Flying In Mexico



Pilots should be cautioned that the physical aspects of some of the terrain in Mexico may be entirely different from those encountered in any portion of the United States. The lowlands, while level, have not been cultivated and are covered in most instances with brush, cacti, swamps, gullies, or rocks. There are many places where only crash landing could be successful,  the occupants of the aircraft would be days getting to communities or transportation. It would have to be accomplished by foot, or by ox team or horseback, if either of the latter two could be obtained.

Some “ highways ‘ cutting through such areas are suitable for light aircraft emergency landings, but pilots should be cautioned that remote roads shown on maps as joining small communities usually prove to be foot trails or nonexistent.

In some areas along the eastern coast of Mexico, the beach offers safety in the event of forced landings. However, from Matamoros to approximately 25 miles north of Tampico, beach landings can be very hazardous because of boulders, driftwood, and rocky stretches along the beaches. These areas should be used only in emergencies.

The mountains are extremely steep and reach to very high altitudes. They have the characteristic violent mountain air currents, small mountain squalls, and frontal danger phenomena is passes inherent in terrain of this nature. Many of the highland plateaus are acid and uncultivated and develop violent convectional disturbances. This is particularly true in late afternoon and their danger is increased by the extreme altitude. 

Landing fields in highland areas are at high altitudes ( Mexico City International Airport is 7,340 feet above sea level ). Normal approach airspeed should be maintained during landing but the pilot should be warned that his groundspeed will be faster on the approach and at touchdown that it would be at the same airspeed at a lower altitude with comparable temperature and wind speed. This, of course, will increase the length of the landing roll. He should be further warned not to become panicky and attempt to pull the airplane off the runway too soon during takeoff from such fields. 

Large birds, most particularly buzzards, are a real source of constant danger in practically all portions of Mexico just as they are in some sections of the United States and should be just as scrupulously avoided in flight. Instances have been reported of such birds diving at aircraft, apparently believing the craft to be another bird. 

From early fall until the spring raisins, visibility may be greatly reduced by smoke in some areas because of farmers burning off their fields.

Haziness, particularly in mountainous areas, often distorts distances. Pilots will approach what appears to be the most distant range visible, only to find immediately behind it a much higher series of peaks which they had not expected. Flight in the immediate vicinity of such ranges and on the downwind side has sometimes ended disastrously for light aircraft as they failed to clear and could not turn back. Careful planning and the selection of well-traveled routes with established airports or emergency fields is advised. Along these the pilot will not encounter many of the described dangers.

Virtually no mechanical repairs are obtainable, except at the largest of airports. Supply materials are often not available even at these; the method of repair in some instances is not that of the customary standards of the FAA licensed A & P Mechanics (although in others it is). It is not advisable for pilots to rely on repair stations in the Republic of Mexico for maintenance or periodic checks since such services are practically unobtained on short notice.

The availability of gasoline situation in Mexico has improved greatly during the past few years; however, some intermediate fields still do not have gas available. At company fields owned by airlines, gas will not be sold unless the purchaser has a company letter. Pilots of light aircraft should take a funnel Two men fill airplane with gasolineand approved filter since the handling of fuel at many airports is such that it is often contaminated with water or dirt. Although not recommended by FAA, a chamois can be used in an emergency ( caution in the use of chamois will be found in the chapter on Alaska). One experienced pilot says that in the absence of an approved filter or chamois, a felt hat can be used as a substitute in an emergency. Tie-down ropes and equipment are very important. A small shovel and a few empty sacks may be the means of saving an aircraft under many circumstances.

                                                                                    Published charts 

Pilot shouting at mountainhave been found incorrect as to elevations ( some peaks have been determined to be as much as 2,000 feet higher than indicated). Many good position checks, such as small communities, an occasional railroad, or other visible objects will either appear on the map and prove nonexistent or stand out from the terrain and never be indicated on the map. Mountains have been found inaccurately placed by as much as 30 miles on the maps, and completely disregarded in some instances. Very few communities or cities have any visible identification marking readable from the air.

