A trip (up) north

Plans change, and preparation isn’t always enough to ensure a good result.

My wife and I had scheduled a trip to Ottawa in our Mooney 231 to begin on Saturday with a return on Sunday. Our departure point was KHPN, Westchester County airport, a short distance from New York City. Our destination was an airport just outside of Ottawa, CYND, Gatineau, where general aviation is welcomed. We would spend time with my youngest daughter who had just taken a professorial position at the University of Ottawa.

Never having landed at this airport previously I made a call to ascertain whether we would be able to park and obtain gas for the return trip. I was told that the only problem would be an airshow that was scheduled to begin on Saturday at 11 am, and I was advised to call the “air boss” for advice about an arrival on Saturday. Having been warned, I made that call and was told that an arrival before 10 am would be OK.

Gatineau Airport
Gatineau Airport is a GA-friendly airport, but only when it’s open.

I had previously applied to CANPASS in order to expedite the process, and having filed out the necessary papers and paid the necessary fee, I was rewarded several weeks later with a CANPASS identification number and was instructed to report my arrival by phone.

In days gone by, before 9/11, our trips to Canada did not require this extra step. Times change.

Now it was necessary to work the departure details through eAPIS and also to put on record the US arrival details. This was my first attempt to negotiate the eAPIS formalities, but I had taken the first step (establishing an account with eAPIS) some months ago.

On Thursday night, I learned that an important family dinner scheduled for Friday night was canceled; we decided to move the trip up a day to Friday as this would allow us more time for the visit to Ottawa.

The weather forecast called for some light to moderate precipitation en route and an overcast deck on arrival in the Ottawa area.

I have been a WingX Pro user, and unlike the situation with ForeFlight, Canadian charts are not part of the package. I went to FltPlan.com for the approach charts and with the necessary US low altitude enroute charts in my flight bag as back up I was covered for navigating the airspace. But as an afterthought I also printed out approach charts for CYOW, the main airport for Ottawa. A further step had been the purchase of a Canada Flight Supplement, a thick guide to Canada’s airports and airspace.

I had decided I would avoid CYOW if at all possible because of excessive fees designed to discourage all but heavy iron.

Since the airshow at CYND, Gatineau, was not scheduled to begin until 11 am on Saturday, the only problem with a Friday arrival would be easily managed IFR weather…and so we departed around noontime having filled out the details of our departure from KHPN and our arrival at CYND with eAPIS. Using FltPlan.com, it was a simple matter to work out an acceptable routing and to estimate the time of border crossing, a requirement for international flights.

A car was scheduled to be delivered to the airport with Hertz.

Having negotiated some light precipitation en route and managing to stay at an altitude below the freezing level, we crossed the border and were handed off to Canadian ATC.

Shortly thereafter ATC contacted us to advise us of a Notam regarding the closure of CYND for the next day’s airshow. That’s the first part of the Trip Up. I replied that the “air boss” had given us permission, naming that person. ATC replied that they would get back to me. While awaiting the news, we heard another plane being given permission to land at CYND. When ATC got back to us, they informed us that we were denied permission.

”What are your intentions?” No use arguing, I thought, as I now had no way to contact the “air boss” for clarification.

My alternate was the main airport, CYOW, even with the excessive fees and the lack of previously arranged transportation, and the requirement to inform CANPASS on arrival at CYND.

It was necessary to set up my Garmin 530w for a new destination. It had already been programmed for the approach at CYND. I fumbled this one by attempting to delete the whole flight plan and inserting a new one on the first page. It would have worked if I merely added the new destination along with the approach or alternatively had programmed the second page of the Garmin’s flight plan for an arrival and approach at CYOW. Since my autopilot took directions from the Garmin I pulled out the approach chart to RWY 32 and hand flew the approach using my old King RNAV unit.

I had met Mr. Murphy again: if things can go wrong, etc.

Well, we got down, and were directed to one of the two FBOs on the field. Overnight on the ramp was $75 with more charges to follow. Getting through to CANPASS on the phone took quite a few minutes, but they were not concerned about our new arrival point and did not think it was necessary to inspect our plane. We requested a top-off of fuel. (On Sunday we saw that this had not taken place). Check and double-check, this was not a new lesson. Hertz was able to cancel one car and schedule another.

The time in Ottawa was spent well. My daughter was well set up in her new apartment and had begun her new job. Ottawa is a beautiful city with delightful parks and many fine attractions.

Revising the new flight plan for return to White Plains, Westchester Airport was handled on my iPad easily, having learned all the mistakes that could be made previously.

The trip back took only about two hours. Compare that with a drive that takes between seven and eight hours.

Customs clearance at KHPN used to be available on Sundays with prior arrangement at the old Avitat FBO. Jet Systems now housed Customs and Border Protection at the same building, and they seemed quite busy with multiple arrivals and three agents.

