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Crowdfunding launched by German/Swiss AOPAs to help rescue a retired pilot from bankruptcy due to German customs decision

Well, this is outrageous, but it begs a couple of questions:

- is this fine with respect to ‘importing’ the airplane itself?

- if not, what was the pilot transporting ? If he was carrying goods that needed customs clearance he must have known that a comment by the police over the phone doesn’t constitute that. Papers need to be stamped…

The takeaway here really is – if there’s anything complicated in your flight (customs, goods you carry, pax with visas), then go to one of the international airports where these issues can be sorted out on the spot.

@Peter, not sure your story (while certainly amusing!) is relevant here. If you didn’t go landside then, in my understanding, you didn’t enter the country and from a customs POV the UK was (and still is for the moment) part of the EU.

Customs agents were not in vain marked as baddies even in the bible…

First of all, my question always is in a case like that if it could have happened to me: The answer is hell yes, even tough I do avoid airports which need PPR for any sort of thing. But the legal part? Sure wilbur.

WITH HINDSIGHT the legal situation is clear but for someone who has to deal with a growing number of complex legalese every time he goes flying, nobody can claim that this pilot did not exercise due diligence by asking an obviously wrongly informed FL and being confronted with a totally inandequate and misleading text in the AIP.

Therefore, I wonder if it would not make sense to actually sue DFS and possibly even Würzburg Airport for misleading information and trying to reclaim some of the damage done here. Also the local policeman who said on the phone that “everything was ok” should be taken to the cleaners, as he was wrong. Nonwithstanding that he is only concerned about immigration he should have reckognized immediately that there was a potential customs problem and advised the FL to call customs as well.

Lesson learned yet again, even though it should be clear by now:

If you fly from Switzerland to *ANYWHERE beyond the border you A L W A Y S need customs clearance. That Switzerland is a member of Schengen is TOTALLY IRRELEVANT for CUSTOMS. Nonwithstanding what any AIP or Jeppesen or even airport staff think.

For flights from and to Switzerland, Schengen is to be regarded as IRRELEVANT, as it only concerns immigration, not customs. They are two things totally unrelated.

So if any information in the AIP talks of Customs and Schengen in one sentence, it is legally wrong. As far as customs is concerned, Switzerland is Non EU, that is non Customs Union and therefore ALWAYS needs customs clearance. Not all countries will react this draconic but most will react massively. Similar cases in other forms have been known to have happened in Austria and also within Switzerland.

@Vladimir, this should be in Flightforum as well, it is now posted there. And someone might want to post it in P&F if you don’t mind. This is a scandal which is worthy of an article imho.

@boscomantico, of course you are right, but it is not helpful to point the finger at fellow aviators. As you rightly say, lessons need to be learnt yet again from this. And I am sure you agree that the financial aspect of this is totally crazy, especcially as there was no intent to break the law, on the opposite, it can be shown that the pilot tried everything within his powers not to. That he was mislead was not his fault. To ruin an existance over something like this, and certainly terminate a pilots career, is WAY out of order.

Last Edited by Mooney_Driver at 09 Oct 16:56
LSZH, Switzerland

boscomantico wrote:

The point isn’t really if what was written in the AIP VFR wasn’t correct.

If he had complied with it, and had called customs before the flight, customs would have told him that the flight to EDFW is not admitted.

The AIP being incorrect is certainly still the point. In fact, he did comply with it because customs PPR is only required for non-Schengen flights (per AIP), which his was not. Sure, he could/should have called customs but there is nothing in the AIP indicating that was necessary for his flight. His big mistake was attempting to CHA by calling the airfield OPS and police rather than customs directly which as you say would have hopefully gotten him the info that the AIP was wrong and customs is not available at EDFW.

A number of private owner/operators based in Switzerland have paid both Swiss VAT and VAT in an EU state on their aircraft in order to get European free circulation. Autorouter has a tick-in-the-box for this under aircraft details. That might have helped the pilot in this case if the plane owner (Graziella flight group) had done so since the goods (plane) would not have been untaxed …. from the pdf: “Had the pilot flown back to Switzerland on the same day, it would have merely been an unauthorized landing. However, since the pilot flew on to another airport, Customs and the Court consider this as an unauthorized trade of untaxed goods.”

I’m not sure that the above precaution is really effective though, because even if EU VAT is paid on a Swiss-based aircraft (as an example) the aircraft might lose its free circulation status as soon as it returns to Switzerland. See the last paragraph here:
Free circulation

Taking a different airfield as an example, I have flown several times from Switzerland to EDQC Coburg to enter Germany. The AIP indicates that customs is available PPR via TEL Ops. There is no customs number provided. What if the AIP is wrong here? In effect, German customs could go after me exactly the same way.

Bottom line: caveat emptor

Last Edited by chflyer at 09 Oct 17:53
LSZK, Switzerland

any information in the AIP talks of Customs and Schengen in one sentence, it is legally wrong

Not necessarily; the bigger airports all have both customs and immigration.

