There's No Place Like Home

"There’s no place like home” can have a profound meaning for the pilot who haphazardly ventures on an international flightAt first glance, all the rules and procedure might be seen as an impediment to what might otherwise be a rewarding logbook entry. For other pilots, international flying is a career requirement.

Regardless of your flight mission, cross-border operations pose new challenges that will demand careful consideration. Accordingly, a successful international voyage will require thorough preflight planning.  

The requirements for international flights are scattered throughout various sources: the FAA, CBP, and FCC all have rules and regulations to follow; there are various international treaties to be mindful of; and the foreign country may have its own set of rules to follow (not to mention any foreign country along the way). While the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has developed policies and standards for member nations to adopt, a foreign country ultimately is responsible for creating its own rules and regulations. 

As it relates to the FAA, the controlling regulation for U.S. registered aircraft operating outside of the U.S. is FAR 91.703. This section provides that pilots are required to follow a foreign country’s flight rules when within that country. However, the majority of Part 91 still applies. Practically speaking, most foreign flight rules are similar to the FARs. And hence the catchall phrase in FAR 91.703(a)(3) is that all U.S. registered aircraft operating outside of the U.S. must comply with Part 91 “so far as it is not inconsistent with applicable regulations of the foreign country where the aircraft is operated.” The few sections of Part 91 that do not apply when operating a U.S. registered aircraft outside of the U.S. are as follows:

  • FAR 91.117(a): Speed limitation of 250kts (288 m.p.h.) below 10,000 ft;

  • FAR 91.307(b): Limitation to non-emergency use of parachutes;

  • FAR 91.309: Regulation of towing gliders and unpowered ultralight vehicles;

  • FAR 91.323: Increased maximum certificated weights for certain airplanes operated in Alaska; and

  • FAR 91.711: Special rules for foreign civil aircraft operating in the U.S.

It is important to note, FAR 91.703 would not apply to an American operating an aircraft that is registered in that particular country.

Similarly, U.S. registered aircraft over the high seas must also comply with Annex 2 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (commonly called the Chicago Convention). Additionally, Annex 2, 10th Edition with amendments through Amendment 45 has been incorporated by reference into FAR 91.703(b).

Another important regulation, FAR 91.706, has to do with the Reduced Vertical Separation Minimums (RVSM). RVSM airspace is applicable to most of the world and controls aircraft operations between flight levels 290 and 410. FAR 91.706 requires the operator to meet the requirements of Appendix G and be authorized by the FAA to conduct such operations. Authorization by the FAA to conduct RVSM operations outside of U.S.-controlled airspace requires all operators to carry an operator specific Letter of Authorization (LOA) for Part 91 operations or Operations Specifications (OpSpecs) for Part 135 operations. For a detailed explanation, see Advisory Circular AC 91-85B.

So, what happens if you run afoul of these myriad rules and regulations? Generally speaking, foreign nations do not have jurisdiction to act against your U.S. pilot certificates. Accordingly, foreign nations may report suspected violations to the FAA. If over the high seas, ATC, foreign nations, or other aircraft may report suspected violations. After receiving such a report and reviewing the facts, the FAA will decide whether to conduct a formal investigation. Usually, the first step is for the FAA to reach out to the aircraft’s owner or operator to identify you as the PIC at the time of the alleged violation. Then, you may be contacted by an aviation safety inspector. If the alleged violation of a foreign rule or Annex 2 is substantiated, pursuant to FAR 91.703(a), the FAA may act against your certificate, which could result in suspension, revocation, or the compliance program. 

If you are the subject of such an investigation, call the AOPA Legal Services Plan at 800-872-2672. And don’t forget that AOPA has an excellent step-by-step guide on cross-border operations.

Author Note: Patrick Brooke is an in-house attorney with AOPA’s Legal Services Plan. Patrick is a Private Pilot and a former Panel Attorney with the Pilot Protection Services program.

Topics: Pilot Protection Services

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