September 16, 2013

An international coalition of aviation and business advocates has persuaded the government of India to change a visa policy that recently prevented many flightcrews from obtaining the documents necessary to enter the country.

In May, just as NBAA, Universal Weather and Aviation and the US-India Business Council had worked with the Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to cut the time required for permits to overfly India from seven working days to three for aircraft landing in India, and from three days to one for those overflying the country, a new challenge surfaced.

“Business aircraft crews from the U.S. and other countries were having significant difficulty getting visas to enter India,” said Universal Vice President for Government and Industry Affairs Lex Den Herder, who also serves on NBAA’s International Operators Committee.

Complicating the issue, the delays in crew visa issuance varied widely, depending on where foreign air crews made their applications. It soon became clear, however, that the Indian government had stopped issuing business visas to crewmembers and started requiring employment visas, according to Universal’s country manager for India Rajan Mehra.

“It seemed there was a huge miscommunication over employment visas at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA),” said Mehra. “They should not be required of foreign crews, only those foreign pilots flying Indian-registered aircraft.”

In addition, MHA began requiring landing permits as a condition for visa application, Den Herder said. This combination of issues pushed the time to obtain a multi-entry crew visa from three or four days to as much as five weeks.

A coalition of businesses and aviation organizations formed to address the visa problem. The group included NBAA, Universal Weather and Aviation, India’s Business Aviation Operators Association (BAOA), G3 Visas, International Business Aviation Council, General Aviation Manufacturers Association and the US-India Business Council.

“I spoke to the Home Secretary’s office,” said BAOA President Rajish Bali. “It appeared all this was in reaction to intel reports regarding homeland security.

General aviation is an engine for economic growth,” said Mehra, with the MHA. “There are mid-level businesses in India that want to expand. They can only do that through the use of business aircraft. Mehra said that message appeared to strike a favorable chord among MHA officials. “As a result of all this [education], government has become much better informed about GA than ever before.”

Prompted by the coalition’s education efforts, MHA issued a memo to its diplomatic outposts around the world recommending the issuance of crew visas within three days of application. Citizens of some countries, most notably, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and Iraq, will not be eligible for such fast service.

“There are still bumps in the road,” Den Herder said, noting the new circular requirement for DGCA to convey clearances issued for non-scheduled flights to the Bureau of Immigration and the Director General of Police. DGCA is working out this process.

He also cited the ongoing dialogue between the coalition and Indian officials that he hoped would eventually lead to India’s adoption of a program comparable to the automated passenger information system currently used in the U.S., which would electronically support the conveyance of appropriate data to Indian authorities.