Our Piper Arrow
Aircraft Radio License: Our 1975 Piper Arrow seems to meet all the requirements for flight into Mexico except for one, the radio station license. Since a radio station license is no longer required for domestic flight, we had let ours lapse years ago. So I filled out a form and sent $105 to the FCC. The only requirement seems to be that the check doesn't bounce, so they sent me a license.
Pilot's Radio License: International flight also requires that the pilot hold a radio license. Since I got my pilot's license long ago when those were required, I already have one. Since I am a part-owner of the airplane, which technically belongs to a private corporation, I need to have written, notarized permission to take the airplane into Mexico. A letter from the corporation president takes care of that.
Liability Insurance: I must have Mexican liability insurance for the aircraft, similar to the requirement for automobiles. Our insurance agent does not provide this insurance and refers me to MacAfee and Edwards. He says he has never heard of a claim being filed against this Mexican insurance, that instead they go for the U.S. policy because they want to be paid in dollars instead of pesos. He says to think of this insurance requirement as a tax on flying in Mexico. My tax for one week is $67.10.
Aeronautical Charts: AOPA directs me to Sporty's Pilot Shop for aeronautical charts. They have no sectional charts (for visual flight rules) of Mexico. They only have a set of Carribean low altitude enroute charts (for intrument flight). The only chart in the set that applies is the Enroute Low Altitude Caribbean and South America L-1/L-2. That chart can be purchased online from NACO for a fraction of the cost of the full set. Strike one for AOPA.
After my flight, I discovered sources for sectional charts. There are two types, ONC and TPC, both are updated only every 10 years so the airport information needs to be supplemented by more current information. These are available online at www.omnimap.com, listed under topographic maps. I purchased 2 ONC charts from Caribbean Sky Tours and 2 TPC charts from Omnimap.
ONC Charts: The ONC charts (Operational Navigation Chart) are huge 1:1,000,000 scale, measuring about 58" x 42", and would seem more at home on a wall than in the cockpit of a small aircraft. Here is a 200 dpi scanned image (2.6MB) from ONC J-25 showing the area encompassing the Huatulco and Oaxaca airports. The ONC map gives magnetic declination, topology, airports, rivers, towns, and highways. It gives runway elevation, but not length. ONC J-25 covers eastern Mexico up to a point between Puerto Angel and Puerto Escondido except for a portion of southern Chiapas. The map I purchased was edition 9, revised January 1997, so it should be about time for the next 10-year revised edition.
ONC J-24 takes over to the west, extending to include the southern tip of Baja California and includes Tampico to the north. The one I purchased from Caribbean Sky Tours was edition 6 dated 1985. There should be 2 10-year revisions since then.
TPC Charts: The TPC charts (Tactical Pilotage Chart) are more detailed at 1:500,000 scale. Each TPC chart covers 1/4 of an ONC chart so the charts share some of the same boundaries. The TPC charts are also quite large, about 57" x 42". I ordered 2 charts, J-24C and J-25D, from Omnimap and received them in about 2 weeks. J-24C includes Puerto Escondido, Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Mexico City, and Jalapa. J-25D includes Huatulco area (but not the airport or the resort), Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Villahermosa. Both maps were compiled with information dated 1987, while I purchased them in 2008. That means that the Huatulco airport was not shown since it had not been built; also the Pochutla airport is shown even though it was closed many years ago.
So apparently the alleged 10-year revision cycle is not as much of a problem as the delivery period.
The charts state that they may be ordered from NOAA. The NOAA web site says nothing about that but notes that they are produced by The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. A search of that web site determines that TPC means "Total Pay Compensation" to them. Oh well.
Approach Plates: I missed having instrument approach plates on my flight into Mexico because it forced me to fly VFR only. I found no readily available source for them. With limited weather information and with airport few and far between, it would be nice to have the ability to land IFR if the visibility was less than hoped for. I did find an address for information in the material I got from AOPA and I will now write to them to see what I can find. Dirección de Navigación Aereo, Blvd. Puerto Aereo 485, Zona Federal Del Aeropuerto Internacional, 15620 Mexico D.F., Mexico. I wrote and received no reply. AOPA used to be the goto place for information on flying in Mexico but what I found was inadequate and out of date.
Following my return, a reader informed me that you can get a Mexico Trip Kit IFR package by Jeppesen that includes approach plates. This is a one-time trip kit that has all the terminal charts, approaches, departures, Low Enroutes and High Enroutes for Mexico. It covers all airports in Mexico. The set is on a 2-week update schedule so it is only fully current for 2 weeks. It may no longer be purchased online from Jeppesen but can be purchased from mypilotstore.com for about $100. I'm ordering a set for trip number two.
The Enroute Low Altitude chart lacks surface details
Weather: Weather information is a big problem. Mexico lacks the aviation weather service that the pilots in the United States are accustomed to. You are on your own in obtaining weather information. Some possible sources are CNN, online radar and satellite sources, the NWS, and calling up someone at your destination and asking them to have a look outside.
Fuel: Fuel is sold only at towered airports and is expensive. The cost of airport use is incorporated in the cost of fuel. The AOPA says that fuel must be paid for in cash in pesos (but I discovered that it varies at different airports).
Route of Flight
The next leg of the flight will cross the Sierra Madre del Sur. Flying over mountains is almost always better in the morning. To insure that the flight is a pleasant tour of the beautiful landscape rather than a white-knuckle never-again experience, we will overnight in Veracruz. The Veracruz to Huatulco flight is only an hour and 25 minutes.
I have the route marked on three maps below. The first is the Enroute Low Altitude chart which has the routes for IFR (instrument flight rules) flight along established airways. Since maps for visual flight in Mexico are not available to me, I have created my own for the Veracruz to Huatulco leg of the flight. These maps are created with information from maps.google.com by stitching together screenshots (made easier by a 3200x1200-pixel dual monitor setup) and applying a translucent centerline in Paint Shop Pro. The second map below shows the highways and towns along the route and the third map shows the satellite view.
Next is Georgetown to Matamoros