August 27, 2009
Author: Steve Schwab
I started flying into Rocky Point Mexico starting in 2005. I remember wondering if I was going to lose my license the first time I flew for fear of not following procedure properly and getting shut down. Thankfully, it wasn’t very hard and I have now been flying in and out of Mexico ever since. Recently there have been some modifications to the
procedures of crossing the border and I decided it was time to put together something for other pilots coming into Rocky Point, or just into Mexico in general for that fact.
Flying to Mexico:
As of May of 2009 you now have to register with the government’s EAPIS program from Homeland Security. This isn’t nearly as intimidating as it sounds. If you go to the website www.eapis.info it will redirect you to the government site. This is a much easier domain to remember than https://eapis.cbp.dhs.gov so I always refer to the first one. However either will work. Next you will want to register. Getting the password can be a challenge since you have to have a number and special character in your password. It took me a few tries to get it right but once I had it, I was good. Make sure to write this down and keep it with your flight gear. There is nothing worse than being in Mexico and not being able to remember your password to get home. You will get an email that will confirm your account. Once you have this email you have been approved and your ready to log in and build your first manifest to MEXICO!!! Remember this can take up to 24 hours to get your account so make sure to register in advance of your first planned flight.
Once you have an account you will set up flight crew and passengers. If you have people who fly with you often you can save them in your account for future manifests. This is a great timesaver and I highly recommend saving anyone who might fly into Mexico with yo u again in the future. You will enter all your data about your flight, airplane, passport numbers, time of flight, destination etc. If you don’t have a customs sticker for plane you can get one at the Customs website or find the link on www.eapis.info . The EAPIS system will ask you for the number. If you don’t have one then skip this field. It will give you a warning that you didn’t put it in. However your printed receipt will provide evidence you have it or you can actually wait and get the forms for the sticker when you land on your way home. You will receive an email receipt of your manifest and this means you have been approved (even though it doesn’t say approved anywhere on it).
There are a few things you will need to have once you land in Mexico: A copy of your pilot’s license, registration of your airplane, Airworthiness certificate, and of proof Mexican Insurance. Check with your insurance company or you can pick up a supplemental Mexican liability insurance policy from Baja Bush Pilots. They are reasonable and the girls there are always nice.
So now you are ready to fly to Rocky Point (or anywhere in Mexico) and stay at a Beach front home or condo with Sea Side Reservations, yes that is a shameless plug for my company! So you will want to call in a flight plan just like normal. The airport identifier for Rocky Point is MMPE on my garmin it comes up as “punta penasco” If you are not flying with a GPS the VOR 112.10 the airport is NOT set up for IFR approaches and closes at 5:00pm every night so make sure to land early and divert if there is weather. I have never seen it IFR here but the winds can be a factor.
It is important to note that if you are coming from the Phoenix area that you must divert a bit to the east on your route to Rocky Point to avoid restricted areas R2304 and R2305. You can ask if these are Active or Inactive while filing your flight plan. If they are “Hot” make sure to stay out of these areas as they are bombing ranges and I have seen A-10 warthogs and f-14’s laying down some serious firepower. Also it is important to remember that even as your are staying out of the restricted areas you will be flying through a MOA (military operations area). It is perfectly fine to fly through this however be on the look -out for those war birds going to or coming from the bombing range from Tucson.
When you cross the border going south your flight plan automatically closes so there is no need to close your flight plan. However as a courtesy I always try to get a hold of flight service on 126.65 or 122.4when I am crossing on my way from Phoenix to let them know. If I have flight following I will squawk VFR 1200 after crossing and keep on my way. If you are at around 8500 and you have a clear day you can see the water from the border. You will also want to start your decent.
So now you have avoided being shot by the warthogs, made it past the border and you are descending into Rocky Point. You see the water out to your front, Red Peak from the Pinacate Bioreserve to your right and it is time get set up to land. You will need to contact Puerto Penasco Traffic on 122.8 Puerto Penasco is a controlled (sometimes) airport. This means you keep trying to raise someone on the radio at the airport but you can still talk other airplanes directly to coordinate on your own and if you can’t get the airport on the radio go ahead and still land. Think of it as a CTAF (common traffic advisory frequency) but with someone who officially is in charge of it.