All travelers (except tourists) are required to have passport, including those in transit to another country.

U.S. citizens, traveling as tourists, may obtain tourist cards in lieu of visas (good for 6 months) from the nearest Mexican Consulate or Mexican Tourism Office. Proof of U.S. citizenship is required, and birth certificate or similar documentary proof will suffice. Persons who wish to enter Mexico or conduct business on behalf of a U.S company must obtain visas A smallpox vaccination is required and a typhus vaccination is recommended by the U.S. Public Heath Service.

All persons bringing privately owned aircraft into Mexico must obtain a general declaration document at the airport of entry.

Any aircraft departing from the United States carrying passengers or cargo for hire, or which will take on board or discharge passengers anywhere outside the United States is required to obtain clearance from Customs at the customs port entry at or nearest the last place of takeoff from the United States. 

When departing from the United States carrying passengers or cargo for hire, a private aircraft on purely a business or pleasure flight does not require a U.S Customs clearance of any type; however, modified military-type, privately owned aircraft may be subject to certain restrictions under the regulation of the Office of Munitions Control of the Department of State even on business or pleasure flights. Flight may depart from any airport in the United States unless customs clearance is required by the Office of Munitions Control regulations for military-type aircraft, in which case clearance must be obtained at a customs-staffed airport. Departing from an airport served by an FAA Flight Service Station will facilitate the filing of a flight plan. Notice of arrival may be included in the flight plan if the airport of first intended landing in Mexico is one of the airports of entry.

The first landing in Mexico must be made at one of the Mexican airports of entry. If landing at any other airport, prior written authorization is required from the Director General of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Communications and Transport, Mexico City. Prior notification of arrival is required. An arrival notice included in the flight plan is acceptable if the first landing is to be made at one of the following Airports of Entry. However, if the flying time from the airport of departure to one of the airports listed is less than one hour, the pilot should notify Mexican officials direct. 

These are the Mexican Airports of Entry: Acapulco, Guerrero; Guadalajara, Jalisco; Hermosillo, Sonora; Juarez, Chihuahua; La Paz, Baha California; Matamoros, Tamaulipas; Mazatlan, Sinaloa; Merida, Yucatan; Mexicali, Baha California; Mexico City, D.F; Monterrey, Nuevo Leon; Nogales, Sonora; Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas; Piedras Negras, Coahuila; Reynosa, Tamaulipas; Tapachula, Chiapas; Tijuana, Baha California, and Veracruz, Vera Cruz.

Air navigation services in Mexico are not free. A pilot may obtain a RAMSA card, good for 1 year, for $24.00 (300 pesos) at a Mexican aerodrome of entry. This card entitles the pilot to unrestricted use of RAMSA’s air navigation system. A pilot who does not desire to purchase a RAMSA card must pay for each individual service as he uses it. At the time of this writing, the following schedule of fees is charged by Ramsa by type of service for aircraft weighing less than 15,000 pounds. 


Fess for private pilots not registered with RAMSA

Type of Service

  • Air Traffic Control ( by station, per landing) –  26.25 Pesos ($2.10)
  • Navaid Stations, Localizers, Market ( by station, per flight) – 26.25 Pesos ($2.10)
  • Weather Reports (by station, per flight) – 5.25 pesos ($0.42)
  • Route Forecast (per flight) — 25.50 pesos ($4.20)
  • Terminal Forecast (by terminal, per flight) – 15.75 pesos ($1.26)
  • Communications (air-to-ground, by station) – 21.75 pesos ($1.74)
  • Point-to-point transmission (weather reports, route and terminal forecast, for each 10 words or fraction thereof) – 2.50 pesos ($0.20)

When returning to the United States from Mexico, the point of departure must be one of the Mexican Airports of Entry. A Flight Plan must be filed since Mexican law requires flight plans for all flights in  Mexico. Advance notice of arrival at the U.S airports of first intended landing may be included in the flight plan.

