The Bahamas are less than an hour away in most GA airplanes.
This time of year, many pilots are dreaming of warmer weather and perhaps a flying getaway to the islands of the Bahamas or another Caribbean destination. Flying the islands is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things any pilot can do in a small airplane–we’ve been doing it for decades at Sporty’s and we keep going back every year.
Despite the fact that the iPad has been in our hands for nearly 7 years, it wasn’t until the last few years that Caribbean charts and resources started making their way into aviation apps. Today you can confidently navigate the islands with everything you need right on your iPad, including geo-referenced VFR and IFR en route charts, airport and airspace databases, synthetic vision and even ADS-B weather in certain spots.
Here we’re going to take a closer look at the ForeFlight Mobile, Garmin Pilot and FltPlan Go apps, since they offer the most comprehensive resources for Caribbean-bound pilots.
Navigation and Charts
From a VFR pilot’s perspective, the most useful navigation chart is the FAA’s Caribbean VFR World Aeronautical Chart (WAC). Take a look at the paper options and you’ll find there are 3 WAC charts published for the Caribbean: CH-25, CJ-26, CJ-27. These provide complete coverage from Florida down to Cuba and Jamaica, all of the Bahamas, and then extend all the way past Puerto Rico to the U.S. Virgin Islands and the northern parts of the West Indies.
These WAC charts provide just about everything you’re used to seeing on VFR sectionals, including airport data, airspace, VOR and NDBs and ATC communication frequencies. The nice thing when viewing them on your iPad is that each aviation app seamlessly stitches them together, so all you need to do is load the WAC map layer and go flying. Best of all they’re geo-referenced in the apps, so you’ll see your airplane’s position right on the chart.
If your travels take you beyond the Bahamas and down to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, you’ll find the FAA Puerto Rico VFR Sectional to be a helpful resource when flying in this region. It contains a greater level of detail compared to the WAC (the sectional scale is 1:500,000 compared to 1:1,000,000 for the WAC) and shows additional airspace information.
All 3 apps offer an airport directory for the Caribbean airports and you can search them the same way as you would for a U.S. airport–just make sure to use the proper country code. For example airports in the Bahamas and Dominican Republic start with M (MYNN for Nassau), and airports extending from Puerto Rico down through the West Indies start with T (TNCM for Princess Juliana in St. Maarten). You’ll find all the essential information about each airport here, including runway info, FBO details (sometimes) and communication frequencies.
When you start planning your trip, you’ll see that the Caribbean chart options are turned off by default. In ForeFlight for example you have to go to the Downloads section of the app, select the Caribbean region from the Download Settings at the top, and then turn on the options for each type of chart or database you’d like to use. This will then enable that map layer in the Maps section of the app.
Here’s a quick review of VFR Caribbean resources offered in each app:
ForeFlight: Caribbean airport directory, FAA Caribbean VFR WAC, FAA Puerto Rico Sectional
FltPlan Go: Caribbean airport directory, FAA Caribbean VFR WAC, FAA Puerto Rico Sectional
Garmin Pilot: Caribbean airport directory, FAA Caribbean VFR WAC, FAA Puerto Rico Sectional. Garmin’s signature data-driven maps are also available for the Caribbean, displaying all the airspace and airport info in a vector-based, scalable presentation.
There are 2 additional considerations for the Caribbean iPad pilot when flying in the IFR system: en route charts and approach procedures. The en route chart requirement is an easy one since the FAA publishes both high and low altitude en route charts for the Caribbean and Mexico. These charts include most of Florida too, so you won’t have to switch between these and the U.S. En Route charts when heading out over the Atlantic Ocean.
You’ll notice that most of the airways are either ATS/Oceanic routes (based on VORs), or RNAV routes (based on GPS). You can enter these airways in all 3 apps just like you would a traditional victor airway and they’ll take care of filling in all the intersections and waypoints in your flight plan. In our Caribbean flying experience, the airways are more a formality to get you on your way, and then Miami or San Juan Center will ultimately clear you direct to a waypoint near your destination.
Unless a major storm system is affecting the Caribbean (e.g. hurricane), the weather is almost always VFR in the islands. But if you’re flying IFR you’ll still need approach charts for your destination and alternate. Unfortunately the FAA does not publish terminal procedures for Caribbean airports, so you’re only option to head over to Jeppesen’s online store to buy the Caribbean approach charts.
Jeppesen sells their international charts by region, so you’ll only need to purchase access to Latin America ($199 for an annual subscription). This covers Mexico, Bermuda, Central America and the Caribbean Islands. Once you set up an account and purchase a subscription, you can download and access the charts in the Jeppesen Mobile FD app.
Filing an IFR flight plan to a Caribbean destination is pretty seamless, since all 3 apps (ForeFlight, Garmin and FltPlan) support the ICAO flight plan format. When it comes time to head back to the U.S., it’s a good idea to check with the local tower controller to make sure they can access an electronically filed ICAO flight plan. Several of the smaller airports we’ve visited over the years still require the ICAO flight plan form to be hand-delivered to the controller in advance.
