Already a member? Please login below for an enhanced experience. Not a member? Join today

Answers for Pilots: The IslandsAnswers for Pilots: The Islands

Caribbean dreamin' Caribbean dreamin'

Caribbean watersWhat could be better in the snowy months than heading south to dig your toes in the warm Caribbean sand? Maybe do a little snorkeling in the Cayman Islands, or enjoy delicious Jerk Chicken in Jamaica. The islands offer many general aviation-friendly destinations and warm weather year-round. Although the lifestyle may be laid back, the flight planning shouldn't be. Since many different countries govern the islands of the Caribbean, procedures differ among them. So, you'll need to decide ahead of time which places you want to visit. Also know that you will have to clear Customs and Immigration when entering and exiting each country's islands.

Civil aircraft overfly Cuba routinely, but even though friendly negotiations are occurring between Cuban and U.S. governments, you still need a permit to overfly the island country. It is not especially difficult, but it does require that pilots follow the established procedures. Private pilots with overflight permits may fly through Cuban airspace via published airways. These airways are shown on the Caribbean and South American IFR Low Altitude Enroute charts. To obtain an overflight permit, operators of U.S. registered aircraft should contact Cuba directly and pay Cuba for overflight permits without the need for an Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) license. Payment is made to Cuba in Euros through a bank in Panama. If you do not want to do the permit work yourself, you can use a third party provider for a fee. Regardless of how you choose to do it, it is critical that it is done! More information is available on AOPA’s website and we will keep the information updated as procedures change.

Flight Planning
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.

The pilot in command, passengers, and aircraft all have specific requirements that must be met for international travel. Requirements include: passports for all; up-to-date flight currency, a current airman medical certificate, and a restricted radiotelephone operator’s permit for the pilot. Each person aboard must have a life vest/flotation device, and a life raft is recommended. The aircraft must have, among other things, 12-inch registration marks, a radio station license, and carry Form 337 on board if it has fuel tanks installed in the baggage or passenger compartments. The complete list is online

Pilots crossing the U.S. border must be in communication with ATC and on a discrete squawk code. All aircraft must be on an activated IFR or Defense VFR flight plan for flying through the ADIZ. Visiting pilots must enter and exit at an airport of entry.

General information for Caribbean flights

  • Typically, you will encounter little general aviation traffic over the water until you get close to an island airport.
  • Some of the Caribbean countries have radar.
  • You will change controllers as you fly from country to country, as they will hand you off at their boundaries.
  • VFR flights are not permitted after dark.
  • Fuel is usually available at most airports, but can be very expensive. Credit cards are not always accepted.
  • Most of the island airports are airports of entry, but not all. Check your specific airport if you are not sure.
  • Customs and Immigration at many airports requires advance notice, some as much as 24 hours.
  • All countries require flight plans.
  • No vaccinations are required of U.S. citizens.
  • Navigational aids may or may not be functional in the Caribbean. Flying with GPS makes it easier to navigate.
  • Most towered airports provide weather information and Internet is available in most places.
  • Caricom eAPIS: Caricom (Caribbean Community) requires all aircraft to submit an APIS manifest prior to arrival, departure, or travel between any of the following: Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Granada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago.

For complete information, please visit AOPA’s online resources for general aviation flights to the islands For additional questions, please call the aviation technical specialists in AOPA’s Pilot Information Center, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672).

Kathy Dondzila

Kathleen Dondzila King

Manager, Technical Communications, Pilot Information Center
Technical Communications Manager, Kathleen Dondzila King, joined AOPA in 1990 and is an instrument-rated private pilot.
Topics: Travel, Caribbean, Flight Planning

Related Articles