Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

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charrois
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Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by charrois » Tue Jul 18, 2017 2:53 pm

Hi everyone. Thanks for those who provided comments for my earlier question about determining the service (AOA/LRA/User fee) for customs at US airports. I have another question on practices when crossing the border.

According to the AOPA/COPA Cross Border Operations Manual, they say that amongst the requirements of filing a flight plan, an arrival report with eAPIS, and contacting CBP to schedule a time, they also mention that we must be in contact with ATC when crossing the border (page 40). I'm not sure where this rule is "legally" specified, but presume they must have gotten their information from somewhere.

In the past, when I crossed the border, I've been flying a fair distance into the US and as such was at sufficient altitude to raise someone (a distant tower, a centre frequency, etc.). For this upcoming flight, I was originally intending on flying to Spokane, but as I'd be arriving on a Saturday, CBP mentioned I'd have to book a firm time on Friday afternoon. With weather being variable, I'm not too crazy about that idea. They suggested instead to try Oroville, since they're open 24/7, and after calling CBP there, it sounds like a good option.

My question though is that Oroville is right up next to the border, so I'd likely be at an altitude that would be difficult to raise anyone on the US side of ATC (there is no tower at Oroville). What do people do in situations like this? Fly high enough crossing the border to contact Seattle Centre before doing so, then spend a bunch of time descending into Oroville? Or is the requirement to be in contact with ATC more "advisory" than regulatory, and that landing at an airport on the border usually isn't an issue so long as making all the normal uncontrolled calls on the ATF? Or does anyone have any other suggestions on how this should be handled?

Thanks again!

Dan
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Redneck_pilot86
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by Redneck_pilot86 » Tue Jul 18, 2017 5:35 pm

Things may be different with the southern border, but in flying from the Yukon to Alaska I have never had the need or ability to talk to ATC prior to entering US airspace. On a flight to Fairbanks for instance, I will fly for almost an hour in US airspace before contacting fairbanks arrival. I've never had any trouble, although that doesnt mean its the right way to do it.
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by photofly » Tue Jul 18, 2017 5:48 pm

I was going to write "the requirement is to be in contact with air traffic control - not to be in contact with US air traffic control - so a radar service from NavCanada approaching the border will do just fine". But I can't even find any such regulation in the CARs or in 14 CFR Part anything. Other documents refer not to a requirement to be in contact with ATC but to have been assigned a discrete squawk code - something you can do before takeoff. But, once again, I can't find any regulation that requires even that. Can anyone help out?

EDIT: It's buried in a NOTAM, says something like:

"Aircraft registered in the Mexico, Canada, Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, and British Virgin Islands are authorized to operate to or from or transit any of these countries and the territorial airspace of the U.S. if they; file and are on an active flight plan that enters U.S. territorial airspace directly from any of the countries listed in this paragraph ... are equipped with an operational mode C or S transponder and continuously squawk an ATC issued transponder code, maintain two-way communications with ATC and comply with all U.S. customs and border protection requirements."

So you need a discrete code, and to maintain comms with ATC - there's no specific need to contact US ATC at the time of border crossing.
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charrois
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by charrois » Tue Jul 18, 2017 6:20 pm

I just got off the phone with Flight Services to have their take on it. The guy I talked to said that (not sure if this is just his interpretation or an official interpretation, but it sounded reasonable), that a discrete transponder code is the only real requirement (along with the flight plan of course). He said that the transponder is communicating with ATC so they know who I am and where I am, and since it's associated with the flight plan they hand off to them, it should be good to go. He did say he wasn't sure though if I'd need a different code for the US as opposed to Canada though - his experience was more in the maritimes where they didn't, but he wasn't sure here. He said if I got a transponder code from Kelowna they should be able to either negotiate with the US for a code there, or give me a frequency to do it from.

In any case, he said that in his experience, the only people who have run into problems are those without a discrete transponder code / no flight plan / etc.

