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Transatlantic FlightsTransatlantic Flights

Overview

Socata over AtlanticOccasionally, AOPA members ask about flying their general aviation aircraft to Europe. Though not commonly done, it certainly is possible with the right equipment and significant pre-planning. The three biggest challenges with flying a general aviation aircraft to Europe are fuel, long-distance communication capability, and emergency planning (keeping track of Equal Time Point, which is the flight time, factoring in wind, to the nearest landing point - either behind or ahead - on your route).

The North Atlantic Operations and Airspace Manual, from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)'s European and North Atlantic Office states: "The airspace of the North Atlantic which links Europe and North America is the busiest oceanic airspace in the world. In 2012 approximately 460,000 flights crossed the North Atlantic. For the most part in the North Atlantic, Direct Controller Pilot Communications (DCPC) and ATS Surveillance are unavailable. Aircraft separation assurance and hence safety are nevertheless ensured by demanding the highest standards of horizontal and vertical navigation performance/accuracy and of operating discipline. The vast majority of North Atlantic flights are performed by commercial jet transport aircraft in the band of altitudes FL290 – FL410. To ensure adequate airspace capacity and provide for safe vertical separations, Reduced Vertical Separation Minima (RVSM) is applied throughout the ICAO NAT Region....Pilots MUST NOT fly across the North Atlantic (NAT) within Minimum Navigation Performance Specification (MNPS) Airspace, nor at flight levels 290 to 410 inclusive anywhere within the NAT Region, unless they are in possession of the appropriate Approval(s) issued by the State of Registry or the State of the Operator."

Of course, most general aviation aircraft fly at much lower altitudes. The North Atlantic Operations and Airspace Manual includes information on alternate flight tracks, flight planning, and communications. Excerpts are included in the tabbed sections on flight preparation, departure, and communications below with links to the Manual's chapters offering complete information. AOPA's Thomas A. Horne, Turbine Pilot Editor and Editor at Large has flown both piston and turbine aircraft across the Atlantic many times. Read his bulleted list of pointers under the "Tips from AOPA: Flying the Pond" tab below. The "Return to US" tab includes reminders and procedures for re-entering U.S. airspace. 

Tips from AOPA

Tips from AOPA: Flying the Pond

Europe mapAOPA’s Turbine Pilot Editor/Editor at Large, Thomas A. Horne, has ferried many turbine and piston aircraft across the Atlantic. He shares below some succinct pointers and tips from his flight experiences.

