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Flying south this summer?


Flying south this summer? What was once an enjoyable adventure is about to become a challenge. On May 18, 2009 the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) becomes mandatory for private aircraft crossing the border.

This is the same system that the airlines have been required to use for several years to enable the DHS to vet a passenger manifest against their no-fly list prior to the aircraft departing on a trans-border flight. The only difference is they have added a new front-end to the system to enable us private flyers to access it through the internet. It is now called the Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS). As with many government-mandated procedures this one is onerous.

Let me be very clear on this. The new procedures do not replace the current requirements for cross-border flying. It is in addition to what we must do now. You will still have to comply with the US security NOTAM (currently FDC 8/3576 http://www.faa.gov/airports_airtraffic/air_traffic/publications/notices/2009-04-09/part1,sec_3.cfm) which includes filing a flight plan, obtaining a discrete transponder code before crossing (unless you have applied for an received a transponder waiver http://www.aopa.org/whatsnew/newsitems/2003/tsa_waiver_canada.pdf ) and being in radio contact with a controlling agency while crossing the border, in both directions, and when flying south you still have to call the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office at your intended airport of entry to book an arrival time. When returning home you still have to call CANPASS to book an arrival time at your intended Canadian airport of entry.

This is only an overview of what to do and some of the pitfalls. You are strongly encouraged to take the time to read the on-line tutorial available on the following CBP web site: http://apps.cbp.gov/eapis-pa/.

The first thing you must do is become a registered user of the eAPIS system. Until you are registered and approved you can not do anything other than read the tutorial. To register go to the eAPIS main web site: https://eapis.cbp.dhs.gov. If you can’t remember this just google "eapis" and it will guide you there. Once at their home page your will see a login section and an enrollment section for new users. Click on "Enroll" and it will ask you for a lot of contact information, then tell you to wait for an email advising that you have been accepted. This process can take 5 to 7 days so don’t leave it until a few days before your planned trip or you won’t be going anywhere!

When you receive the email it will contain a user ID and an activation code. You will have supplied the password during the first part of the registration. To complete the registration you must now to go to the web site address they give you and enter this activation code. Caution: you only have 7 days from the time of your initial registration to do the activation. If you wait longer than that you have to start all over again. In my case the acceptance email came on the second day but I didn’t know it. On the sixth day I went looking and found it in my "junk mail" folder, as if to demonstrate the pitfalls of using email as part of a security system.

Once approved and activated as a user you need to do one more bit of setup before you’re ready for a trip. Log onto eAPIS and go to "crew maintenance". Here you have to add yourself as a "crew member". This is where you supply your passport information among other things. It only needs to be done once except for updating the information if it changes. Now you’re finally ready to take your first flight under the new eAPIS regulation.

The regulation requires that you file a "Notice of Arrival" for a flight into the US a minimum of 60 minutes prior to your planned departure time. You must also file a "Notice of Departure" a minimum of 60 minutes prior to your planned departure time for the return flight to Canada. There is no maximum time limit. If you know when you are planning to return it is easiest to file both at the same time.

When entering the "Notice of Arrival" on the eAPIS site you will be required to enter the passport information for each passenger, a planned time of departure, the estimated time and location that you will cross the border and the estimated time of arrival at your planned airport of entry. You are also required to list all airports you visited, or plan to visit, in the 24 hours prior to your departure time. Until you get some experience with this site you should plan at least a half hour to accomplish this task.

If that isn’t enough you must ensure that you also call the CBP office at your planned airport of entry to book your arrival time and get their permission to land. Don’t forget you have to do this at least two hours prior to arriving at their airport (not to be confused with the time you included in your DHS "Notice of Arrival" for you’re departure!).

Here is a tip. Even though the final rule for eAPIS http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/E8-26621.htm states that it is no longer required to complete a CBP form 178, our contact with CBP officers indicates that they still want them, at least until they are fully familiar with the new system. So, to minimize difficulties or delays, I recommend that you complete a form 178 before you depart http://forms.cbp.gov/pdf/CBP_Form_178.pdf and present it to the CBP officer on arrival, or fax it to them before you leave.

