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Chapter 2: Navigating the regulatory landscape of Mexico



Flying into Mexico is a thrilling venture, but it's essential to navigate the regulatory landscape with precision. Mexico welcomes general aviation pilots from around the world, but adherence to specific regulations and entry requirements is paramount. The Mexican Civil Aviation Authority (AFAC) governs aviation regulations. To ensure a smooth entry, pilots must have their aircraft's airworthiness certificate, registration, pilot licenses, and a valid passport. A Mexican liability insurance policy is also mandatory. It's advisable to verify current requirements before your flight, as they may evolve.

Navigating Mexican airspace is a journey in itself. The country is divided into various flight information regions (FIRs), each with its own air traffic control. Mexico operates under the ICAO flight plan system, making flight planning straightforward. Keep in mind that some areas, especially around military installations, require specific clearances or flight restrictions, so staying informed through NOTAMs and official sources is crucial.



Mexican airports are well-equipped to cater to general aviation. Most major airports have customs and immigration facilities, but some smaller airstrips may require advance notice for clearance services. It's advisable to contact the airport authorities in advance to confirm availability and arrange services as needed. Additionally, Mexico boasts a growing number of private aviation terminals that provide excellent facilities and services for general aviation pilots.

Mexico's diverse geography means weather conditions can vary greatly. Coastal regions enjoy tropical climates, while mountainous areas can experience rapidly changing weather. It's important to check weather forecasts and updates before and during your flights.

Safety is paramount, especially when flying in unfamiliar terrain. Mexico's rugged landscapes, including mountain ranges and remote areas, require prudent planning. Pilots should maintain situational awareness, adhere to recommended altitudes, and ensure they have proper emergency equipment on board. Familiarize yourself with local search and rescue procedures and contact information. The Mexican Air Force (FAM) often coordinates search and rescue efforts.



While English is widely spoken in aviation circles, it's beneficial to have a basic understanding of Spanish for effective communication with local authorities and airport personnel. ATC services are generally available in English at major airports, but some remote airports may primarily use Spanish. Radio communication proficiency is essential, as language proficiency ensures safety.

Mexico's airports offer a range of fuel services, including AVGAS and Jet-A. Fuel availability is generally reliable at major airports, but it's prudent to check fuel availability at smaller airports, especially in remote regions. Maintenance services are available at major airports and aviation centers, ensuring that your aircraft is well cared for during your adventures.

Numerous resources are available to assist pilots with flight planning and navigation. Mexican aviation authorities provide up-to-date charts, maps, and navigation aids, making flight planning efficient. GPS navigation is widely used, and electronic flight bag (EFB) applications are valuable tools for navigation, weather information, and airspace awareness.

Clearing customs and immigration is a straightforward process at major airports with designated facilities. Pilots must complete the necessary paperwork, including the General Declaration and flight plan. Ensure that you have your passport, pilot licenses, and aircraft documentation readily available for inspection. Mexican customs officials are generally accommodating, and adherence to proper procedures expedites the process. Mexico's diverse regions offer unique experiences. Cultural considerations are essential when visiting indigenous communities. Pilots flying in mountainous areas should be aware of the topography and effects on aircraft performance. Understanding the cultural nuances and geographical challenges enriches your flying experiences in Mexico.

Before embarking on a flight to Mexico, there are critical considerations that every pilot should be well-versed in to ensure a smooth journey. We will delve into various crucial aspects that a pilot needs to know before entering Mexico, including permits, customs procedures, immigration requirements, pilot documentation, ramp checks, SENEAM airspace fees, and overtime regulations, as well as safety precautions.

1. Entry Permits When entering Mexico in a private aircraft, it is imperative to obtain an Entry Permit for the aircraft. There are two main types of Entry Permits to be aware of:

· Single Entry Permit (SEP): This permit is valid for 180 days or until the aircraft departs the country, whichever occurs first.

 

· Multiple Entry Permit (MEP): MEPs are valid for the entire calendar year, allowing the aircraft to enter Mexico multiple times without the need for a new permit. However, the aircraft must not remain continuously in Mexico for more than 180 days at a time.


MEP Specifications: It is important to note that an MEP specifies the crew that initially brought the aircraft into the country when the permit was issued. Using the aircraft with a different crew can invalidate the MEP.






Required Documentation: Neither a Single Entry Permit nor a Multiple Entry Permit is valid unless accompanied by the original receipt for payment of that permit. Pilots with a Mexican MEP planning to enter Mexico towards the end of the calendar year or for New Year's should obtain a SEP when entering since the MEP expires on December 31st. This precaution is essential in case of AOG incidents or last-minute decisions to stay in Mexico for the New Year.