  • Plan your stops knowing the FBOs, procedures, and locales for flight planning and handling services. You’ll have to file IFR flight plans, but where on the field? At Goose Bay I use Woodward FBO. In Reykjavik (BIRK) there is Flight Services. They can file your flight plan, get you gas, etc. There's a hotel right next door.
  • Where will you overnight? Better get a room reserved. Hotel North in Goose Bay, Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura in Reykjavik ($120 a night), are OK.
  • At BGBW there is only one hotel, Hotel Narsarssuaq. No problem in Scotland and on down…but be prepared. Surf the Internet for hotels.
  • Greenland airports are few and far apart. I don’t recommend Narsarssuaq (BGBW) because minimums are too high (1800 ft) and there are no TAFs. Plus, alternate airports are several hundred miles away. Sondestrom (BGSF) is the best served by navaids and runways are long and there is a tower. But, it is far north of any direct routes.
  • Greenland airports may be closed due to holidays or Sundays. You will have to pay a $1,500 fine if you show up at BGBW on Sunday, for example.
  • I highly recommend installing ferry tanks on airplanes with typical piston speeds/ranges (140-180 knots/800 nm ranges). You may be flying for six to seven hours on each leg. Headwinds can be fierce, although wind forecasts are pretty good. Be sure it’s STC’d and carry the paperwork with you. In Reykjavik you can have your plane impounded without properly documented ferry systems.
  • Aviationweather’s “flight folder,” H sector will give you winds aloft. Where will you go for weather info enroute? Pilotfriend website may help….as can France’s Olivia website.
  • Be prepared to pay landing and handling fees at each stop.
  • Position reports are made at every 10 degrees of longitude, OR every hour. Know how to give position reports.
  • If you are down low (below 10,000 ft) you will not have good VHF communication, so you can’t talk to Gander , Shanwick, or Scottish control until you get closer to the stations. SO, you must relay position reports via airline crews. Call them up on 123.45 mHz and broadcast in the blind until an airliner answers. They guard this frequency. Tell them you’d like them to relay a position report, then give them the report. They will tell you when the report has been sent and received.
  • Guard 121.5 mHz. Guard 123.45. Everyone flying over the ocean is also doing this. So if an emergency comes up, you can start talking right away.
  • Take a water survival course before the trip. Survival Systems in Groton, CT is where I went.
  • Altimeter settings. Above the transition altitude you will go to 29.92 in Hg. This altitude changes so check your approach plates for departures. For descents there are transition levels—the flight levels at which you must switch back to QNH. Over the ocean and well away from land you may not have reliable altimeter info. So don’t fly any lower than 5,000 ft as a general rule.
  • Only fly from May to September. Icing is a factor any other time. (This assumes you have no ice protection equipment.)
  • Does your insurance cover the trip? Better know that. Kulusuk (BGKK) in Greenland - on the east coast - has a gravel runway. In the spring when the earth thaws, you can sink in after landing with the expected damage. No way to get the plane out unless you hire a ship/barge to come in and haul it out! So don’t land there if you can help it.
  • Look over the instrument approach plates for the airports you plan to use. You'd better be good on instruments, as there may be some unusual procedures, like NDB/DME arcs, etc. Know how to use the NDB. They are more prevalent across the Atlantic and can help orient you. RK NDB (375 kW) is very powerful, for example, and is on the south coast of Iceland. You can pick it up right after leaving Scotland!
  • Try not to let weather/clouds force you into descending. If at all possible climb to on top conditions. But no top reports out in mid-ocean!
  • Night single-engine: don’t do it.
  • Best deal: fly a jet or turboprop….without RVSM approval, though, you can’t go above FL280 and winds may be lighter higher up. So you could be stuck with bad headwinds - most often westbound of course.
  • Everyone wants to fly the “fjord approach” to Narsarssuaq (BGBW). That’s because it’s historic and dates to pre-WWII. Ernest Gann wrote about it in Fate Is the Hunter. With this approach you come in on your eastbound leg and fly to an island at the entry to the fjord. BTW, there are MANY fjords on the west coast of Greenland and if you go up the wrong one you’ll end up in a box canyon and not be able to turn around. The correct fjord has an island at its mouth, called Simiutaq, and it has an NDB (SI, 279 KHz). Track to it and then you are positioned to enter the correct fjord. Anyway, the idea of the fjord approach was to fly right off the deck (50 to 100 ft agl, depending on your sense of adventure) and up the fjord for 50 nm or so and then hang a left, then a quick right—and you’re on a base/final to BGBW’s runway 7. You can call Narsarssuaq information on 119.0 (check ahead please) and ask them if the fjord is open. But they cannot really tell because they are so far away. To do the fjord approach it must be pretty good VFR obviously. As you fly up the fjord you are surrounded by mountains and cliffs extending 2,000 to 3,000 feet. It’s a cool sight. BUT those are the old days. There is now a power line stretching across the fjord at an elevation extending from about 50 ft to 400 ft agl. The powerline is near the halfway point on the fjord approach, near a village with an NDB (404 KHz). So you shouldn’t fly the fjord approach anymore just to be on the safe side, unless you are very familiar.
  • Another problem is that BGBW issues Metars when someone is manning the tower during the day, but not at night. They don’t give TAFs either.
  • BGBW usually uses runway 7 for landings and runway 25 for takeoffs. If you take off from 7 you will be taking off uphill and facing some impressive terrain.
  • You Tube has some videos of the BGBW approach.
  • Greenland weather can change quickly, with fog/low clouds moving in quickly. Best to fly the approach.
  • Surf the internet for more information on Atlantic crossings. Much of it is pretty informative and entertaining.

