Demystifying Permit Issuance in the East African Region
The Simple Facts
Acquiring permits can be a lengthy and tedious process and sometimes causes tremendous anxiety. The fact that a flight can be cancelled because a permit could not be provided on time is a huge cause of anguish for any trip planner, and though rare, it does happen. Fortunately, in most cases there is ample time to acquire them and an outright denial of a permit is the exception rather than the rule. Overflight permits are usually easily acquired and in most cases within 24 hours, though landing permits present a different story.
In most countries, the maximum amount of time a landing permit should take after filing with the respective CAA is 72 hours. However, when all documentation is in place, permits can be issued in just two hours. In Rwanda for example, there are no documents required other than the Passenger manifest. All that’s needed to be done is to fill a form which can be downloaded from their website, scan and send it as an email attachment. If all details are correct, the permit can be issued in a few minutes. The issuing officer in Rwanda is able to receive a permit application on his phone and remotely process it within minutes.
Operators need to be aware that spot checks can be carried out at any time upon landing in Rwanda for documents like the Air Worthiness Certificate which should always be carried on board.
In neighbouring Uganda and Burundi, the story is more or less the same and permits can be approved within four hours of application. It must be emphasized however that this is in cases where all documents are in place and the flight is neither diplomatic, military or other forms that require special consideration.
The history of the operator at a particular destination also determines how quickly a permit will be issued. Some operators have a history of violating rules or breaking permit validity deadlines which places a spotlight on them and makes it harder for CAAs to approve subsequent permits. It should be noted that CAAs are in constant contact and a violation in one country will be communicated across the region. It is therefore advisable for operators to play it safe and stick to the rules.
Some trip planners also have a poor history of defaulting in payments and failing to submit the requested documents all the time. CAAs regard such planners suspiciously and will take time before approving their permits.
This is why it is crucial to choose a reputable ITP. UAS happens to be among if not the most highly respected among CAAs in the region and permits are usually spared the harsh scrutiny when requested by us.
In Kenya, the entire process is conducted online. Although the required lead time is 72 hours, we have had permits processed within 30 minutes. The system requires that all relevant documents are uploaded onto the online system. The officers at the Air Transport office scrutinize the documents and the applicant is able to track progress in real time. A permit can be returned due to insufficient or incorrect documentation and the applicant is requested to insert the missing documents and resubmit.
The biggest drawback of the online system comes when there is a system failure as KCAA has ‘said goodbye’ to manual mechanisms for processing permits. Such failures are however very rare. Rwanda is currently in the process of initiating an online system as well.
In Ethiopia, because of the border conflicts that exist with their northern neighbor Eritrea, all documents are carefully scrutinized by different departments including the interior security ministry. This means it takes longer to get ordinary permits than with most other countries. The points of entry and exit are very important for both landing and overflight permits.
In Comoros, there are challenges of power failures. The island is served by one power generating station and when it is down for maintenance or for any other reason, servers get affected and email communication becomes impossible. Most government offices – the CAA being one of them – are usually not served with individual generators like most private companies are and so fax, email and all other communication is often paralyzed.
The security situation in some parts of Africa makes it necessary for CAAs to take extra precaution when issuing permits. Applications go through extra scrutinizing with the Ministry of Interior Security and in some cases the Ministry of Defence. This is usually the case for Ethiopia.
Kenya Landing permits for flights originating or making a stop in Somalia can only be issued by the Ministry of Interior.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must get involved with all permit applications for diplomatic flights in the region as is the norm in most parts of the world. The Embassy of the country where the diplomat originates is required to issue notification – known as a Note Verbal in diplomatic terms – to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explaining the purpose of the flight. Upon accessing the situation, the ministry than advises the Civil Aviation Authority on whether to issue the permit and also organizes any protocol arrangements that may be required for the visiting guest.
Ambulance and Medical Evacuation
These are given first priority by all CAAs and permits can be acquired within an hour. However, proper documentation must be in place. Most experienced ambulance companies always have all documentation on standby and this has never been a problem.