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Mid-Winter Escapes

By H. Dean Chamberlain
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News

If you are planning on a mid-winter warm get-away this year in your private aircraft that will take you across a U.S. border, you need to review your flight plans for more than just fuel and oil. In today’s world flying outside of the United States in a private aircraft to The Bahamas, for example, involves not only the traditional customs and flight procedures, but ensuring compliance of the new procedures developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For example, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative details the documents required to exit or enter the United States by air from the various countries and regions listed in the Initiative. These countries include Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. Although a valid passport is now the primary document, in some cases, other documents may be acceptable depending upon the document and the status of the individual as outlined in the Initiative.

The passport requirement does not apply to U.S. citizens traveling to or returning directly from a U.S. territory. So the first part of any flight plan should be to check the Internet homepage of the DHS for the latest security requirements for departing and entering the United States. The next step should be a review of the U.S. State Department’s Internet homepage, <http://www.state.gov> for current information about your destination country. That information includes everything from the history of the country, culture, local weather, and safety and crime issues to how to find medical services or reminding you which side of the road you are to drive on. The specific country information includes how to find the U.S. Embassy and consular services. As always, travelers are encouraged to register with the appropriate U.S. Embassy when traveling abroad. Finally, the Web site reminds every U.S. citizen traveling abroad that the person is subject to the laws of the respective country while in that country.

For the latest travel information and safety alerts, travelers can check the State Department’s Internet homepage or telephone 1-888-407-4747 toll free in United States or by calling the following toll-line at 202-501-4444 from 8 am to 8 pm Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, except on Federal holidays.

FLIGHT INFORMATION

All pilots are reminded that when flying internationally, such as crossing the border to Canada, Mexico, or going offshore to The Bahamas, that they become subject to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) rules in addition to the air rules of the country in whose airspace they are flying.

In addition to complying with U.S. aviation regulations, pilots need to monitor the following proposal. In September 2007, DHS issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) titled “Advance Information on Private Aircraft Arriving and Departing the United States.” Among other things, the proposed rule would require the filing of electronic manifest data along with aircraft and flight crew data at least one hour before departure or arrival in the United States of private aircraft. Since this was issued as an NPRM when this article was being written, pilots are cautioned to check the DHS Internet homepage on the status of this NPRM. The Federal Register issue containing the NPRM was September 18, 2007. The original deadline for public comment was November 19, 2007. Some or all of the information in the NPRM may be effective by the time this article is published. You need to check for it.

Using The Bahamas as an example, once you work your way through the U.S. Government’s latest security requirements, you can go to one of the many Internet Web sites about The Bahamas to find flight information about the islands. The following Web site is a good starting point: www.flying.Bahamas.com/. The site provides information about the islands, as well as information about arriving by private plane. The private plane link provides information on contacts, Custom forms, a Pilot Bill of Rights, airport information, a pilot checklist, and pilot facts.

The Pilot Checklist provides guidance on what a pilot needs to know on all phases of the flight. When departing from the United States, you need to file an international flight plan. You also must have Coast Guard approved life jackets for each person on board. The Checklist also tells you how to activate and close your flight plan and of the need to land at an airport of entry (AOE) to clear Customs and Immigration. The Web site includes a copy of The Bahamas Customs Department “Inward Declaration and Cruising Permit for Private Aircraft Entering the Bahamas. (C7A)” The form specifies how many copies are required, which varies depending upon AOE. According to the Web site, private pilots need three copies of the C7A Bahamas Customs form, one Bahamas Immigration Card per person, and a passport as proof of citizenship. When reviewing some of the requirements, such as proof of citizenship, you need to review what is acceptable to the country you are going to, as well as what is needed to return to the United States. The requirements may differ.

When departing from The Bahamas, the Checklist notes the need to clear your required paperwork, how you must depart from an AOE, how to activate and close your flight plan from The Bahamas, and how to enter the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) between The Bahamas and the United States.

According to the Checklist, when departing The Bahamas, private pilots need one copy of The Bahamas Customs General Declaration Outward Form (C7), they need to turn in The Bahamas Immigration card copy, and they need to file a flight plan. Everyone, six years and older, must pay a $15.00 Government Departure Tax.

When flying in The Bahamas, the Checklist reminds pilots that no landing fee is required for single-engine private aircraft less than 6,000 pounds on a non-commercial trip at any government-owned airport. Landing fees may apply at private airports. No tie-down fees are listed for government airports. Private airports may charge tie-down fees.

An important flight planning consideration for anyone planning on flying to The Bahamas is the lack of fuel at many of the airports. According to the list of airports with their respective services available on the Web site, the airport data noted that only Nassau and Freeport have lights for night flight. An instrument rating is required to fly into either airport after sunset. Some outlying island runways may have special use lights. The best plan is to always call ahead to your landing airport to check on available services.

If you are an Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) member, you can access its Internet site for detailed international flight information for Canada, Mexico, and The Bahamas/Caribbean area. The site also has travel information for flying to Alaska. Included in the International Flying site are related links such as Customs information, International Flight Information Manual access, ADIZ requirements, required forms and paperwork, plus other related links.

This article is only a brief summation of some of the information one needs to check before flying across one of the U.S. borders, such as to The Bahamas. Each private flight— emphasis private, non-commercial with no compensation involved—requires complete flight planning and a search for the latest DHS security requirements. But if you want to make that short over water flight from Palm Beach, Miami, or Fort Lauderdale to the nearest island, it is only 46 nautical miles (NM) to Bimini and only 60 NM to Grand Bahama. Oh, by the way, the temperature at the Freeport, Grand Bahama Island airport on November the seventh, as this was being written, was 77 degrees F according to the 5 pm aviation report. What are you waiting for?