Sounds consistent with the NOTAM you found - if I'm talking to ATC in Canada, have a discrete transponder code, and "maintain communications" with ATC, things should be OK. But as the NOTAM refers to maintaining two-way communications with ATC operating within the US in general (not just in the process of crossing the border), the implication must be "where possible", since there are clearly places in the US where maintaining two-way communications with ATC is not possible unless a person is up in the flight levels.

On a prior flight I did in the US some time ago, I climbed high enough in crossing the border to be able to contact a relatively distant tower controller so I could say I was complaint with talking to ATC, but the guy on the other end was pretty confused not knowing why I wanted to talk to him when I wasn't near him or going into his airspace.

Of course, if I'm able to pick up flight following, so much the better...

Thanks for the responses!

Dan
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by cncpc » Tue Jul 18, 2017 11:54 pm

photofly wrote:I was going to write "the requirement is to be in contact with air traffic control - not to be in contact with US air traffic control - so a radar service from NavCanada approaching the border will do just fine". But I can't even find any such regulation in the CARs or in 14 CFR Part anything. Other documents refer not to a requirement to be in contact with ATC but to have been assigned a discrete squawk code - something you can do before takeoff. But, once again, I can't find any regulation that requires even that. Can anyone help out?

EDIT: It's buried in a NOTAM, says something like:

"Aircraft registered in the Mexico, Canada, Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, and British Virgin Islands are authorized to operate to or from or transit any of these countries and the territorial airspace of the U.S. if they; file and are on an active flight plan that enters U.S. territorial airspace directly from any of the countries listed in this paragraph ... are equipped with an operational mode C or S transponder and continuously squawk an ATC issued transponder code, maintain two-way communications with ATC and comply with all U.S. customs and border protection requirements."

So you need a discrete code, and to maintain comms with ATC - there's no specific need to contact US ATC at the time of border crossing.
Yes, that's accurate. At Oroville, you'd get it through Kamloops, but I think they have a repeater down there, probably at Penticton airport. They give you the squawk. It doesn't really work until around 6000 feet in there, so...
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by cap41 » Wed Jul 19, 2017 5:12 am

I was overflying the US from Sherbrooke to Fredricton. No tower at Sherbrooke. On the ground called and filled our flight plan, they gave us our squawk code. Once in the air, It took 20-30mins inside US airspace to actually be able to contact ATC, we were never over 3000 ft,
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by MrWings » Wed Jul 19, 2017 8:08 am

In the Prairies, there are several uncontrolled crossing airports right along the border. There is no way you are going to be talking to anyone. Staff at these airports are aware of the limitations. Call them to ask about local procedure.

As mentioned, make sure you get the squawk code before you cross by either calling on the phone from the ground or climbing up high.

They want to be aware of every aircraft crossing the border. If they see an aircraft with no code, they can't identify and will raise suspicion. Although, I'm guessing at these border airports, at low altitude, they can't see you anyway. Maybe it's just being registered in the system that counts.

Same with communication. If communication is possible and you aren't doing it, I'm sure alarm bells go off.
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by Forestdump » Wed Jul 19, 2017 11:30 am

Just to be clear, you will need to contact a US agency to obtain your border crossing code when vfr. Canadian FIC's can't give it to you. Center or US FSS. I usually phone them. They will give it to you up to about 45 minutes prior to your estimated crossing time.
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cap41
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by cap41 » Wed Jul 19, 2017 11:33 am

Forestdump wrote:Just to be clear, you will need to contact a US agency to obtain your border crossing code when vfr. Canadian FIC's can't give it to you. Center or US FSS. I usually phone them. They will give it to you up to about 45 minutes prior to your estimated crossing time.

