Gear Up: Canadian Caper

** As the sun reappeared, we set out for
Bangor, Maine, from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
This was a good thing because the day
before was close to zero/zero.**

"Hello, bonjour. This Is CANPASS.”

It was the day before I intended to fly four of us to ­Halifax, Nova Scotia, from New England. The phone call to the Canadian Passenger Accelerated Service System (888-CANPASS or 888-226-7277 for those of us with telephone keypad dyslexia) provided a stark contrast to my just-completed wrestling match with eAPIS, our Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Electronic Advance Passenger Information System.

The CANPASS man, based in Hamilton, Ontario, had a succinct list of questions, and he took the information over the phone. He wanted to know:

1. The estimated time of arrival.
2. The aircraft tail number.
3. The full name, date of birth and citizenship of all persons on board.
4. Passport and visa information for passengers and crew.
5. The destination, purpose of the trip and length of stay.
6. The landing point (must be designated airport of entry or ­CANPASS-only airport).
7. Declaration of goods being imported and any monetary instruments equal to or greater than $10,000 in Canadian dollars, which, sadly, we didn't have.

When I didn’t know the specific FBO in Halifax, he said I should call back. The whole interaction took about five minutes.

On the other hand, my go at eAPIS took about 40 minutes. I had used the system for a trip to the Bahamas in our Cheyenne about four months prior, and I had carefully kept and protected my sender ID and password on a 3-by-5-inch index card that I had stored in a safe place. With this tattered talisman in hand, I fired up the website and suffered a series of rejections for invalid numbers, letters and exclamation points. Finally, I re-enrolled, waited for the new codes to be sent to my e-mail and then activated the whole shebang with an activation key, which was, of course, case sensitive. This allowed me to enter the names, dates of birth, passport numbers, home addresses and flight information, including the border crossing time and position estimate. Whew.

When I went to file a return report in advance, I couldn’t figure out how to use the manifest I had just loaded and thus had to re-enter all the information for the trip back. I am sure many pilots know how to do this, but I am not among them. Once the return was entered on eAPIS, I called the CANPASS man back to tell him we were headed to the Gateway FBO at Halifax Stanfield International Airport. “Oh, yes,” he said, “you are the one with the two alcohol declarations.” Yes, it was true. I had declared that we were bringing a fifth of gin and an almost empty bottle of vermouth and four martini glasses for our private amusement once we had checked into the bed-and-breakfast in Chester, Nova Scotia.

With the paperwork done, we were set. made it all easy; not only did the site provide its customary highly accurate time and fuel estimates, but it also served up the Halifax weather and forecasts. The downloaded Canadian coverage for the ­Avidyne Jeppesen charts and the ­Garmin 430's GPSs came close to $400 for one 28-day cycle. This seemed reasonable to me.

Though flight-planned for direct Bangor, Maine (BGR) and then direct to Halifax, we were sent instead to Neets intersection so as to miss the MOA Yankee One. This added two minutes to the trip, according to the Avidyne EX500. Comfortably on top at Flight Level 230, I drank coffee and showed off the Garmin G600 and Avidyne to my friend Rob, who joined me in the right seat.

Rob and I were interns in surgery together 42 years ago. He and his wife, Ellyn, have been friends ever since. Though we lived in the same city for only one year, we’ve been close over distances in part because Rob and Ellyn are interesting, adventuresome and dear, sweet people. Rob became a very successful neurosurgeon in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This didn’t hurt our relationship because Santa Fe is a great place to visit. This wasn’t our first joint caper — or our last.

While my wife, Cathy, and Ellyn read in the back, Rob and I watched as Maine was left behind and we vaulted over the Bay of Fundy. This had particular resonance for me. I had remembered much about the tides in the Bay of Fundy, thanks to my father. Many years ago Dad had eyed his two young sons, 10 and 12 years old, and concluded they needed to be occupied during summer vacation. He assigned us “reports” to be based on the new encyclopedia he had been bamboozled into buying from a door-to-door salesman. My report was on the tides in the Bay of Fundy. This trip we were making was less than two weeks after my father died at home at age 92. I suppose there will be many more evocative events to come.

