Cross-border flights between the U.S. and Canada remain the most numerous “international” operations for N-registered aircraft. And because the Canadian government has been robust in its COVID-19 response, there has been confusion and some concern about maintaining compliance, not just with cross-border entry procedures, but also with restrictions on travelers and crewmembers after they leave the airport and conduct business in the country.
For operators and crewmembers, as was the case this time last year, the key watchwords are “overprepare,” “ask a million questions,” and “focus on your due diligence.” The key is to ensure that everyone involved with a flight to Canada has up-to-the minute information about the most recent changes in rules and procedures.
“I call one week ahead, 24 hours ahead and the morning of the departure. ”
RON RENZ President, Alligator Inc.
Due to the day-to-day – even hour-by-hour – changeability of rules and regulations involved in flying into Canada, any advice printed in a bi-monthly magazine must necessarily be an overview focused on how to access resources for the most current information. Examples of specific changes are just that: examples meant to illustrate how fast the pendulum can swing, and “not to be used for navigation.”
Rules Change Mid-Flight!
“I’ve had the rules change while I was in flight,” said Ron Renz, president of Lawrence, KS-based Alligator Inc., an engineering consultancy firm specializing in aircraft modifications and flight tests. Renz regularly flies his company’s Piper Seneca and Mitsubishi MU-2 to Canada on business and family trips.
To ensure he has the latest information before beginning a trip to Canada, Renz has established a timeline for checking that he has all the latest details for cross-border flights.
“I call one week ahead, 24 hours ahead and the morning of the departure. We also file our eAPIS [electronic aircraft passenger information system] data at the same time for the inbound and outbound trips since we always know when we will be traveling in both directions.”
Renz also recommends that operators adopt the same week-ahead/day-ahead/day-of-flight schedule for contacting U.S. Customs for the return journey. And if you regularly pass through the same airport of entry to the U.S., as Renz normally does, he has another suggestion: “Talk with the Customs guy you’ll be dealing with.” The need (or not) for a pre-flight COVID-19 test can depend on whether it’s a “pro-vax/pro-mask” state or an “anti-vax/anti-mask” state, he said.
As for who to call, there are lots of recommendations, but one recurring one is not to make a phone call at all, but to use an app instead.
The process for entry into Canada is “a monster right now,” says Anthony Norejko, president and CEO of the Canadian Business Aviation Association, who recommends that incoming operators regularly use the ArriveCAN app. He calls it the No. 1 resource for facilitating travel to Canada, right behind contacting the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) via 888-CANPASS.
“The Canadian government stood up the ArriveCAN app [after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic],” explained Norejko, “and it will continue to be the essential tool for uploading passenger info – vaccine certification, passport data, etc. – going forward.”
Norejko says there are two separate “layers” of requirements when it comes to CBSA standards for pilots, crewmembers and passengers entering Canada. The first layer of documentation is proof of vaccine status, followed by the need (or not) for a recent COVID-19 test. And he cautions, “An antigen ‘rapid’ test [such as an over-the-counter type] won’t work. PHAC [the Public Health Agency of Canada – the equivalent of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control] requires one of the internationally accepted molecular tests, also called a viral test or the PCR test.”
“The ARRIVECAN app will continue to be the essential tool for uploading passenger info – vaccine certification, passport data, etc. – going forward. ”
ANTHONY NOREJKO President and CEO, Canadian Business Aviation Association
Norejko reiterated the common theme of needing to “overprepare,” reminding crewmembers that even if they are eligible for more lax vaccine or test requirements while on duty, they could find themselves in trouble if they unexpectedly need to catch a commercial flight to reposition for the next duty flight – not to mention that they might be denied access to certain venues when off duty during a layover. Besides, as of Jan. 15 it is now a requirement for crewmembers to be vaccinated to enter Canada.
Luis Nambo, master global regulatory specialist at Universal Weather and Aviation, says some standards have changed over the past several months, sometimes with little warning.
“When Omicron hit, Canada cited seven or eight countries where, if you’d been there within the last 14 days, you couldn’t get into Canada.” But that no longer applies. In addition, several entry rules have fluctuated:
- Whether or not crews need to prove vaccination status.
- Who needs a COVID-19 test and within what time frame?
- What are the quarantine times – 10 days? 14 days?
- Whether travelers need a doctor’s clearance, or simply a test result enough days ahead of the proposed travel dates.
As of mid-January, the number of airports of entry had increased to 17 from just 10 in November, said Nambo, who suggests that operators check regularly with their flight service providers to see if any other airfields have been added to the approved list. Nambo also said some Canadian provinces are more prone to lock down than others.
“Quebec is the strictest,” said Nambo, who added that all provinces and cities have their own local regulations regarding admission to restaurants, bars, theaters, and sports events.
Nambo suggests that operators review a travel questionnaire on the CBSA website that breaks down restrictions on incoming travel by categories – where the traveler lives, nationality, vaccine and test status, and so forth.
The most recent change in policy, effective Feb. 28, allows incoming travelers to take a rapid antigen COVID test prior to arrival, instead of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
A Fluid Situation
Scott Harrold, a Canada expert and president of consultancy firm Sky Aviation International, says travel requirements and restrictions in the country seem to be constantly evolving.
“To say things are fluid is an understatement.” He referred to the Jan. 15 change when the pilot waiver on vaccine status disappeared. (“No more free pass,” he said.)
“When Omicron hit, Canada cited seven or eight countries where, if you’d been there within the last 14 days, you couldn’t get into Canada. ”
LUIS NAMBO Master Global Regulatory Specialist, Universal Weather and Aviation
But Harrold added that further restrictions on business aircraft crewmembers flying to Canada who prefer not to get vaccinated are likely to affect smaller operators the most, noting that they could be grounded if one or two employees end up catching the virus. For that reason, his advice to them is to take greater precautions.
Harrold also said he’s found himself educating officials of health departments about the nature of business aviation.
“They ask, ‘You mean, someone can get in a plane and travel – even around the world – without coming in contact with large crowds at airports?’”
Harrold explains to health officials that business aircraft passengers “travel in their own bubble.” So, business aviation not only enhances their time, he said, but also their health.