Business aviation is having a moment. “Through lockdowns and travel restrictions, business aviation continues to get people where they need to go, when they need to be there,” says Mohammed Husary, Executive President at UAS, an international trip support provider. “As we move into the post-pandemic era, there’s a real opportunity to frame business aviation as a tool for getting things done.”
For UAS, getting things done means leveraging their extensive global network. “Having local expertise on the ground – people who speak the local languages and who have relationships with local authorities – makes all the difference in the world,” adds Husary.
As a case in point, a couple years ago the company helped deliver a helicopter from Milan to Mozambique for use with a humanitarian mission. The trip covered nearly 7,100 nm and included about 16 stops, with the crew working within a maximum of 400 nm between stations and at a slow cruising speed of 140 kt.
In other words, this was trip planning to the extreme.
Mitigating the Unknowns
Thanks to its previous experience with operating in Africa, the company was well-aware of the likely challenges and difficulties. It was also conscious that unforeseen challenges tend to spring up in these situations.
To mitigate these unknowns, UAS assessed the routes and all the planned stops to ensure it had the most up-to-date information about permit requirements, fuel availability, airport operating hours, safety issues, and all existing restrictions. “UAS Station Managers were assigned to specific locations to gather the required details, with each bringing their extensive expertise and experience to the table,” says Husary.
Using the route assessment, UAS identified some of the potential problem areas, such as Gabon, which required the helicopter to have an HF Radio installed. Because the customer’s helicopter lacked this equipment, UAS looked for alternatives.
One option was to avoid Gabon altogether, but of course nothing is that simple. “Its strategic location and the unavailability of fuel at possible alternatives in Congo meant landing in Gabon was vital, so instead we took steps to help get the necessary equipment installed,” notes Husary.
Another essential pre-trip step involved obtaining the necessary overflight and landing permits. “It can be extremely challenging to obtain helicopter permits,” explains Husary. “Many African authorities are sensitive to foreign helicopter operations, with some considering them security risks because of the low flying altitudes and ability to land anywhere.”
As a result, trip support procedures are different and the scrutiny of applications more thorough. “Where regular applications take 72 hours or less to process, it could take up to a week or more to process for helicopters,” adds Husary.
All Potential Headaches Handled
On 17 May 2019, the crew set off for the two-week trip. Everything went as planned until day three, when the helicopter encountered a technical issue on Las Palmas. The delay lasted two days, during which the UAS team went out of their way to make the customer as comfortable as possible while also coordinating trips to get the engineers and flight crew to Las Palmas.
Back in the air, the mission continued to progress until Equatorial Guinea, where it faced massive challenges with arrival and departure due to extremely bad weather conditions. “Thankfully, the crew made it out with only minor delays and our local handlers were accommodating and helpful, constantly updating UAS Ops with information,” notes Husary.
Unfortunately, before departing to Namibia, the handling agent neglected to stamp the Gendec. When Namibia Customs and Immigration threatened to send the mission back to Angola, UAS utilised its contacts to have the Gendec stamped and signed as quickly as possible without the need for a return trip to Angola.
Changes like these required constant permit revalidation. “This meant a huge amount of liaising with the relevant CAAs, who often expressed frustration with our changing requests,” says Husary. “However, thanks to the efforts of our Dubai ops team, the support of the UAS African Station Manager network, and its strong relationships with the African CAAs, the mission experienced no major permit issues.”
Getting Things Done
On 31 May 2019, after an intense, high-pressure trip, the helicopter landed safely at its destination in Pemba, Mozambique.
According to Husary, the success of the mission was due largely to the excellent teamwork and synergy between all the UAS Station Managers and the Dubai ops team constantly keeping abreast of services, changes, and new requests, as well as following up with the various CAAs and vendors and ensuring that everything went perfectly at all locations – even where UAS was not physically present.
“The success of this mission exemplifies how a global network, experience, and local expertise can make the difference between going nowhere and getting things done,” concludes Husary.
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