While you’re waiting to receive an email back from DHS approving your departure you might as well log on and submit a "Notice of Departure" for your return trip from the US to Canada, if you know when you will be returning. If not you will have to submit it from the US. This will require access to the internet and access to your email account in order to receive the email back from DHS approving your return departure.

The "Notice of Departure" is very similar to the "Notice of Arrival", however, there is one very poorly documented item. When you enter the ICAO identifier for the airport you are departing from it will not be accepted unless it is an airport with a CBP presence. What they really want you to do is enter the identifier of the nearest airport with a CBP office and in the comments section enter the airport you are actually departing from, if they are not the same. The instructions do not mention this little challenge. The DHS has been advised by COPA of this oversight so hopefully it will be corrected before too long.

In your departure entry you will also have to list the airports you visited, or will be visiting, up to 24 hours prior to your departure. The time and place of crossing the border is also required. You do not, however, need to contact a CBP office as you did when you entered. But don’t forget you still have to contact CANPASS and book your arrival time at your chosen airport of entry into Canada, and you have to comply with the US security NOTAM mentioned above for crossing the border on the way home.

If all of this sounds rather Orwellian that’s because it is. Why they want all this detail is beyond me but it is very clear we must comply if we want to fly to the US after May 18. If it is any consolation the American pilots have to jump through the same hoops to leave the US and then to return home. This is sure to reduce cross-border traffic and reduce tourism in both directions. Perhaps that’s part of the plan. COPA provided input to the proposal and we did have some positive effect but this new requirement was destined to occur despite considerable protest from our sector of aviation. COPA is providing input directly to the Department of Homeland Security to help them understand the outstanding issues and hopefully make improvements before this becomes mandatory.

If you find all of this utterly confusing please reread the above and be sure to go on-line and read the tutorial. Here is a quick recap:

Get set

  • Get registered with eAPIS as soon as possible before the summer rush starts.
  • Enter yourself as a crew member

Fly south

  • At least one hour before your flight south submit a "Notice of Arrival" on-line and wait for the email reply authorizing you to depart.
  • Call the CBP office at your planned airport of entry at least two hours prior to arrival to book an arrival time.
  • File a flight plan.
  • Make radio contact with a controlling agency (Canadian or US).
  • Obtain a discrete transponder code prior to crossing the border.

Fly north

  • At least one hour prior to your flight north back to Canada submit a "Notice of Departure" on-line and wait for the email reply authorizing you to depart.
  • Call CANPASS before departing and at least two hours prior to arriving at your planned Canadian airport of entry to book an arrival time.
  • File a flight plan.
  • Make radio contact with a controlling agency (Canadian or US).
  • Obtain a discrete transponder code prior to crossing the border.

Here is a tip for those who already have converted their license to the new passport style format (your existing license will expire soon and you must apply for a new one – see the schedule in section 6 of this Advisory Circular http://www.tc.gc.ca/CivilAviation/IMSdoc/ACs/400/400-001.htm). Some CBP officers do not know that these documents exist and they are trained to be on the lookout for fake documents. COPA has informed our government that they should formally advise the US that we have new licenses. Until the word gets out, you should carry your old license just in case the agent refuses to recognize your new license.

Make sure you are accurate with all information you enter in the eAPIS system. If any portion of the eAPIS notice is not correct ( referred to as "sufficient" in Guide to eAPIS – see section VI in http://www.cbp.gov/linkhandler/cgov/travel/inspections_carriers_facilities/apis/apis_guide.ctt/apis_guide.pdf) you are subject to a fine of $5000 for the first offence and $10,000 for subsequent offences.

COPA is working with AOPA in developing some guidance to make this new system easier to deal with. AOPA has created a tutorial on its Air Safety Foundation site http://flash.aopa.org/asf/eAPIS/  to help with the application process and use of the system, including providing some FAQs. The tutorial, as well as any of the ASF’s courses, are available free to anyone but you must crate a free username and password to access the site.

Kevin Psutka and I collaborated to bring you as complete an overview as we can at this time but other issues may crop up as the system becomes more heavily used. Check for updates on the COPA web site before you go.

Meanwhile, keep your prop spinning and carry a laptop computer with you.