What to do before crossing the U.S. border

By Adam Hunt


The May Flight 8 meeting was scheduled to be “Tactical Training on Sabres of the German Air Force” with COPA Director Paul Hayes. Unfortunately Hayes was unable to make it at the last minute, due to an aircraft unserviceability.

Fortunately COPA President and CEO Kevin Psutka quickly agreed to step into the resulting void with his presentation on “Crossing the Border.” Flight 8 will host Hayes’ F-86 talk on Oct. 26.

Psutka’s talk was particularly aimed at pilots considering going to AirVenture Oshkosh this summer and his key message was that even though border-crossing procedures are more complex than they used to be, that it is still not that hard to go to the USA, as long as you follow a checklist.

Psutka also emphasized it is critical that pilots do use their aircraft to travel and specifically to fly across the border, because if people quit doing that the facilities to support that type of flying, including airports and customs, will be shut down from lack of use, ruling out future travel.

Psutka mentioned that trans-border travel by light aircraft has been down in recent years, driven perhaps by a combination of the complexities and the recession.

Psutka emphasized a checklist approach to border crossing, just like pilots do with all phases of flying. This includes ensuring everyone on board has current passports and other documents, filing the required eAPIS report online, contacting U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) by phone and then flight planning with Nav Canada.

One of the key steps is of course checking the weather on both sides of the border. Psutka pointed out that there are many different weather briefing websites for the USA, but he uses the official NOAA Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS) website: http://aviationweather.gov/adds/

The FAA TFR website http://tfr.faa.gov/ can give information on Temporary Flight Restrictions, plus you will need to check NOTAMS, too.

By filing to clear U.S. Customs at an airport near the Canadian border pilots can avoid running into new “pop-up” TFRs and also more easily make their required +/- 15 minute arrival time.

Psutka mentioned that the required U.S. Customs decals are no longer available on arrival and must now be purchased in advance on line.

A large part of the presentation was taken up explaining the subtleties of the relatively new U.S. Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS) https://eapis.cbp.dhs.gov

Registering for the system and awaiting U.S. government approval of your application may take up to five days, so you need to do that well in advance of your planned flight.

Before the actual flight you need to file an arrival report with all the information required included. Psutka stressed that it is also a good idea to file a departure report at the same time based on your estimated departure date and time, in case internet access is not available before departure.

Failing to get the eAPIS reports right can result in a fine of US$5,000 for a first offence and US$10,000 for second and subsequent offences. It pays to do the online eAPIS tutorial and even do your first crossing with someone who has done it before to avoid pitfalls.

Even with the eAPIS report filed, which does go to U.S. CBP, it is still very important to phone your proposed U.S. CBP individual port of entry office and coordinate your arrival time to ensure that the officers can accommodate you then.

Crossing the border requires that you are squawking and talking to ATC at the point of border crossing. When arriving make sure you are within 15 minutes of your estimated arrival time and stay in the aircraft until cleared by CBP to exit the aircraft. You also need to contact a U.S. Flight Service Station to close your crossborder flight plan.

Psutka also covered flying home after your time at Oshkosh is done. Again an eAPIS departure report is needed, unless you previously filed one in advance.

You need to check the weather and NOTAMS for both sides of the border, contact Canada Customs to arrange clearance for your airport of entry and file an ICAO flight plan with Lockheed Martin, who run the U.S. FSS system.

It is worth noting that while it is legal to use cell phones in the air in Canadian airspace this is not the case in U.S. airspace, making phoning to change plans en route more difficult in the USA.

Clearing Canadian Customs requires arriving within 30 minutes of your proposed ETA and then waiting in the aircraft until that ETA has passed. If Customs do not show up then you are allowed to exit the aircraft to contact them for instructions. Make sure your cross-border flight plan is closed!

Psutka covered a lot more details, hints and tips in his presentation. The good news is that these are all available in written form in the AOPA/COPA Guide to Cross Border Operations, available on the COPA website http://copanational. org/CrossBorderOpsGuide.cfm

Flight 8 would like to thank Kevin Psutka for filling in with a very topical presentation at the last minute. Hopefully we will see a number of Flight 8 members make the trek to Oshkosh this summer.