Flight Preparation

Piper Meridian over Atlantic 1Preparation and Flight Planning

Pilot-in-Command

The pilot in command must have a current:

Passengers

  • Each passenger must have a current passport
  • Children traveling with only one parent must have a notarized statement of approval from the absent parent stating the dates of the trip.

Aircraft

All U.S. registered aircraft must have:

  • A standard Airworthiness Certificate
  • A permanent registration certificate (no temporary certificates/pink slips)
  • A radio station license
  • A HF radio 
  • Operating limitations information
  • Weight and Balance information
  • A life vest/flotation device for each person aboard (It’s recommended you also carry a life raft.)
  • An ID data plate
  • 12-inch registration marks
  • Transponder with Mode C
  • Aircraft with fuel tanks installed in the baggage or passenger compartments must have Form 337 on board.
  • ELT communications on the aeronautical emergency frequency 121.5 MHz and/or 406 MHz.

Customs and Border Protection

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requires:

ICAO Flight Plan

  • Use of an ICAO flight plan is currently required if the flight will enter international airspace. While an ICAO flight plan and an FAA flight plan are similar in many ways, there are some important differences. Some items are the same on both forms: aircraft ID or tail number; aircraft type, fuel endurance, and number of people on board. New items on the ICAO flight plan include a Wake Turbulence category, and Type of Flight. The biggest change, though, is found in the equipment suffixes box, box 10. The ICAO codes used to denote the type of equipment on board the aircraft are different than the codes used by the FAA. To find out more, please view this short AOPA video.

Flight Planning

ICAO's North Atlantic Operations and Airspace Manual has detailed procedural information on routing and flight planning. Because of its length, only a short excerpt is included here. Pilots should refer to Chapter 4 of ICAO's Manual for specific guidance.

All flights which generally route in an eastbound or westbound direction should normally be flight planned so that specified ten degrees of longitude (20°W, 30°W, 40°W etc.) are crossed at whole degrees of latitude; and all generally northbound or southbound flights should normally be flight planned so that specified parallels of latitude spaced at five degree intervals (65°N, 60°N, 55°N etc.) are crossed at whole degrees of longitude. Exceptions apply in the case of flights routing north of 70°N, these are noted below. However, where appropriate ALL oceanic ten-degree meridians should be included as waypoints in the flight plan submitted to ATC, even where “named” significant points are close to these "prime" meridians of longitude. It is not appropriate to then omit the ten-degree crossings from the ATC Flight Plan.

All flights should plan to operate on great circle tracks joining successive significant waypoints.

 

Departure

Piper Meridian over AtlanticDeparting the U.S.

Excerpts from ICAO's North Atlantic Operations and Airspace Manual

Route Structures Adjacent to NAT MNPS Airspace: North American Routes (NARs)

The North American Routes (NARs) consist of a numbered series of predetermined routes, which provide an interface between NAT oceanic and North American domestic airspace. The NAR System is designed to accommodate major airports in North America.

Full details of all NAR routings (eastbound and westbound) together with associated procedures are published in two saleable documents:

  • The United States Airport Facility Directory – Northeast, currently available through the FAA. An electronic version is available online.
  • The Canada Flight Supplement

Other Routes and Route Structures Within or Adjacent to NAT MNPS Airspace

It should be noted that these routes are subject to occasional changes and are re-published/updated on a regular AIRAC 56-day cycle.

U.S. East Coast Transitions

Aircraft Operators are encouraged to refer to FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center Advisory Database for NAT Advisory Message, published daily, for specified transitions from select U.S. airports to the NAT Entry Points. Additionally, route advisories are published, as necessary, to address special route requirements eastbound and westbound through the New York Oceanic FIR/CTA.

Canadian Domestic Track Systems

Within Canada there are three track systems: the Northern Control Area tracks (NCAs), the Southern Control Area tracks (SCAs) and the Northern Organised Track System (NOROTS); these provide links for NAT traffic operating between Europe and North America to central and western North American airports. Track procedures and details are published in Transport Canada’s Aeronautical Information Manual (TC AIM). The co-ordinates of the NOROTS are published daily via NOTAM.