The airport of first intended landing in the United States may be either an international airport (airport of entry) or a landing rights airport. In case of landing at an international airport, permission to land is not required from U.S Customs, although advance notice of arrival must be given. For landing at a landing rights airport, both an application for permission to land and advance notice of arrival are required and should be submitted in advance to the U.S. Customs offices in charge of that airport. Advance notice of arrival is required for flights landing at either an international airport or a landing rights airport. At a landing rights airport where the flight notification service is rendered, a request to transmit arrival notice to U.S Customs may be included in the flight plan, and such notice will be treated as an application for permission to land. At international airports or landing rights airports where flight notification service is not available, U.S Customs officials must be notified direct. Additionally, if the flying time from the airport of departure to either an international airport or landing rights is less than 1 hour, the pilot should notify the O.S Customs officer direct.

These are the U.S international airports (airports of entry) in the general area: Douglas, Ariz.; Nogales, Ariz; Tucson, Ariz; El Paso, Tex,; Laredo, Tex; McAllen, Tex.

These are the U.S landing rights airports in the general area: Columbus, N. Mex.; Corpus Christi, Tex.; Dallas ( Love Field), Tex.; Houston, Tex.; and San Antonio, Tex.

Check the latest information in the International Flight Information Manual for changes in departure and arrival requirements and airports of entry. 

Pilots are urged to be very cautious concerning acrobatics or infraction of minimum altitudes over communities in Mexico, since both are punishable by confiscation of the aircraft.

While in Mexico, pilots of the United States are not authorized (except by special written permission) to fly aircraft of Mexican registry. Breaking of this rule will result in a heavy fine.

For their own protection, pilots and occupants of aircraft are advised to have a series of protective inoculations prior to travel in tropical countries.

Smallpox, typhoid, cholera, diphtheria, undulant fever, tetanus, yellow fever, and amoebic dysentery are common diseases. If travel to the more remote sections is contemplated, some understanding of the causes and preventive measures relative to these diseases is essential. Small cuts should be treated promptly to prevent infection. Drink carbonated bottled drinks in isolated communities if in doubt about the purity of the local water supply.

Try to arrive at a Mexican airport when officials are on duty clearing international air carrier planes. At other times, these officials may not be available, or it may be necessary to make special arrangements at added cost.

Overtime charges are made after 12 noon for immigration inspection, and a fee is charged for customs inspection, based on a full day’s wages for each inspector involved for each 3 hours period or fraction thereof after 2 p.m. Charges also may be made for a customs guard to watch the plane, and for taxi fare to bring the inspectors to the field after 12 noon. In United States money, Total fees may run as high as $15 to $20 or higher depending on whether inspection occurs on a weekday, Sunday, or Holiday.

United States requirements for flying U.S registered aircraft abroad may be found in Federal Aviation Regulations, Part 61 and 91 more specifically in sections 61.3 and 91.1. Note that section 91.1 identifies additional sections of Part 91 with which compliance is required. Since most of the flights into Mexico are to Mexico City, attention is given to describing the best routes and terrain to be flown over when planning this trip south of the border. With the exception of the trip from Mexico City to Acapulco, no information is included on flying south of Mexico City or into the Yucatan Peninsula since these flights are not often made by tourist pilots. During the rainy season it is advisable to arrive in Mexico City no later than noon because of the mountain-type weather in the afternoon.

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS, TO MEXICO CITY VIA TAMPICO: Departure will be from the Matamoros Airport which is just across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville. The Matamoros Airport is Surface and the one long runway is suitable

map of brownsville to mexico city

 for all light aircraft and many of the larger ones weighing over 12,500 lbs. About 25 miles south of Matamoros you will encounter the Laguna Madre which is separated from the Gulf of Mexico by the coastal bar. The coastal bar is straight and narrow and makes contact flying to Tampico easy since it does not depart significantly from straight course to Tampico.

