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When flying to the United States, it is important to pay close attention to local cabotage restrictions. These regulations have a considerable impact on the operations of non-US registered business aircraft within the US. Non-compliance can result in sizable fines, and even restrictions on future operations in the country.


Cabotage can be defined as the carrying of passengers or cargo within a country by a foreign registered operator, other than as part of a through trip. This practice is prohibited under US laws 49 USC and 41703, as well as 294.81 of the DOT’s economic regulations. Cabotage restrictions are strictly enforced by the Department of Transport (DOT). These rules apply to charter (non-scheduled commercial) operations, but not to private non-revenue flights. Note that for cabotage purposes, the term “United States” includes all US territories.

Regulatory Bodies

The DOT is responsible for US cabotage restrictions and creates the relevant regulations, whilst the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) monitors and enforces these regulations. The CBP requires customs officers to report all suspected cabotage violations, and the rules are strictly enforced.

If you are operating a charter flight within the US, it is vital to notify the CBP of passenger and crew information for every leg of the flight. This will be checked by CBP officials, and if there are no violations detected they will issue a permit to proceed for the next leg of the flight. This is a stamp on the General Declaration (GenDec) for each leg of the journey. All non-US registered charter flights must comply with these requirements.

Consequences of Violations

Operators of non-US registered charter flights need to be aware of all permit to proceed requirements, and the correct process for obtaining these permits. Once obtained, a log number will be issued. The CBP will then monitor this to ensure the operator has all necessary permits required for their journey. If any violations occur, fines may be imposed and the operator can even be banned from operating in the US, particularly in the case of repeat offenders.

Operators of foreign-registered charter aircraft flying to the US are required to have a customs bond, and any penalties incurred as a result of cabotage will be charged against this. If an infraction takes place the operator will receive a notice of intent regarding the fine, and is given a fixed period in which to submit a letter of defense. If it is subsequently established that an infraction has occurred, payment will be obtained directly from the operator’s customs bond.

In cases where CBP officers suspect that cabotage may be about to take place, they will not permit the passengers in question to board the aircraft. In general, charter operators are not allowed to pick up passengers in the US and drop them at another location within the country, unless the passengers are continuing on with the same aircraft to a point outside the US.

Example of Cabotage

Regulations in the US focus on the movement of each passenger individually. For example, if a flight arrives in the country on a foreign-registered commercial aircraft, then picks up another passenger who is transported to a second destination within the US, this is considered cabotage. The reason for the passenger’s trip is not taken into consideration by the CBP, nor is the citizenship of the passenger and source of payment for the flight.

Special Cases

Exemptions are available in special cases, which allow operations that would otherwise be considered cabotage. The DOT is the only entity permitted to provide these exemptions, and in most cases these are not given to charter operators.

Further Information

All operators handling flights into the US are recommended to review the DOT’s website to gain a full understanding on the relevant restrictions. In case of any queries, please contact our 24/7 operations center in Miami. We have a wealth of experience in navigating cabotage regulations, and our expert team will help ensure your trip is planned in full compliance with the law.

Jetex Miami
Tel: +1(305) 306 4000