Evolving COVID Requirements Add Challenges to International Travel

by “Flight Levels” Editor Rob Finfrock

As vaccines against COVID-19 continue rolling out across the U.S. and around the globe, there’s reason to be optimistic about seeing international travel restrictions ease in the months ahead. However, pilots will still need to navigate a maze of restrictions that may differ from country to country – and even day by day – for some time to come.

CBP Photo

CBP Photo

While all-out lockdowns have generally eased across many international destinations popular with CJP members, entry requirements remain far from standardized. For example, while most destinations require proof of a negative COVID-19 test conducted within 48-72 hours before departure, a few have made such tests available upon arrival.

In most countries, satisfactory proof of a negative test won’t exempt non-citizens from local quarantine restrictions that typically range between 10-14 days. In speaking with several business aviation operators recently, all agreed they expect such policies to remain long after the imminent threat from COVID-19 has passed.

The discovery of a new and apparently even more contagious variant of the coronavirus has further complicated the situation. Shortly after evidence of the new mutation’s spread became clear, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new restrictions on commercial and private (Part 91 and 135) aircraft passengers reentering the U.S.

As of January 26, passengers must be tested no more than three days prior to their departure and must provide proof of the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the aircraft operator. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) noted the order applies to all aircraft operators, including non-commercial aircraft operators, and that operators must retain documentation related to the CDC order for two years.

Passengers who have recovered from COVID-19 within the past 90 days, and whose blood will contain antibodies from the disease that may trigger a positive result in some tests, must also have documentation from their doctor or healthcare provider verifying their recovery.

CDC-LogoApplicability of the new CDC restrictions to aircraft crews, including pilots of general aviation (GA) aircraft, also remains a bit muddied. While similar global restrictions have typically exempted flight crew members, the latest CDC order stipulates that crewmembers are only exempt from the requirements of the order, “provided their assignment is under an air carrier’s or operator’s occupational health and safety program.”

There’s also the question of enforcement, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents are not officially charged with verifying adherence to the CDC order. However, erring on the side of caution in both cases and following the CDC policies would appear to be prudent.

Additionally, many U.S. entry allowances enacted in the closing days of the previous presidential administration were subsequently reversed by executive orders from President Joe Biden. That included an entry ban on non-U.S. travelers who have been in Brazil and most European Union countries, including the UK and Ireland, as well as a new ban on passengers entering the U.S. from South Africa.

The Biden administration also announced an executive order tasking the CDC and other government agencies with assessing current recommendations and requirements and developing new protocols for travelers, which could ultimately include new COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements. However, the order does not yet impose such new restrictions on aircraft operators or their passengers, noted Doug Carr, NBAA’s vice president of regulatory and international affairs.

In short, CJP members are encouraged to thoroughly research any international travel plans and keep up-to-date on the latest requirements and restrictions that may be in place. Below is a list of resources to aid in that planning.