This is the second trip my client and I have taken to the Dominican Republic in the Cirrus and what an exciting and unique adventure! As an airline pilot, I had flown into Santo Domingo countless times, but not like this! During the first trip to the DR, we were fortunate enough to have an outstanding tailwind pushing us southeast. With beautiful weather and favorable winds, we departed VFR from KOPF to MDJB. Our flight plan called for four hours of cruise flight using lean-of-peak operations (burning 12.5 GPH). Flying lean of peak allowed us to fly the 740NM trip and still land with over an hour of reserve fuel. A big misconception is the 740NM journey takes you over massive expanses of open water. With some exception, the entire flight is hopping from one island to the next, with some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable.
About the only time you are over open water is between Providenciales, Turks and Caicos to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Pilots flying into the Santo Domingo FIR (Flight Information Region) must contact Santo Domingo Control 10 minutes prior to penetrating the international boundary. For Floridian pilots reading this, be alert flying in the northwest of the DR. The mountains in the west of the country rise in certain areas to over 10,000 feet.
Santo Domingo Control and Las Americas approach are both more than accommodating for unfamiliar pilots, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification or assistance, they are glad to help. Pilots arriving VFR may find a challenge as weather over the island is low scattered clouds most of the year and air-mass thunderstorms are prevalent most days. Upon landing and taxiing to the FBO a cadre of linemen will be waiting to greet you and assist with unloading and paperwork. US pilots with little international experience would be wise to spend time with an instructor who has flown to many of the Caribbean and Latin American countries. I was surprised that by our second trip to the DR in the Cirrus, everyone at MDJB remembered our names! It is important to note that when settling the bill for line service/fuel at most airports in the DR, cash is usually the only form of payment. The invoice you receive from the FBO will also list the amount in US dollars and US dollars are accepted pretty much everywhere.
During the first trip to the DR, we stayed two nights in Santo Domingo then departed towards the northeast of the island. Filing a domestic IFR flight plan is no more difficult than in the US. We received our clearance and departed to El Catey International. After securing the airplane and meeting our group we drove along one of the most beautiful highways in the country.
Our hotel was located in Samaná and offered some amazing views. The trip to Samaná allowed us to see a developing part of the country, where many new resorts are in the process of being built.
Flight planning out of the country is a breeze if you are working with a handler at the FBO. (A handler is someone who will assist in putting together all of the necessary paperwork and filing your flight plan.) About six hours prior to departure I either call or e-mail the FBO and send them our requested flight plan and our ETD. The only other item that is unique to the ICAO flight plan form is the estimated time of crossing the DR international boundary, both when arriving and departing. After receiving fuel and paying the final bill, it is best to contact ground control for engine start clearance. US pilots are accustomed to pre-taxi clearance, however, expect to receive your IFR departure clearance while taxiing for departure. Once airborne, there is really no difference between how a pilot would operate in the US v. DR. If you don’t understand a controller just ask them to say again! When approaching the international boundary, Miami Center expects you to contact them 10 minutes prior to penetration.
This is around the time when Santo Domingo will hand you off to Miami and you will be under Miami’s control all the way back to Florida. I do want to stress that there will be an area along A555 between GUANA and INDEE intersections where pilots of aircraft below 10,000 feet will lose radio reception. Miami knows about this and will often advise you prior to reception loss that this will occur. Another item unfamiliar to most domestic pilots is over Miami Oceanic airspace; you will not receive an updated altimeter setting. Expect to use 29.92”Hg. during most of the route. Pilots operating VFR will have slightly different procedures when approaching the US ADIZ than pilots on IFR flight plans. Again, if you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable spend time with a seasoned flight instructor who can help advise you on what to do. After landing at the nearest AOE (Airport of Entry) be sure to taxi directly to US customs.
For pilots looking for adventure and beautiful scenery, I definitely recommend taking a trip to the Dominican Republic. Even if you cannot make the trip non-stop, there are some amazing places to stop for fuel in the Bahamas such as Stella Maris. It is best to plan for a morning departure this time of year as unfamiliar pilots would do best not to fly into the DR at night and just as in the Bahamas there is no VFR at night. Platinum Aviation would also like to remind pilots that as of November 15, if you are planning to fly internationally, you are expected to know how to file an ICAO flight plan.
Although filing with US FSS can help make the process easier, it is important to know what all the new codes and equipment suffixes attached to your flight plan. Often times general aviation pilots will forgo an exciting trip to the Bahamas or Caribbean due to the unnerving process of filing international flight plans and dealing with eApis (customs procedures). After just a couple hours of ground school, most pilots will attain a confident level of knowledge on how to safely operate their Cirrus internationally.