Aviation Safety Letter 3/2004

Transborder Flights Without a Flight Plan

by Michel Paré, Civil Aviation Safety Inspector, Regulatory Services, Transport Canada

Transport Canada was recently apprised of frequent occurrences in the Pacific and Atlantic Regions concerning cross-border flights without a flight plan being filed or activated.

Regulatory requirements are specific. Canadian Aviation Regulation (CAR) 602.73(4) reads: "Notwithstanding anything in this Division, no pilot-in-command shall, unless a flight plan has been filed, operate an aircraft between Canada and a foreign state." U.S. Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 91.707 reads: "Unless otherwise authorized by ATC, no person may operate a civil aircraft between Mexico or Canada and the United States without filing an IFR or VFR flight plan, as appropriate."

Three additional sources offer various levels of hands-on information on the topic: the Aeronautical Information Publication Canada (A.I.P. Canada), the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) International Flight Information Manual. Here is a short summary of their content, and some of their shortcomings:

  • A.I.P. Canada RAC sections 3.6.1 to 3.6.4 specify when a flight plan is required, how it can be filed, and the means by which it can be opened. References to appropriate CARs are listed.

  • The CFS does include information on how to file a flight plan and how to file an arrival report, but not how to open a flight plan.

  • The FAA International Flight Information Manual, Flight Planning Notes section, provides specific information on the purpose of international flight plans, and the filing process. However, no information could be found concerning how to open and close international flight plans.

On the subject of flight plan requirements for cross-border flights, some 82 alleged violations were registered nationally over the past two years; about 20 from the Atlantic Region, and the vast majority from the Pacific Region. Possibly using different search criteria, a Civil Aviation Daily Occurrence Reporting System (CADORS) search extracted 76 similar occurrences between September 2000 and September 2003. These flights had originated in the United States and at least 70% had landed within the Pacific Region. However, it is important to note that in most cases, customs arrangements were made for the flight. Therefore, it is fair to say a lack of awareness of cross-border regulatory and/or technical (i.e. opening/closing) requirements seems to prevail in the general aviation community, and especially so in the United States.

Occurrences are frequent enough, and do not yet show an appreciable downward trend. Valuable enforcement resources are tied up investigating a large number of cases while enforcing regulations that have a minimal impact on aviation safety (although the activation of an alerting service constitutes an important safety feature of a flight plan).

The aim of this article is to inform Canadian pilots of this concern in order to cut down the number of occurrences of this type. However, since a large proportion of these violations are committed by American aircraft entering Canadian airspace, Transport Canada plans to communicate with its FAA counterparts in order to disseminate this important message to the American pilot population.

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