What better way to end another great year of traveling in my Cardinal RG than a December business trip to Canada? (Yeah, I know, a better way might have been a trip to the Bahamas.) Wheels up from my Rowan County, N.C., airport (RUQ) base at 1 p.m., with an OAT of 55°, and 3.5 flying hours later (and a 35° temperature drop) I’m landing after a back-course localizer approach in snow at the Waterloo Airport in Kitchener, Ontario.
My first step was to get on the AOPA website and download international travel information specific to flights in and out of Canada. Some of the stuff I remembered, such as the requirement for a Radio Telephone Operators Permit from the FCC.
Those of us who learned to fly back when air was clean and sex was dirty already have one of these since it was required then. Now it’s only required for international travel. The same thing goes for the Radio Station License for your aircraft, now only required for international travel. I already had one in my plane.
Proof of insurance coverage is also required. I just made a copy of the front page of my insurance policy, which not only shows the coverage limits, but also stipulates me as the approved pilot – important since my plane is registered in my business’ name and not to me personally. I had to order charts for the Canada portion of the trip. A quick call to Sporty’s and I had my charts in a few days.
I also made two preparatory phone calls – one to the customs office of each country. I wanted to make sure I had my procedure correct for my Canadian destination, as well as the return to the U.S. – especially since my return would be on a Sunday. Many of the airports of entry have limited, or no, scheduled hours on weekends. Fortunately for me, customs at KPIT, Pittsburgh, Pa., is open 24/7 and that airport was directly on my route.
On departure day, once my IFR flight plan was filed and preflight complete, I called the required number (888-226-7277) to advise Canadian customs of my intended departure and estimated arrival time. You must give them at least a two-hour notice but you can’t call any sooner than 48 hours in advance. The customs agent required some basic information about my plane and its occupants. The process was quick and the agent very friendly. I was instructed to call them upon landing in Canada.
The IFR trip to Waterloo was standard in every respect. Toronto approach was very helpful and allowed me to manage my descent to minimize my exposure to some reported rime icing between 6,000 and 4,000 feet. Once I completed the instrument approach and landing, my wife called customs on her cell phone and reported our arrival as we taxied in. The agent had a few questions and then gave her a confirmation code that she entered on my kneeboard. We had cleared customs before we pulled into the FBO ramp!
The return process was equally smooth. We had to delay our 9 a.m. planned departure until 1 p.m. due to a weather system over the lakes filled with snow and ice. But when I felt it was safe to leave, I called U.S. Customs in Pittsburgh and advised them of my plan. I asked for a procedure in case of unplanned icing and/or deviation and the agent emphasized safety first but to make every effort to contact them as soon as possible if this occurred.
The deviation wasn’t necessary and we landed on time at Pittsburgh where the customs agent met us at the plane on the FBO ramp. (We stayed in the plane until he walked up to us). He was extremely courteous, checked our passports (not required yet, but preferred), asked a few questions, then for the first time ever in my many international trips, he actually asked to see my pilot’s license. If you don’t have a current year customs decal on your plane, a $25 decal fee is also required.
A quick completion of the customs declaration form, fuel top-off, FSS weather brief and flight plan filing and we were on our way home.
As we were cruising home on our last leg from Pittsburgh, I couldn’t help but think that the process of flying to/from Canada was far less stressful than flying into the Washington, D.C., ADIZ. The most difficult part of the trip was managing the winter weather that prevailed. Yet I was the only traveler of the group I was meeting who arrived in Kitchener on time. The rest of them were bogged down in airline hell with hours of delays.
This trip was a great reminder of how nice it can be to visit our northern neighbor by small plane. And after all, that’s what it’s all “a-boot, eh?”
— Guy R. Maher has been involved in aircraft sales and type-specific training since 1972. With more than 12,500 hours in GA airplanes and helicopters, he currently flies an IFR EMS helicopter, is an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor, and provides consultation and testimony on operational and safety issues for legal proceedings.