Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Canada By PC-12

A Pilatus adventure across the border

Last month, I made my first general aviation trip to Canada, as copilot of a Pilatus PC-12. Our mission: to deliver six hunters, equipped with rifles (and in one case, a hunting bow) and ammunition, to Lloydminster (CYLL), in the Canadian province of Alberta, for two and a half days of hunting, and bring them—and a couple of coolers full of meat—home on a return flight a couple of days later.

I was along for two reasons. While the PC-12 is certificated for single-pilot operation, the pilot, Larry Askew (a good friend who has been my preferred flight instructor for many years), prefers to have help on really long flights—and while he has well over 10 times the hours in my logbook, until this trip, he had never flown outside the United States. I've done quite a few international flights, though until this trip, all were volunteer medical missions to Mexico.

Crossing The Border
Preparation for the flight began several months ago. The main preflight issues for international operations are documentation, insurance, Customs notification, filing the required international border-crossing flight plan and charts. Documentation includes a current U.S. pilot license and medical, passports (for the pilot and all passengers), airworthiness certificate and permanent aircraft registration (don't even think of trying this with a temporary "pink slip"!). Technically, you're also supposed to have an FCC aircraft radio station license and radiotelephone operator's permit, though I've never been asked for those. If the airplane isn't in your name, you also need a letter (preferably notarized) from the owner authorizing you to pilot the airplane internationally. Insurance requirements vary depending on what country you're flying into. Depending on whether you're making a one-shot trip or flying regularly, it may make sense to have international coverage included in your policy or buy temporary additional coverage. Call whomever you get your U.S. coverage from, and they can probably arrange it for you.

Customs notification has gotten more complicated over the past few years—it used to be enough to put "ADCUS" for "advise Customs" in the remarks section of your flight plan, but those days are gone. All international flights departing from (or arriving to) the U.S. are now required to use the U.S. Customs Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS), which you can access directly or through a third-party provider. For my flights to Mexico, I've had the benefit of a web-based interface put together by some bright volunteers at Liga International ("The Flying Doctors of Mercy"). For our flight to Canada, Larry spent the time to come up to speed on e-APIS itself. Once you get through the registration process (during which you'll enter identifying information for yourself and your aircraft), you'll need to create a passenger manifest—the full name, birth date and passport number of each person on your flight. Once all the data is entered, you can save a manifest so you don't have to re-enter all the details for multiple flights carrying the same people. One warning: eAPIS is complex, and it's important to make sure that the data you enter is complete and correct. While Customs usually won't impose a penalty in case of an honest mistake, carelessness can cause delays, and deliberately entering false information is punishable by a substantial fine.

You might think that after jumping through all the eAPIS hoops, you can assume that Customs is notified for your port of entry on your return to the U.S. Not so! It's your responsibility to contact Customs—usually by phone—and assure they'll be available to meet your flight. While Customs service is generally available during normal business hours at most ports of entry, it's not safe to assume that, so call ahead. Larry did on our trip, and it paid off in a big way, as I'll explain later on.


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