If you didn’t go landside then, in my understanding, you didn’t enter the country and from a customs POV the UK was (and still is for the moment) part of the EU

That doesn’t generally work in Europe. See e.g. here. You cannot do e.g. a fuel stop, flying from Egypt to the UK, in some little place in France.

what was the pilot transporting

I reckon he got hit on the value of his plane.

Bottom line: caveat emptor

Indeed, but the risk is very high.

It’s gonna get even better post-brexit, with a prob100 chance of mainland Customs officials being especially on the ball, to set examples. I’ve already seen this at EDNY in April this year when they said the UK is already non EU and we cannot share the same minibus with Germans. UK pilots fly a lot into all of Europe.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Peter wrote:

How was the fine assessed? Is it some % of the market value of the aircraft? Or was there cargo?

If there was cargo being imported into the EU, then the crowdfunding is a scam/dishonest. My working assumption is that this was a “no cargo” flight. The text actually says this is not (all) a fine, it is:

  1. EUR 5,647.14 customs
  2. EUR 14,529.11 VAT

plus interest, etc for late payment (since that story is now a few years old), accrued during the judicial process. 14 529.11 EUR is the VAT on 76 469 EUR. That could be the aircraft indeed. The customs duty on aircraft is 7.7%, that’s 5 888.11 EUR, an amount close to what is claimed. Note two things:

  1. 7.7% is the “erga omnes” rate since 01/01/2006, that is the rate in the absence of any specific rule for the origin country. Import from Switzerland has a special preferential rate of 0%. However, to get it, you have to apply for it, and show the origin of the goods. My guess is that they hit him with the erga omnes rate because he didn’t apply for the preferential rate / didn’t show the Swiss origin.
  2. Aircraft “for civil use” have a rate of 0%. Again, my assumption is that to get that, you have to show the civil use, he didn’t do that, so they apply the “other use” rate. Since 01/01/2018, all you have to show is an ICAO ARC, this legally proves civil use. Before that date (and this story is from before that date), getting this 0% rate was subject to prior authorisation. Which he didn’t get, so the “other use” rate applies.
Last Edited by lionel at 09 Oct 18:49

172driver wrote:

- is this fine with respect to ‘importing’ the airplane itself?


LSZK, Switzerland

Peter wrote:

Not necessarily; the bigger airports all have both customs and immigration.

Doesn’t matter. It is still two different agencies. Mentioning Schengen in connection with customs is ALWAYS wrong. You can even get different PPR conditions for either.

Connecting Non Schengen with a customs PPR is wrong in any case. IMHO, DFS should be made aware and if they don’t react taken to court by one of those damaged by this confusing statement. In fact it should say:

- Immigration: PPR 24 hours for arrivals/departures to/from Non Schengen States, by Police: Tel Nr xxxx
- Customs: PPR24 hours for arrival/departures outside the EU, by Customs Office: Tel Nr xxxxx

Everything else is wrong. You can’t apply for customs with the police or for immigration with customs.

lionel wrote:

My working assumption is that this was a “no cargo” flight.

Correct. The verdict can be read here:

And it is not the only case…

It also appears that the state of Bavaria seems particularly fond of setting this kind of trap.

My own conclusion for departures from Switzerland: Entry or departure into Germany ONLY via a known, non PPR Airport of entry such as Friedrichshafen or Augsburg or go to another EU state first and do customs there. What if a Luftaufsicht messes up an application? What is your proof that even if you call the customs lords that you actually did if they mess up the sheet they wrote your number on? You are the one who is fully responsible for this kind of thing, as it was shown here, where the Würzburg FL who gave a wrong information, appears to wash his hands of it.

It appears that the “Free State” of Bavaria is trying to cash in some 50k Euros on these 2 cases only. Heaven knows how many more are around. This needs to be known.

BTW, same problems for the Brits with immigration and customs soon as well…

LSZH, Switzerland

“Unfortunately”, Bavaria doesn’t have a land border with Switzerland. Otherwise they could/should try to apply the same law to an auto crossing at other than an official customs entry point, of which there are many between Switzerland and southern Germany….. i.e. claiming that driving into Germany at other than a customs entry point means importing the auto as goods rather than a transport vehicle, which is the issue in this case. Bavaria is treating the aircraft as goods rather than a vehicle. If they tried that with autos it wouldn’t last very long…. trying to collect VAT plus customs on every Swiss car entering Germany!

LSZK, Switzerland


you’ll find the list of official German customs airfields here and the list of the “besondere Landeplätze” which qualify also if you call in advance here. is your friend.

Last Edited by thomas_witt at 09 Oct 21:05
A guy from Berlin, Germany
EDAZ, Germany

Indeed; that list was posted here.

Whether or not this Swiss pilot was aware of it, Würzburg is in the second list.

But who would be aware? The proper way is to consult the AIP. That is drummed into us by all the aviation experts Always check the AIP.

I have flown to airports in Germany and Austria where I emailed with the airport and they said “police have been notified”. So this sort of reply is totally worthless (even though in that context it was immigration rather than customs).

Post-brexit that list is going to be highly relevant.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom
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