International Ops 2017

Flight Service Bureau | OPSGROUP

Author: David Mumford (page 1 of 2)

French ATC Strike November 2017

The ATC strike seems to be winding down. The only en-route regulations still in place are in the LFBB/Bordeaux and LFRR/Brest sectors in the West. At the airports, some delays of around 30-40 minutes are expected between 17-19z, but generally the situation seems to be stable.


Here’s the situation for en-route traffic across the various sectors:

LFBB/Bordeaux: Whole airspace regulated with moderate to high delays.

LFRR/Brest: Whole airspace regulated with moderate to high delays.

LFEE/Reims: No regulations for en-route traffic, but expect delays at both the LFSB/Basel and LFST/Strasbourg TMA’s.

LFFF/Paris: No regulations for en-route traffic, but arrivals are currently being regulated at LFPO/Paris Orly.

LFMM/Marseille: No regulations.

For real-time updates of any airspace issues, keep an eye on this handy French ATC webpage:


TANGO Routes
Low delays on T9 and T213 – these are available for suitably equipped aircraft. Read “The Three Sisters” for more info on those. For oceanic clearance on Tango routes during the strike, you need to make sure you request your oceanic clearance 45 minutes before entry to the ocean.

Re-routes through Algeria
If you want to avoid French airspace by flying through DAAA/Algeria instead, you can do so – and until the end of the strike, you won’t have to get an overflight permit. Just make sure you send a new FPL (plus any subsequent DLA messages) to DAAAZQZX and DTTCZQZX addresses, as they will not have received the original FPL.

Depending on where you’re flying to/from, here’s what you need to do:

1. All traffic overflying DAAA/Algeria airspace with destination within the LECB/Barcelona FIR must file via point LUXUR at FL300 or above, and at only EVEN flight levels.Traffic dest LEPA/Palma via LUXUR should FPL UM134-LUXUR-GENIO-UN859-OSGAL with STAR OSGAL.

2. All traffic departing from the LECB/Barcelona FIR and overflying DAAA/Algeria must file via point SADAF at FL310 or above, and at only ODD flight levels.

3. All traffic departing from LEPA/Palma to any airport in DAAA/Algeria must file max FL290 over point SADAF. Departures from LEPA/Palma must also file SID MEBUT: MEBUT-NINES-UM134-OLMIR-UN861-SADAF at FL290.

4. Entering GMMM/Morocco via DTTC/Tunisia and DAAA/Algeria:

  • Route: DOPEL UM126 KAWKA UG14 CSO UA31 CHE shall be used. DAAA/Algeria ATC will tactically approve direct routing to ALR where possible.
  • Route: DOPEL DCT LUXUR SADAF CHE cannot be planned.

5. Entering DAAA/Algeria and DTTC/Tunisia then LIRR/Italy from GMMM/Morocco:

  • Route: CHE UA31 CSO UG14 KAWKA UM126 DOPEL shall be used. DAAA/Algeria ATC will tactically approve direct routing from ALR where possible.
  • Route: Traffic between DAAA/Algeria and DTTC/Tunisia via SADAF-KAWKA at FL300 and above (only even flight levels).

Re-routes through Tunisia
Tunisia also let operators fly through their airspace when there’s a French ATC strike on, without having to get a permit. Just make sure you copy your FPL (plus any subsequent DLA messages) to DTTCZQZX and DTTCZRZX.

Even when there’s no strike going on, there are a bunch of routes you can use through DTTC/Tunisia airspace that do not require overflight permission. These are:

a) Traffic between DTTC/Tunisia and DAAA/Algeria via DOPEL-LUXUR at FL310 and above (only ‘odd’ flight levels)

b) Traffic between DAAA/Algeria and DTTC/Tunisia via SADAF-KAWKA-DOPEL at FL300 and above (only ‘even’ flight levels)

During the strike, they also open up routes connecting LMMM/Malta with DAAA/Algeria, for flights from Europe to Africa and South America. For that, you should file FPL using following routes:

  • Route: PAN – BIRSA – ELO (after ELO traffic can fly DCT GHA) at FL195-465 to be filed for traffic destination West Africa and South America, or
  • Route: PAN – RALAK – EBA at FL195-465 to be filed for traffic destination South/South West of Africa.