Shannon Oceanic Transition Area (SOTA) and Northern Oceanic Transition Area (NOTA)

Parts of the Shanwick OCA are designated as the Shannon Oceanic Transition Area (SOTA) and the Northern Oceanic Transition Area (NOTA). MNPS Airspace requirements are still applicable from FL285 to FL420 in both areas. Except that flights within SOTA routing such that they are not subject to an Oceanic Clearance, are not required to be MNPS Approved. 3.3.7 SOTA has the same vertical extent as the Shanwick OCA, and is bounded by lines joining successively the following points: N5100 W01500 – N5100 W00800 – N4830 W00800 – N4900 W01500 – N5100 W01500 3.3.8 NOTA has the same vertical extent as the Shanwick OCA and is bounded by the lines joining successively the following points. N5400 W01500 - N5700 W01500 - N5700 W01000W - N5434 W01000 - N5400 W01500. 3.3.9 Air Traffic Services are provided by Shannon ACC using the call sign SHANNON CONTROL. Full details of the service provided and the procedures used are contained in AIP Ireland.

Brest Oceanic Transition Area (BOTA)

Part of the Shanwick OCA is designated as the Brest Oceanic Transition Area (BOTA). MNPS Airspace requirements are still applicable from FL285 to FL420. Except that flights routing such that they are not subject to an Oceanic Clearance are not required to be MNPS Approved. BOTA has the same vertical extent as the Shanwick OCA, and is bounded by lines joining successively the following points: N4834 W00845 – N4830 W00800 – N4500 W00800 – N4500 W00845 – N4834 W00845. Air Traffic service is provided by the Brest ACC, call sign BREST CONTROL.

Gander Oceanic Transition Area (GOTA)

The GOTA is comprised of airspace from 6530N 060W east to the Reykjavik ACC boundary; south to 6330N 055W; south to OYSTR; north to PRAWN; then MOATT; then north to 61N 063W; along the Montreal ACC boundary north to the Edmonton ACC boundary. Air Traffic service is provided by the Gander ACC, call sign GANDER CENTRE.

OPERATION OF ADS-B TRANSMITTERS

Excerpts from ICAO's North Atlantic Operations and Airspace Manual, Chapter 10

ADS-B services are already available in some continental airspaces immediately adjacent to the NAT Region as well as within some portions of the NAT MNPS Airspace, specifically in the Gander, Reykjavik and Santa Maria OCAs.

Eligibility for ADS-B service in the NAT is based upon the provisions in the NAT Regional Supplementary Procedures (ICAO Doc 7030) section 5.5. The procedures below shall be applicable in those portions of the following FIRs where an ADS-B-based ATS surveillance service is provided: Reykjavik FIR, Søndrestrøm FIR, Bodø FIR, Gander Oceanic FIR, New York Oceanic East FIR and Santa Maria Oceanic FIR.

An aircraft carrying 1090 MHz extended squitter (1090ES) ADS-B equipment shall disable ADS-B transmission unless: a) the aircraft emits position information of an accuracy and integrity consistent with the transmitted values of the position quality indicator; or b) the aircraft always transmits a value of 0 (zero) for one or more of the position quality indicators (NUCp, NIC, NAC or SIL), when the requirements of a) above cannot be met; or c) the operator has received an exemption granted by the appropriate ATS authority.

Note — The following documents provide guidance for the installation and airworthiness approval of ADS-B OUT system in aircraft and ensure compliance with a) above:

1. European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) AMC 20-24; or
2. FAA AC No. 20-165A — Airworthiness Approval of ADS-B; or
3. Configuration standards reflected in Appendix XI of Civil Aviation Order 20.18 of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia.

Aircraft operators wishing to receive an exemption from the procedures specified above for an individual flight shall apply for an exemption to the ATS unit(s) in accordance with AIP directives. Any approvals for such exemptions may be contingent on specific conditions such as routing, flight level and time of day.

