Sites of Interest in the North Country

Anchorage South Central and Interior Alaska South East Alaska


Flying in Canada

4/15/2005 - Some things to watch out for when flying in Canada...

Whose the Ruler?

The FAA expects you to abide by the FARs even when flying in Canada, UNLESS the Canadian regulations are more restrictive, then follow the Canadian rules. We call our flying rules the Canadian Aviation Regulations, or the CARs, (which suggests they are well grounded.) It is the same for Canadians flying in the USA. We can't take advantage of some of you more lax rules. In a nutshell, if you can't do it at home you shouldn't do it in other countries either, even if the other country's pilots do do it, cause your certifying authority (FAA) sets the rules for your certificates...

Picture the Area Forecasts FAs

Canada's Area Forecasts (FA) are graphic. There is one for each of six regions of the country. We call them GFAs. Each GFA contains six graphic forecasts representing 12 hours divided such that there are three for clouds and weather and three for icing and turbulence for each time frame, current forecast, 6 hours and 12 hours. The US is looking at changing their FA to a graphic product too. I understand it will be improve on Canada's efforts and be a real knock out.

Airport Directory

The official list of Airport facilities in Canada is contained in the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS). Technically the term "airport" in Canada is reserved for "aerodromes" that are certified by the government as meeting appropriate standards. To Canadians they are all airports. The CFS contains much more than just airport info. One thing that I like about it is that it lists all airports in alphabetical order by city name, making it relatively easy to find an airport even if you are not sure in which Province it is located.

(I find the American practice of listing things by State, e.g., airports, interstate exits, you-name-it, extremely inconvenient, even to the point of degrading safety when in flight. That is the biggest failing of the Flight Guide Airport Directories, they expect everyone to know the state for every airport just to find it in the book. And then they divide them up again by big and small. The structure of these guides is insane! Surely pilots in up state NY don't always know if a small town/airport is in Indiana or an adjacent state? Foreign pilots sure as hell don't know which state to check first. Rant over!)

Going in Circuits

Canadians call the "pattern" the "circuit" and we nearly always fly it at 1000 feet above the airport's elevation, unless another altitude is published in the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS).

Canadians don't often join the circuit on a 45 degree cut to the downwind leg. We normally join the downwind leg from the non-circuit, or upwind side, of the runway. (Use the 45 degree entry if parachute activities are in progress unless you want a surprise passenger.) Canadians over fly airports 500 feet above circuit height to check for other traffic and the windsock. Once we have chosen a runway we fly to the non-circuit side, descend to circuit height and cross the runway and join the downwind with a 90 degree turn in the appropriate direction. You can join straight-in on the downwind leg too, but this assumes you already know about all traffic, the active runway and the winds. At towered airports (and those with MFs (see next)) you can join the circuit on base leg or even final.

Mandatory Frequency Areas

Mandatory Frequency (MF) areas are frequent gotchas for visiting US Pilots. At airports where there is insufficient traffic to support a control tower, but a mix of types that could cause occasional problems (IFR/VFR large/small), Canada has established Mandatory Frequency MFs. PILOTS MUST CALL ON THE MANDATORY FREQUENCY before entering the area. Usually there is a FSS located at the field and all communications are directed to the FSS as in, "Good morning Kingston Radio, Colt Foxtrot November Delta Sierra, VFR, four thousand five hundred feet, ten northeast landing..." Treat these airports like they have a control tower, even though the FSS doesn't issue clearances, rather they ask for your intentions. Look for MF on the chart and in the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS).

Aerodrome Traffic Frequency (ATF)

The Common Traffic-Advisory Frequency in the USA equals the Canadian ATF. Generally we use the same UNICOM frequencies as in the US, e.g. 122.8. There is always a radius distance and altitude associated with an ATF, but some are irregular rather than circular.

Flight Plans

Canadians regulations, the CARS, require pilots to file flight plans unless they are staying within 25 nautical miles of their departure airport. They can be filed on the phone with any FSS by dialing 1-866 WXBRIEF (I hate alpha-numeric phone numbers, here is the real number 1-866-992-7433.) Canada's flight plan form is long and potentially confusing, but fortunately pilots all pay the FSS person to know it, they will prompt you on the phone for the correct info. Although you have to file a flight plan, it does not have to be with the FSS, you can file it with a "responsible person", like your wife, BUT the responsible person MUST agree to act on it if you are late arriving and it must contain appropriate information. Whether we like it or not, we are paying the FSS system to monitor our flight plans, why not use them! Do I sound like a government person?

Enroute Frequency

Unless one is getting flight following from ATC the enroute frequency in Canada is 126.7. It is used to blind broadcast location information to area pilots, to get weather, file position reports, etc. In some areas it can be quite busy. It is the equivalent of Flight Watch on 122.0, but the call sign is "So-and-So Radio".


VFR Over-the-top is more restricted in Canada. You must have 5 miles visibility and be 1000 feet vertically from any cloud. If you are between layers they must be separated by 5000 feet. The weather forecast in the TAF for your destination must be scattered or fewer clouds, no TS and no precipitation for one before and two hours after your ETA. If no TAF exists for your destination airport then the area forecast (GFA) must show these conditions to extend for three hours after your ETA. The aircraft needs IFR equipment and the pilot needs to be IFR certified, or to be a commercial pilot or to have a special VFR OTT rating on a private certificate.

Transponder Code by Phone

In the airspace around several major centers in Canada you are required to get a transponder code on the phone before flight. Some locations have a special number to call, e.g. in the Ottawa area we call 866-VFR-CODE. If you file a flight plan you can get your code at that time. This requirement is listed under the PRO heading in the Canada Flight Supplement for the major airport and a cross reference is under each other affected airport in the area. If you don't get the code in advance you might face a delay, but you won't be denied access to the area.

ABCs of the Air

We use the same terminology as the USA for classes of airspace. There are differences but they are not that noticeable, except the Xponder requirements in some Class D airspace in Canada. Get flight following and it's no big deal.

How far can you see?

There are some differences in cloud clearance and visibility for VFR in the various airspace classes in Canada. Unless you are a frequent scud runner they don't mean much. In an emergency they don't matter...

Canadian weather and NOTAMS

Canadian AIM

Airport Diagrams Aerodrome Maneuvering Surfaces (CAMS) near the bottom of the page.

Canadian Flight Plan Form

Questions, comments...don't hesitate to contact me.

Mike (same but different) Shaw
Orleans, Ontario
VP St. Lawrence Seaway Chapter
Short Winger 6643