Having got that one under my belt I think the next trip will be easy…maybe.

Postscript: I made the trip again recently with no problems. Canadian ATC worked with me and the folks at CYND were very friendly and helpful.

32 Comments

  • I based my plane at the big airport (CYOW) for a few years, and fly out of Rockcliffe (CYRO) now, right across the river from CYND. Here are some tips:

    1. If you have to land at CYOW, taxi to the north field. Parking at Esso or Shell is like parking at a big Teterboro FBO, while you’ll pay very little to park at the Ottawa Flying Club or Ottawa Aviation Services. You had no time to research in advance, so it makes sense you got sucked in by the expensive south-field FBOs, which specialise in bizjets and turboprops.

    2. If it’s VFR, try Rockcliffe (CYRO) instead of Gatineau (CYND) — no landing fees, no overnight parking fee, and on the Ottawa side of the river (about 4-5 km from downtown along a pretty parkway). It might have been closed for the airshow as well, though.

    3. If it’s easy IFR (ceiling 1,000 ft or better, daylight with good vis beneath), the locals also use Rockcliffe, flying the VOR/DME into Gatineau, breaking off at the FAF, and flying a couple of miles across the river to Rockcliffe. There are no obstacles to worry about, but I still wouldn’t recommend that until you’d done it a couple of times in good VFR, so that you don’t stumble into the (tiny) restricted airspace to the west over the Prime Minister’s and Governor General’s residences.

    Ottawa and Eastern Ontario have great flying, with lots of little paved and grass strips in the farmland, and the rugged Gatineau hills to the north for scenic flying. Wikipedia has a list of the other airports right in or near Ottawa:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airports_in_the_Ottawa_area

        • Laurence: Rockcliffe is a CANPASS-only airport, which means that you have to have signed up first (like with NEXUS on the airlines). It’s not a complicated process, and it lasts five years before you have to renew, so it might be worth it if you’re going to be visiting your daughter frequently. It opens up many additional small airports as ports of entry.

          Otherwise, you have the option of making a quick stop at Cornwall ON (CYCC) just across from Massena NY if you take the eastern route up from the NYC area, or at Kingston ON (CYGK) if you take the western route via Syracuse. You could, of course, also clear at Gatineau, then fly the 5 minutes back across the river to Rockcliffe (faster than the drive).

          There’s no rental car operation at Rockcliffe, but I believe a couple of the companies in the east end will pick you up and drop you off.

          • Thanks again for that information. I had signed up for CANPASS in advance of that first trip.
            I see now that CYRO is listed as an airport of entry but not as a customs airport. I didn’t understand what that meant until your last comment appeared here.

  • Took my first Canada flight last summer from Grand Rapids, MI (GRR) to Toronto Billy Bishop.

    1) Canada Customs is easy. US – not so much. Need passports both directions. While the AOPA web site says you need a bunch of other things (radio operators license, proof of insurance, etc.) no one asked for any of these and I did not even personally meet any official in Canada.

    2) Canada Customs – File eAPIS electronic manifest. File standard IFR/VFR flight plan. Call 888-CAN-PASS at least two hours before arrival, fly to any airport of entry, call again when you arrive (do not exit the aircraft), receive release number. You must arrive within 30 minutes of the time you told them during your initial call or you may experience significant delays (they were very agitated that I was one hour late but released me immediately anyway).

    3) US Customs – Obtain DTOPS decal for aircraft ($27.50. File eAPIS electronic manifest. File IFR/VFR flight plan with Canadian flight service (866 WX BRIEF). Call Grand Rapids (or other airport) customs and notify them of your arrival time. US Customs meets your aircraft when you land and scans it with a Geiger counter (seriously).

    4) Fuel at Billy Bishop was $2/liter ($7.57/gallon) so buy as little as you safely can. Overnight parking is $35/night and there is no credit for buying fuel.

    5) Canada ATC was very similar to US. Flew RNAV C approach into Billy Bishop. Some phrasing and terminology is different. I told everyone this was my first time flying in Canada and they were very helpful. All navaids (airports, approaches, VOR’s, etc.) operated the same as US navaids. I ordered all charts thru Sporty’s and they arrived within two days.

    6) You might as well file through Hamilton airport (CYHM) as your final or initial waypoint as they route all traffic along the coast of Lake Ontario to keep it away from Pearson International.

    7) Landing fee at Billy Bishop was about $22.

    8) I had no problem using MasterCard but you might as well leave your Discover card at home. Exchange rate is almost equal and everyone took US dollars.

    Had a great time in Toronto and got to see Max Scherzer win his 13’th game in a row against the Blue Jays.