The Flight ID is the Aircraft Identification (ACID) and is used in both ADS-B and Mode S SSR technology. Up to seven characters long, it is usually set by the flight crew via a cockpit interface. The Flight ID is used by the ATC ground system to correlate the ADS-B information with the flight plan data and to identify the aircraft on the ATC situation display system.

To allow correlation of a Flight ID to a flight plan, the Flight ID must exactly match the ACID entered in Item 7 of the ICAO flight plan. It is important that the Flight ID is correctly entered or ADS-B service may be denied.

 

 

Communications

Piper Meridian over Atlantic 2Communications and Position Reporting Procedures

Excerpts from ICAO's North Atlantic Operations and Airspace Manual Chapter 6

ATS Communications

It is important that pilots appreciate that routine air/ground ATS Voice communications in the NAT Region are conducted via aeradio stations staffed by communicators who have no executive ATC authority. Messages are relayed by the ground station to/from the air traffic controllers in the relevant OAC. This is the case, whether communications are via HF, GP/VHF or SATCOM Voice.

In the North Atlantic Region there are six aeronautical radio stations, one associated with each of the Oceanic Control Areas. They are: Bodø Radio (Norway, Bodø ACC), Gander Radio (Canada, Gander OACC), Iceland Radio (Iceland, Reykjavik ACC), New York Radio (USA, New York OACC), Santa Maria Radio (Portugal, Santa Maria OACC) and Shanwick Radio (Ireland, Shanwick OACC).

However, the aeradio stations and OACs are not necessarily co-located. For example, in the case of Shanwick operations, the OAC is located at Prestwick in Scotland whilst the associated aeradio station is at Ballygirreen in the Republic of Ireland. In addition to those six aeronautical stations, there are two other stations that operate NAT frequencies. They are Canarias Radio which serves Canarias ACC and Arctic Radio serving Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal ACC’s.

HF Voice Communications

The majority of NAT air/ground voice communications are conducted on SSB HF frequencies. To support air/ground ATC communications in the North Atlantic Region, twenty-four HF frequencies have been allocated, in bands ranging from 2.8 to 18 MHz. Frequencies from the lower HF bands tend to be used for communications during night-time and those from the higher bands during day-time. Generally in the North Atlantic, frequencies of less than 7 MHz are utilized at night and frequencies of greater than 8 MHz during the day.

The 24 NAT frequencies are organized into six groups known as Families. The Families are identified as NAT Family A, B, C, D, E and F. Each Family contains a range of frequencies from each of the HF frequency bands. A number of stations share families of frequencies and cooperate as a network to provide the required geographical and time of day coverage. A full listing of the frequency hours of operation of each NAT aeradio station is contained in the “HF Management Guidance Material for the North Atalntic Region” (NAT Doc 003) (Appendices C- 1 thru 6), available at www.icao.int/EURNAT/. Each Family is designated for use by aircraft of specific States of Registry and according to the route to be flown. NAT ATS provider State AIPs list the families of frequencies to be used.

Each individual aircraft is normally allocated a primary and a secondary HF frequency, either when it receives its clearance or by domestic controllers shortly before the oceanic boundary. When initiating contact with an aeradio station the pilot should state the HF frequency in use. HF Radio operators usually maintain a listening watch on more than one single frequency. Identification by the calling pilot of the particular frequency being used is helpful to the radio operator.

VHF Voice Communications

Aeradio stations are also responsible for the operation of General Purpose VHF (GP/VHF) outlets. North Atlantic flights may use these facilities for all regular and emergency communications with relevant OACs. Such facilities are especially valuable in the vicinity of Iceland, Faroes and Greenland since VHF is not as susceptible to sunspot activity as HF. Outlets are situated at Prins Christian Sund, which is remotely controlled from Gander Aeradio station, and at Qaqatoqaq, Kulusuk, several locations in Iceland and the Faroes, via Iceland Radio. When using GP/VHF frequencies in areas of fringe coverage, however, care should be taken to maintain a SELCAL watch on HF thus ensuring that if VHF contact is lost the aeradio station is still able to contact the aircraft. It is important for the pilot to appreciate that when using GP/VHF, as with HF and SATCOM Voice, these communications are with an aeradio station and the pilot is not in direct contact with ATC. However Direct Controller/Pilot Communications (DCPC) can be arranged, if necessary, via patch-through on some GP/VHF frequencies.

