Section One: Flying
Both the AOPA member’s section website
and NavCanada’s website
contain a wealth of information on flying in Canada. Cirrus pilots considering a trip to Alaska should consult both of
The FAA website offers an overview on
flying in Alaska and specific tips for
various towns and regions of Alaska.
This section of the Alaska Flying
Guide aims to provide Cirrus pilots with additional “news you can use” based on
practical experience, rather than information that is readily found online
Radar Coverage: NOT!
- First time pilots across the vast expanses of Canada
are surprised to learn that most Canadian airspace west of Toronto does
not have radar coverage. The
same is true for nearly all of Alaska.
Consequently do not expect to receive a transponder code, even if
on an IFR flight plan, throughout most of the trip across Canada and
Alaska. VFR flight following is
rarely available. Squawking 1200,
even for an IFR flight, is rather customary.
- Major cities enroute to Alaska, such as Winnipeg,
Regina, Edmonton and Vancouver (as well as Anchorage), do have radar
coverage, and ATC will require a working Mode C transponder, and will
provide a transponder code (and VFR flight following), within 25-50 miles
of those cities. Outside of those
small areas, however, you’re on your own.
On the other hand, there is very little general aviation traffic
across the vast expanses of Canada (other than perhaps on the Alaska
Highway route). Flying with at
least one buddy aircraft and communicating with each other on 123.45 is
highly recommended, both as a safety measure and to exchange information
and ideas on weather and terrain as the flight progresses.
- This map shows just how sparse radar coverage is in
western Canada (especially below 12,500 feet): in fact, it is basically non-existent.
- VFR flight in uncontrolled Canadian airspace (which
is virtually everything outside of the major cities such as Winnipeg,
Regina, Edmonton and Vancouver) uses 126.7 everywhere to
communicate with ATC. You can call
that frequency to get current weather at a destination airport or to close
a flight plan. When flying VFR,
this frequency should be monitored at all times.
- The Canadian IFR charts recommend that 126.7 should
also be continuously monitored whenever practicable while flying IFR in
uncontrolled airspace and when flying VFR in controlled airspace, unless
another frequency is noted for a given area. The wisdom of this advice was evident during a flight of
Cirri across the Yukon Territories when a 767 pilot announced that he was
about to commence a large fuel dump (fortunately that plane was 50 miles
- Plane-to-plane communications in Canada and Alaska
are best accomplished on 123.45.
Depending on terrain, it is possible to maintain contact with other
planes up to 75 miles away.
A Word About VFR Flying and Charts
- A trip to Alaska through Canada from June through
August should provide ideal VFR conditions: high cloud bases and excellent visibility. The biggest risk is forest fires, which
are rare but can cover thousands of square miles and create solid IFR
conditions. Unfortunately, because
they are rare, there is little in the way of fire-fighting equipment, so a
big fire can rage for weeks. The
choice, therefore, is to either stay on the ground or be prepared to fly
- Expect to fly VFR most of the time in Canada and
Alaska: think about whether you’ll
be comfortable exploring the scenery and terrain from lower altitudes
(e.g., 1,500’ to 2,500’ agl), or whether you’d prefer to be much higher up
(e.g., 6,500’ to 10,500’ agl).
This Alaska Flying Guide provides insights on both situations, and
ultimately its up to each pilot to determine what their comfort
- Don’t expect to find a local source for charts or
plates. Unlike the continental US,
most FBOs do not ordinarily carry a supply of current aeronautical
information. Therefore, it is
imperative to bring along all the VFR and IFR charts and plates that you
might expect to use.
- Canadian airspace
rules are quite similar to the US rules. But be prepared to receive a bill
from NavCanada after you return home for using their airspace
Fly IFR Like When FDR Was President
- ATC manages IFR flights in non-radar covered areas
based on altitude separation and pilot reports to ATC over specific
fixes: just like in the 1930s (or
the 1960s, if your memory is fading).
When flying IFR with a group over mountains (e.g., the segment from
Whitehorse, Yukon to Anchorage, Alaska), expect each plane to be assigned
an altitude ranging from 12,000 to 16,000 feet and/or to be spaced at
least 20 nautical miles apart.
Release for departure is therefore authorized every ten minutes,
and ATC clearance cannot be requested until the preceding plane has taken
off. Contrast this practice with
the U.S., where a clearance (subject to release) can typically be obtained
before taxiing. An enroute change
in altitude will not be allowed by ATC if your plane is less than 20 miles
behind another aircraft in the group that is flying at the altitude you
wish to occupy.
