Bermuda Aircraft Registry

by:

Capt. W. Patrick Gordon, M.Sc. 

March 1994
 

Hamilton is the capitol of Bermuda, a British colony made up of 300 coral rocks, islets, and islands in the North Atlantic. It lies roughly 675 nmi east-southeast of Wilmington, N.C. It’s also home to the low profile and internationally convenient aircraft registration recognized by the three-letter prefix VR-B (Victor Romeo Bravo), followed by two additional letters of the alphabet.


Although the colony’s primary business is tourism, Bermuda is considered by many to be the Rolls-Royce of offshore jurisdictions. In international business, it currently is the top reinsurance center of the world. According to Steve Morris, barrister-at-law with Mello, Hollis, Jones & Martin of Hamilton, aviation is the fastest growing segment of international business and the current size of the Bermuda aircraft registry numbers just over 100, ranging from a twin-engine Beech to an Airbus and a Boeing 747.


During a discussion with Morris, the Bermuda barrister noted that some U.S. clients have aircraft registered in Bermuda, but he said Europeans are more amenable than their American counterparts to the idea of off-shore activity.


He said aircraft registration applicants most often referred to Bermudian law firms by three sources: aircraft manufacturer sales representatives; brokerage or other aircraft sales representatives ; and the governor of Bermuda, who authorizes an evenhanded distribution to the law firms of applicants who have applied directly to the office of aircraft registry.


There are many reasons to seek a Bermuda registration; security replacement for an out-of-favor country’s registration is one, an individual or corporation involved in international business might be ill-advised to leave an “N” registered aircraft on some airport ramps around the world, or even a “G”(United Kingdom), “D” (Germany), or HZ (Saudi Arabia) registration. Most aircraft registrations are as apparent as the country’s flag. It is highly unlikely that anyone would ever be angry with Bermuda.


Low profile and discretion are offered through the Bermuda aircraft registry and only basic responses need to be provided to request for information about a particular aircraft.


As outlined in the memo prepared from Mello, Hollis, Jones & Martin, “The Department of Civil Aviation in Bermuda has the capability to consider, and is prepared to accept, more than one internationally recognized set of airworthiness standards.” That means an aircraft maintained to most internationally accepted standards can readily transfer to a VR-B registration.


Eligibility for Bermuda registry of an aircraft is rather easy, with the basic requirement being that an individual or corporate aircraft owner qualify as a Bermuda exempted company, an international company that is operating from, but not in Bermuda. “It is customary for a Bermuda exempted company to be incorporated primarily for the purpose of owning and operating an aircraft on the Bermuda Register…The present Bermuda government’s policy is that an application to register will usually be accepted from a person residing in Bermuda or a company incorporated in Bermuda,” stated the law firm’s memo.


The minimum share capital for a Bermuda exempted company is $ 12,000. This amount pays for the incorporation fee, filing of required government reports, and also goes significantly toward legal fees depending on the complexity of the paperwork and the size of the aircraft. Aviation fees include flight crew license validation, radio permits, and certificates of registration. Certificate of airworthiness costs compare to other international fees for comparable aircraft.


Depending on the complexity of the paperwork involved, and the ability of the owner or his representative to assemble the necessary documentation, registration can take from a few days to a few weeks. The timeframe is entirely dependent on the applicant’s response.


Bermuda validates the license of air crews from most countries with appropriate documentations and, subject to his discretion, the director of civil aviation will usually accept the medical certificate used for the crewmember’s primary license. The present Bermuda government policy is that the medical certificates for flight crews must be renewed every six months. Additionally, flight crews are required to undertake initial and periodic training for competency, maintenance of instrument ratings, and the other relevant aspects. 


The registry divides the use of aircraft into categories and any operation of an aircraft for hire or reward constitutes “public transport, “ which may not be conducted by any other aircraft registered in the private category. When it is anticipated that an aircraft will be operated for hire or reward, a separate and complex application must be made for a Bermuda air operator’s certificate. This distinction is important when there may be cost sharing arrangements among a series of companies, or within a group, for the use of the aircraft. 


Should the Bermuda registered aircraft change ownership, the new owner must advise the director of civil aviation in writing and apply to re-register the aircraft.


The governing law for the registration of aircraft on the Bermuda Register is The Air Navigation (Overseas Territories) Order 1989, as amended. The order and amendments may be obtained from Her Majesty’s stationary office, HMSO Publications Center, PO Box 276, London SW8 5TD, UK.  The Department of Civil Aviation in Bermuda issues a general information brief on Bermuda Register of Aircraft and Flight Crew which can be obtained from any Bermuda law firm or the Department of Civil Aviation. 


Are there tax benefits involved? Mello, Hollis, et al.’s memo discretely answers the questions as follows: “Legal advisors in the jurisdiction of origin may be able to advise on certain taxation and other advantages which may result in that particular jurisdiction, from the registration of an aircraft on the Bermuda Register…” Translation: see your accountant and tax lawyer.


This airshow is unlike most others in that it takes place at an airport which remains open to public air traffic even while some flight demonstrations are taking place.


The airspace associated with Le Bourget airport is divided into five categories. A1, a pie-shaped patch in front of the reviewing area, is reserved for highly maneuverable light aircraft and helicopters. This area has an altitude limit of 3,000 ft. and may even be used in times of limited visibility. Area A is a slightly larger slice of pie with the same altitude restriction. Both these areas can be used without stopping general aviation traffic on Runways 7/25 at Le Bourget.
Area B1 is used by light- and medium-transport aircraft and fighter aircraft that can remain within this slightly enlarged area. Traffic stops at Le Bourget but continues unhindered on Runway 10/28 at Charles de Gaulle (CDG). Area B lengthens the airspace northeastward. When this area is used by less maneuverable aircraft, traffic stops on the southern runway at CDG. 


Area C has no precise geographical limits. Its use is reserved for planes with limited maneuverability such as large transports and parachute jumping with higher altitude requirements. Its use is allowed only in exceptional cases and involves intensive air traffic control coordination with CDG. 


Visiting pilots of some 50 aircraft participating in the aerial demonstrations are given a thorough daily briefing and issued a pilot guide that covers all phases of the aviation activities likely to be encountered at this airshow. They are cautioned to do their jobs and not to compete with one another. Acrobatics are authorized only with special authorization. Martin's description of acrobatics as any attitude in excess of 90 degrees, is a bit more liberal than most. 


Flight crews are allowed rehearsals prior to show time and an authorized French pilot, appointed by Martin, is available for on-board familiarization of the geographic limitations for the appropriate demonstration area. To ensure the safety and smooth operation of the show, Martin presides over, ''The Conseil des Sages" (Council of Wise Men), an advisory board that provides assistance to flight crews and is sympathetic to their needs. The council is also consulted before any disciplinary action is taken against pilots violating any of the airshow rules. 


Air traffic continues to increase yearly at both Le Bourget and Charles de Gaulle and the job of flight director just gets bigger. Martin, around six feet tall and with a broad engaging grin, handles the swirl of activity adroitly. The Paris Air Show still has room to grow and so does he.