By John Wyman, EAA 462533, Chapter 266, Montreal
A close friend of mine recently published on LinkedIn a summary of his expensive experience coming back into Canada from a quick weekend trip to the States, Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. It’s come only a few months after I spoke about user fees in the September and October newsletters, so I thought it might be of readers’ interest to visit the subject once more with Gilles’ very recent experience of purchasing a share in a Piper Warrior and trying to grasp where the disconnect is between the bureaucrats here in Canada to their counterparts in the U.S. — and how fees are an ever increasing threat to the viability of general aviation.
A Quick Intro
Gilles has been flying a long time. We started out together, early on, when he first came to Canada. He’s a captain of an airliner but he’s also out there fighting for the everyday man all the time. I think of him as a social crusader who’s got a personal mandate to cut through the nonsense we see every day. If it looks like its “bogus,” he’ll call it out. He also happens to be a great storyteller, that’s why I have elected to just republish what he wrote and not to try to put a spin on it. He’s flown a wide variety of airplanes and has owned several small airplanes that he once used in scheduled operations. He’s not a newcomer to little airplanes, but this is his first personal airplane in Canada. I am happy to see that he’s returned to his roots and will hopefully not be too discouraged from what he’s just experienced. Here’s his recent, costly fee story:
“My two youngest children, now aged 10 and 11, were born to an airline pilot father. Some of their earliest memories are of their father in uniform leaving for work in the evenings as they are preparing for bed. Since early childhood, they travelled intensively as passengers on Air Transat flights but complained that they had never seen me AT work. Bringing family to the flight deck of commercial aircraft was possible in the past, but it became prohibited around 2002.
To change that and expose my children to my profession, I decided to gain access to a light aircraft and get checked out on it. One of my Air Transat colleagues gave me a checkout on a Piper Warrior last month, and a few days later, I flew my children from St-Jean to Rockcliffe airport, in Ottawa, where we went to visit the Ottawa Aviation Museum. It was the first time they had seen me flying an aircraft. We parked alongside the museum and entered it through one of the doors that give access to the ramp. They felt like VIPs.”
“For the second flight, I decided to try something a little more ambitious: a cross-border flight from Montreal to Martha’s Vineyard in the United States. It took a lot of homework to learn what was required to do such a flight. I had not flown internationally in light aircraft since 1997. I had to learn how to file a flight plan, how to use the iPad in lieu of paper maps. I was told about eAPIS, the website to report entry and departure to U.S. Customs. I created my eAPIS account. I had to learn the basics of using the Garmin 430W GPS that was installed in the Warrior. I learned that because my Warrior did not have ADS-B Out, I could not fly through or in Class B or C airspace in the U.S., unless I obtained a waiver, through another website.
“The day before the flight, I filled out my eAPIS notification to U.S. Customs and filed two flight plans that went around Class B and C airspace, to avoid having to ask for a waiver. The first leg was a 28-minute flight from St-Jean to Plattsburg, New York, and the second leg would be a 2 hour-and-30-minute flight to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. As I arrived at the St-Jean airport, I called U.S. Customs in Plattsburg to announce my arrival. After preparing and loading the aircraft, my first surprise was to discover that the Garmin’s GPS did not have a U.S. database. Only Canada. I would have to create user waypoints, fly VORs, and use FltPlan Go (modern version of mapping) to navigate.
“The first leg was uneventful. The two U.S. customs agents that were waiting for us were quick and courteous. They scanned our passports, made sure I had the 2022 customs decal on the Warrior, and we were on our way. They told me I could either opt to get the $20 landing fee by email or go pay it at AvFlight, the local FBO. I decided to taxi to the FBO so my family could use the bathroom before the second leg. As I paid, they helped themselves to coffee, donuts, and leftover Halloween candy. Again, they felt like VIPs.
“For the second leg, I had flight following the whole way, as I navigated west and south of Providence, Rhode Island, to avoid the Class C airspace. As we landed in Martha’s Vineyard, the right main tire burst. I advised the tower, which sent a vehicle to inspect. I needed to get towed. I was blocking runway 06/24. A van showed up to pick up my family and our bags, and I stayed with the aircraft until the tug showed up. They lifted my blown wheel onto a dolly and towed me to the ramp. They whole process took less than 15 minutes. The FBO, which is the Martha’s Vineyard airport authority, already had the name and number of a mechanic written on a post-it for me to call. I called him and he told me he would have it fixed the next morning. The next day, just after noon, the mechanic called to inform me the aircraft was fixed and that he had left me his bill at the FBO.