- Because radar coverage is so rare over most of
Canada, if an IFR approach into an airport is necessary due to IMC
conditions, do not be surprised if ATC issues holding instructions for
15-45 minutes while other aircraft ahead are sequenced into the approach. And do not request or expect vectors to
final: there’s no radar, so the
best ATC can provide is clearance to a fix. In other words, think 1930s (or an IPC exam) and expect to
fly the full approach, including any procedure turn or course
- NDBs are still widely used in Canada, both for
enroute navigation and for instrument approaches. And DME arc instrument approaches are
far more common in Canada than in the US, so be prepared to fly these as
well. The Garmin database for
North America includes all this information, so neither is
Fly VFR Using the Recommended Routes
- The Canadian VFR navigation charts contain blue
diamond trails that delineate commonly-used/recommended VFR routes. For example, the Alaska Highway and
Trench routes described in Section Two of this guide are easily tracked
via the VFR routing shown on the published Canadian VFR charts. Typically these follow a valley between
the mountains, and show the height above sea level for mountain passes.
- Like US charts, the Canadian VFR charts also show a
maximum elevation figure for a given quadrangle. This is the highest known feature in each sector, including
terrain and man-made obstructions.
These should be used as a reference value in determining how low or
high a pilot can comfortably fly across mountainous terrain.
- The Canadian VFR charts have a cautionary note
accompanying many of the commonly-used/recommended VFR routes: “Route subject to rapid weather
change. Altitude should permit course
reversal.” Often this cautionary
note will recommend a minimum VFR altitude between two points on the
Finding the Right Airport Identifier in Canada
- Finding the ICAO airport identifier in Canada for
input into the Garmin can be a challenge.
This is because, unlike US charts, the ICAO airport identifier is
not printed on any of the official Canadian charts. It is, however, noted in small letters
on the upper right hand corner (about 1” from the top) on the
government-published IAPs (instrument approach plates). One useful hint is to simply add the
letter C to the VOR identifier near an airport: this usually works in identifying the adjacent airport. For the less adventurous, Canadian
customs’ website has a listing
of many airports, along with the proper identifier. Or reference NavCanada’s regional
list of airports at the bottom of their TAF/METARs look-up
page. Or see the excerpts from the
Airport Facilities Directory in Section Five, which contains information
on all of the Canadian airports mentioned in this Alaska Flying
Guide. Or use this cross reference
list which contains all Canadian airports, but in alphabetical
order by identifier. Finally,
AOPA’s free online flight planning software provides the proper identifier
information when laying out a flight plan. (As an aisde, DUATS software is generally inadequate for
flight planning purposes across Canada because it doesn’t seem to
recognize any of the published airways.)
- Jepp charts include the appropriate ICAO aiport
identifier, and you can order
a “trip kit” for Canada and Alaska that includes all of the
approach and enroute charts for a trip.
Weather Information and Flight Plans
- To obtain a weather briefing in Canada, or to file an
IFR or VFR flight plan, call 1-866-WX-BRIEF (1-866-992-7433). Or go the NavCanada’s weather
web site for online information.
Major airports have a flight service office on the field, and
virtually every other airport has a phone kiosk on the field for this
purpose. (As an aside, satellite
phones will generally work in Canada, but satellite calls are often
dropped after 30-60 seconds in Alaska.)
- Use the ICAO
flight plan for all VFR and IFR flights in Canada, rather than the
US flight plan form.
- Airports in remote areas of Canada do not generally
have ATIS, ASOS or AWOS information.
If flying on an IFR flight plan, the approach controller will read
the terminal weather to you prior to landing. On a VFR flight plan, contact the local radio controller on
126.7 to request a weather update for destination airport.
- All cross-country flights in Canadian airspace must
be conducted under either an IFR or VFR flight plan (e.g., more than 25 nm
from the departure airport). A VFR
flight plan is automatically activated at the designated departure time,
so remember to close the flight plan upon landing, or by contacting 126.7
in uncontrolled airspace for the nearest radio connection to ATC. Remember to contact 1-866-WX-BRIEF if a
VFR flight is delayed or cancelled, since the flight plan opens
automatically and failure to advise flight service might otherwise trigger
unnecessary rescue efforts.
Canadian Customs: Just One Number
- Before departing the U.S. for a landing in Canada,
contact Canada’s Border Service Agency, at 1-888-CANPASS
(1-888-226-7277). They must be
called two to forty-eight hours before the planned arrival time at an airport of entry,
and again upon arrival. Once they
have your tail number in their computer system, they will often waive any
customs inspection, even at a major city airport. But advance notice is still always
required. General information on
Canadian customs is available at the Canada Border Service
- If you register in advance with Canada’s Border
Services Agency under their private
aircraft program, then you can bypass the normal “airport of entry”
rules and land anywhere in Canada.
Home | Introduction |
One: Flying in Canada | Two: Getting
Three: Things to Do in Alaska | Four: Getting Back to the US from Alaska | Five: Equipment List
Six: Charts and Aeronautical Information |
Photo Gallery: 2004