Saturday, October 6, 2012

AOPA Summit Journey (Part 1)

My trek to AOPA is now well underway!

The first leg of this trip was quite memorable. Since I was flying direct over the Gulf,  I squeezed as much fuel as I could into the tanks (92 gals). Other than the eAPIS filing, the departure was just like any routine IFR trip anywhere in the US.

However, things started getting interesting as I was enroute.  When I was ~ 200 miles off the coast of FL, Miami center told me that I would "probably lose radio and/or radar contact" soon and gave me lost comm instructions for Houston Center and Merida Center.  Not exactly what I wanted to hear over open water!  

For about almost an hour, I did lose radio and radar contact with everyone and the only thing I saw was blue sky, blue water and a couple of stray cargo ships. 

When I reached my reporting point, I still couldn't reach anyone @ ATC.  However, I was able to reach a United pilot (flight UA792), who was in the same vicinity and about 20K FT above me.  The friendly United pilot relayed a message for me to ATC and I felt like I was back in civilization!

This was also around my point of no return.  I had figured out the point at which I would need to make a hard decision about whether I would make it to Mexico or need to turn around and go back to Florida due to fuel concerns.  I think every pilot thinks about this (or should think about this) when flying over open water. 

Luckily the weather was good, the headwinds were tame and the R9 was projecting more than enough fuel.  So now I was committed to landing on the Yucatan peninsula!

The arrival was a simple visual approach that was quite scenic and may make a good YouTube video soon. 

After landing, the beuracratic fun began.  I parked right next to a beautiful Phenom 100 and was greeted by an FBO Marshall, named Juan Manuel. 

He was very friendly and helpful.  However about 20 feet behind Juan Manuel, were 2 very serious Mexican military officers, who seemed to take pride on how thoroughly they searched my plane ;-)  Here is one of them scrutinizing my passport with the Phenom in the background:

They didn't smile once during the entire process! But it was no problem... With my really bad Spanish, and a little translation help from Juan Manuel, I managed to escape the plane inspection in ~ 10 mins.

With passport and bags in hand, I walked about 200 FT to the customs building, where I found the traffic light that Guillaume had mentioned in the briefing pack. You can see the airport staff showing me below:

I crossed my fingers as I pressed the magic button below the traffic light.

Apparently, it is a random light that shows red or green when you press the button.  If it is green, they do NOT check your bags.  But if it is red, they do a thorough search of ALL of your bags.

As luck would have it, it was red for me:-( As a result, they opened and thoroughly inspected my backpack, my roll bag and my camera bag.  They were quite friendly and efficient and the whole search took less than 5 minutes. 

Now I was getting excited... Almost done... Or so I thought...

Apparently, I had to meet the commandante,who is sort of the head honcho in charge.  He had to sign off on all the inspections done so far and "recheck" my airplane paperwork.  I waited for ~ 15 mins in total comfort in the FBO lobby, which was quite comparable to the US FBO lounges that Banyan/Signature/ or TAC Air would have. 

Eventually, the commandante arrived and informed me that my paperwork "appears to be in order" and told me to sign the 4 copies of my Mexican entry permit. 

Actually, all the paperwork was in Spanish... So who knows what I signed ;-)

Overall, it was rather quick and painless and now this makes country #6 that I have personally landed in! 

Time to take a break from flying and go see some Mayan ruins...

Stay tuned for the next leg of the journey.

== T.J.==

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