Countries are listed alphabetically, and pilots can quickly tell if a country is open to international general aviation flights by the presence or lack of a color-coded banner beside the country name indicating, “Open to IGA.” CST Flight Services details requirements such as pre-departure and arrival procedures, provides text of active notams, and lists useful links to country-specific coronavirus information.
“It’s a very dynamic environment,” said Rick Gardner, director of CST Flight Services and AOPA representative for the Bahamas, Mexico, and Central America.
The company launched 15 years ago to provide information and services for pilots flying from the United States to the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America. During that time, CST Flight Services has built relationships with foreign government officials and has agents in those areas, which allows them to gain firsthand information on travel restrictions. As countries began closing their borders because of the coronavirus pandemic, the company’s team started researching travel restrictions and procedures. The information is updated regularly because countries have reopened and quickly closed their borders or changed restrictions.
“Every government is taking a different approach, and it is very important to know the regulations, the restrictions, so you won’t get in trouble when you are flying there,” said Almendra Pérez, commercial manager of CST Flight Services.
For pilots receiving CST Flight Services international permits or ground handling services for their international flights, the company keeps in touch to provide updates if any changes to regulations occur after departure and will take care of any new required permits.
The COVID-19 information that is available to all pilots and operators is just a glimpse of the information CST Flight Services provides on its members-only website ($49.99 USD per year). The site launched in 2008 and provides regulatory information, guidance, and helpful tips in an easy-to-use, do-it-yourself format even though the company also offers services personalized to a pilot’s individual needs.
The members-only portion of the website includes regulations on international flying, broken down specifically for the Bahamas and the Caribbean, and Mexico and Central America, as well as general information; training articles and videos; links to weather products for those regions; a forum; and more.
Documents for passengers, crewmembers, and the aircraft; required equipment; and survival gear are provided in addition to regulations, border overflight exemptions, and information about the Electronic Advance Passenger Information System. That information is further broken down on country-specific pages with additional resources. For example, CST Flight Services offers free downloadable VFR and IFR charts for the Bahamas and the Caribbean and a link to a form that is required to be carried on board experimental aircraft flying to the Bahamas. Fuel prices at airports of entry (along with the date the prices were updated) are another useful resource.
“As you overfly the U.S. [airports] are everywhere, and it’s almost a given that just about all of them are going to have Jet A and avgas. Not so when you get into the international environment,” Gardner explained. “There’s an additional factor as you’re flying over multiple countries. You have to enter and depart the country from an airport of entry, so as you start looking at planning the route to your destination—the distance, considering alternates—it becomes a bigger challenge than what pilots are accustomed to, especially if you are flying in an aircraft where you need 3,000 to 4,000 feet of runway or more. Now all of a sudden you have to overlay runway requirements, fuel requirements, [and] airport of entry, and it becomes a bit more of a challenge in international” flight planning.
The information and documents available on the member portion of the website mirror what CST Flight Services coordinators use to provide direct services to pilots, allowing those who want to plan and conduct their international flights on their own to do so.
“You’re able to get all of the forms, you’re able to get all of the procedures so that you don’t run into any surprises once you are already in the country,” Pérez said.
For pilots who don’t want to handle everything on their own, the company also offers services (for members and nonmembers) that range from getting border overflight exemptions and international permits to filing Mexican APIS, ground handling, and guided expeditions.