Some countries and airports in Europe are unaware of the benefits of customs and immigration services in general aviation. When provided, a general aviation airport gains the attention from foreign pilots and thus tourism and businesses in the regions of the airports thrive.
If the airports are smart about it, by being general aviation friendly, word will spread fast in the aviation community of Europe. For example Portorož in Slovenia has established itself as everyone’s favorite airport for transiting between central Europe and the South-East (Croatia and beyond).
By the way, if you’re wondering about the difference between customs and immigration, read the post “How to cross the borders of Europe“, it might answer your questions.
The AOPA of Bulgaria is aware of the economic opportunity that their country is currently missing, as these services are only provided at the large, international airports. Small, regional airports could provide this service. Not only to attract general aviation tourists, but also to attract larger businesses and be part of an infrastructure that these corporations expect and require. For example, Grenchen (LSZG) in Switzerland is a hub for the local watch industry in the area.
With this post I am responding to a request by AOPA Bulgaria, as they are interested in the local procedures. So, let’s have a look at a selection of those. Of course, this information is only for the purpose of this case study and should not be used for flight planning to these airports.
Local customs and immigration procedures
Grenchen, Switzerland (LSZG)
There is an online form to fill in before the flight. Only if it is an extra Schengen flight, the officers will definitely come to the airport. For intra Schengen flights, I have never seen anyone show up. However, the customs/immigration offices receive the submitted online forms and may decide to make a random inspection.
Speck-Fehraltdorf, Switzerland (LSZK)
There is also an online form on their website, as well as some interesting information about the entire procedure. There is a checklist for pilots and a document (agreement between the airport and the custom/immigration authorities) containing the entire procedure in detail.
- Send online form via their website (for all persons on board with information about names, addresses, birth dates, ID or passport number, nationality)
- Call the airport, earliest 24 hours before and latest 2h before landing. This is the confirmation by the pilot in command that the flight will most likely take place. Only after this call, the airport forwards the online form to the customs and immigration office.
- Fly to the airport and comply with the instructions received on the phone call and website. Delays and cancellations should be reported as soon as practical. If the aircraft lands before the time mentioned on the form, no baggage may be removed from the aircraft and all persons must wait in the C-office until the time on the form has passed. If no officers arrive at the airport by this time, the procedure is finished and baggage/persons are good to go.
Kempten, Germany (EDMK)
This small grass airfield has an online form as well. When I was there, no officers were present at the time of my estimated time of arrival (ETA). Thus, we were cleared to enter the country automatically.
I stop here after these three examples. The local procedure is usually the same, with small adjustments (time frames, communication medium).
Based on the airports above, I made this flow chart for a standardized customs and immigration procedure that might be used anywhere:
I think it would be immensely beneficial to standardize this process at all airports in all of Europe: With one single online form, equal time frames, equal e-mail addresses per country and so forth. At least, however, we have this service at all at small airfields. I hope this will become common practice in Bulgaria and other countries too (Tuzla airport in Romania would be great too!). I sure would love to visit again!