New rules for flying from the U.S. to Cuba

Update 9 Nov 2017: Effective today, the US has new rules for travel to Cuba as an individual. These restrictions will limit the ability of US citizens to undertake most personal travel to Cuba unless part of a licensed group. The new measures will also bar US citizens and companies from engaging in business activities with over 180 Cuban enterprises the US government has concluded are linked to the Cuban government in some way (check the full list here).  The new policy will not affect travellers with existing bookings, such as a flight or hotel reservations. Upon their return, all US citizens will be required to maintain proof of all activities in Cuba, and must ascertain that no U.S. laws were violated during their trip. OFAC and CBP will enforce the new regulations, much talk of hefty fines.


If you’re traveling to Cuba from anywhere other than U.S. territory, it should be a doddle. Get a landing permit, arrange your ground handling, file your flight plan, and off you go.

If you’re trying to get to Cuba from the U.S. though, it’s a different story…

A tale of two Presidents…
In December 2014, President Obama announced plans to improve relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and in the July of the following year a lot of restrictions were lifted for N-registered aircraft operators wanting to do private and charter flights to Cuba.

However, the U.S. authorities (the Treasury Department, in this case) didn’t want to break with tradition and make the process completely straight-forward and misery-free, so their Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) introduced a rule which means that only 12 categories of travel are permitted between the US and Cuba. This was then further complicated by legislation introduced by President Trump in June 2017! Here are the permitted categories of travel:

(1) family visits
(2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organisations
(3) journalistic activity
(4) professional research and professional meetings
(5) educational activities or so-called “people-to-people” travel – it’s not possible to claim this category if you make your own travel arrangements; this is only possible for officially sanctioned group travel.
(6) religious activities
(7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
(8) support for the Cuban people
(9) humanitarian projects
(10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
(11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
(12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorisation under existing regulations and guidelines.

As you might have spotted, you cannot simply travel from the U.S. to Cuba for the purpose of general tourism! You have to match one of these 12 categories.


Applying for a licence to travel
Here’s the thing: you don’t actually have to do this.

Once you decide which category applies to you, you do not need to apply for any kind of licence to travel from OFAC – you will simply qualify under their rules for the so-called ‘General Licence’.

However, each one of these 12 categories for permitted travel is highly controlled and has specific requirements that must be met for the exemption to apply. If you want help in trying to work out which one of these categories might apply to you, read the FAQ section of the official guidance – it’s actually pretty good:

Once you’ve done that, you might want to read the extra little FAQ they put together, following the changes made by President Trump in June 2017 (basically this just says that no more individual travel for educational or “people-to-people” will be allowed – only group travel will be allowed in this category):


I don’t match any of those 12 categories – what do I do?
If you do not match any of the categories, things get tricky. In this case you would need to apply to OFAC for a ‘Specific Licence’ – although this process can take up to 3 months. You can do this online at the US Treasury Dept page:


Should I book a trip myself, or book through a tour agent?
If you really are going to Cuba to visit relatives, or for some kind of religious pilgrimage, you could probably get away with making your own travel arrangements.

If not though, the easiest way to make sure you qualify will probably be to just engage the services of a U.S. based company to help make your travel arrangements – they’ll book you on to some kind of tour and get you to a sign a “travel affidavit” to confirm that you really are going to Cuba for the reason you say you are!

If you decide to make your own arrangements, you’ll still need to make sure you carry one of these documents. You don’t need to submit it anywhere in advance, but you do need to keep it handy just in case anyone from CBP asks to see it. To get a sample of this form, click here.

Bear in mind that if you book through a tour company, you will be traveling under a specific, government-approved itinerary. That means that when you get to Cuba, officially, you can’t just go wandering off by yourself. Your tour company won’t be able to book you into Cuban hotels, rent cars or take buses at all, since the Cuban government owns them. You’ll most likely be booked into a bed-and-breakfast, or a homestay, and you will only be able to take part in pre-approved, pre-arranged activities.


All this talk of OFAC and categories and travel affidavits is hurting my brain. Isn’t there an easier way?
Technically, yes there is, but we wouldn’t recommend it.

