January 24, 2011 | Staff who fly the friendly skies can also now fly the open skies. Due to a recent change in federal regulations, UCAR can take advantage of “Open Skies” agreements that allow for travel using government funds on some foreign air carriers.
Generally, federal travelers are required by the Fly America Act to use U.S. flag air carrier service for all air travel funded by the U.S. government. However, a new exception to this requirement is transportation provided under bilateral or multilateral air transportation agreements to which the United States and foreign countries are parties and which meet the requirements of the Fly America Act.
For UCAR/NCAR staff, this means that travelers can now use a foreign air carrier provided that the carrier is a member airline of the European Union, Australia, or Switzerland (currently there are no Asian airlines that fall under Open Skies); the travel is not funded by the Department of Defense; and a GSA (General Services Administration) city-pair contract does not exist.
The rules surrounding Open Skies are very complex and involve a number of factors, says Katy Schmoll, UCAR vice president for finance and administration. In order to minimize the risk to travelers and maximize efficiency in the UCAR Travel Office, flights using a foreign carrier under the Open Skies agreements can only be booked through Boulder Travel, UCAR’s contracted travel agency. Boulder Travel will take full responsibility for assuring that flights are consistent with the regulations.
Katy cautions that travelers should be aware that the UCAR Travel Office will reject any voucher indicating foreign carrier use under Open Skies routing paid for with government funds that is not booked through Boulder Travel.
“Open Skies will likely offer attractive alternatives to some, but not all, travelers,” Katy says. “It's worth exploring your options with Boulder Travel when flying to Open Skies participant countries."
More news from the UCAR Travel Office
Starting in 2011, the Travel Office will offer training to travelers and administrators to help make the auditing process go as smoothly as possible. The office will arrange the training sessions on a division-by-division basis.
“Because of the complexity of travel at this organization, especially international travel, we will be offering training to everyone who turns in travel expenses for themselves or others in order to facilitate speedier reimbursements,” says Shelley Richards-Craig (F&A).
Shelley estimates the Travel Office processes about 7,500–7,800 trips per year, totaling more than $12 million. Reimbursement forms that are filled out incorrectly can slow the process. In another move toward greater efficiency, the office expects to roll out an online travel application in the next year that automates authorization, approval, and reimbursement processes, she adds.