters even more complicated, even physically presenting the wire transfer receipt does not guarantee an operator overflight rights in Venezuela.

“You can find that there’s a little lapse in the time that INAC gets you cleared, then they pass that along to ATC,” McClelland said.

NBAA continues to investigate the overflight fee situations in both Venezuela and Mexico to ensure that operators are being treated fairly and have a clear understanding of any overdue fees they may owe. In the meantime, you can find more information on the NBAA web site, which has published a Guide to Overflying Mexican Territory (3MB, PDF).