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Flying privately in Europe
Thinking about flying privately in Europe? If you've been using business jets mostly just in North America, you should anticipate some differences.
Business aviation is simply more complex in Europe for several reasons. One is that the European Union (EU) doesn't encompass the entire continent, so different rules apply depending on where you are. Therefore, you can expect different authorities to ask for different documents.
Secondly, the EU is still developing in terms of airspace, customs and other factors that affect aviation. "This is because the EASA [European Aviation Safety Agency, the four-year-old, pan-European counterpart of the FAA] is not in full swing yet," explained Bernd Gans, chairman of the German Business Aviation Association. To make things even more complicated, some countries, such as Switzerland, fall under the EASA's scope but are not members of the EU.
A common perception is that it costs more with fly in Europe than in the U.S. If it weren't for the current low value of the dollar compared with most European currencies, the difference, if any, would be slight. However, the total cost of flying in a business jet is calculated differently in Europe than in the U.S. Taxes may either not apply to the same items or may apply in different ways.
Another difference you'll find in Europe is a less-developed network of business aviation airports equipped with FBOs and handling companies. Also, the facilities and services provided by FBOs may vary from what you're used to in the U.S. "Your crew might not find a sauna, as in some high-end American FBOs, but passengers will see little of the facility because customer-minded ground staff will have them walking to or from their limos in 30 seconds," said Eric Dumas, FBO manager at France's Lyon Bron airport. Near the big capital cities, however, you'll recognize the names of some FBOs and handling agents that you know from the U.S. And as in America, FBOs or general aviation terminals often are the right point of contact when it comes to arranging connections-airplane to helicopter, for instance.
In terms of sheer numbers, airports in Europe are just as numerous as they are in North America. And they often are closer to city centers, which makes ground connections faster, which may be enough to compensate for the absence of FBOs at some airports. However, European airports are not evenly distributed throughout the continent, with some countries-the UK, Germany and France, for instance-boasting denser networks.
If you fly to major international hubs, operations may be more complex than they are at less popular destinations- just as in North America. However, your crew might find flying in Europe easier, as they usually are allowed to fly at high altitudes until they get very close to your destination. This translates into reduced fuel consumption-hence, longer range and lower costs.
Scarcity of Slots
A problem you might encounter if you want to fly to a major international hub, such as Munich, is a scarcity of airport slots, with only a few being allocated to general aviation. "You'd better plan to apply for a slot four to six weeks before your trip," Gans advised. You might get one on shorter notice, but planning ahead could save you a headache.
Separately, an air traffic management organization called Eurocontrol issues en-route slots-a process that has become practically trouble free. When issuing those slots, Eurocontrol takes into account any airport slots you may have reserved.
As in the U.S., there are good reasons to use secondary airports in Europe, and you may want to encourage your crew to do so. Sometimes, crews use a city's main airport because they don't know whether the smaller one has suitable handling facilities. In fact, those airports often have better business aviation equipment; for example, they may have equipment to service a 10-seat jet, whereas at big hubs the servicing equipment is designed for large airliners. That factor, plus lighter traffic and frequently better ground connections at smaller airports may save you time and trouble.
Also in Europe, ground support tends to be provided by relatively small companies that superficially may seem unlike their U.S. counterparts. "This is a cultural difference," according to Olivier de l'Estoile, a business aviation lobbyist for Dassault Falcon and honorary president of the French chapter of the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA). "In a city like Athens, the guy who takes care of your aircraft may be alone, wear a dirty suit and drive a jalopy," de l'Estoile said. "But your jet will be refueled on time and security will be OK, too."
Europeans are good at sorting out all kinds of situations. For example, most operators will coordinate airport and en-route slots for you. In short, the experience might be different, but the quality of service will be as high as in North America. "Generally, if the traveler spells out his needs clearly, they will be fulfilled," EBAA CEO Eric Mandemaker said.
You should be aware that the weather is, on average, somewhat poorer in Europe than in the U.S. Lots of airports, therefore, have all-weather-operation equipment- but not all of them, which can be limiting, especially in Eastern Europe.
Charter options on the continent
How good an idea is it to fly your own aircraft across the Atlantic to use it in Europe? "There is nothing wrong with it, except it may be expensive in terms of hours flown over the ocean," said Mandemaker. Of course, you are not allowed to charter your airplane in Europe, even if it is on a Part 135 charter certificate in the U.S. You can carry guests on board- just not fare-paying passengers. If you plan a long stay, you should check tax rules with local customs authorities.
If you decide not to take your airplane across the pond, you have many other private-air travel options available while you are in Europe. Small- to medium-size executive charter operators are numerous. At FBOs and at airport-run facilities, you can find people to assist you in finding a good operator. You can also go to the EBAA's Web site (www.ebaa.org).
Another option is to contact major executive charter operators. But depending on your departure point, you might have to pay for a positioning flight. You can try to negotiate that, but using local resources will probably be cheaper.
Block charter is available, too. You can buy blocks of flight hours from any operator. You can also use one of the many block charter cards that are available.
Fractional providers NetJets and Flexjet offer interchange rates with their European operations, which means if you own an aircraft share in the U.S., you can trade hours in the States for hours in Europe, although the rate may not be one-to-one. Thierry Dubois welcomes comments and suggestions at: firstname.lastname@example.org.