If you want to avoid all this bureaucratic misery, you could always fly to Cuba by way of Mexico or Canada. There are no restrictions from those countries regarding travel to Cuba, so U.S. citizens can fly straight in. Remember, Cuba doesn’t restrict U.S. citizens from entering – just get a visa in advance, and that’s all you need.

The only thing to bear in mind with this clever rouse, however, is when you return back to the U.S. – if you get caught out trying to hide your trip to Cuba from U.S. Customs officers, you could face serious punishment.


Cuba landing permit
You’ll need one, regardless of where you’re flying from, or what country your aircraft is registered in. The official notice required by the Cuban authorities to process a permit request is 3 working days. No docs are required to obtain an overflight permit, but for a landing permit, the following is required: CoR, CoA, CoI, crew and pax information, reason for flight and receiving party in Cuba for landing approval. Which brings us neatly on to…


Receiving party
Cuba will only give you a landing permit if you provide the name and contact details of a local receiving party or ‘business sponsor’. If you’re trying to do it yourself and do not yet have a local receiving party arranged in Cuba, you should contact your ground handler to check if they can act in this role for you.


Landing fees
There’s actually a very simple way to work these out:


The Cuban CAA require all operators to obtain handling confirmation from a company based in Cuba. If you don’t have a copy of an ‘Airworthiness Review Certificate’ for your aircraft (N-registered aircraft, for instance), you have to show a copy of aircraft maintenance log book entries showing the recent work performed on the aircraft and confirming that the aircraft was returned to service in an airworthy condition. Also, any jet over 10,000 LBS MTOW must provide a noise certificate via their handling company.


If you’re flying to Cuba from the U.S. you’re going to need to get proper business visas (remember, you’re not a tourist!). Although it is possible to obtain these on arrival in Cuba, reports suggest that it takes ages to process, so it’s probably best to get these in advance.


Make sure that your aircraft insurance does not specifically exclude travel to Cuba – many do!


Foreign passengers
If you’re flying between the U.S. and Cuba with foreign nationals onboard – they are subject to the exact same rules as U.S. nationals in terms of meeting OFAC licensing requirements. The only exception is for Cuban citizens present in the United States in a non-immigrant status – they can travel to Cuba without having to tick any of those 12 OFAC boxes.


Time on the ground in Cuba
U.S.-registered aircraft are allowed remain in Cuba for up to seven consecutive nights. If you want to go for longer then you will need to get an export licence – that gets complicated.


US Airports of Entry for your return flight
Recent policy changes mean that aircraft can now depart to Cuba from any customs designated airport in the U.S. (this applies to both U.S. and foreign-registered aircraft). However, when you return to the US, as you will be entering the from the south, you will need to land at the first designated airport of entry that is nearest to the point of crossing the U.S. border or coastline; if you want to land elsewhere you will need to get a Border Overflight Exemption.

Here is the list of southern airports of entry, from US Code of Federal Regulations 19 122.24

More information: There are a ton of reports on Cuba in Airport Spy, which is where all of us in OpsGroup tell each other about the airports we’ve been to – good ATC, bad handlers, rip-off fees… think of it as the TripAdvisor of airports. Also, if you want to know exactly how to get your Cuba landing permit, check out our Permit Book – this tells you how to get a permit for each and every country in the world!

Yet more ATC strikes in French Guiana

The seems to be no end in sight for the French Guiana ATC strike.

They’ve published yet another 4-part Notam for their SOOO/Rochambeau FIR, instructing operators exactly how to fly through their airspace – because for the next week, they won’t have any daytime FIR ATC staff on duty!

From 1100-2030z daily until 15 Nov, there’s no-one working. Nada. Zilcho.

Outside these hours, they usually manage to find enough controllers to come in to work a night-shift, although some days they don’t quite manage it and then overnight closures are announced on separate Notams too.

Basically, if you want to cross this bit of airspace, there are now very specific routes and levels you have to fly at. Once you’re inside the FIR, don’t change your speed or level. There are a couple of published routes that take you direct from the FIR boundary to SOCA/Cayenne Airport (where local tower ATC staff are still working), but the rest are just for overflying traffic. Check these carefully prior to ops, and make sure you’re at the right flight level before crossing the FIR boundary.

