Mexico. The name elicits visions of beautiful coastlines with warm, clear water. Add to that the rich culture, cheap prices, and close proximity to the United States and you have a terrific flying destination.
Flying to Mexico is easier than you may think. Because the U.S. border with Mexico is an Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, a flight plan is required to cross. This can be either a standard IFR or defense VFR plan filed with flight service. Before you cross the border, make sure to contact local air traffic controllers. They will coordinate any necessary hand-offs.
Pilots new to the process find that clearing customs is one of the most nervous moments. But like any true Mexico pro will tell you, be willing to go with the flow and you'll be fine. All your required forms can be filled out after arrival, and there are always officials around to make the process easier. Make sure to bring cash and expect to pay around $60 for the aircraft and $20 per person for a visa.
One of the biggest concerns when flying to Mexico is the availability of fuel. Not every airport has 100LL or Jet-A, and it is sometimes difficult to determine the status of a particular airport's fuel situation prior to your departure. Often, the staff of AOPA's Pilot Information Center will have some current information. The good news is that if the airport has fuel, it will likely be quite a bit cheaper than fuel at your home airport.
Returning home to the states requires precise planning and a close adherence to the rules. Before departure, call the Customs office at your desired airport of entry to give notice of your arrival. You also must file a flight plan with the Mexican authorities, again because of the ADIZ crossing. Be sure to make ATC contact at least 15 minutes prior to crossing the ADIZ. This will avoid an impromptu formation flight with a military fighter.
Perhaps most important, you must land at the first airport of entry you come upon in the states. They are littered across the Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico borders, so your options are endless. But remember that your route to the airport must be generally a straight-line distance. That means you can't cross the border and then turn west for 50 miles to find cheaper fuel.
This column is meant to be only a small snapshot of what it takes to fly to Mexico. Although getting there and back is quite easy, it does take advanced planning. AOPA's Pilot Information Center has developed a fantastic guide to flying south. Also, make sure to give the staff a call for any additional questions at 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672).
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