If you decide you want to buzz sandy beach to see all the pretty condos be on the look-out for the ultra-lights. They don’t have radios and aren’t looking out very well for airplanes. They also fly crazy patterns. I always ask the airport if they know of any traffic in the area. I make sure to announce my position and direction coming down the beach and watch REALLY close for the ultra-lights.
You can land on runways 11 or 24 depending on the winds. There is also a dirt runway if you feel you need to use them for strong crosswinds to the primary runway. I would do a fly over the dirt runway before trying it just to make sure of its condition. My first solo landing was in Mexico on a seashell runway with a strong crosswind and a dog greeting me halfway down the strip. Panic set in, sweat began to bead and luckily for me and the dog we didn’t ever officially meet.
Once you land and find a parking spot you will want to get out and tie your airplane down but you will probably notice something missing. Where are the chains? In Mexico you are expected to bring your own tie downs. I carry a set of ratchet straps that are at least 15ft in length. They are lighter than chains and plenty strong enough.
Checking in is easy. Make sure to have your passports. You will need an FMT that can be taken care of at customs. There is also a single-entry or multi-entry permit that you will have to get once you land. The multi-entry is a MUCH better deal and will last for the rest of the calendar year. You can buy for the next year starting around October or November depending when they release them. Cost to land is 5 dollars and parking is 5 dollars a day. The people at the airport are always very friendly and helpful. Portage will come out to help you with your bags. Tips are appreciated as they don’t make much money.
Flying out of Mexico:
OK ,So now you have had an amazing time staying with Seaside Reservations at a luxury Beachfront Condo, Home or Resort (I TOLD YOU SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION, RIGHT?) and your ready to go home. First thing to do to is to log back into EAPIS and file your manifest. Remember to call a flight plan in at least 1 hour before landing. IMPORTANT NOTE you cannot call U.S. toll free numbers from Mexico so you should call this number (xxx) xxx-xxxx to file your return flight.
Once you take off you MUST contact flight service before crossing the border to pick up a squawk code. VERY VERY VERY IMPORTANT. You can reach Prescott Radio on 122.2 Phoenix Repeater, 122.65 Gila Bend Receiver, 122.4 Tucson Receiver. It sometimes takes climbing to 7,500 feet to reach fight services when flying out of Rocky Point and sometimes I may only be 10 or 15 miles from the border.
You have several options to land to clear customs in the U.S. The three closest are Yuma, Tucson, or Nogales Arizona. Each has its advantages.
Yuma (KYUM) during the monsoon season is usually a much better route for weather however there are a crazy amount of runways and lining up can get a little confusing. Make sure to double check your heading when lining up. They will also have you do low approaches. Usually, they have you come in at 1500ft before entering their class D airspace. Yuma is only 90 miles from Rocky Point when flying direct. If you can’t reach flight service before you get to the border you can get your squawk code to cross directly from the Tower however make sure you do before you cross the border.
Tucson (KTUS) has Customs actually stationed at the airport so clearing can be much faster as sometimes the agents will arrive late when flying into the other airports. It’s disadvantage is monsoon are common in this area during the late summer and Kit Peak can become obstructed by clouds and difficult to pass with VFR. Make sure if you are crossing them and having obstructions to be above 9000 ft at least. This won’t give you much time to descend at that altitude but if you can’t see the mountains this will keep you safe. Also make sure you are landing Tucson not Davis Mothen Military base just next door to Tucson. Sounds crazy but it has happened before. Also remember this is a class C airport so calling in and getting a squawk before you hit the class C vial is important.
Nogales Arizona (KOLS)
This is a small quaint airport one runway and may be better suited for pilots who are not comfortable flying into larger airports. The people are always nice. It is surrounded by mountains and is a fun place to land. The landing strip in actually on and incline or decline depending on which way your landing. It is uncontrolled and the CTAF is 122.8 Fuel is cheap and there is no landing fees. It is a good option to divert to if Tucson weather is taking a cloud burst. It is also easier to fly south a bit to clear the Kit Peak Range as they are not as high down by this airport if you have mountain top obstruction and high clouds
Once you have been released from Customs you international flight is over. It is time to fly off to your home base and plan for your next trip to Rocky Point or anywhere else in Mexico.