TTZP/Piarco ATC (who control the FIR to the north) have said that everything has been running smoothly so far with this contingency plan, and they haven’t had any problems with directing overflying traffic from TTZP to SOOO.

To read the contingency plan in full, with all the published routes and what to do, click here.

ENSB: No more direct flights, emergency diverts still OK

This is now officially a domestic airport – international arrivals are no longer permitted.

We asked the Norwegian CAA the million-dollar question: can ENSB still be used as an ETOPS or emergency enroute alternate?

Their response: “ENSB now being a domestic airport, it shall not be used as an alternate airport in normal flight planning, but in case of emergency, medical – or flight safety related, the airport may be used.”

In other words, if you are planning a Polar flight and want to use ENSB as an ETOPS or emergency enroute alternate, you can. 

We also spoke with the ATC tower at the airport: they confirmed that you can still use ENSB as an emergency divert, and they have someone there on duty H24. The normal RFF category is 8.

So why has the airport been downgraded from international to domestic?

It seems it has something to do with the authorities desire to limit the amount of charter fights operating directly to Svalbard. Now, if you want to go there you will first have to go to one of Norway’s international airports to clear customs, and then continue on to Svalbard as a domestic flight. The Norwegian CAA say direct international charter flights may still be allowed “in the interests of tourism”, but it seems this will be the exception rather than the rule.

Interestingly, you can still fly to ENSB direct from Russia, as they have a separate agreement from 1974 regarding the use of  the airport – which is unaffected by this new rule.

Even more interesting is that when you get to Svalbard, if you decide to leave the main town of Longyearbyen, it is a legal requirement to carry a gun, and to know how to use it – they’re not joking about those polar bears.

Greenbacks and Greenland – $3000 to file as an alternate

Trans-atlantic operators who have been putting RALT/BGBW on their flight plans have been receiving hefty invoices post-flight.

BGBW/Narsarsuaq is a popular airport to use in flight planning as an emergency divert and for ETOPS, as it’s perfectly positioned right in the middle of the big empty chunk of nothing that exists between the east coast of Canada and Iceland.

BGBW is open Mon-Sat 11-20z (8am-5pm local time). It’s completely closed on Sundays and on holidays.

So if you file a flight plan with RALT/BGBW from Mon-Sat 11-20z, you won’t get charged.

But outside these hours, you will get charged. It gets slightly complicated here: the charges in the box below apply when they stay open for you to use as an ETOPS alternate at any time that they are closed, but there’s an extra 10% charge on top of that for any time they are closed and fast asleep in bed, which is between 00-08z (9pm-5am local time). Got it?

Important to note: these get charged even if you don’t actually divert to BGBW. To save you from having to Google it yourself, 15,870 Danish Krone equates to $2485 USD!

If you want BGBW to stay open for you to use as an ETOPS alternate, you need to put RALT/BGBW in your flight plan – they’ll see it, and will stay open for at the times you need. But bear in mind that if they’re closed already at the time you file your flight plan, they won’t see it! So they prefer you to do it properly and arrange everything in advance by email.

If you get an invoice from a company called Global Aviation Data A/S, unfortunately it’s not a scam email – they are the guys who work with Greenland Airports to collect the monies owed when operators request airports like BGBW to stay open for them.

Iridium Fault Fixed

Last week we reported on an equipment issue with Iridium satcom that prompted a ban by a number of Oceanic ATC agencies. Some aircraft were receiving massively delayed clearances sent by ATC via CPDLC – and one took the instruction and climbed 1000 feet, even though the message was meant for the flight the aircraft operated previously.

Here were the areas which had previously published Notams restricting the use of Iridium: Brazil Atlantico (SBAO), Auckland (NZZO), Chile (SCIZ), Japan (RJJJ), Anchorage (PAZA), Oakland (KZAK), New York (KZNY and KZWY).

However, all FIR’s have now removed their notams which banned the use of Iridium for CPDLC and ADS-C. This has happened after tests were performed last week using Iridium SATCOM which confirmed that Iridium no longer queues CPDLC uplinks for more than five minutes.

