Aircraft flying into, out of, or through U.S. airspace will need to comply with several requirements. Most of these requirements pertain to national security and apply to U.S. and foreign registered aircraft alike. Particular attention must be paid to the electronic advance passenger manifest information procedures (APIS) required by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

National Security

U.S. airspace is subject to rules set by the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Defense (DOD).

FARs are rules prescribed by the Federal Aviation Administration governing all civil aviation activities in the U.S. They are part of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). 14 CFR Part 99 prescribes rules for security control of air traffic.

CBP and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), agencies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), work together to strengthen general aviation security for international flights. CBP has enacted APIS procedures for private aircraft to send advance notice of their intended arrival or departure into or out of the U.S., and submit manifests of persons on board.

DOD has worked with FAA, CBP, and TSA to strengthen aviation security at U.S. military installations nationwide. There are several types of special use airspace that must be avoided when flying in the U.S. Refer to FAA's Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM, Section 3-4-1) for detailed information.

Advance Passenger Information System (APIS)

The Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS) is a Web-based interface designed by CBP, for international travel into and out of the U.S. See the CBP Private Air APIS Guide (CTT) for additional information.

The main objective of this program is to obtain a passenger and crew manifest for every aircraft entering or departing the U.S. Pilots, or their assigned agents, must enroll online before filing an international flight plan. They will receive a password and sender I.D. An activation key also will be sent for first-time APIS login.

Flights arriving from or flying to a destination outside the U.S. must electronically transmit the following information to the CBP:

  • Traveler manifest information for each person on board
  • Notice of arrival information
  • Notice of departure information

The information must be received by the CBP no less than 60 minutes prior to takeoff for flights departing from or arriving in the U.S.

Flyers may submit departure as well as subsequent arrival information with APIS before leaving the U.S. Having filed both flights, if there is a delay, it is possible to amend the flight plan with Customs or Flight Service by phone, or if in flight, by radio. If there is a change of date, a new manifest must be filed.

APIS will take the place of Customs Form 708; however, revenue flights are required to fill out Form 7507 (General Declaration). Each person on an inbound flight will have to submit Form 6059B (individual declaration card).

The U.S. CBP Guide for Private Flyers (PDF) is available online. It contains information on current CBP policies, regulations, and requirements as well as links to pertinent information for the international pilot.

Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)

All aircraft entering U.S. domestic airspace from points outside must provide for identification prior to entry or exit. ADIZs have been established to assist in early identification of aircraft in the vicinity of international U.S. airspace boundaries (AIM Section 6, 5-6-1).

Many aircraft inbound to the U.S. will cross an ADIZ. There is no ADIZ between the U.S. and Canada. According to FAR Part 99, if penetrating an ADIZ, all aircraft of U.S. or foreign registry must file, activate, and close a flight plan with the appropriate aeronautical facility. In addition to normal ADIZ position reports, and any other reports Air Traffic Control may require, a foreign civil aircraft must give a position report at least one hour before ADIZ penetration, if it is not more than two hours average cruising speed from the U.S.

For Defense VFR (DVFR) flights, the estimated time of ADIZ penetration must be filed with the appropriate aeronautical facility at least 15 minutes before penetration, except for flights in the Alaskan ADIZ, in which case, report prior to penetration. Additionally, VFR pilots must receive and transmit a discrete transponder code.

Be sure to activate your flight plan before crossing the ADIZ.

ICAO VFR flight plans must include in the transmitted line 18 "other information" section: DVFR/estimated United States ADIZ penetration at time (UTC) and estimated point of penetration (latitude/longitude or fix-radial-distance).

Interception Procedures

In an era of increased national security threats, it is important to be aware of the possibility of being intercepted by military aircraft, particularly if entering U.S. airspace from abroad. Pilots should be familiar with intercept procedures (HTML), and be prepared to readily comply. Be advised that non-compliance may result in the use of force (AIM, Section 6, 5-6-2). Current Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) should be checked for any updated intercept procedures.

All aircraft operating in U.S. airspace, if capable, will maintain a listening watch on VHF 121.5 or UHF 243.0 guard frequencies.

Emergency Security Control of Aircraft (ESCAT)

ESCAT is a national plan for the security control of civil and military air traffic in U.S. airspace during air defense emergencies. The plan defines responsibilities, procedures, and instructions for government agencies and personnel in order to provide effective use of airspace under various emergency conditions.

