Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Weekend Trip to Montreal

(Contributed by Michael Rogombe-Williams)

The Plan
With spring and good weather (supposedly) to be in store for May, I set out to use a private plane as a real transportation vehicle (for once!) and go visit friends and family in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  Since the planning process was pretty extensive, I thought I would give an overview for others who are considering something similar.

I was planning on using N6189Q, our G1000-equipped plane to perform the trip. Not only does it have excellent situational awareness capabilities (GPS maps, TAWS, TIS), but it also has XM weather---all very useful tools for cross-country trips, especially in unfamiliar airspace with terrain like the mountain ranges on either side of my route. The plan was to take 2 days off work (a Thursday and Friday), take off Thursday and come back on Sunday. I could have done it starting a Friday, but I wanted to give myself some flexibility.

The Planning process
There are 2 parts to this process: the international paperwork preparation and the flight planning itself (which was the easy part).

1. International Paperwork

Being an AOPA-member (I strongly believe all private pilots should be), I had access to a slew of information and checklist on requirements for trans-border flights from the US and Canadian regulations with regards to the same. The link is http://www.aopa.org/members/pic/intl/

In essence, they require the following (information valid as of 6/11/11):

  • Pilot-in-Command
  • Passengers
    • Each passenger must have a current passport
    • Children traveling with only one parent must have a notarized statement of approval from the absent parent stating the dates of the trip.
  • Aircraft (U.S. Registered Aircraft)

    • A standard Airworthiness Certificate
    • A permanent registration certificate (no temporary certificates/pink slips)
    • A radio station license
    • An annual user fee decal ($27.50)
    • Operating limitations information
    • Weight and Balance information
    • If the aircraft is registered in another person’s or corporation’s name, we recommend you bring a notarized letter authorizing use of the aircraft in Canada.
    • An ID data plate
    • 12-inch registration marks if you’re crossing an ADIZ to get into Canada (primarily affects those flying in from Alaska)
    • Transponder with Mode C - TSA waivers are still granted and mandatory for all international flights for aircraft not equipped with a transponder.
    • Aircraft with fuel tanks installed in the baggage or passenger compartments must have Form 337 on board.
    • Either a 121.5 MHz or 406 MHz ELT
    • Charts
    • Survival equipment for wilderness areas
    • Survival equipment for over-water
    • Verify insurance coverage for flight into Canada. Private aircraft must be covered with liability insurance. Proof of liability coverage needs to be carried onboard. AOPA Insurance Agency(AOPAIA) provides coverage for AOPA members. Contact AOPAIA at 800/622-AOPA(2672) or emailaopaia@aopaia.com for more information.
    • eAPIS (CBP’s Electronic Advance Passenger Information System) – Effective May 18, 2009 pilots who fly internationally are required to provide passenger manifests to CBP when departing from and arriving back in the U.S. Manifests must be filed at least one hour before departing from or arriving in the United States, but pilots can file as far in advance as they wish, giving the option to provide information for the return trip via the Internet before leaving home. AOPA Air Safety Foundation has a free online course, “Understanding eAPIS—A Pilot's Guide to Online Customs Reporting” that guides pilots step-by-step through the online reporting process
    • CANPASS (OPTIONAL)- Do you frequently travel to Canada directly from the United States on a small private aircraft? If so, the CANPASS Private Aircraft program may be for you! The CANPASS Private Aircraft program makes clearing the border easier for private aircraft carrying no more than 15 people (including the crew) and travelling to Canada from the United States. This program allows members to access more airports and provides expedited clearances for low-risk, pre-screened travellers.
  • Departing the U.S.
    • All aircraft must be on an activated IFR, VFR, or Defense VFR if you are flying through the ADIZ from Alaska.
    • All aircraft must make their first landing at a Canada Border Services Agency(CBSA) airport of entry.
  • Returning to the U.S.
    • Your first landing in the United States must be at an U.S. CBP airport of entry
    • File an eAPIS arrival manifest (if you filed eAPIS reports for both legs of your trip before you left the U.S., you do not have to file again).
    • File and activate a VFR, IFR, (or Defense VFR flight plan if you’re flying through the Alaska ADIZ).
    • Call U.S. CBP at least one hour and no more than 23 hours before your planned U.S. arrival time
I scoured blogs for information on the "real" experience of traveling internationally, not just regulations. AOPA has an excellent international travel section. I been to Haiti as part of a relief mission following the earthquake and knows a thing or two about international travel.

2. Flight Planning

Compared to all the licenses and paperwork involving multiple government agencies, flight planning was the easy part. There was no need to plan for a stopover since I didn’t need to depart from an AOE (Airport of Entry).

Since there were two mountain ranges on either side of the Hudson river all the way up to Canada, a simple way to plan the route was to….follow the Hudson! I wasn’t going to deal with mountain tops of 5000, with no mountain flying training and no IFR ticket, and no turbo-charged engine, and no oxygen, and (…) you get the point.

After carefully selecting my waypoints, I had to select THE most important one: the border-crossing waypoint that I needed to enter in my eAPIS form. Indeed, they do ask at what specific location are you going to fly into or out of the US. Looking at a sectional, the choice was obvious: Rouses Point, a seaplane base it nestled right by the Canadian border and seemed like a perfect spot to enter in the G1000 flight plan since it had an ID (K21): problem solved!

On the Canadian side, it was just a short hop from the border to CYHU (Montreal St-Hubert), the main GA airport serving Montreal and a Canadian customs AOE. The FBO there was "Petro" (+1 4506786030)

For the inbound flight, there was a requirement for me to transit through an AOE for customs processing. After much considerations (including KTEB, but several people dissuaded me from using it), I selected Albany's KALB., a class C, not so busy and with a friendly FBO (Million Air) .

3. The Flight

The night before the flight marginal weather began creeping in.  To make matters more interesting a TFR for a Presidential visit was announced along the route starting at 10amEST as well.

It became evident that I could not reach Montreal without being able to fly IFR. I therefore elected to file VFR for Plattsburg, take off before the TFR went into effect and while at PBG, wait out the weather for an hour or two and if no improvement, rent a car for the one hour drive into Montreal.

I ended up renting a car at PBG, which was kind of a disappointment after months of planning, but it was still a fun process to go through. I hope to try again in a couple of months, hopefully the weather will cooperate.

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