Answers for Pilots

South of the border

April 1, 1999

Tips for trips to Mexico and beyond

Thinking of flying off on a new adventure? Ask AOPA Pilot Information Center specialist Dave Yinger about his favorite adventure flight and you'll see a wry grin and sparkle in his eyes: Fly south of the border, he'll tell you.

Baja California, other parts of Mexico, and countries in Central America remind pilots of the "wild and wooly" days before urban sprawl — when the West was wild and flight was young; the days of bush pilots, gauchos, and barnstormers in open-cockpit biplanes. The airports are small and — usually — friendly, the weather's hot and dry, and the views from your own GA airplane are one heck of a lot more exciting than from 30,000 feet in a commercial jet.

Yinger is a veteran of many flights into the areas of Baja, Mexico, and Central America. He's also a seven-year aviation technical specialist at AOPA. Yinger is often called upon to offer advice to members planning adventure flights south of the border as well as to other spots such as Canada and the Bahamas (Caribbean).

Member Bill Disser, AOPA 673822, a 20-year California private pilot and the owner of a Beech Model 36 Bonanza, has called the AOPA Pilot Information Center and spoken with one of the many technical specialists such as Yinger who offer international briefings. He has flown across Canada using international flight tips from AOPA, and last summer he used AOPA's Mexico International Portfolio information packet for a trip across Mexico to the Panama Canal. "There's a lot of paperwork and differences that need to be addressed before a trip like this," admitted Disser. "The information AOPA sent was a lot of help."

AOPA offers International Portfolios as planning tools to help with preflight preparation. The portfolios are written with novice pilots in mind, but they also offer useful information for veteran adventurers. The Mexico Portfolio, for example, includes:

  • AOPA's Mexico Flight Planning Guide, which covers preflight planning and preparation, departure, operations abroad, and returning to the United States (the only resource of its kind available);
  • The United States Customs Guide for Private Fliers, which will help to speed your way through Customs;
  • The U.S. Customs Arrival Report Form 178 required by Customs for returning pilots (available at your airport of entry, but completing the form prior to arrival can speed your trip);
  • The U.S. Customs decal application form;
  • Customs declaration forms (CF-6059-B) requiring occupants to make a written declaration of duties to be collected;
  • The International Flight Information Manual, the FAA's preflight and planning guide which includes pages for Mexico;
  • AOPA's International Flight Bulletins supplied by members exchanging information on similar flights;
  • AOPA's General Declaration forms (used to fly in more remote areas of Latin and Central America where forms may not be available at the airport of entry);
  • FCC radio station license forms and operator permits, which are still required for flight outside of the United States;
  • Weather service company and survival equipment lists;
  • Jeppesen Sanderson chart order forms (available by calling 800/USA-AOPA);
  • Copies of related AOPA Pilot articles, such as "Scuba and Altitude," which offers information on potential problems resulting from flying too soon after a dive; and
  • A list of International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations contacts worldwide who are available to assist members with local information.

Additionally, the packet includes AOPA's pilot report form and a postpaid envelope so that pilots who fly great adventures can share the experience with fellow members (call 800/872-2672; information is also available to download or view on the Web at

"AOPA's portfolios show you how to go with the flow and have as hassle-free an experience as possible," said Yinger, who suggests that members planning a trip south should call the center or order from the Web site several weeks in advance of their trip. Once the portfolio is in hand, AOPA can help members decide on the charts they will need, offer advice on citizenship information, and provide survival gear requirements.

Other international packets available from AOPA include Canada, Caribbean ($8 each), and Canada/Alaska and Transatlantic ($11). The Mexico portfolio is $8.

"Remember, there are differences once you cross the border, differences in air traffic control systems and there is generally no radar coverage under 20,000 feet in Mexico; VFR flight is not allowed at night; and there are a lack of en route weather advisories in Central America. But respecting the differences and understanding them ahead of time can make for a memorable flight," added Yinger.

As an AOPA member, you have access to the best source available anywhere for information and answers for pilots. The AOPA Pilot Information Center gives you direct access to specialists in every area of aviation. Information is also available on the Web ( . The AOPA Pilot Information Center, 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672), is available to members from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker | AOPA Senior Features Editor

AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.