Sunday, May 28, 2017

Billy Bishop's Alternate Universe, Part 2

Born in the USA

A well-known truism of international travel is that it is easier to exit the United States than return. I spent the early morning of May 28th putting the pieces into place to allow for a smooth flight back to New York. Comparatively speaking, this was the hard part.

Based on the weather forecast, we planned for a 4:00 pm arrival in the United States.We would need to fly to an Airport of Entry, with the most obvious candidates being Buffalo and Rochester (US ports of entry and their hours can be found here). I chose Buffalo because it was closer to Toronto and thus our ETA was less likely to be impacted by wind, weather, or ATC whimsy. Moreover, Buffalo's customs office is staffed seven days a week whereas Rochester's is only staffed on weekends by request. It seemed to me that, if a customs officer needed to make a special trip into Rochester on a Sunday just for us, it would not go well if we were late. Besides, I had never actually landed at Buffalo before and this provided opportunity and excuse.

Prior Aviation Service is the sole FBO on the field at Buffalo and conveniently located customs adjacent. Unfortunately, it has a reputation for expensive fuel (currently $6.60/gal) and high ramp fees. I called Prior in advance of the trip and was told that, if just clearing customs, we would only be charged a $5 landing fee.

I filed our arrival eAPIS manifest using the departure manifest as a template, then filed an IFR flight plan from Billy Bishop to Buffalo. After breakfast, I called US customs. US customs must be called at least one hour and no more than 23 hours prior to arrival. Unlike Canada, the United States does not have a single notification telephone number. It is necessary to call the office of interest directly. When I called Buffalo Customs, the officer asked whether I had filled out an APIS (but did not ask for the confirmation number) and he asked for our citizenship, my CBP decal number, the number of crew and passengers, my phone number, aircraft tail number, and ETA. He indicated that arriving +/- 30 minutes versus our ETA would be acceptable. At the conclusion of our discussion, he indicated that we were "cleared for landing".

A few minutes later he called back, having found an error on the manifest. I had typed 2017 onto the APIS manifest for The Bear's birth year and, since that date had not yet come to pass, the officer correctly surmised that it was an error. I fixed this in the eAPIS system, resubmitted, and called him back to verify that all was well. We were cleared again for landing.

Yes, But Do They Serve Wicked Butter?

With flight and customs planning complete, it was time to enjoy our day. We started with breakfast at Evviva Breakfast and Lunch, a quasi up-scale diner piping in a lot of early 70's American music hits. Our waitress seemed to be a native French speaker, but the Evviva radio spoke Eagles.

Breakfast was delicious. And filling.

And wacky.

And...oh, I have no idea what is happening in this picture.

After breakfast, we returned to our room at the Delta for the last time. Can anyone find the hidden Bear?

We Finally Found the Dinosaurs!

The Royal Ontario Museum has world class collections of dinosaurs, minerals, and artifacts from ancient Egypt, China, Greece, Rome, the Middle East, and Japan. We spent most of Sunday exploring the treasures that the ROM had to offer. I miss the little round metal tags that the ROM used to issue as tickets; one was clipped to the visor of my college-era beater car for years.

Since our last visit in 1990, the ROM added more space with mildly less traditional architecture.

This bronze dragon topped a Chinese ceremonial bell and it was my favorite find of the morning.

Evidently, the Chinese were using magnetic compasses long before Europeans. Nearby was a set of Chinese movable type that appeared to significantly pre-date Gutenberg.

It was almost as if we'd flown all the way to Egypt and only burned 8 gallons of avgas to get there!

The Bear was caught red-handed admiring Greek pottery.

"Oh, this looks just like my closet at home," said no one ever.

We spent well over an hour in the mineral and gems area because The Bear is a rock hound and the ROM has some really high end rocks.

Copper from Michigan's upper peninsula.

The lobby of the ROM features a Futalognkosaurus, a 2007 discovery. The ROM's Futalognkosaurus is the first casting to be mounted anywhere in the world and is the largest dinosaur displayed in Canada.

A stegosaurus with thagomizer on prominent display.

We ended our visit with this guy: the T-Rex and his stubby widdle arms.

Island Departure

DateAircraftRoute of FlightTime (hrs)Total (hrs)
28 May 2017N21481CYTZ (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) - BUF (Buffalo, NY)0.61637.8

Porter knocked loose one of my cowl plugs while moving the airplane.

We returned to Billy Bishop Airport to find that the wind was howling. It nearly tore the cabin cover out of my hand when I loosened the straps.

