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Transitioning to International Operations

Flying overseas involves substantial preparation, even more so if you have not done it before.

Planning for an international mission has never been more important for business aircraft operators, especially for those new to overseas flying. The operating environment continues to evolve due to numerous factors, from COVID-19-mitigation requirements and restrictions to North Atlantic track changes.

Operators that have not flown internationally before need to obtain the latest pertinent information on the proposed route, destination and alternate airport from a variety of sources, including consulting the company security department, if they have one. Then, they need to obtain international procedures training and develop detailed plans that take into account various possible travel scenarios and contingencies.

Similar, But Different

“The good news about transitioning from domestic to flying internationally is that there are many similarities,” said Brian Moore, senior vice president of operations for FlightSafety International. “An ILS approach is an ILS approach, no matter where you go.” But, he added, pilots making the transition to international operations need to take into consideration a number of things that are significantly different.

“One such difference is weather and weather planning, because it’s not the same as picking up the weather [information] here domestically,” said Moore. To learn the intricacies of this and other operational considerations, he suggests, “It would be smart, if you’re just starting out, to use a flight handling service, particularly if you’re going to be flying over the Atlantic.”

Robbie Moon, the director of flight operations for Deel & Winkler Family Office who has made eight Atlantic crossings to the European Union in a single-engine turboprop, agrees that having an international handler is important.

“As soon as you depart domestic airspace, it's no longer just about flight planning, flying the plane and getting fuel.”

Robbie Moon Director of Flight Operations, Deel & Winkler Family Office

“As soon as you depart domestic airspace, it’s no longer just about flight planning, flying the plane and getting fuel,” explained Moon. “Now you’re talking about customs, immigration, permits and taxes that may be required. This is where using a flight handler becomes important, because it’s almost impossible to know every regulation for every country in the world.”

Prior to his first flight to the EU, Moon also decided it would be worthwhile to take specialized training.
“When I first started to prepare for that trip, I didn’t know where to start, because it’s just an entirely new world of information,” said Moon. “The best thing that I did was to take an international procedures course offered by a major training provider, which is essential when starting out with international operations.

“I also took water survival training,” continued Moon,” where they put you in a pool working with inflatable rafts and emergency egress, in case you get flipped upside down underwater. Learning how to get into a life raft while wearing a full-immersion suit was an important part of that training.”

Pair With an Experienced Pilot

Moore suggested that, if possible, operators new to international operations would be wise to pair an aviator making his or her first trip abroad with an experienced pilot who brings to the flight deck knowledge of the route.

“Having an experienced pilot with you is key,” explained Moore, “because when ATC gives you route changes you did not expect, while possibly speaking rapidly in broken English, is no time for the pilot flying to learn the idiosyncrasies between domestic and international flying. On my first international flight, I was left seat, and the guy in the right seat had flown the route before, so he knew what to expect. If we were just a couple of greenhorns, we’d have been so far behind the airplane,” he said.

“If you are parked at a large FBO in more-developed parts of the world, they will be watching your airplane just like over here. But if you are at a backwater destination, you need to start thinking about airplane security.”

Brian Moore Senior Vice President of Operations, FlightSafety International

In fact, Moore says pilots new to international operations need to be prepared for anything a foreign controller throws at them.

“We tend to get kind of spoiled here domestically because you get what you file fairly consistently,” said Moore. “On international routes – especially in less-developed parts of the world – there’s a lot more deviation, so you need to be very comfortable working the FMS intuitively.”

Consider Ground Operations, Too

Once pilots have landed safely at an overseas destination, they need to be prepared for how the FBO will handle the airplane.

“I found the FBOs overseas to be very busy, so you need to plan a lot more time than you might expect for tasks to be completed because things take a while, particularly at a lot of the European locations,” said Moore.

“You need to be ready for anything,” he continued. “On my first international flight, the ground crews would not handle anti-ice fluid because it is hazmat, and we were not able to buy fuel that already had fluid in there. So we needed to carry those additives ourselves and figure out the hazmat impact of that.”

Other international service considerations include ground transportation availability, aircraft security, catering services and off-duty crew security, even when using an international trip planning service.

“If you are parked at a large FBO in more-developed parts of the world, they will be watching your airplane just like over here,” said Moore. “But if you are at a backwater destination, you need to start thinking about airplane security and how you’re going to handle that. You don’t want to end up in a situation where somebody stops your crew to say that if you want back into the airplane, it’s going to cost you some cash.”

Even such small details as having the wrong SIM card in a mobile phone can be troublesome, making placing calls from an international location difficult to impossible.

Moore says operators should have contingency plans to help keep a trip on schedule.

Seek Advice from Experienced Pros

One of the best ways for new international operators to obtain reliable information on overseas operations is to network with those in the industry who know the intimate details of worldwide destinations, said Scott Harrold, president of Sky Aviation International, an aviation consulting firm. Getting advice can be as simple as posting a question on NBAA Airmail or attending the NBAA International Operators Conference. “Even when an operator is using a trip planning service, there are details that other operators know from first-hand experience, from actually making the trips and being there on the ground,” said Harrold.

“I recommend that anyone with questions about international operations reach out to NBAA, which has specialists that can either directly answer questions about flying or managing aircraft, or can direct that operator or pilot to other resources,” added Harrold. “Especially in the age of COVID-19, operators should contact NBAA staff, as they stay on top of everything that is changing rapidly.”

Review NBAA’s international resources.

Don’t Get Lost in Translation

One of the concerns of business aircraft pilots making the leap from domestic to international operations is possible language barriers.

“Language barriers happen not only with ATC, but also with ground personnel,” said Andrew, an FAA-certified flight dispatcher for a large international operator in the Northeast. “Be wary of the ‘yes’ trap. Handlers may just default to ‘yes, no problem, we can do that for you,’ when they may not fully understand the ask. Take your time and explain everything as clearly as possible. It helps to learn a few key words and phrases in the local language, and apps like Google Translate can fill in language gaps when needed,” he said.

Chad, another dispatcher for the same international operator, says their department dispatches 70 international flights a year to every continent except Antarctica.

“Large international airports tend to have fewer language barriers than smaller, less-visited airports,” Chad said. “It’s quite common for airport employees and ground staff to speak little to no English. We always request that a handling agent be present planeside to translate for us, assist our crew and passengers, and oversee the services that are being conducted.”

Chad also suggests that pilots do a thorough trip debrief with dispatchers upon returning home. “Detail all of the anomalies of the trip, such as: Was the fuel truck too small, causing delays when it had to be refilled? Did we get parked on the wrong side of the airport when there were more convenient alternatives?

“Every airport has its quirks, and these need to be noted,” concluded Chad. “Your company could be flying back there next month, but with different pilots, so detailed debriefing notes will prevent issues that occurred on the previous trip.”

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