Cabotage and International Operation of Corporate Aircraft
© 2004 Reigel & Associates, Ltd./Aero Legal Services. All rights reserved.
Most countries have laws regulating airspace over their lands. Each time an aircraft enters a foreign country’s airspace, aircraft operator must comply with that country’s regulations affecting flight operations and carriage of passengers. Particularly with respect to passengers, majority of countries have rigid limitations on who may be carried within their borders and how.
Specifically, rules and regulations relating to carriage of passengers and goods within same foreign country are referred to as “cabotage”. Cabotage regulations are not uniform or necessarily consistent from one country to another. They usually apply to both commercial and private operators. However, as we will discuss shortly, whether a foreign country considers a corporate aircraft operator to be a commercial or private operator will also vary by country.
Regardless of which country corporate aircraft operates within, pilot in command of a corporate aircraft is responsible for knowing and complying with that country’s cabotage restrictions. Failure to comply can, and has, resulted in six-digit fines and penalties imposed against corporate aircraft operator, and corporate aircraft have been impounded by foreign governments until such violations have been resolved to satisfaction of governing authority.
Examples Of Cabotage Regulations Applicable To Corporate Aircraft Operators
United States. The United States does not currently have any regulations that prevent private (not for compensation or hire) foreign corporate aircraft from carrying U.S. passengers between points within U.S. 14 CFR 375.30 provides that “civil aircraft which are not engaged in commercial air operations into, out of, or within United States may be operated in United Sates and may discharge, take on, or carry between points in United States any nonrevenue traffic.”
Canada. After clearing customs, Canada allows a corporate aircraft operator to engage in unlimited operations within Canada as long as U.S. registered aircraft is carrying U.S.-boarded passengers and aircraft is not operating for “hire or reward”. Canada also allows unlimited international operations where passengers are being transported across border between Canada and any other country. This includes stops within Canada to pick up or drop off passengers who are traveling internationally.
Canadian-boarded passengers may be transported within Canada by a U.S. registered aircraft provided that transportation is incidental to intended purpose of flight. That is, a corporate aircraft operator could fly its U.S. registered corporate aircraft into Canada, pick up Canadian personnel, customers, etc. and fly on to another destination in Canada for a meeting or event. As a long as sole purpose of flight was not transporting Canadian passengers, then carriage of Canadian passengers would be considered incidental and should not violate cabotage regulations.
European Union. Cabotage regulations in European Union are more complex than in Canada. The difficulty results from European Union’s definition of commercial transportation. In U.S., U.S. Customs service defines commercial transportation as transportation “for compensation or hire”. However, European Union defines “commercial use” as “the use of means of transportation for transport of persons or of goods for remuneration or in framework of economic activity of an enterprise”.
Unfortunately, European Union definition means that a U.S. registered corporate aircraft operating within European Union for corporate or other business purposes can be considered to be engaging in commercial use or transportation. As a result, if a corporate aircraft flies into a European Union country, picks up a citizen of that country and then travels on to another destination within that country, it is likely that second flight would be in violation of European Union cabotage regulations.