Porter is not an inexpensive place to spend the night. They charge a $60 CDN overnight fee on top of the landing fee assessed by the Toronto Port Authority, which, incidentally is $20.91 CDN (including HST) for US-registered aircraft and $15 CDN for Canadian aircraft. I detect a bias! The bill arrived in the mail within three weeks of our visit.

With the engine running, I called City Ground for clearance.

"Cherokee November Two One Four Eight One is cleared to Buffalo Airport via [blah, blah, blah], oscar lima alpha mike oscar, squawk 6356."

I read back what I heard of the clearance, including the OLAMO intersection. The controller repeated the "blah, blah, blah" portion and corrected, "OLAMO, not ALAMO." Well, I actually had the intersection correct, but was still stuck on the first part of the clearance. When she repeated it again, I understood her to say: Island One Departure, runway 8. It was my first time being assigned a SID (standard instrument departure). On my third try, I was rewarded with "readback correct."

Smooth. I was clear and confident on the radio with City Ground the day before. Not so today.

Billy Bishop Airport has multiple SIDs and it appears that anyone flying out of there IFR is going to be assigned one. I studied the SID, which featured a steeper than normal ascent. Remember that smokestack we saw the day before? We would soon be flying directly at it. I programmed the route into the Garmin, thankful that I'd upgraded the database.

Ground kindly directed us to the preferred run up area for runway 8. She probably guessed that I was not familiar with the airport given my US tail number and my lack of familiarity with the SID. We stopped to run up the engine just shy of the runway hold short line and to the far right with enough space for Porter's turboprop commercial aircraft to pass by on their way to the runway. As during our arrival, the airport was quite busy.

Lined up on runway 8 Billy Bishop Airport. Photo by Kristy.

City Tower instructed me to "line up" on runway 8 (no "and wait") while the wake from a turboprop dissipated. On the take-off roll, we were instructed to contact Toronto Terminal on 133.4 once airborne. On with Terminal, we were given a series of vectors to guide us away from the airport before reaching the first waypoint on the SID.

I'm finally in one of the photos! Photo by Kristy.

Our last view of the CN Tower. Photo by Kristy.

The vectors took us significantly out across the lake. Toronto Terminal called to ask if we'd like to go direct to Buffalo, or turn west toward land. I accepted the direct route because we were already a third of the way across Lake Ontario as it was.

Photo by Kristy

We made "landfall" near the mouth of the Niagara River.

The United States side of Lake Ontario was significantly hazier and cloudier than Ontario had been and we logged a few minutes of IMC time bouncing in and out of cumulus before ATC cleared us to descend for the airport.

Bridge from mainland NY (top) to Grand Island (bottom)

Buffalo provided a series of vectors for a visual approach to runway 5, descending us over Grand Island on a southerly heading. Considering the past decade of east-west flights taken through this part of the world, our altitude and heading seemed disconcertingly low and orthogonal to normal operations.

Downtown Buffalo. Photo by Kristy,

Landing on runway 5 at Buffalo (airport #174). Photo by Kristy.

GPS ground track from Billy Bishop to Buffalo. Plotted by ForeFlight.

Runway 14-32 and a significant number of taxiways were closed at Buffalo. We taxied to Prior without incident and were directed to parking by a lineman. He called customs on our behalf and, a few minutes later, an officer appeared carrying equipment used to scan for radiation. She noted our CBP decal number, asked why we were in Canada, then requested our passports, my pilot certificate, my medical certificate, and Warrior 481's registration. Within minutes she told us that we were cleared and wished us a nice day.

We had done it! We had successfully (if inelegantly, at times) worked the process. Toronto was a test run for future flights to Canada. Next stop: Quebec!

(Unless the zoo strike ends, in which case The Bear will want a return to Toronto.)

Sign at Prior Aviation Service. Just in case we were lost.

At Prior, I paid the $5 landing fee and we all took a restroom break before the last leg of the trip.


Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
28 May 2017 N21481 BUF (Buffalo, NY) - SDC (Sodus, NY) 1.1 1638.9

Passing the commercial terminal at Buffalo.

While holding short to cross runway 5 at Buffalo, a cluster of landing lights in the distance quickly resolved into a Southwest Airlines 737 that proceeded to plant itself on the runway directly in front of us in a cloud of smoke from the tires. Viewing the approach and landing nearly head-on, I found the rate at which the airliner closed the distance between us to be disorienting. The landing itself was an impressive thing to see from such a close vantage point and gave the impression of a massive amount of energy being dissipated.