Hmmmmmm, When i did my over flight it was Canadian FSS that we filed flight plan with and who gave us squawk code. Never contacted US FSS.
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by photofly » Wed Jul 19, 2017 11:49 am

There's no documented requirement to receive a code from the US side; although often when flying across the border US act gives me a new code on first contact.
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by Forestdump » Wed Jul 19, 2017 7:27 pm

Are you crossing the border VFR, Canada to the US, with the discrete code given to you by Canadian ATS associated with your flight plan or just 1200 on the box? TP 15048 tells me I need a discrete code for the border crossing. Unfortunately FAR 91.707, which it references, does not support this claim. I think the NOTAM that is referenced above clears it up. It's NOTAM FDC 3/2768. Section H #2. It's on the 3rd page roughly. The assumption I'm making is since it's an FAA Notam they are referring to US ATS. Last time I crossed the border VFR, the Canadian FSS where I was departing from asked me if I had a border crossing code, and whether or not I wanted to bother with the code associated with my flight plan. Believe me, US FSS and US ATC know exactly what is being requested when you ask for a border crossing code. The whole business about discrete border crossing codes is a US requirement. It won't be in the CARS.
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by charrois » Wed Aug 16, 2017 6:44 pm

Just thought I'd follow up on what I've found out during two border crossings I've done in the past month.

It turns out that not only flight plans are shared across the border, but transponder codes too (at least here in the West). I spoke to the FICs in both countries, and they said that no matter which direction a person is flying, they'll pass on the flight plan to the other country (though you do have to be on a flight plan in the first place, of course). Same for transponder codes - so long as they know you're crossing the border (as they should if you're on a flight plan), when you talk to ATC, they'll give you an appropriate code to be able to do that. And if you can't reach a tower, centre, etc. to get a code, a radio call to an FSS should be able to work. If you don't think you'll even be able to reach an FSS prior to crossing the border, I think they could even give you a code over the phone.

Bottom line is, it's more straightforward than I thought government bureaucracy would have allowed. Leaving Canada, I just filed as normal, and even though on one trip to the US I was landing at an uncontrolled border airport so I was too low to reach anyone on the radio, they said my unique transponder code I'd received earlier from Canada was sufficient. Apparently, the requirement to be in contact with ATC crossing the border is more "when practical", so long as you do have a transponder code and aren't intentionally not communicating with them. Coming back, it was the same - just filed with the US FSS, got a border crossing transponder code from a centre frequency (although they weren't able to offer flight following at the time), and off I went.

I do think though there is value in flying from Canada to the US, to get a weather briefing/file flight plan from Canada, but also call the US FSS for Notams/TFRs, etc. that the Canadians may not be quite as up to date on.

The only real issue now is dealing with how long it takes to fill out an eAPIS on an iPad....

Dan
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by Broken Slinky » Thu Aug 17, 2017 5:54 am

We cross the border quite frequently being in Southern Ontario. As stated, we always file eAPIS and a flight plan. We will pick up flight following and get a discrete squawk code. As we're passed off from one ATC to another, we may not pick up the next in line due to altitude or distance. Happens quite frequently going from Windsor to Port Clinton (uncontrolled). Detroit passes us off to Cleveland during our decent to Port Clinton. 80% of the time we can't pick up Cleveland. We just switch over to Port Clinton's frequency. As Dan stated, as long as you're on a flight plan and following it, ATC knows your intentions. We've had it in busy flight areas where ATC may forget to pass us on to the next frequency before we're out of range. If you're traveling a good distance past the border, as soon as you're able, pick up the next Center and you're good to go. They may have you change transponder codes and restate your intentions and altitude but...
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by ahramin » Thu Aug 17, 2017 9:17 am

I had a departure this month from a small airport in the US close to the border. US FSS said they could not issue a transponder code over the phone so I took off and called them on the nearest frequency, no contact. Called the local center frequency and did manage to get a code but lost them again so proceeded across. I think if I had been unable to contact anyone I would have tried NavCanada close to the border and if unable to contact them just cross squawking 1200 and explain as needed.
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by J31 » Thu Aug 17, 2017 6:13 pm

So how does a J3 Cub with no transponder flying at 500 agl under cloud cross the border?
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Re: Tips on crossing the US border when landing at a nearby airport

Post by ahramin » Fri Aug 18, 2017 7:58 am

Aircraft without a transponder can request exemptions ahead of time but I'm not sure how or in what circumstances they will be granted.

Another option is to install a transponder.
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