ESCAT would allow regional airspace to remain open, enabling the rerouting of air traffic, rather than a complete shutdown of the National Airspace System (NAS). ESCAT replaces the former Security Control of Air Traffic and Navigation Aids (SCATANA) plan.

Airport of Entry

All civil, private aircraft entering the U.S. must first land at an airport of entry before continuing to their destinations, unless other arrangements are made with U.S. CBP. Advance notification must be provided electronically to CBP by means of the eAPIS. See the APIS section for more information.

Customs will expect aircraft to land at the arrival time entered on their flight plan. Arriving up to 10 minutes late is acceptable. Passengers and crew should remain with the aircraft until a Customs official arrives and be prepared to show valid documents for persons and aircraft.

Some aircraft arriving from foreign locations south of the United States must land for Customs processing at the nearest airport to the border or coastline crossing point, unless an overflight exemption has been granted (CFR Title 19, 122.24).

International NOTAMs

FAA issues Flight Data Center (FDC) General 28-day NOTAMs affecting foreign aircraft that fly to, from, or transit U.S. airspace. For the most current information, check with Flight Service (1-800-WX-BRIEF). FAA also publishes U.S. Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices information.

Restricted Airspace

Pilots should be aware of all restricted airspace depicted on charts and current Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR). To obtain current TFRs, call Flight Service at 1-800-WX-BRIEF, and check FAA's TFR Web site.

Pilots should use caution when flying near the Washington, D.C. Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA). There is a speed limit within 60 nautical miles of the DCA VOR, and it is mandatory for pilots to take an FAA online course if flying in this airspace.

Clearance, Overflight, and Landing of U.S. and Foreign State Aircraft

U.S. and foreign State aircraft are exempt from overflight fees. Read the U.S. Diplomatic Clearance and Landing Authorization Procedures Guide for information about how to request a diplomatic clearance to overfly or land in the U.S. Register and apply at least 72 working hours in advance via the Diplomatic Clearance Application System (DCAS).

Special Flight Authorization and Waiver

FAA and TSA jointly manage the process of issuing waivers to aircraft that wish to fly in U.S. restricted airspace or that do not meet the requirements of an airspace NOTAM.

International waivers authorize aircraft operators to fly to, from, and over U.S. airspace and that of its territorial possessions. Two other TSA waivers, the No Transponder Waiver and the No Radio Waiver, authorize VFR operations to, from, and within U.S. airspace for U.S., Canadian, and Mexican registered aircraft.

Foreign aircraft may fly in the U.S. if they have an airworthiness certificate equivalent to a U.S. standard airworthiness certificate. Otherwise, they require a Special Flight Authorization (SFA) as described in Title 14 CFR 91.715. This may be obtained by applying to FAA. A streamlined SFA for Canadian ultralight or amateur-built aircraft is available to download from FAA's Web site.

Overflight Fees

FAA charges overflight fees to certain U.S. and foreign civil aircraft that fly in U.S.-controlled airspace but do not depart or land in the U.S. Charges vary if in oceanic or en route airspace and may be remitted using the Pay.gov 31 form.

Flight Plans

Normally, when filing a flight plan within the U.S., a domestic flight plan (PDF) format is used; however, a flight plan also may be filed using the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) format (HTM). The ICAO format is quite different from the U.S. domestic one, so it is advisable to refer to instructions on how to fill out the form correctly, and review frequently asked questions and FAA's guidance for flight planning. Both forms can be downloaded from FAA's Web site.

VFR Transponder Code

The normal VFR transponder code in the U.S. is 1200, except in the Washington, D.C. SFRA, TFR, or ADIZ, where an assigned, discrete code is required. See AIM, Chapter 4-1-20.g, for transponder operation under VFR.

12" Registration Numbers

ICAO rules stipulate that aircraft registration marks must be at least 30 cm (11.8 inches) tall on fuselage and vertical tail sections, with some exceptions (ICAO Annex 7, section 4.2.2).

12" registration numbers also are required by the U.S. to penetrate and transit the ADIZ. These can be permanent or temporary. They may be added temporarily to an aircraft with decals or adhesive tape.

Documents

Foreign visitors and non-immigrants are required to present a valid passport and visa, or other approved documents, depending on their status.