Oceanic ATC’s tell us their position on Iridium Satcom

Last week we reported on an equipment issue with Iridium satcom that prompted a ban by a number of Oceanic ATC agencies. Some aircraft were receiving massively delayed clearances sent by ATC via CPDLC – and one took the instruction and climbed 1000 feet, even though the message was meant for the flight the aircraft operated previously.

Today, we checked-in again with all the oceanic ATC centres, to see what their current policy is on the issue.

EGGX/Shanwick told FSB that they are aware of the issue, reviewed it, but have decided not to ban the use of Iridium for either CPDLC or ADS-C just yet. LPPO/Santa Maria have the same position. So, in this airspace, you can use Iridium, for now.

CZQX/Gander said they did a safety analysis of it, and decided not to ban it. They have all kinds of conformance alerts in place to prevent any problems from happening – so if aircraft deviate they get notified immediately.

BIRD/Reykjavik aren’t that concerned about the issue – they use HF most of the time anyway.

Chile (SCIZ)
Japan (RJJJ)
Anchorage (PAZA)
Oakland (KZAK)
New York (KZNY and KZWY)
All these centres have published Notams instructing crews not to use Iridium for CPDLC or ADS-C. Until the fault is fixed, in those regions you’ll have to either use HF for ATC comms, or use another SAT provider.

Auckland (NZZO) and Brazil (Atlantico SBAO) have applied the ban to CPDLC alone. Use ADS-C if you like.


From Iridium themselves, they told FSB: “We’ve updated their queue management system. Every minute, there is a queue check. If there is any message that is older than 4 minutes, it marks as timed out, and will not be delivered. This update was done at ground level, so it does not require any software updates by the user. We’re still waiting on feedback from FAA workgroup on the fix and if it’s sufficient to allow use of Iridium for CPDLC and ADS-C.”

That’s it for now! We’ll keep you posted, or, even better – tell us below in the comment section if you hear news.


NAT Airspace Closures

Update 18th Oct: No more events are planned at this time. However, we will keep this page updated with the latest news as we get it.


Sections of NAT airspace are set to close on various different dates in October. This is all due to U.S. and NATO joint military exercise that’s going on, called Formidable Shield, which will mean huge chucks of airspace will be closed to civil ops for many hours.

The basics for each event are the same:

  • Airspace closed, SFC-UNL.
  • Aircraft capable of flying in MNPS airspace will have to keep at least 30nm away from the area, other aircraft will need to keep 60nm away.


Event 1 Happened on 25th Sep. 


Event 2 Happened on 7th Oct.


Event 4Happened on 15th Oct. (Yes, Event 4 happened before Event 3 – just to confuse us!)


Event 3 Happened on 17th Oct.

Tropical Storm Nate headed for U.S. Gulf Coast

Tropical Storm Nate is currently just off the northern coast of Nicaragua, moving NW at 8kts with sustained winds of 35kts.

It’s forecast to move on towards Louisiana over the weekend as a Cat 1 Hurricane.

Heavy rain expected across Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Belize and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsular.

No airport closures anywhere yet, but keep an eye on the forecast for MMUN/Cancun, as that’s directly in the path of the storm.

TIST/St. Thomas airport re-opens

St Thomas re-opens to commercial flights today.

All non-military aircraft need to use St. Thomas Jet Center. To request ops, there’s a Notam out saying you should try calling them direct on +1-340-777-9177, but we’ve heard from our local contacts that might not work. If so, you should send your request via SMS to +1-340-998-7243, but make sure you include complete info about your planned flight:

  • Company name
  • Tail number
  • Make and model of aircraft
  • Date of arrival/departure
  • Local time ETA/ETD (TIST is GMT-4)
  • Number of crew/pax both in and out
  • Fuel requirements
  • Method of payment

Airport hours are 0900-1800 local time. Only military ops allowed outside these hours.

Tower and unicom frequency is 118.8. Limited coverage from SJU Center.

ATIS, navaids, ILS, runway lights – all out of service.

No customs at the airport – if you need to clear customs then you can do so through TJIG/Isla Grande.

No internet, no ability to print out anything for flight crews, no rental cars. The only phone service that seems to work is AT&T, and that is patchy at best. SMS messages seem to work much better than phone calls.

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