2. Customs Regulations Under Mexican Customs law, only a pilot who can prove ownership of the aircraft they are flying is allowed to bring items into Mexico beyond basic clothing and personal effects. Sporting equipment, electronic devices other than a laptop or iPad, and similar items are not permitted and may be subject to taxation or confiscation. While the law permits owner-pilots to have passenger privileges in this regard, many customs agents may be unaware of this allowance and may deny them this privilege. If Mexican Customs agents lack access to a functioning x-ray machine for scanning bags upon arrival or departure, they may conduct manual inspections of all bags belonging to crew and passengers. This could lead to personal contents becoming public knowledge to those present in the customs arrival area.

3. Immigration Procedures Mexican Immigration officers are typically courteous and professional. However, sometimes they incorrectly apply Article 14A of the Mexican Tax code, which assesses an approximately $100 USD fee on GA aircraft if they arrive outside of "normal" operating hours, on weekends, or holidays. The Mexican Tax code explicitly states that this fee should not apply to private flights, yet immigration officers at certain airports may apply it regardless of the flight type or hours of operation. Another consideration in Mexican Immigration law is that pilots do not pay certain immigration taxes unless they stay in the country for more than one week. This may catch pilots by surprise when immigration officers charge them an additional fee. This is not a fine but rather the same charge that passengers must pay.

4. Pilot Documentation At some airports, AFAC officials may require that the pilot's Medical Certificate Class matches their Airman Certificate, rather than the privileges being exercised. For instance, a pilot with an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate may be required to hold a 1st Class Medical Certificate even when flying their personal Cessna 182. Explaining how a 1st Class Medical Certificate can be reduced to a 2nd Class and then a 3rd Class per 14 CFR 61.23 can be quite a task.

5. Ramp Checks Ramp checks have historically been a concern in Mexico and continue to be so. Pilots should always be prepared to present valid aircraft and crew documents along with the appropriate Entry Permit. Insurance policies for private aircraft, issued in their country of registration, are valid in Mexico if they include Mexico in the territory coverage and have a minimum liability insurance of at least $300,000 USD.






However, for charter aircraft, the situation is different. Operators of aircraft u

sed for both private and charter purposes must be cautious. If an aircraft is flown privately into Mexico and presents an insurance policy (either non-Mexican or Mexican) indicating it is for COMMERCIAL purposes, the entire operation may be considered commercial. In such cases, additional proof that the operation is indeed private may be required. Failure to have the appropriate permits for charter operations in Mexico can result in detention or fines.

While not mandatory by regulation, it is highly recommended that if the aircraft is not registered in the name of the pilot or one of the passengers, a notarized letter should be prepared. This letter should identify the legal owner of the aircraft and state that the owner authorizes the crew to operate the aircraft and the passengers to be aboard for an international flight to Mexico. The letter should also clarify that the flight is a private, non-commercial one. Such a letter can help avoid the $100 fee mentioned earlier, which is erroneously charged by Mexican Immigration, by proving the flight's private nature.

6. SENEAM Airspace Fees The calculation and payment of Mexican airspace fees can be complex and frustrating. Generally, if you fly through the Mexican FIR, even due to a vector by US ATC at the border, and neither land nor depart from a Mexican airport on that flight, you owe Mexico airspace fees. If you depart or arrive outside an airport's normal operating hours, you may incur SENEAM overtime fees, which cannot be paid at the airport. Additionally, if you request an extension to an airport's normal operating hours for an early or late operation, SENEAM overtime fees cannot be paid along with the airport fees. These fees are processed separately through a Mexican bank.

7. Overtime and Safety Considerations While aircraft theft has not been a prevalent issue in Mexico for many years, personal safety has garnered increased attention, especially since the kidnapping of four US citizens in the border towns. To prevent becoming a victim, it's crucial to avoid drawing attention to yourself by wearing expensive clothing, jewelry, or displaying signs of wealth. Avoid straying from well-trodden paths, refrain from interacting with strangers, and be cautious about using the same taxi driver unless their identity is known. Border towns should also be approached with caution.

Regarding ground transportation services, conflicts between taxi drivers and Uber drivers in places like Cancun have led to violent encounters. Until authorities address this issue, travelers should exercise care when choosing transportation services. For added safety, pilots are advised to fuel upon arrival in a foreign country and carry sufficient fuel to reach the US border or another known safe haven in case of emergencies. It is recommended to have two satellite-based communication devices, one for the crew and one for passengers. While satellite phones are ideal, more cost-effective devices like the Garmin InReach provide satellite connectivity via text messaging. Depending solely on cellphone or landline technology can leave you vulnerable to disconnection from the rest of the world during natural or man-made disasters.

As you embark on your Mexican aviation adventures, a blend of regulatory knowledge, safety consciousness, and an adventurous spirit will make every flight a remarkable journey. Mexico's skies await your exploration, and in the chapters ahead, we'll guide you through the diverse regions, offering insights and recommendations to make your general aviation experiences in Mexico truly unforgettable.

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