All this was on my mind as we were sent over to Moncton, New Brunswick, by Boston Center. The soft tones and formal “58Whiskey is identified at 230” with a hint of Canadian accent made clear we were leaving the United States. We were soon on the left downwind for Runway 5, which appeared as a gash of pavement in a forest of conifers.

The Gateway FBO is way down Taxiway Alpha, which turns into Taxiway Juliet, which segues into Taxiway Kilo, which pretty much completes the 180-degree turn back to heading of 050, out of sight from the tower. After shutdown, we were met by Sarah Stewart, who was sporting a winning smile and a helpful countenance. We lowered the airstair and waited while I called CANPASS.

“OK,” said the man, “you are free to deplane.” And so we did.

Nova Scotia is wonderful. The topography is beautiful, and the people are distinguished by their seemingly unfailing pleasantness. Suffice it to say we had a terrific time during our three days there. It was a good length of stay because day two was characterized by ceilings of 100 feet, reduced visibilities and fog. Our departure day featured rapidly clearing weather. While waiting for Rob to turn in the rental car, I thought about Halifax Airport 11 years ago.

The seventh busiest airport in Canada, it was host to 45 ­trans-Atlantic airliners on Sept. 11, 2001. The first airplane, a United 767, landed at 11:45 a.m. Atlantic Daylight Time. Runway 15/33 (now 14/32) was closed to make a parking lot for these huge airplanes. The first ­passengers deplaned at 3:30 p.m., the last at 4 a.m. Seven thousand plus ­passengers were welcomed into high schools, sports arenas and other sites. The first diverted airplane to depart left at 3:40 a.m. on Sept. 13. The last had to wait until 11:29 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15.

Our departure was simple. I called Bangor customs at a Google-provided phone number and Officer Spencer answered on the first ring. He had our eAPIS in hand and sounded welcoming. He instructed me to taxi up to gate No. 4 upon arrival. I was starting to feel like an international captain.

The gas price at Gateway was a thing of beauty, and the fresh coffee was just as tasty. We taxied to Runway 14, and I thought of what a lineup of 40-plus airliners must have looked like. Our taxiway position was well depicted on the Avidyne but not on the Garmin G600 — it was nice to have the redundancy. Number three for takeoff, we waited for an Air Canada jet to depart, noting carefully where he broke ground. Next a regional turboprop was off, and then we waited for a graceful silver ­Pilatus to land with its impressive array of landing lights on immodest display.

Cleared quickly to Flight Level 200 and on a heading slightly south of course, we could see Cape Spit, where we had been two days before. I couldn’t make out Halls Harbour, where we had enjoyed fresh lobster while the tide went out at an inch a minute. The up-to-52-foot tide there is a function of the funnel effect of the Bay of Fundy. Tides on the south coast of Nova Scotia are a more sedate three to four feet. Thanks, Dad.

In less than an hour we were on final for 33 at Bangor. Ground control instructed me to taxi along the blast fence and then behind the World Airways MD-11 that was making a slightly more impressive customs stop with an airplane full of returning American soldiers. We were greeted by customs Officer Brodsky and a representative of the FBO. Both were kind and pleasant, though Officer ­Brodsky did inquire as to why my passport photo featured me in a dorky bow tie. Unfortunately, some wildflower seeds Cathy had bought in Nova Scotia were not allowed, but that was it. After a chaperoned trip to the bathrooms, we were off to KLEB, less than 20 minutes after landing. Once in the system, I had to admit that eAPIS worked beautifully. It is always good to be back in the USA.

Dick Karl
Dick KarlAuthor
Dick Karl is a cancer surgeon who appreciates the beauty and science involved in both surgery and flying. Dick’s monthly Gear Up celebrates the human side of flying. He writes about his enthusiasm for both the machines and the people who fly and maintain them.

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