    • I agree with most of what you write here – I use the island airport a lot and it’s great. Beautiful approach and very convenient. Porter has raised prices, but it’s better than it was 15 years ago when there wasn’t much of an FBO.

      As for customs… The Canadians should shame us as Americans. It’s so much easier to fly into Canada than to return home.

    • Right on. I had jumped through all those hoops you mentioned. I was still surprised to find CBP checking my Mooney out with a Geiger counter.

      I was reminded of another experience when the Geiger Counter wielded by CBP went off range because of a medical isotope test my son-in-law had had previously.

      What have we come to? If terrorists wished to smuggle isotopes for a dirty bomb across the northern border there are dozens of ways to do so.

    • If you want cheaper fuel stop off at CYFD – Brantford, current price is $1.75 a litre. Airport is uncontrolled with 2 IFR approaches, quick to get in and get out, no ramp fees for GA aircraft, and you can clear customs here via prior arrangement. Fuel avail 8-5. It’s about 10 miles west of CYHM Hamilton (Which does not sell 100LL) and 25 miles west of CYTZ Toronto City Centre / Billy Bishop.

      For all American visitors avoid the big internationals to avoid the big fees, a lot of smaller airports supply 100LL and are happy to see the business.

  • Randy – glad you enjoyed your trip to TO. I almost always use the Toronto Island Airport (aka City Centre aka Billy Bishop) because it’s so close to downtown (as well as walking distance from the ballpark, as you discovered — my daughter is a BoSox fan), but it has become expensive with the Porter monopoly.

    Buttonville, north of the city, is a cheaper option, but $2/litre is pretty typical up here. I know people also use Oshawa and Burlington, but I’ve never overnighted at either of them. Waterloo and Guelph, a bit further west of the city, are also nice (and Waterloo has an ILS — it’s about an hour’s drive into the city outside of rush hour).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airports_in_the_Greater_Toronto_Area

    p.s. Randy – just a pedantic niggle, but the eAPIS that you filed for heading to Canada was for US border patrol, not Canada customs. Like China, the US now requires people to get permission to leave the country as well as to enter it. But still I love your country, so it’s worth all the hassle to fly down to visit NYC, Boston, etc.

  • On top of all the fees and hassles already mentioned, add one more: when a US registered aircraft flies into Canada and utilizes any Canadian flight planning or ATC services, a few weeks or months after the flight the pilot (assuming he or she is the aircraft’s owner) will get an invoice in the mail from NavCanada for providing such services.

    I have flown VFR several times from my home base in eastern Maine to Saint John, NB and the first time I did so, I was rather surprised a few weeks later to receive the bill (presumably they knew where to send the bill since they had my tail number). It was only around 17-18 bucks (the fee charged is based on aircraft weight) so I grumbled a bit and paid it.. the only upside is that the fee is for an entire calendar quarter, so you pay it once and that entitles you to ATC and flight planning services for the rest of the quarter.

    Well, at least it kinda makes me feel thankful I am not being nicked each and every time I call up Lockheed-Martin or, for that matter, when the CBP officer comes and waves his Geiger counter around my Piper Warrior…

    • Andrew: you’re right on that one. For about a decade, we’ve had to pay a fee for our ATC. For a light single, it’s something like $70/year, so it doesn’t bankrupt us, but still. I think it was COPA who negotiated so that US pilots wouldn’t have to pay for the whole year after just one visit. If it’s any consolation, it probably costs Nav Canada about $50 in operating costs to collect that $17 from you, so you get the last laugh.

      I don’t like the fee and won’t defend it, but I do have to say that the FSS briefings I get from Nav Canada are about 200% better than in the US, either before or after the Lockheed-Martin takeover (ATC is about the same). When I call for a briefing from e.g. Boston to Ottawa, the US briefer will throw brainless catch phrases like “VFR not recommended” at me, just because there’s low fog in one valley along the way, when I’ll be flying in a blue sky at 8,500 ft.

      In Canada, you can (and will) sometimes get a bad briefer, but typically, they understand the weather and will work with you to help you find a way to complete your flight safely instead of trying to cover their own asses with legal disclaimers. They assume that you’re competent and will tell you how to avoid *most* of the ice (I once got
      “just tell ATC you want to stay on top until you’re almost at the airport, then go down quickly and you shouldn’t pick up too much”), or what route will keep you VFR on a marginal day, or where they think there might be gaps in the thunderstorms. The same people answer the phones who answer the radio calls from GA pilots enroute, so they’re right up to date with the in-flight conditions (imagine if it was the Flight Watch people who gave you your briefings).

      The best briefings I’ve had are from the London FIC. Again, YMMV, but I recommend calling them the night before before a flight from the US to Toronto or even Ottawa (though Ottawa is in the Quebec FIC zone) and asking for an “interpretive outlook briefing.” If you get a good briefer (and again, sometimes you won’t), it will be like having a coffee with a meteorologist who likes to fly. The direct number for the London FIC is 1-866-541-4104.