Reykjavik centre operates a number of Direct Controller Pilot Communications (DCPC) VHF stations in Iceland, Faroe Islands and Greenland. At jet flight levels the coverage is approximately 250 NM. Those stations are used to provide tactical procedural control and ATS surveillance services within the South, East and West sectors of the Reykjavik area. The callsign of the Reykjavik centre is “Reykjavik Control” or just “Reykjavik” and indicates that the pilot is communicating directly with an air traffic controller. The callsign of Iceland radio is “Iceland radio” or just “Iceland” and indicates that the pilot is communicating with a radio operator who is relaying messages between the pilot and the appropriate control facility.

Gander OAC operates a number of VHF remote outlets in Greenland and in the adjacent eastern seaboard of Canada, providing DCPC service for ADS-B operations in those parts of its airspace. For details of this ADS-B service, participation requirements and coverage charts, operators should consult Canadian AIS. A brief description of the service is provided in Chapter 10 of the ICAO Airspace Manual. The carriage of HF communications equipment is mandatory for flight in the Shanwick OCA. Aircraft with only functioning VHF communications equipment should plan their route outside the Shanwick OCA and ensure that they remain within VHF coverage of appropriate ground stations throughout
the flight. Details of communication requirements are published in State AIPs and ICAO publications.

Information on other communications, such as Satcom, Datalink, Air-to-Air are included in Chapter 6 of the ICAO Airspace Manual Position Reporting.

Time and Place of Position Reports

The horizontal (i.e. latitudinal and longitudinal) and vertical navigation performance of operators within NAT MNPS Airspace is monitored on a continual basis and position reporting is mandatory. Unless otherwise requested by Air Traffic Control, position reports from flights on routes which are not defined by designated reporting points should be made at the significant points listed in the flight plan. Air Traffic Control may require any flight operating in a North/South direction to report its position at any intermediate parallel of latitude when deemed necessary. In requiring aircraft to report their position at intermediate points, ATC is guided by the requirement to have positional information at approximately hourly intervals and also by the need to accommodate varying types of aircraft and varying traffic and MET conditions.

Communications and Position Reporting Procedures

Unless providing position reports via ADS-C, if the estimated time for the ‘next position,’ as last reported to ATC, has changed by three minutes or more, a revised estimate must be transmitted to the ATS unit concerned as soon as possible. Pilots must always report to ATC as soon as possible on reaching any new cruising level.

Contents of Position Reports

For flights outside domestic ATS route networks, position should be expressed in terms of latitude and longitude except when flying over named reporting points.

For flights whose tracks are predominantly east or west, latitude should be expressed in degrees and minutes, longitude in degrees only. For flights whose tracks are predominantly north or south, latitude should be expressed in degrees only, longitude in degrees and minutes. However, it should be noted that when such minutes are zero then the position report may refer solely to degrees. All times should be expressed in four digits giving both the hour and the minutes UTC. Radio operators may simultaneously monitor and operate more than one frequency. Therefore, when initiating an HF voice contact it is helpful if the pilot include advice on the frequency being used. More information, as well as examples of position reports are in Chapter 6 of the ICAO Guide.

Return to US

Returning to the U.S.

  • File an activated IFR or Defense VFR flight plan for flying through the U.S. ADIZ with ADCUS (advise customs) in the remarks section
  • Call U.S. CBP at least one hour and no more than 23 hours before your planned U.S. arrival time. (Do not rely only on ADCUS – call to verify CBP has your flight plan).
  • File an eAPIS arrival manifest (if you filed eAPIS reports for both legs of your trip before you left the U.S., you do not have to file again).
  • Plan to land at a U.S. CBP airport of entry after crossing the U.S. border. Be on time – a little late is better than early.