Bribery: What They Don’t Teach You in Ground School
- Advanced Aircrew Academy
Pilots work in complex, unpredictable environments that are constantly changing. Each day brings unique and often frustrating situations, and many of the operational challenges can't be taught in a classroom because there are infinite variables. Being a Business Aviation pilot flying outside the U.S. requires knowledge and an understanding of the nuances of foreign aviation business and knowing what is, and what is not, acceptable business practices.
The Setting, Scene 1
It's Sunday afternoon and you just landed at a foreign airport in North America to pick up your passengers, but you have a minor mechanical issue. Minor enough that you know what the problem is, and it will be an easy fix, but it must be done by a mechanic.
You advise the FBO that you need a mechanic and since they advertise having maintenance available 24/7, you tell your passengers it will just be a few minutes. The FBO informs you mechanics are "available", but not at the airport, so they'll have to track one down. They finally get the on-call mechanic on the phone, but he says he won't come to the airport without a $500 "inconvenience fee". Cash. Not listed on the bill. What choice do you have? You get the work done and go.
Now you're very late and you forgot to update customs with your new ETA because the mechanical problem wasn't actually fixed. You were distracted with other problems and your passengers keep reminding you that they have an important event they "simply can't be late" for.
When you land, the customs official is beyond angry and now has three airplanes arriving at the same time. You try to ease the customs agent's anger by telling them you'd like to give them an "inconvenience fee" to make up for the error. The next thing you know, you're in an interrogation room while your airplane is being torn apart looking for contraband and the agent is telling you he's going to file bribery charges against you – even though just a few hours ago, the same terminology was used and considered normal business practice.
The Setting, Scene 2
You arrive at a foreign airport and your company has hired a handler to take care of the paperwork and FBO. After clearing customs, one of the officers says they'd be willing to provide extra security for $100/night during your layover. Since you've already hired a handler, you say thanks, but no thanks, we're all set.
Five days later, you come back to your locked and secured aircraft, but see that someone has destroyed your rotating beacon. The red plastic is on the ground under the airplane and the bulbs are smashed. It looks intentional but you’ll never know. You suspect what happened, but what do you do about it?
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act | The Bribery Act
Sure, there are laws everywhere stating that bribery is illegal, and these scenarios are not even considered a red blip on the corruption radar, but the industry is trying to change that. Generally, all the laws and acts agree on four basic scenarios:
- You will not bribe another person.
- You will not accept a bribe.
- You may not use your political power to influence a person or business.
- Your company must have adequate procedures in place designed to prevent bribery.
That last line is important. Your flight department needs to include training on how to prevent bribery, corruption, and "greased" payments, but figuring out the warning signs of corruption are often hard to see. According to the NBAA (Identifying and Avoiding Compliance Risk in International Aviation Operations), there are warning signs that include:
- An invoice for services contains "miscellaneous" or other unexplainable charges.
- Requests for payments in cash.
- Major increases in fees with no forewarning.
- A third-party agent asks for excessively high commission or wants to keep the relationship a "secret".
- A request to wire funds to a personal account.
- The agent/broker has no experience in the industry or no obvious means of getting the job done.
- Statements that only this person can make the deal happen because of his/her connections with government officials.
The most likely scenario for an aircrew member is to either be solicited for a bribe or to offer one for services or for preferential treatment. This can occur with government officials or private individuals. Regardless of the situation, there is likely an anti-bribery law that applies. This is a short list of anti-bribery laws:
- UK Bribery Act
- Canada's Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act
- Mexico's General Law on Administrative Accountability
- Brazil's Clean Companies Act
- India's Prevention of Corruption Act
- China's Criminal Law and Anti-Unfair Competition Law
If you violate these laws, don't be surprised if you and your companions are detained and the aircraft is impounded. Further, your company may also be subject to legal action, fines, or being barred from doing business in that country.
It may seem obvious, but your USA passport is not a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. In fact, being a U.S. citizen may work against you in some places.
Even if you manage to make it back home in one piece after a bribery event, the fun isn't over. You and your employer will likely be subject to prosecution under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
How To Reduce the Risk
The first thing you can do is have a Code of Conduct that your company abides by; maybe saying that your pilots are authorized for minor "fees" up to $300, but beyond that, they need authorization. Sometimes, simply looking the briber in the eye and telling them that you are required to have your supervisor authorize a "payment" will deter some potential bribers. They don't want to get a lot of people involved; so if you feel that you’re being backed into a corner, try to get as many people involved as possible.
The next thing you can do is include Advanced Aircrew Academy's International Procedures – North America / New York Oceanic West eLearning modules as part of your full International Procedures curriculum.
Our International Procedures Worldwide Initial/Recurrent curriculum is a review of the latest changes in international procedures. As a minimum, we include training to meet your Letters of Authorization (LOA) / Ops Spec training requirements. We can tailor the contents of the training curriculum to meet your needs by adding topics from the elective list to meet additional LOA / Ops Spec authorizations or spotlighting specific areas of operation.
Our Worldwide International Procedures training consists of multiple online modules to create a training curriculum. The NBAA Management Guide (section 2.4) recommends advanced flight crew training above and beyond the regulatory requirements of the FAA as a best practice. That recommendation specifically cites International Procedures training. This training satisfies that NBAA recommendation.
Part 91 operators are issued LOA to operate in Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (RVSM), Performance Based Navigation (PBN), and High-Level Airspace (HLA). To be issued an LOA, operators develop and submit to the FAA manuals to support the procedures you will follow, including a requirement for training crews. This module complies with the IS-BAO training requirement for "International Operations" defined in Chapter 8 of IS-BAO. The Business Aviation Safety Consortium (BASC) standard requires training when LOAs are issued for international operations.
The curriculum content changes based on the latest changes in international procedures. You can select from a group of individual modules to make your own personalized Worldwide International Procedures curriculum.
Wherever you go, be sure to check your company guidance and the Department of State Country Information page and commercial travel sites to determine the proper etiquette so you do not offend. Further, it is always a good idea to ask what is accepted practice from a reputable local source.
Link to U.S. Dept of State: Bureau of Consular Affairs
Link to NBAA Info: International Operations