San Juan Islands based pilots are so close to Canada; but flying there seems like worlds away because of Customs and Border Patrol requirements. However there’s way to depart US territory and then fly over Canada with minimum hassle. Just don’t land on Canadian soil.
A couple days ago, I departed from Friday Harbor Airport with a friend for a couple site-seeing / aerial photography circles around Victoria. The Canadian airspace around the San Juans and Canadian Gulf Islands is a heavily travelled hornet’s nest. There’s lots of commercial traffic in and out of Vancouver and Victoria. But not to worry. Friendly Canadian Air Traffic Control is here to help.
Prior to departure, I filed a flight plan with US Flight Service and got a weather briefing. Since ATC wants specific route coordinates, I gave them about five lat / long coordinates that roughly circle around Victoria. After filing, the US Flight Service issued me a squawk code for my transponder.
As soon as I departed Friday Harbor Airport, I opened my flight plan with Seattle Radio on Mt. Constitution – 122.3 – then I switched over to Canadian ATC for VFR flight following. The radio conversation with the Canadian Air Traffic Controller was relaxed and casual. I conveyed my intentions to him in plain English. “We just want to fly a couple sight-seeing circles around Victoria.” He approved the general concept. He asked me about my airplane (a Flight Design CTLS) and even suggested a couple of interesting sites in the vicinity to fly over.
Flying around nearby Canadian territory provides welcome variety to my rut of usual local flights: The San Juans, Skagit, Whidbey Island, and Bellingham. I do enjoy flying to and landing in Canada. But if you want a minimum hassle sightseeing tour of a bona fide foreign country, this is a great way to fly.