Flying through Canadian Airspace

In the near future I am looking to fly from Western PA to Canton Michigan.  A direct route takes me into Canadian Airspace, but not landing, and saves at least 45 minutes of flying time.  Researching it says that you need to have an “active flight plan”, be talking to ATC when you cross the borders, and have a discrete squawk code.  When doing VFR flight following, 2 of those items will be happening, but is VFR flight following considered an “active flight plan”?

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VFR flight following is not an active flight plan. FAR 91.707 requires filing a flight plan unless otherwise authorized by ATC. Since you probably won't know that until you are talking to them, you can at least meet the regulatory requirement by having filed the flight plan during pre-flight. Additionally, Canada has a flight plan requirement when operating in their airspace.


Hi Dean,

An “active flight plan”, when speaking about VFR flight plans, is a flight plan that you have filed with Flight Service and then activated or opened with them. This can be accomplished by calling FSS on the radio once you're airborne or by using their “EasyActivate” service. You can sign up for this service on their website . Flight Service has posted a video on their Facebook page that explains the service. And here's a screenshot of what it looks like on their website; 




You can also activate a flight plan with Foreflight, and probably other services.

One thing you overlooked is the need for an FCC Radio Station license and Restricted Radiotelephone Operator's license.  These are required when communicating with foreign radio stations.


@Dean Roberts
Another box to check:  Canada does not currently recognise USA's Basic Med (AOPA are working on that, but it's not a done deal as of now).  You'll need at least a Third Class Medical in Canada airspace.

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@Kristian Kortokrax

One thing you overlooked is the need for an FCC Radio Station license and Restricted Radiotelephone Operator's license.  These are required when communicating with foreign radio stations.

Not in either Canada or the Bahamas, by their rules, but the FCC still requires them when crossing the US border on your way home. Kinda silly, but there it is.


@Ronald Levy
I may have misstated the requirement for the operator’s license by referring to “communicating with foreign radio stations”.

I always operate under the premise “Seeing is believing”.

These are the FCC’s rules concerning station licenses and operator licenses.

I see no exceptions for Canada or the Bahamas.

47 CFR 87.1 states that the FCC’s rules comply with ITU & ICAO.

§ 87.18 Station license required.

(a) Except as noted in paragraph (b) of this section, stations in the aviation service must be licensed by the FCC either individually or by fleet. 

(b) An aircraft station is licensed by rule and does not need an individual license issued by the FCC if the aircraft station is not required by statute, treaty, or agreement to which the United States is signatory to carry a radio, and the aircraft station does not make international flights or communications. Even though an individual license is not required, an aircraft station licensed by rule must be operated in accordance with all applicable operating requirements, procedures, and technical specifications found in this part.

Once outside US Airspace (12 mile limit), I would think that would constitute an international flight and require a station license.  I would also think that if one communicates with a Canadian ground station, that would constitute an international communication.

§ 87.89 Minimum operator requirements.

(a) A station operator must hold a commercial radio operator license or permit, except as listed in paragraph (d).

(d) No operator license is required to: 

(1) Operate an aircraft radar set, radio altimeter, transponder or other aircraft automatic radionavigation transmitter by flight personnel; 

(2) Test an emergency locator transmitter or a survival craft station used solely for survival purposes; 

(3) Operate an aeronautical enroute station which automatically transmits digital communications to aircraft stations; 

(4) Operate a VHF telephony transmitter providing domestic service or used on domestic flights.

87.89(b) speaks of “domestic service” with regard to land stations.  That would leave us with “used on domestic flights” as the criteria for not requiring an operator license.  To me, that would mean if an aircraft flight enters any foreign airspace, it is no longer a domestic flight.

I don’t think that Canada or the Bahamas can regulate the operation of a U.S. aircraft station (other than to require communication in certain airspace or situations).  I would be interested in seeing the Canadian and Bahamian regulations.  If one were able to operate in the Bahamas without a station license or operator license, how would one get to the Bahamas without the licenses?