Although COVID-19 continues to evolve, creating new challenges for travelers worldwide, many U.S. business aircraft operators are spooling up for international travel, especially to the most popular destinations, such as Mexico. When planning a trip south of the border, experts say it is more important than ever for operators to have the latest information.
Before You Go
COVID restrictions and requirements regarding transborder travel change often, frequently with more stringent requirements for those returning to the U.S. Vaccination and testing requirements, individual attestations and other mandates are often different for crewmembers just dropping off passengers and returning to the U.S. versus passengers or crewmembers who will remain in the country.
The Mexican Agencia Federal de Aviación Civil (AFAC) requires that a health survey be completed prior to arrival, with a QR code provided to prove completion. The Mexico Vuela Seguro Survey identifies risk factors for travelers arriving in Mexico.
Scams related to this form have been reported to the Mexican government, with companies selling access to QR codes. The only official website for the health survey is vuelaseguro.com (“Safe Flight”), and the QR code is free with completion of the requested information. vuelaseguro.com
Currently, face masks are mandatory in all public spaces in Mexico, and temperature checks are required when entering closed spaces. However, these requirements change often and may vary from one Mexican location to another.
Some properties might have limits on use, and events can be canceled at the last minute. Operators should verify that passengers will be able to conduct their planned activities and that crewmembers will have safe access to meals and other essentials.
Kellie Rittenhouse, director of aviation at Hangar Aviation Management, LLC, recommends adding COVID requirements to your flight planning checklist and to keep those items on the checklist for the foreseeable future.
Covid Testing Resources
It’s important that operators flying to Mexico know where passengers and crewmembers can get COVID testing, if required, prior to re-entering the U.S. COVID response details can be difficult for operators to stay on top of, so seek advice from experts.
“If you haven’t been to Mexico since before COVID, it’s worth hiring a third-party handling company,” said Tim Griffin, president of Jetstream Aviation. “They can help manage required forms and also keep you updated on the most current information related to COVID.”
For example, check with your third-party handler if a passenger will use a business aircraft to enter the country and an airline to exit. The passenger will need to have the proper documentation, which the handling company should be able to assist with.
Be sure any commercial airline travel, whether for positioning crewmembers or providing a leg for passengers, includes appropriate layovers. Airline options might be limited due to COVID scheduling capacity, so a missed connection might require an overnight stay – or longer.
“What we think should be a normal business day just isn’t normal right now. ”
KELLIE RITTENHOUSE Director of Aviation, Hangar Aviation Management, LLC
To best manage U.S. Customs requirements, Griffin recommends that the captain assigned to the flight contact the Customs and Border Protection office at both the point of departure and the point of entry to advise of the upcoming flight.
Part 135 operators requesting a blanket permit should be aware of requirements to equip with a CVR, FDR, ELT, GPWS and TCAS when flying in Mexican airspace. In some cases, MEL relief for these items may preclude operators from receiving a blanket permit. NBAA is actively engaged with the FAA to address the inconsistency between Mexican requirements and FAA requirements.
Regarding FBO arrangements, call ahead to confirm parking is available at your destination airport.
Finally, always review NOTAMs for airport or facility closures, Rittenhouse advises. “What we think should be a normal business day just isn’t normal right now,” she said.
Check Your Insurance
A separate Mexican certificate of insurance is required to fly into Mexico. Jim Gardner, president of The James A. Gardner Co., Inc., explained that this mandate reflects the Mexican government’s desire to ensure, in the event of an accident, that any Mexican citizens who are injured or suffer property damage can be compensated without crossing borders or engaging in international litigation.
A Mexican policy is written for either commercial operations or private operations. If an aircraft serves both purposes, be sure that the aircraft’s policy reflects the highest rating – that is, for commercial operations – as liability limits are different. Your insurance broker can help you obtain a Mexican insurance certificate as part of your current policy.
The advantage of getting a Mexican insurance certificate through your existing insurance carrier is that the policy then typically carries higher limits than what’s on the face value of the Mexican policy itself. If you’re in a hurry, Mexican insurance can be purchased online, but this option is also more easily accomplished with a broker’s assistance.
Gardner cautions operators that the Mexican government is now more stringent about who is a named insured and who is on board the aircraft. Contact your broker with any questions about coverage.
For any international flights, be sure your policy includes “war hull and liability.” The term means the policy does not just cover combat or conflict scenarios. It provides protection in several situations.
Some insurance carriers may require detailed information about the aircraft, operation and passengers, including serial numbers of engines, the federal employer identification number for the aircraft operator or owner, and the passport numbers of passengers. Have this data available when securing a Mexican insurance certificate.
Perhaps most important, make sure the Mexican insurance certificate you need can be delivered to meet your timeline. Obtaining an insurance certificate is not instantaneous. Obtaining a proper certificate through your existing carrier can take a week, depending on their workload. An online policy can be secured in less time, but often the liability limits are less than those provided by your insurance company. If you think you might fly to Mexico in the coming year, tell your broker to add it to your policy at renewal time. The cost is minimal, and then you don’t have to scramble at the last minute.
Another important note: Print your Mexican insurance certificate in color to demonstrate that the stamps are genuine.
Once In Country
Prior to departure, operators should review documentation mandates and other requirements so they are prepared for a ramp check. The Mexican Agencia Federal de Aviación Civil generally follows International Civil Aviation Organization recommendations. NBAA’s International Operations web page (nbaa.org/intl) provides detailed information on how to prepare for a ramp check in Mexico.
“Random inspections can be expected at any airport in Mexico,” said Emilio Padilla, interim operations control center manager for Manny Aviation Services. “If you already sent the crew or aircraft paperwork to your handler in advance, Mexican authorities might request the originals on the ground.
“A quick inspection is being conducted by police for all arrivals and departures,” continued Padilla, “and any pilot operating in Mexico will spot a few uniformed and armed personnel approaching to the aircraft. This is nothing to worry about.”
The Ministry of Communications and Transportation (SCT) recently launched a redesign of the air routes to the international airports of Mexico City (AICM) and Toluca. This is the first phase of an airspace redesign. In March 2022, the second phase will be activated with the entry into operation of the Felipe Ángeles International Airport in Santa Lucía.
As Padilla explained, these changes should not be perceptible to airport users, but they will help reduce by 16% the flight time of aircraft operating in metropolitan airspace and increase the efficiency of arrivals and departures.
Experts say that the bottom line on flying to Mexico now is that the age-old advice for any international travel still applies:
- Be diligent in reviewing your flight plan, as errors or miscommunications can occur between handlers and other parties.
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Research accommodations to ensure appropriate safety and security measures are in place.
- Use secure ground transportation.
In short, flying to Mexico should entail thorough preparation, assistance from third-party experts and an eye on the ever-changing COVID requirements.
Review NBAA’s international resources, including information on flying in Mexico, at nbaa.org/intl.