Written by Laurie Niles
Published: June 26, 2014 at 9:38 PM [UTC]
Here is some help, if you are planning a trip:
Getting your violin on the airplane
Your violin cannot go as checked baggage without grave risk of being broken by baggage handlers or harmed by the very cold conditions in cargo. In order to ensure that you can bring your violin on the plane, here are our best suggestions:
Avoiding having your bow confiscated
A lot of work has gone into mitigating the effects of a Feb. 25, 2014 immediate ban by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on traveling with items that contain any African ivory. In May, the ban was amended to allow for traveling with stringed instruments that contain a small amount of ivory, but only under certain conditions. According to Raymond M. Hair, Jr., International President American Federation of Musician of the United States and Canada, in a letter to AFM members: "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service still requires the following requirements be met before you can safely travel in and out of the U.S. with a musical instrument containing African elephant ivory. It now requires that:
1. The ivory contained in the instrument was legally acquired prior to February 26, 1976;
2. The instrument must not have subsequently been transferred from one person to another person for financial gain or profit since February 25, 2014;
3. The person or group qualifies for a CITES musical instrument certificate;
4. The musical instrument containing African elephant ivory must be accompanied by a valid CITES musical instrument certificate or an equivalent CITES document."
The problem that remains is obtaining that CITES ("Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species") document, which requires applying for said document and producing ownership documents. Even the AFM was having a hard time figuring out how to guide members on this: "Due to lack of guidance from USFWS, there is still confusion over where to go, either online or in person, to apply for and obtain the correct permit. Since musicians have been singled out, we believe there should be a one-stop online center for information specifically regarding musical instruments. These issues should have been addressed along with the amended Order as well. They too must be resolved," Hair said.
Here is the best link that I could find about how to obtain a CITES document for traveling with an instrument that contains Brazilian rosewood, elephant ivory, tortoiseshell, or another protected species: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service International Affairs: Traveling Across International Borders with Your Musical Instrument. Getting such a permit can take up to 60 days, according to the USFWS, which also says that "we are in the process of developing a new application form for the musical instrument passport program." In the meantime, it's pretty confusing.
If you have information or advice to share to help the members of this community who will be traveling by air with their instruments, please add it in the comments section. Good luck and safe travels, everyone!
From bow maker Matt Wehling:
"Thanks for posting about the current problems with trying to travel internationally with a bow. However, there were a couple inaccuracies in your blog post.
First, it is currently OK to travel with a pernambuco bow. The CITES listing is only for raw wood, but a finished bow is OK from a pernambuco standpoint.
Second, it would be great if a letter from the maker was accepted by importation officials, but there's no guarantee. It's better than nothing, I suppose, but still agents on the ground may or may not accept it. And while almost all bows made in the last 20-25 years by modern makers like me would have a mastodon tip, there's no way an official can easily tell the difference so your at the mercy of their whims.
Third, there's also a species of shell which is subject to import/export restrictions. And so, even though no maker uses this shell, a government agent might decide to confiscate your bow for that.
Fourth, the New York legislature is considering a bill which will make it illegal to sell ivory. There is an exception in the law for musical instruments made before 1975, but that still outlaws a lot of bows from being sold. And the New Jersey Legislature this week also passed legislation for signature by Governor Christie that would ban the import, sale, purchase, and possession with intent to sell of any ivory (elephant, hippopotamus, mammoth, narwhal, walrus or whale) or rhino horn, with no exceptions. I'm not sure, but that sounds like a New Yorker couldn't even legally drive across the bridge to play a gig in Jersey with a legally purchased bow which has a mammoth tip.
And we all need to start organizing, because the next possible banned substance will potentially be ebony, which is in every musical instrument.
Bowmakers are working to try to find a suitable replacement material which will be easily distinguishable from ivory, yet not ugly as sin. But it needs to be good and stable and glue well to wood, which not all plastic materials will do. But we're trying."
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(1) Things move slowly and take a long time. While the USFWS says that the process takes 60 days, in reality it could take much longer. When I called them on June 16 to check on our application, I was told that they were currently processing an application that arrived at their office on March 4.
(2) The form to fill out is 3-200-23 and a link to it may be found here: http://www.fws.gov/international/permits/by-activity/musical-instruments.html
(3) With the completed application, you should also send a cover letter explaining that you are a professional musician (i.e. that your export/import of the violin bow is strictly non-commercial). State the dates and locations of performance. Also, request a "Musical Instrument Certificate" or a "Musical Instrument Passport" as you may make several international trips with your bow. Along with the cover letter, include a photocopy of the bow's appraisal (showing its age, materials, value, and weight) and a receipt from when you purchased the bow. The application fee is $75.
(4) The USFWS only mails things via USPS first class mail, so if you are short on time, you must send them a prepaid FedEx waybill. This can be done on www.fedex.com, but you have to set up a FedEx account. They do NOT use UPS.
(4) The Musical Instrument Passport is valid for three years from the date of issue. It's like a real passport, with two full pages of empty blanks that must be stamped by customs for each departure from and arrival to the US.
(5) Once you receive your CITES permit from the USFWS, it's not over. Before you leave the US, your bow must be inspected by an FWS customs agent at one of the following ports of departure listed here: http://www.fws.gov/le/designated-ports.html. We are departing out of Chicago O'Hare, so this entails a brief customs check of the bow at O'Hare just before we go through security and board the plane. I am not sure, however, what happens for passengers who are not traveling through one of these cities.
(6) Everyone I spoke with on the phone from the Fish and Wildlife Service was professional, polite, and helpful. As a government agency, however, they are overrun and overworked. Things take time. Start the application as soon as possible; to be safe, allow at least 4 months.
My simple solution has always been to cut up existing stocks (not to to burn it or to crush it into powder) and then to give it away. Yes, to destroy its value by making it worthless. Who in their right mind is then going to kill an elephant for profit - there would be none. I feel also, that a ban on all elephant hunting (not legal African government culling) would go a considerable way to redressing the balance. Left on their own, elephants breed like rabbits (excuse the pun) just a little slower. Making a natural stock of ivory easy to come by. Keep the price down and it will remain that way.
I am a working bow maker toward the end of my working life and I eat meat and vegetables but does the currents laws of banning a substance to protect it mean that at some time in the future when the population goes over 20 billion we will all be eating chemicals because all other living creatures have been "protected". Think about it!
Also, here is a page from the League of American Orchestra with a lot of links and information about the ivory ban: http://americanorchestras.org/advocacy-government/travel-with-instruments/endangered-species-material/ivory-ban-impact-on-orchestras.html
I've done a fair bit of work on this topic for your fretted instrument-loving siblings who read Fretboard Journal. I offer two articles that your readers might find of interest.
Carrying on instruments. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 did mandate that airlines allow instruments to be carried on board, but only if there's room for them in the overhead bins. Moreover, that Act does not do into effect until the FAA promulgates implementing regulations and the FAA has not yet promulgated the regulations. My article: http://www.fretboardjournal.com/blog/skies-are-now-guitar-friendly-congress-orders-airlines-let-you-carry-your-musical-instrument
Musical instrument passports. CITES import, export, and re-import permits are good for but one use. The new recently embraced musical instrument passport (termed a "Musical Instrument Certificate" by the treaty language) allows for multiple border crossings. Here is my how-to article on obtaining a passport: http://www.fretboardjournal.com/blog/have-guitar-passport-will-travel One note on that article: I obtained my passport before US Fish and Wildlife had created the application form. I used old form 3-200-32. Here is the current form, 3-200-88: http://www.fretboardjournal.com/blog/have-guitar-passport-will-travel
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