Pilots flying into Alaska along the Alaska Highway this summer should pay close attention to details regarding Customs. For north bound aircraft entering Alaska from Whitehorse or Dawson, Northway has been a popular location to clear Customs, before proceeding on to other destinations in the state. Inspection services by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for the Northway Airport are managed out of the Alcan highway station (http://www.cbp.gov/contact/ports/alcan), situated about 50 road miles away from the airport. Pilots planning to clear in Northway need to call the Alcan station well in advance to arrange their arrival. According to CPB’s website, Customs operational hours at Northway Airport are currently 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., 7 days a week, however you can call the Alcan port any time as they are open 24 hours a day.
Recently CPB has in some cases offered pilots the option to make a technical stop for fuel in Tok (6K8), and proceed to either Fairbanks or Anchorage to clear Customs. This may be attractive, as currently there is no fuel available at the Northway Airport. If this option is offered, make sure that you contact the Fairbanks or Anchorage Port directly, PRIOR TO LEAVING CANADA, to arrange your arrival there. Pay attention to any other instructions the CBP official may provide. Canadian Flight Service has been authorized to accept flight plans with a fuel stop in Tok, if pre-approved by CBP.
Factors to consider in selecting a port of entry:
1) My personal strategy when crossing international borders is to clear Customs as soon as possible after entering the new country, even if there isn’t fuel available at the airport of entry. From a risk management perspective, it removes the pressure to continue in the face of changing weather conditions to meet the ETA Customs is expecting me to keep. Having a careful look at the weather prior to accepting a plan to clear at a more distant location like Fairbanks or Anchorage would be prudent.
2) If you are forced to land short of your planned port of entry due to weather, mechanical problems etc., make sure to call Customs immediately, and advise them of your situation. They do understand there are occasional “challenges” with general aviation operations, but need to be kept informed. Don’t forget to call them, or put it off till the following day…
3) Remember that in addition to calling your intended port of entry, you must also file an eAPIS notification online. If you accept a different destination based on your telephone conversation with Customs, you may need to file a new eAPIS report for the new destination. This is another reason to call Customs while you still have internet access– well before you are ready to crawl in the airplane and take off.
Crossing international boundaries has certainly become more complicated than it used to be pre-911. While the eAPIS system is a bit of a pain to set up in the first place, it essentially provides in advance the information you used to supply upon arrival. In my experience, it has cut down on my time clearing Customs after arriving at the port of entry. If you have problems with Customs when flying into Alaska, please let AOPA know. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you encounter a problem that we should know about. But don’t let these procedures keep you from flying between Alaska and Canada. If that happens, the bad guys have won!