On the ground “be prepared to see lots of weapons,” he warned, “especially assault rifles and both light and heavy machine guns. This becomes commonplace to us [flight crews], but it can potentially raise the stress levels of the uninitiated.”

Follow the recommendations of your host, hotel management, and the State Department or Foreign Office when it comes to travel around the city (or into the interior) by vehicle. The most likely scenario for getting hurt is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, the pilot adds, it isn't advisable to give information regarding lodging, movements on the ground or travel plans to strangers, even in an attempt to be friendly. Oh, and if your business takes you to Lagos, Nigeria, “do not walk anywhere at night,” he admonished. “If one needs to go somewhere at night, even a short distance, always take a vehicle.”

A third NGO pilot who has done most of his flying in Africa, said, “The countries I've worked in — Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo — have been somewhat less of a security threat but have been — and are — high on the hassle list.” He added, “I cannot emphasize enough about the importance of having a reliable local contact with which to work — a person who knows the ins and outs, knows what's legitimate or not, and has enough favors and relationships built up with the authorities to get out of an otherwise awkward situation.”

He says he prefers to ask other organizations working in the country for which he's destined about their recommendations before trusting embassy or State Department recommendations “because of all the political and military baggage they have to manage. The relationships they have aren't necessarily the ones I want to have. Of course, a business might not trust a competitor's advice either, but competing flight departments often get along better than the parent companies do. Fortunately, that's not so much of a factor in our case.”

Be “very aware” of current exchange rates ahead of time and do the math with airport charges to make sure the sums come out right. “And,” he added, ”don't act or look American. I often cringe when observing loud, arrogant, pushy Americans in action. We often collectively deserve what we get.”

Finally, a fourth NGO pilot reminded operators to “Always keep in mind that the English of the controllers may leave a lot to be desired. So when given a directive, always where possible, back it up with your own verifications, especially regarding navigating over unknown terrain: positions, elevations, location of towers, and so forth.”

Dan Manningham, a former BCA contributing editor, agrees with that advice. Since retiring from United Airlines, Manningham has flown King Air 200s for NGOs in Afghanistan and elsewhere and has written about the experience. He says, “Most of these areas are where controllers will use heavily accented English — so be absolutely certain what they're saying. Clarify any misunderstandings. Be kind and patient, as the controllers are really trying to help you. In the worst possible case, you push the throttles forward and climb out of there — never be unsure about your ATC instructions.” (And always have an alternate and enough fuel to get there and fly an instrument approach.)

The biggest fear in going into politically unstable areas or outright war zones is the presence of small arms fire or shoulder-launched antiaircraft missiles. According to the aviation manager of a U.S. government contractor active in more than 30 countries, military aircraft are equipped with aviation survivability equipment (ASE), packages varying according to the threat, e.g., heat-seeking (infrared, or IR) missiles, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) or small arms fire. “We have a suite of ASE on our aircraft,” he said, “including flare dispensers and IR suppressors on the helicopters. But business aircraft will not have access to that equipment [and would probably need an expensive and time-consuming STC to get it tested and installed]. If you take Afghanistan, for example, the airlines operate there without it.”