      (The Quebec FIC can also have some excellent briefers, but because of the bilingualism requirement, I think they’ve had to be a bit less picky about hiring, and I’ve had duds more often calling them.)

    • Andrew wrote “Well, at least it kinda makes me feel thankful I am not being nicked each and every time … the CBP officer comes and waves his Geiger counter around my Piper Warrior”

      Well, no, but you are paying a $25/year user fee to US CBP for the privilege, while Canada Customs clearance is free. It sort-of balances out, depending on how many seasons you fly to Canada.

      • David: What actually irritated me about receiving the NavCanada invoice for ATC services the first time I flew cross border was not the fact that there was a charge, nor was it the amount (17-18 bucks).

        It was just that no one ever advised me that there was going to be a charge for using said services, either when I was planning the flight or during the flight itself.

        It was only a few weeks later when I got the bill in the mail that I discovered that ATC services in Canada are fee-based and not just factored into general taxes for what the government does to insure transportation safety (more or less the US way).

        I mean, having a service provided and not being told of the cost at the time that such service is rendered, but instead getting charged several weeks after the fact is bound to leave a slightly bad taste in anyone’s mouth, regardless of what kind of service is at issue.

        Mind you, I’m not saying that your fee-based ATC arrangement is right or wrong, better or worse than ours, it’s just that I would rather know what my costs are going in. As a Canadian pilot, you know up front what the cost of ATC and flight planning services are going to be, but as a first time visitor coming in via my own airplane, I was given no such advance notice.

        You made the point that our CPB charges us $25 (actually it’s around $27.50) annually for a user fee decal, as compared to no fee for dealing with Canada Customs, and that sort of balances out the NavCanada charge.

        Well, perhaps that’s so, but at least I was made aware of the user fee decal cost up front before I decided to purchase it. I was not so advised by NavCanada on my first flight (but I am all the wiser now!)

        But hey — this is all just quibbling.. none of us took up flying thinking it was going to be cheap, eh? I certainly would have still made my first cross border flight had I known about the NavCanada charge in advance.

        In spite of all the costs and hassle of cross border flying that has been piled on in recent years, I’m still thankful for the freedom that citizens of both the US and Canada enjoy and which still allows us to move from one country to another in our own airplanes. Uh, I hear it’s way worse in other parts of the world.. cheers

        • I think that’s completely fair. We know to check if an airport has a landing fee before we fly (though we still get surprised sometimes), but unless a US pilot knows to go and read the AOPA-COPA guide to flying to Canada, she wouldn’t have any suspicion that there might be a Nav Canada fee for flying in Canada.

  • Carp, Ontario ( CYRP ) has a nice GA airport. It is about a 20 mins. drive to Ottawa though.
    John Phillips would be a great contact for you (he is originally from the USA)1-613-298-5063 and would arrange a car rental for you.

  • Out of curiosity, did you ever find out why your landing permission at CYND had been cancelled, apparently just because you had changed the time of arrival to the previous day? Obviously your new ETA was on the day BEFORE the show, so why should there have been a problem?

    • There should not have been a problem, I agree.
      I did not attempt to find out why permission had been cancelled.
      I wanted to enjoy the remainder of the visit to Ottawa and did not think it would be productive to get on the phone with the individual in question when the most I could expect to gain was an apology.

      • I agree that there would have been no value in wasting time, during your trip, trying to find out what had gone wrong. But after you had come home to Westchester, I personally would have spent what hopefully would have been not more than a few minutes on a phone call or two, to find out what had gone wrong – for curiosity’s sake, if not simply to try to avoid similar problems at Gatineau, or elsewhere, in the future. Besides, if you *had* checked, you could have satisfied OUR curiosity – a most worthy goal …

        • I admire your tenacity.
          I am puzzled by the time stamp on your comments (early AM, at least in the east). Are you on the west coast?

  • This was a great story. Thanks for sharing. I fly into Canada regularly. I have a Canadian work permit and use my Mooney to commute every few weeks. I agree wholeheartedly that the Canadian ATC folks are VERY helpful and professional. I lost my vacuum system while in the junk at 9000 feet and they helped me get back down safely with no problems what so ever. Every arrival has been hassle free and handled professionally. On the contrary, EVERY time I return to the States I receive the third degree. I have been delayed up to an hour and one half at one arrival and I have never gotten out in less than 40 minutes. Once a female agent even demanded to see my flight medical. Not sure why and had never happened prior. Always have all my paperwork in order. Still, the freedom, enjoyment, and convenience outweigh the hassle my own country puts me through so I’ll gladly soldier on. Keep flying guys and stay safe. Octogenarian–AWESOME!!!

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