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Customs and Immigration in Europe (and C+I where it is not published - how?)

Biggin Hill: Designated for Immigration yes or no?

Here is one for the UK pilots over here: As known, the UK does not only distinguish between plain "customs aerodromes" and "non-customs aerodromes" as we normally do in the rest of Europe. in UK, there are a few airports which are designated for Customs & Excise, but not for Immigration.

According to the compilation instructions to the GAR (newest version here), Biggin Hill is such a case, i.e. designated for Customs & Excise, but not for Immigration. So far, so good.

However, it appears to me that these subtleties are not well documented in the aeronautical publications. This is true for the Jeppesen, but - and that is much worse - it's not even accurately documented in the AIP!

Looking at the textual part of the AIP entry for Biggin Hill, under the section "Operating Hours" it specifies "Customs & Immigration" as "as AD hours", implying that you can do your immigration there with no problem... in fact, the entry is identical to other airports which are indeed designated for immigration (like Bournemouth for example).

So, which is the truth? And more so: how is a foreign pilot supposed to deal with that? He sure cannot be expected to know the GAR form and its compilation instructions if he doesn't intend to make use of it. And even if he knows these instructions, he seriously cannot be expected to deal with the contradictions between that document and the AIP, right?

So, referring only to the AIP (as most will do), someone departing from, say France, might be inclined to just take off and fly to Biggin without any advance GAR notice. Really not ideal!

But let's go on: According to the GAR instructions, an identical case to Biggin Hill (once again, that is: designated for Customs & Excise, but not for Immigration) would be Cambridge. But looking at the AIP entry for Cambridge, it is different from the one for Biggin, in that there is indeed a note (under item 12 of the section "Operating Hours") which points to the lack of designation for Immigration.


Mainz (EDFZ) & Egelsbach (EDFE), Germany

The AIP is not your friend if you want to argue immigration law with an Immigration officer.

Do be careful. Look at the tickboxes on the instructions, you'll see that Biggin is designated for Customs and Police but not for Immigration. Which actually is a nonsense, as they have full time Immigration, but that's the way it is.

They never used to be bothered about GARs, we could come and go as we pleased, but in September 2010 the UKBA notified us all that they wanted completed forms.

So, nothing required for Customs and Police at Biggin but a form required for the Immigration people. You can send it to the National email address, but if you want to email it additionally to the Biggin office (not a legal requirement but it keeps them happy), they have their own email address at [email protected]

Nothing required if you are coming from/going to the Channel Islands, Republic of Ireland or Isle of Man, as there's no Immigration issue, unless you need to declare non-national passengers who can't travel in the Common Travel Area without checks.

Redhill, United Kingdom


But again, why is the AIP so rubbish in this important point? Is the GAR guidance document a "more" authoritative document than the UK AIP?

Mainz (EDFZ) & Egelsbach (EDFE), Germany

Can't answer your first question I'm afraid.

The GAR document and instructions have been rubbish forever. Most of the telephone numbers for the police forces listed are nonsense. Unfortunately, it's all we have and as I said above, the AIP is not a guide to immigration law. The rules are quite clear - you have to fill in forms as per designations of airports by the Customs and Immigration authorities. The tickboxes in the GAR instructions are the best indication that we have as to which they designate as which, not the AIP.

Redhill, United Kingdom

An afterthought...

If you ended up in court, charged with an immigration offence (not completing a GAR) after landing at Biggin, I suspect you could make a very good case for your defence by reference to the AIP.

However, the hassle on the day is what you want to avoid and the AIP argument won't do that for you, on the spot, there and then.

Redhill, United Kingdom

I would think the situation is simpler.

Biggin Hill is a "Customs" airport, in the international sense. It thus accepts international flights, and indeed has loads of bizjets operating out of there.

The UK just needs the GAR form sent in.

If you enter Biggin via a handling agent, the handler does all that for you.

The GAR form will soon be accessible online - more info. This is a very good development, because half the fax numbers on the GAR form are duff. Most people just email it to the ncu@ email address, which is the only contact that is needed unless flying to/from Ireland, Isle of Man or the Channel Islands.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Biggin Hill is a "Customs" airport, in the international sense. It thus accepts international flights, and indeed has loads of bizjets operating out of there.

The UK just needs the GAR form sent in.

Sorry, but a "full" international UK airport (also with immigration) does not require an advance GAR when flying in from the continental EU.

The fact that filing the GAR will in future potentially become a little more straight forward is not my point. IME, most foreign pilots will just not want to bother about GARs and other "national" stuff. They will look at the AIP or Jeppesen and choose an airport that lists "Customs" (without any restrictions), like Biggin, and just go there, expecting to be in compliance. But it then turns out he isn't...

Mainz (EDFZ) & Egelsbach (EDFE), Germany

This is amazingly crappily worded. However, this sentence

Flights using a n airport designated as a c ustoms & e xcise airport may fly to/from any destination. All ports designated as Immigration Ports of Entry are also designated as customs & excise airports

seems to imply a 'port of entry' situation. Frankly, I'd be VERY surprised if Biggin wasn't, as it handles a good portion of London bizjet traffic.

Of course, it does (and it can) handle a lot of international traffic. But they are all requested to submit an advance GAR, even though, according to the AIP, they wouldn't have to.

Mainz (EDFZ) & Egelsbach (EDFE), Germany

This topic has been doing the rounds for all the years I know about.

Biggin is a port of entry, as is Shoreham, and loads of other airports that show "Customs".

It's been badly handled in that the rules on the GAR form are hard to work out. And the processing of the forms protects a significant number of police jobs.

So, many/most UK pilots throw in the GAR for every trip abroad, even to Le Touquet, a few hours before the flight. Email to the ncu@ email address.

The more tech-savvy ones would send it to all three services, for every flight

Nobody in power seems to really care about it and nothing ever happened on the many occassions I forgot to do it. Except for flights to/from the CTA (Ireland, IOM, CI) when the Special Branch (a branch of the UK police) get their teeth into it and they run it as a massive job protection scheme, and absolutely strictly enforce the 12/24hrs notice. The result is that if you want to fly to say Jersey at short notice, you do it via Cherbourg, etc, where nobody looks at you anyway.

The history of this CTA stuff dates back to the IRA who, evidently, never discovered that they can enter the UK via France

However I did once get a phone call, following a GAR I filed for a trip EGKA-EDNY. One of the passengers was a kid, and it was obvious that his parent was not on board, and the policeman said they are now required to check for child abuse as well, so he wanted the phone # of his parent (which was his mum, in this case, as in much of the UK) to check for consent for the trip. Unlike the Special Branch, we was totally polite.

What most non UK pilots don't realise is that the "Customs" status of thus marked UK airports is not actually relevant, because you can fly to any farm strip in the UK, just by submitting the GAR something like 12 or 24hrs in advance. This is a unique system and is a superb concession which no other European country (no other country anywhere?) has.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom
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