At Pesca, a little more than half way down to Tampico, there is an emergency trip. In addition, an occasional fishing camp or small settlement along the coast will have a strip that can be used in an emergency. Roughly 100 miles due west of you is the Pan American Highway. This leg of the flight is over the coastal plain which is wide, low, and generally flat, broken occasionally by low sandhills. It is covered with brush and low growth and becomes marshlands, lagoons, sand dunes, fairly narrow beaches, long sandbars, and small islands. Near Tampico, the country becomes more hilly with hills rising to 4,000 feet about 30 miles west of the coast.

There are two ways to go to Mexico City from Tampico: Direct to Tulancingo, then to Mexico City; or down the coast to Tuxpan, then to Tulancingo and Mexico City. If you go directly to Tulancingo, then to Mexico City, the course takes you inland over the coastal plain which soon rises into the high plateaus of Central Mexico. After takeoff at Tampico it will be necessary to start climbing to at least 12,000 feet. Before reaching Tulancingo, you could possibly go at a slightly lower altitude but you would not be as safe. From Tulancingo it is only a short flight into Mexico City.

If you elect to go by Tuxpan, you will continue down the coast over the same type of terrain as seen between Brownsville and Tampico until reaching Tuxpan. From there it is a rather steep climb to Tulancingo, 12,000 feet again, before being high enough to get into the Mexico City Valley.

Mexico City is situated in a very large depression on the central plateau and is surrounded by mountains reaching to 15,000 feet. The mountains are lower to the north near Tulancingo. Southeast of the Mexico City International Airport is Popocatepetl which is  17,883 feet high. It is always snow covered and makes a good landmark. The elevation of Mexico City International Airport is 7,340 feet.

LAREDO, TEXAS, TO MEXICO CITY: To the south of Laredo the gently rolling coastal plain gradually rises and merges into the foothills of the mountains of Central Mexico. The plain is characterized by steeply-cut stream beds, small mesas, boulders, and scrub brush. At Monterrey, the Sierra Madre Escarpment dominates the horizon to the south and west. Follow along the ridge in a southerly direction to Ciudad Victoria. From Victoria the flight is over the coastal plains to Tamuin, located just west of Tampico.Map of Laredo to mexico city

From Tamuin, to get into Mexico City, one can go slightly south by east to Tulancingo, or slightly south by west across Actopan into Mexico City. An altitude of 12,000 feet is needed again by way of Tulancingo; by way of Actopan, 13,000 feet is better.

It is good to remember that the Pan American Highway closely follows this route as does the National Railroad. Both are good landmarks.

EL PASO, TEXAS, TO MEXICO CITY:  From El Paso the flight to Mexico City is over the central plateau area of Mexico which, along your flight route, will average roughly 5,000 feet
above sea level.

map of el paso to mexico city Ciudad Júarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, is the northern terminal of the Mexican National Railroad as well as a prominent highway. Follow the highway and railroad into Chihuahua. From Chihuahua the airway heads southeasterly and closely follows a prominent highway and railroad to Jiménez. Still paralleling your course is the same railroad and also a power line, both of which lead you into Torreón.  From Torreón to San Luis Potośi you cross a plateau which averages about 7,000 feet MSL. This will be a flight by the compass across small villages connected by secondary roads and trails with few prominent landmarks. Remember that to the east of you will be the railroad running down from the north into San Luis Potośi. From San Luis Potośi your flight is down the Airway to Querétaro. The railroad from San Luis Potośi to Querétaro bends away to the west along this route but not too far away to pick up if needed. The altitudes here get higher rapidly. You will need at least 8,000 or 9,000 feet to be safe. From Querétaro you go directly across the mountains into Mexico City, and again you are going to need 12,000 feet of altitude.

