Foreign Matter – International Operations and FAA Enforcement

Cross-border operations require careful preflight planning and preparation. Numerous considerations range from customs requirements and landing permits to equipment mandates and insurance liability minimums.  

What is sometimes overlooked or misunderstood during international operations is the requirement for U.S. pilots to abide by the foreign aviation rules. The pacing regulation is 14 CFR 91.703. The relevant part of the regulation basically says that pilots of U.S.-registered aircraft operating in a foreign country must comply with the local regulations. It also says that Part 91 still applies (with noted exceptions) in a foreign country as long as it’s not inconsistent with the foreign regulations.  Thankfully, most of the aviation regulations and procedures abroad closely resemble the federal aviation regulations, so violations born from ignorance of the foreign rules are rare. That said, violations do occur and the FAA will investigate complaints filed by foreign authorities—the foreign authorities themselves have no authority to take certificate action against certificates issued by the United States. The protocol is such that if a foreign aviation authority chooses to file a complaint, it’s directed to the FAA through a U.S. Foreign Service Post and assigned to a regional FAA office whereupon an investigation is initiated.     

Let’s say, for example, that a U.S.-certificated pilot flying a high-performance N-registered airplane in Canada, under VFR, climbs above 12,500 feet without obtaining an ATC clearance. That’s OK in the United States, but is a no-no in Canada. In such an instance where the Canadian aviation authority, Transport Canada, is alerted to the matter, they could choose to lodge a complaint that could result in an FAA investigation and possibly an enforcement action by FAA against the pilot. In my experience, however, it’s rare that inadvertent violations elevate to this level. Usually, the authority seeks to identify the pilot and make certain that he or she knows what he did wrong, but it’s unlikely to cause an international incident. As always, we recommend you seek competent legal advice to discuss any occurrence, international or domestic, if there’s even a hint of a problem.   

For general assistance with international operations, AOPA offers online resources specific to certain countries and areas frequented by U.S.-based pilots. Live help is available by calling the Pilot Information Center at 800/872-2672.

Mike Yodice
Mr. Yodice has been a pilot since 1979. He took instruction at the historic College Park (MD) airport and co-owns a Piper Cherokee and flies the family Piper J3-Cub.

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