“I then called the FBO to ask them to top off the Warrior for my return flight. I had initially planned to fly back Sunday morning, but a front was arriving through the Montreal area that morning, with low clouds, rain, and possible thunder activity. My kids had to be at school Monday morning. I decided it was best to fly back at noon on Saturday, a day early, but with less risk of missing school.
“On Saturday morning, I filed a flight plan to Bromont, Québec, since my destination of St-Jean was not a port of entry. In the CFS, it indicated that Bromont was an AOE/15 (maximum 15 passengers) and was open Mon-Sun from 1330-0500Z.
“The CBSA website had a slightly different version:
“Saturday: Closed Sunday: Closed
“AOE/15 services may also be provided to unscheduled general aviation flights only (Canpass & Non-Canpass) between the hours of 16:30 to 24:00 Monday to Friday and also from 08:30 to 24:00 on weekends.”
It’s frustrating when the left doesn’t talk to the right! This is the information that Gilles had to go on. You’d think that if Canadian Customs offers this airport as an airport of entry, that their actual hours of operation would match the published times. Notice that the CFS is up to date but that the CBSA website said that it is closed Saturday and Sunday. Go figure!
“We arrived at the Martha’s Vineyard airport a little later than planned, paid for the repair, the fuel, the $10 parking fee (the towing off the runway was free) and pre-flighted the aircraft. The last thing I did, as we were all sitting in the aircraft, was to call 1-888-226-7277, the CBSA number that is provided for all Canadian airports, to announce my arrival.
“The agent who replied asked me to list all the occupants in the aircraft, our passport number etc. Then she asked if we were holders of CanPass and if we had made prior arrangements with the CBSA at Bromont. No, we were not CanPass holders and had not made prior arrangements. The website stated we did not need to be CanPass holders. As for prior arrangements, I did not see how that even was possible since we have no access to the phone numbers or the email addresses of the CBSA offices at Canadian airports, only the 888 number that is provided for all airports in Canada. She told us that Bromont CBSA was closed on weekends and in lack of CanPass membership and prior arrangements, we would not be allowed to clear customs there. I then asked to change our destination to St-Hubert airport. She told me the restrictions were the same for St-Hubert as with Bromont. I asked for Mirabel airport. She told me it was the same. I asked where I could clear Canada Customs without prior arrangement and without a CanPass membership. She told me I had to go through Montreal’s Trudeau airport and would need to tell her which FBO I would go to. I chose Starlink. I made a quick call to my friend Nicolas who kindly arranged things for me at Starlink.
“I took off, bound for Montreal’s Trudeau airport and changed my flight plan destination with Bridgeport FSS once I was in the air. The 2-hour-and-49 minute flight to CYUL was uneventful. In Montreal, we were cleared to left base for Runway 24L, following an Air Transat A330 that was on short final. We landed at sunset. We taxied to Starlink and after shutting down, called CBSA on the same 888 number to announce our arrival. They gave me a release number and told me they would not be coming to the aircraft, we were free to get out. We got out, paid our ramp fees, used the washroom at Starlink. and went back to the Warrior for the final 19 minute night flight to St-Jean.
“Aeroports de Montreal, will be billing me its landing and airport fees: $221.40 for landing, plus a $40 airport improvement fee, for a total of $261.40 plus tax. * (see note at end of article)
“Aéroport de Montreal does not want general aviation landing at its airports, even when we are forced to do so by the Canada Border Agency.
“Welcome to Canada in a general aviation aircraft.”
Thanks Gilles. I hope more people will call out the bureaucrats and their detrimental policies that adversely affect flying in Canada. We don’t need the bad PR. It benefits no one and it shouldn’t work like that.
* Gilles is currently contesting these fees imposed by Aeroports de Montreal. At the very least, if the local airport authorities don’t want the small aircraft traffic, they should at least coordinate an alternative option to paying exorbitant fees and exempt the small aircraft owner when customs forces them to land there. He awaits a decision.
John Wyman, EAA 462533, Chapter 266 Montreal, is a self-proclaimed airport bum. When he isn’t in the saddle at the airline, he can be found out at the airfield doing any number of things. He likes to fly gliders, practice aerobatics, work on airplanes and fix s