Of all the routes into Mexico City, this one from El Paso will probably require the greatest skill and alertness. The entire route is over higher terrain and all landings and takeoffs will require greater attention because of higher elevations (discussed under Rocky Mountain Flying). Better check on the performance of your plane before loading yourself too heavily for take off.

NOGALES, ARIZONA,  TO MEXICO CITY: This is a very beautiful flight. There is a highway and a railroad south into Hermosillo. This same highway and railroad closely follow the airway and coastline down to Mazatlá and into Tepic. From Tepic the route heads inland to Guadalajara still closely paralleling a main highway and railroad. From Guadalajara your flight will be by Lago De Chapala, a very large lake, south and east of that city. Past the lake it is a short flight, over terrain averaging between 7,000 and 9,000 feet above sea level, into Morelia. From Morelia the same type of terrain, but higher, dominates your route into Mexico City. Here you should be safe at 10,000 or 11,000 feet.

map of Nogales to Mexico city

The flight down from Nogales is along the narrow coastal plain lying east of the Gulf of California. Flying conditions are good, navigation is easy, and this flight should present no difficulty to the alert pilot.

MEXICO CITY TO ACAPULCO: This is a short flight south of Mexico City closely following a very prominent, well traveled highway. The terrain begins to drop off after leaving Mexico City and should present no difficulties. The Municipal Airport is at sea level.

Weather in Mexico is variable. You can expect low ceilings, rain, and fog along the east coast in about the same manner that you will find along the coast of Texas. Low ceiling will exist in the Tulancingo-Tuxpan-Tampico area when a north or northeast wind predominates in this area. An easterly wind usually brings low ceiling to the Veracruz area. On the West coast, along the Gulf of California, the weather picture is usually good. The high central plateau is arid, but you can expect many mountain and conventional thunderstorms in season in the late afternoon. These storms can become very violent. By noon the visibility in the Mexico City area is often restricted to three or four miles due to haze, dust, and smoke.

Weather information is available for a nominal fee at all local and international airline offices and at most airports that have radio facilities. Check the International Flight Information Manual (available through the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C 20402) to find if an airport has a radio facility. Take advantage of all weather information in planning your flight.

Most of the larger airports and all the points mentioned in this chapter have some radio navigational facilities, usually low-frequency aids. These can be picked up with your ADF. In addition, there is a VOR station at Mexico City and one at Pachuca. Plans are being made for others along the more traveled routes.

The larger airports in Mexico are usually surfaced, well maintained, and have attractive administration buildings. Gas facilities are satisfactory. However, it is a good idea to drain at least a quart from your sediment bowl after each filling.

There are several good repair and service facilities at the Mexico City International Airport, where you will find a factory authorized service station for your plane.

Here are some tips offered by experienced pilots to make your flights into Mexico safer and more pleasant.

  1. Try to finish your cross-country flight by 2:00 p.m. Do most of your flying in the morning.
  2. Avoid instrument flying. Avoid night flying.
  3. Remember the high elevations. Land and take off with caution. Do not overload.
  4. Cooperate with the Mexican officials. They require flight plans; file them! Remember you are a guest in their country. They are most cooperative when you ask for assistance.
  5.  See the Airman’s Information Manual and International Flight Information Manual concerning exit and entry requirements for the United States, and airport facilities.
    1. To save overtime payment to both United States and Mexican officials, plan to enter or leave during the week. Avoid weekends or holidays.
    2. Obtain World Aeronautical Charts for Mexico from the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey, Environmental Science Services Administrations, U.S. Department of Commerce,  Washington, D.C. 20235. Information on Mexican Airports and radio frequencies may be obtained by writing to the Secretary of Communications, Department of Civil Aeronautics, Mexico City, D.F., Mexico.
    3. Have your plane in good mechanical condition before entering Mexico. A 100-hour inspection is advisable before your departure.
    4. Remember, you will have to clear Mexican Customs and Immigrations upon entering Mexico and before departure. Their requirements are frequently changed, so double check the latest procedures.

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