Foreign airfields: Know Before You Go!

Flying to a foreign airfield is nothing out of the ordinary. Nevertheless, for safety reasons it is important to prepare well before take-off. Here are what we consider to be the most important points to ensure that you land safely where you want to go.

PPR – nothing works without advance notification
PPR (Prior Permission Required) airfields are relatively common in Switzerland. Anyone wishing to fly to such an airfield is obliged to contact the airfield in advance and familiarize themselves with the local conditions. The habit of flying to a PPR airfield does not release you from the obligation to register. PPR airfields may only be able to handle a limited number of flight movements on certain days or there may be activities that require coordination on site. Very important: the runway conditions must permit safe take-off and landing, which is not always the case with grass runways, especially in winter. Last but not least, a PPR request enables the airfield to transmit various types of up-to-date information that may be safety-relevant for pilots (parachuting activities, aerobatics, etc.).

Customs – the devil is in the detail
Customs formalities at Swiss airports always raise questions. Even if not necessarily safety-relevant. Customs regulations for international flights must always be observed. This is because customs offenses are serious and can be punished by the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (FOCBS) for years afterwards. Therefore, pay close attention to the current customs regulations according to the AIP and VFR manual and contact customs in Switzerland or abroad by telephone if you are unsure. At EU level, the customs airport requirement for flights from Switzerland to the European Customs Union was lifted under certain conditions in 2020. As things stand today, implementation still varies greatly. It is therefore advisable to check the local conditions carefully. Further information can be found on the website of the BAZG Cross-border flights ( and the Swiss Aeroclub Customs airport obligation in the EU abolished – Aero-Club of Switzerland ( (see links)

NOTAM – when the details matter
As with all briefings, consultation of the NOTAMs is mandatory. This also applies to airfields that the pilot wishes to fly to. NOTAMs can indicate, among other things, airspace restrictions on the route and work on the infrastructure. In the case of landings at external airfields, it is important to know which runways and taxiways are closed. This applies in particular after heavy rainfall for airfields that only have a grass runway that can be closed. Furthermore, a refueling station, for example, may not be available. In this case, it is necessary to take these possible restrictions into account when making flight preparations and not to plan a refueling stop at such an airfield.

AREA/VAC/AD INFO charts – the big picture
In the past, there was no GPS. There was no getting around the paper map. Even in times of digitalization, nothing has changed. Whether on the Ipad as .pfd or using the VFR manual in paper form, studying the right chart material ensures the right orientation. It is particularly important to memorize the approach and departure points and sectors as well as the aerodrome circuit. This will enable you to integrate safely and smoothly into the airfield traffic. Many airfields nowadays provide flight photos and videos on their websites with orientation points and areas to avoid for the aerodrome circuit. If such a briefing is not available, the use of Google Earth or Map GEO Admin can be helpful.

To avoid landing on a closed airfield or making a circuit outside the permitted times, a look at the operating times of the airfield will provide information and can save unnecessary trouble.

Radio – here I am, there I want to go
The risk of collision between two aircraft is particularly high in the vicinity of an airfield. Therefore: make yourself noticed. “Say where you are, how high you are flying and where you want to go.” The correct frequencies for this can also be found on the airfield map. As a rule, the first radio call must be made five minutes before the expected arrival time. It is helpful to mark on the map where the approach briefing will be made and the descent initiated (point of descent). These planning steps enable an appropriate and passenger-compliant descent to the approach sector and subsequent recovery to the circuit.

Flight performance and weather – some like it hot, aircraft do not
Last but not least: flight performance and weather. Sufficient time should be allowed for these two points when planning. The first point is to calculate the take-off and landing distance, taking into account the expected temperatures and ground conditions. A grass runway can considerably lengthen the take-off distance, especially if the runway is wet after rain. It is therefore important to ensure that the length of the runway is sufficient for the current weather conditions and the performance of the aircraft. This is particularly important for high-altitude or mountain airfields, where the density altitude can become very problematic in summer with high loads and limited power. In general, it is always advisable to allow for sufficient power reserves and to remember the center of the runway in case of an aborted take-off.

All these points are part of a carefully executed flight. You must be able to prove these preparatory steps to the FOCA at any time during a ramp check and thus demonstrate “good airmanship”.

Safety first, every flight, every time.

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