We flew from Buffalo to Sodus VFR, avoiding some build-ups that were developing on the straight-line course by flying an intercept heading for the lake that gave us a smoother ride. Hope of a smooth landing disappeared when we flew within radio reception range of the Williamson-Sodus AWOS.

 "...Wind 150 at 9 gust 15...," it said. The AWOS usually reports low when the wind is from the south because it is partially blanked by trees surrounding the field and, indeed, the wind seemed stronger than advertised. I planted the upwind wheel on runway 10 with minimal fuss and we taxied back to our hangar.

Home! Why do I always make her stare into the sun for these return photos?


Our first foray into international flying was a success and we logged a few firsts along the way:
  • First landing at a foreign airport.
  • First successful working of the system to depart and return to the United States.
  • First time (without an instructor) contacting Clearance Delivery over the phone for an IFR departure from a non-towered airport.
  • First Standard Instrument Departure (SID).
  • First time landing at Buffalo, which seemed odd after so many years of flying overhead and talking with Buffalo ATC.
Kristy and I have traveled to Toronto via tour bus as college students and train as graduate students. Now we can add private aircraft to the list. In all, it was a unique way to walk down memory lane.

GPS ground track from Buffalo to Sodus. Plotted by ForeFlight.

My Checklist

While preparing for this trip, I  assembled a checklist of activities and information needed for a successful flight. AOPA has a terrific page describing the necessary steps to fly to Canada, but there are other sources out there as well. Below is my checklist, assembled from multiple sources. All of the information below is included in the body of the blog post, but I present it here as a concise summary in hopes that it might be useful to others.

Paperwork Preparation
  • Passports: $110 / person
  • FCC Radio Station License ($170) and Restricted Radiotelephone Operators Permit ($65)
  • CBP decal ($27.50 annual user fee)  
  • Canadian Flight Supplement and necessary charts (alternatively, upgrade ForeFlight for Canadian charts, $100 annually)
  • Create eAPIS account
  • GPS database upgrades desired or necessary? For Jeppesen Navdata on the Garmin GNS-430W, the "East/Central US" subscription costs $360 annually. Canadian data are only available in the "Americas" package for $550 annually. Jeppesen will allow single cycle (one month) upgrades for $185, which is not worth the cost versus the $190 dollar cost for an annual upgrade.
  • Verify that aircraft insurance allows Canadian flight.
  • Verify cell service and credit card use in Canada with service providers.
Before Departure for Canada
  • Verify operational hours of customs at Canadian Airport of Entry.
  • File eAPIS departure manifest no less than 1 hour prior to departure. There is no limit in how long in advance these can be filed. Save confirmation email and verify that flight is cleared. See this guide to fill out APIS properly.
  • File ICAO compliant flight plan (IFR or VFR).
  • Notify Canadian customs at least two hours but no more than 48 hours prior to arrival: 1-888-226-7277 (1-888-CANPASS). ETA should be accurate to +/- 15 minutes (per the officer I spoke to).
Arrival in Canada
  • Do not leave aircraft until cleared to do so by Canadian customs.
  • If VFR, close flight plan with Canadian Flight Service (1-866-WXBRIEF).
  • Call Canadian Customs at 1-888-226-7277 (1-888-CANPASS) and record check-in number provided by officer. 
  • Use of Canadian ATC service will generate a quarterly user fee invoice from Nav Canada for $17.06 Canadian. These fees are not applied to overflights.
Before Departure to United States
  • Verify hours of customs at US Airport of Entry. It is best to pick an airport of entry close to the border to minimize variability in ETA with a full time customs office, if available. Buffalo is open 8:00 am to midnight seven days a week (716-632-4727).
  • File eAPIS arrival manifest no less than 1 hour prior to departure. Save confirmation email and verify that the flight is cleared. See this guide to help fill out APIS properly.
  • File ICAO compliant flight plan. 
  • Notify US customs at the intended office of arrival no less than one hour and no more than 23 hours prior to arrival. Provide officer with: citizenship, CBP decal number, number of crew and passengers, callback phone number, tail number, and ETA. The officer I spoke to advised an accuracy of +/- 30 minutes for ETA. The officer will verbally indicate that you are "cleared for landing".
Arrival in United States
  • Call customs on arrival. Prior Aviation Services in Buffalo did this for us. Do not leave aircraft until cleared by customs.
  • If VFR, close flight plan with US Flight Service (1-800-WXBRIEF).
  • The US customs officer wanted to see: passports, pilot certificate, medical certificate, aircraft registration. She had equipment to measure radioactivity with her.

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