July 27, 2012

NBAA Members operate in a remarkably diverse set of locations, each with its own challenges and peculiarities. This is the first in an occasional series containing tips and best practices for business aviation operators traveling around the world.

Pablo Peñalva is an international captain for J.W. Childs & Associates, a Part 91 operator. He also runs ARSOT Flight Support, which provides full ground handling and line maintenance services to clients operating in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Peñalva is also the NBAA International Operations Committee regional lead for South America, and here are the top five things he believes operators should know and do before traveling to South America.

1. Learn Local Procedures and Count On Delays

“Folks who fly domestically expect decent facilities. But in most parts of South America, that’s not the case,” Peñalva said. “You might park on a general ramp because there’s no designated GA ramp or FBO available. You’ll hop on a bus, get to the terminal and then mix with commercial passengers to go through customs. Expect up to a 40-minute delay.”

Knowing about potential delays in customs, and the quirks of local security procedures, gives you an edge that you can pass on to your passengers, Peñalva suggested. It’s important, he said to have a reliable international flight service provider and a person on the ground to interface with local authorities and companies on a wide range of topics you might encounter during your stay.

That local knowledge can help you avoid potentially embarrassing situations.

“In Buenos Aires, for instance there are three airports,” Peñalva explained. “If you operate at Downtown (SABE) or San Fernando (SADF), you can expect typical procedures for international business flights to clear customs and security. But if you fly into the international airport (SAEZ), all of a sudden, you run into a completely different set of issues. You’re not allowed to keep any luggage on board until you depart again. Sometimes, if they see a case of wine in the luggage compartment, they’ll want the wine taken out of the case. They don’t understand the concept of ship’s stores.”

Peñalva attributed this heightened security atmosphere to problems with drug traffickers encountered by security forces at the international airport in the recent past.

In addition, Argentina has been beset by recent labor issues that have led to work stoppages and demonstrations. “That has recently affected the availability of fuel because trucks weren’t able to get past demonstrators and out of the refineries,” he said. The lesson here: Have a broad knowledge of economic and social issues covering your primary and alternate destinations.

Peñalva also suggested ensuring you have the ability to communicate with ATC at your primary destination.

“In some parts of South America, you will find that English-speaking ATC is simply not available,” he said. “Your handler may not be able to have a local rep to set up services or credit at the Alternate.” If that is the case, you have to make sure you have the ability to communicate both in the air and on the ground with local authorities.”

2. Check Visa Requirements

When is a crew member not treated as crew? When the crew member is a flight attendant trying to enter Brazil.

“In Brazil, you’ll need a visa for your flight attendant, because that person is not recognized as a member of your crew. You’ll need to get that person a visa,” Peñalva said. Flight attendants from the U.S. do not require FAA certification. Without some sort of official certifying document, he said, Brazilian authorities will treat flight attendants as passengers.

And, he suggested making sure members of the cockpit crew carry evidence of their first class medical certification.

3. Get a Briefing on Volcanic Activity

The Andes is the world’s second-longest chain of active volcanoes, with more than 2,000. At least 500 of them are potentially active. While the last major eruptions were more than a year ago, Peñalva said their effects were felt throughout the Southern Hemisphere.

“The ash cloud blew all the way around the globe, affecting flights from South America to South Africa to Australia and New Zealand,” he said. Peñalva personally had to cancel a trip to Patagonia in March because of reports of volcanic ash.

Obtain a briefing from your international service provider ISP, he suggested, because in this regard, local sources might fail you.

“They’ll tell you there hasn’t been any recent volcanic activity. But you have to realize many providers are desperate. The ash fallout has caused a lot of hardships on local businesses that depend on business aviation. They’re sometimes not objective,” he warned.

4. Check for Ramp Equipment

The equipment most flightcrews take for granted at almost any FBO in the U.S. is sometimes hard to find in South America, said Peñalva.

“There’s a serious lack of equipment on the ground – even at major airports,” he cautioned. “Most companies have a list of equipment required on the ramp. Not only check that the equipment necessary to your operation is actually there, but that it is also in working order.” Some South American airports have equipment that is not well-maintained and often have no access to replacement technology.

Similarly, some airports in South America are simply not equipped for extremes in weather, said Penalva.

“In the southern part of the continent, many airports don’t have de-icing capability, even though the weather can be extremely adverse,” he explained. “Many have no hangars for transient aircraft, so there is no place to provide shelter from the storm. That could lead to delays.”

5. Plan Ahead for Possible Repairs

“There’s often a significant challenge with the availability of maintenance technicians, equipment and replacement parts in some parts of South America,” Peñalva said. “You may want to have an idea of how difficult it is to get spare parts into the country and what delays you might encounter having them reliably installed.”

To deal with this uncertainty, Peñalva suggested business operators flying to South America check with their international service provider or even the OEM to get a clear picture of what delays might be encountered (i.e. related to hurdles involving customs clearance of parts) in effecting repairs while on the ground at both major cities and the interior of any given country.

At NBAA’s International Operators Conference, business aviation operators can learn up-to-date information critical to complete overseas trips safely and efficiently. Conference sessions review the regulatory and operational requirements unique to different regions of the world, with emphasis on management guidance to help you operate safely in unfamiliar territories. For more information, and to review archived presentations, visit the International Operators Conference page.