It’s the stuff of dreams, I tell you, flitting off in your own little airplane to look down at the world’s prettiest water, to loll on idyllic palm-fringed beaches, to go and come as you please. Just pack your bathing suit, your credit card, and your passport, and you’re good to go.
There IS a little more to it than that, of course.
With a little preparation, though, you’ll join the hundreds of U.S. aviators fleeing winter’s misery for a spell of tropical R&R.
And why not? There is likely to be perfect and mild weather, especially in the winter, the air smooth, and showers short-lived. Best of all, the sunny shores of our nearest tropical neighbors are almost within eyesight of south Florida.
With a few logical modifications to this list, you can be exploring cool Canadian beauty this summer, while your ground-bound brethren are sweltering.
Veteran island hoppers, uncompensated tour guides, and cheerful Caribbean ambassadors without portfolio, Galin Hernandez and Anthony Perea have led dozens of GA pilots through the hoops of customs, immigrations, and various alphabet soup airspace zones, and here’s what they have to say, condensed to a simple step-by-step list.
- Make sure your passport, and those of any passengers, are up-to-date, preferably with several months to spare. This can be a slow process, so don’t leave it until the last minute.
- Buy a U.S. customs sticker ($27.50) for your airplane. Good for the entire calendar year, it can be purchased online a week or two ahead of time.
- Make sure your own papers are up-to-date. This includes pilot’s license, medical certificate, aircraft registration, certificate of insurance, etc. When we traveled to Puerto Rico, we weren’t asked for a radiotelephone operator’s permit, or any other documents, for that matter, but local laws may require them. Let common sense be your guide.
- It’s a good idea for any flight over inhospitable terrain, but especially for over-water flights, to assemble a package of emergency survival gear, in a waterproof ditch bag. For over-water flights, the gear should include an inflatable life raft, inflatable (non-automatic!) life-vests, which you’ll wear during overwater legs, and in the ditch bag, a flashlight, space blankets, signal mirror or old DVD, ePIRB, knife, bandages, extra food, sunscreen and drinking water. Passengers may choose to add their wallets and passports to the ditch bag. If worse comes to worst, all other personal items will be abandoned with the plane.
- Read up on how best to execute an offshore landing, devise a plan for ditching safely and promptly exiting the airplane. Be prepared to brief your passengers on that plan. Ditching at sea is usually quite survivable, better than 90%, by the way, especially with new locater beacon technology.
- Before your departure, change the oil, have your favorite mechanic look things over under the cowling, and take care of any squawks, for your peace of mind. Tuck some spare quarts of oil in the baggage area.
- Assemble charts and make sure your EFB and panel-mounted GPS have current databases for the entire route of your planned flight. This may require an extra trip subscription.
- Make sure you have a tow bar, tiedown ropes and lightweight chocks aboard.
- Review the paperwork requirements for each leg of the flight, and accept the fact that of all the countries you’re likely to visit, your own has the most complex requirements. The good news is that some can be submitted online prior to the flight.
- Familiarize yourself with the ICAO Flight Plan form. It’s different from our domestic flight plan format and needs more information.
- You’ll need to register online ahead of time for your eAPIS (Electronic Advance Passenger Information System) identification and password to enter or exit US airspace. The password gets you online to file your eAPIS notification, which is required one hour before departure, inbound and outbound.
- In addition to the eAPIS notice, a phone call to the customs office at your port of entry is required, at least one hour before your arrival.
- General Declarations (GenDec), three copies of which are required for flights to and from most overseas destinations. These can be faxed or emailed in advance. For U.S. Customs, the eAPIS notification suffices. Also, you’ll fill out a customs declaration card for each family.
- Advance notice to customs for other countries. An email to the FBO at your planned stops will grease the skids in other countries. You’ll likely have a confirming email within hours of your request.
Speaking of which, be prepared for official administrative fees at every non-US stop. Usually no higher than ramp charges at upscale U.S. FBOs, the way will be cleared as if by magic, service prompt and ever-so-efficient, if you have the local experts help you navigate that nation’s bureaucracy. The handlers make dealing with officialdom elsewhere entirely seamless operations. You can do it all on your own if you like, but it may take a lot more time.
There are several excellent guide books and websites devoted to the concept, and while they’re not absolutely necessary, they can both stretch out your happy anticipation and ease your concerns. Google is your friend here.
Go! Do! See! You have the best possible conveyance for the adventure. I promise you won’t regret it!
Inspired? Looking for even more inspiration? Go to Galin Hernandez’s webpage, PuertoRicoFlyer.com, admire Millie’s hundreds of photos, and if you’re intrigued, shoot them an email asking for more information and encouragement.