A foreign matter: International ops and FAA enforcement

Cross-border operations require careful preflight planning and preparation. There are numerous considerations ranging 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. FAR 91.703 is the pacing regulation. The relevant part of the reg 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 FARs and 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 instance, 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 a no-no in Canada. In such an instance where the Canadian aviation authority, Transport Canada, is alerted to the matter, the authority could choose to lodge a complaint that could result in an FAA investigation and possibly an enforcement action by the 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 is aware of the violation, 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 and of course, 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.
Topics: Pilot Protection Services, AOPA Products and Services, Travel

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