If You're Planning to Go to Asia

Business Jet Traveler » June 2008
Sunday, June 1, 2008 - 6:00am

Travel to Asia and the Middle East has become a requirement for many businesses. But while the infrastructure to support business aviation in those areas is improving, it still presents unique challenges for private jet travelers.

One of the biggest challenges is the time needed to prepare for the trip. Depending on the country, approval for landing permits might take anywhere from a few days to a few months. You can't simply schedule a business meeting in China, for example, and depart the next day. "Understand that you're not operating in your home territory," said Ted Glogovac, product manager for Jeppesen International Trip Planning Services. "Things won't always happen instantaneously."

A trip to Dubai, UAE, is one of the easier to plan, according to Nancy Pierce, technical sales and support manager at Jeppesen. "They want at least one working day [to approve a landing permit], and there are no special documents required," she said. Other countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, may require a wait of  three or four days.

China, on the other hand, takes at least seven working days to approve a landing permit. "Two weeks would be optimum to plan a trip," Pierce said. China also requires passengers to obtain a local sponsor who coordinates flight details with local authorities. In some cases, not having the right sponsor--such as a high-level government official--can affect the official decision to permit a flight into the country. "Some locations are very hard to get into," said Orlando Cantu of Universal Weather and Aviation Flight Support Services. To fly into some airports in Tibet, for instance, "you need a strong contact, a special invitation."

India won't require you to have a local sponsor, but the approval process can take a month or longer. If you're flying into an Indian military base, such as Agra Airport, the closest airport to the Taj Mahal, prepare to wait 30 working days for a landing permit, according to Jeff Newberry, senior international planner for Jet Aviation. Some travelers opt instead to fly into New Delhi, a three-hour drive from the Taj Mahal. The lead time for New Delhi is seven working days. "General aviation aircraft wouldn't normally use a military base, but there are circumstances where the closest airport to the passenger's destination is a military airport," Newberry said.

Once a landing permit has been approved, try to keep schedule and passenger changes to a minimum, especially if you're flying into China. "China has rejected and denied some permits because of too many changes," Cantu explained. Pierce added that changes should always be submitted when the country's aviation authority offices are open. "Submitting a change at night or on weekends will slow the process," she said.

Local political situations might also pose challenges. With the exception of Egypt and Jordan, most countries in the Middle East will prohibit you from entering if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. The countries will also prohibit your aircraft from landing if it has flown through Israeli airspace. "An airplane might have to amend its routing to avoid Israeli airspace," Pierce said, which means that your flight time might increase.

If a traveler does plan to fly from Israel to another country in the Middle East, the flight planner will have to schedule an extra stop, usually in Egypt or Jordan, said David deBang, senior international planner for Jet Aviation. A similar situation exists between China and Taiwan. "There are no direct flights allowed," deBang said. "If a passenger needs to fly between those countries, we would need to plan a stop in Hong Kong or some other country."

Although your aviation department or charter operator will handle landing-permit applications and flight routing, there are things you can do as a passenger to mitigate potential problems. Before departing, for example, make sure your passport is valid for at least six months, deBang advised. And make sure you have the right visas and have had the appropriate inoculations. Some countries require yellow-fever vaccinations at least 10 days before the trip, for instance. And Glogovac added: "Communication is a key. Let all the involved parties know the plan, and announce changes as soon as possible."

Most important, Cantu said is to know the security situation of the country you're visiting. "In China, for example, the situation is changing everyday because of civil unrest," he said. "You should always have a good security company to give you information about your destination country."

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