Here’s a quick review of IFR Caribbean resources offered in each app:
ForeFlight: FAA Caribbean IFR Enroute Low Altitude, FAA Caribbean IFR Enroute High Altitude
FltPlan Go: FAA Caribbean IFR Enroute Low Altitude, FAA Caribbean IFR Enroute High Altitude
Garmin Pilot: Garmin does not currently offer the FAA IFR Enroute charts, but the included data-driven maps include all the airways and intersections for navigation reference. When using this app, we’d suggest downloading the free FltPlan Go app and referencing the charts there.
Jeppesen Mobile FD: Offers Jeppesen IFR enroute and terminal procedures for the entire Caribbean area.
All 3 apps deliver METARs and TAFs where reported throughout the Caribbean. This makes the airport Flight Category overlay on the map a good resource to use to display the equivalent of a weather depiction chart, showing areas of VFR/MVFR/IFR weather. The only difference you may notice in the METAR is that many of the airports report the altimeter setting as QNH (e.g. Q1016), which is means it’s measured in millibars instead of inches of mercury (1013.2 mb = 29.92 inHg).
Radar are coverage is pretty scarce in the Caribbean, but this isn’t much of a limitation provided there are no large-scale adverse weather systems in the region. Visibility is typically great, making it easy to see and avoid localized areas of precipitation. From a planning perspective, you’ll find the Satellite map overlay to be a more useful tool for flight planning. ForeFlight now colorizes the satellite data, making it easy to identify developed storm systems with high levels of moisture. The AWC Caribbean Area Forecast is another good planning resource to check out as well.
For pilots flying with an ADS-B weather receiver like Stratus or the Garmin GDL-39, you’ll be glad to know that it still provides some usefulness when flying outside the borders of the continental U.S. There are 3 ADS-B ground towers located across Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (2 on PR, and 1 on St. Thomas). You’ll be able to start receiving data from these when within a few hundred miles of this area. You’ll get all the standard weather products, including radar imagery and METARs for the U.S territories.
When flying back to the continental U.S., you’ll start picking up data from the Florida ADS-B ground towers about 200 miles off the coast. The radar coverage extends about 75 to 100 NM off the coast, so this is helpful to start making routing decisions if it’s a stormy day in Florida.
There are 2 other benefits you’ll get when flying with an ADS-B receivers in the Caribbean: traffic and attitude-based synthetic vision. First you’ll be able to see other airplanes equipped with ADS-B out transponders in your app, which is a nice benefit when out of ATC radar coverage. While this won’t be a “complete” traffic picture (since all GA airplanes aren’t ADS-B out yet), you’ll still find it useful to identify the airliners flying high above you.
Secondly the AHRS built into today’s ADS-B receivers power the attitude-based synthetic vision feature in ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot. This provides a great view of the surrounding area on your iPad (including 3D terrain info for the volcanic islands) as you travel around.
Caribbean Pilot’s Guide
The Caribbean planning guides provide valuable information not found in any other resource.
Pilot Publishing has produced Bahamas and Caribbean planning guides for over 3 decades, and is the go-to resource for detailed airport information based on the company’s years of island flying experience. These comprehensive books offers a unique mix of public data, personally verified airport information and helpful aerial pictures of airstrips throughout the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and more. It gives pilots an added measure of confidence that a 12-month old chart just can’t match.
This information is also available as an iPad app, so you can replace the large (and fairly heavy) book. The app is laid out much like the print book, with a helpful tab-style navigation menu on the right side of the screen. Each area of the Caribbean has its own tab, which are further divided by island and airport. In addition to data about runway length, frequencies and customs, there is some valuable editorial additions–including real world pilot reports of runway conditions, up-to-date airport pictures and even reviews of hotels and restaurants. This is invaluable when planning a visit to a new island, and we’ve found the comments to be pretty accurate over the years.
There are 2 separate apps available, one for the Bahamas and another for the remainder of the Caribbean. There are new versions released annually with updates and new information.
Flash Pass allows you to conveniently file eAPIS manifests right from your iPad.
The United States Customs and Border Protection requires that you electronically submit a passenger manifest a minimum of 1 hour prior to departure when flying a private aircraft from the U.S. to a foreign destination, and again when returning to the U.S. from a foreign location.
This can be done at the US Customs’ eAPIS website, but a more convenient alternative is to use the Flash Pass eAPIS filing iPad app. The Customs’ eAPIS website is a bit clumsy, and this app eliminates the complications present there by allowing you to complete and submit a manifest in a matter of seconds right from your iPad or iPhone. It allows you to store all your aircraft and passenger data, saving time on future manifests. Flash Pass is cloud-based, so you can use the service’s web interface when that option is more convenient.
Convenience comes with a price–you can either choose the $60 annual subscription plan that allows you to file unlimited manifests, or pay as you go for $3.99 per submission.
It’s worth pointing out here too that FltPlan.com also offers an eAPIS filing service for $200 annually that integrates seamlessly with their other flight planning services. An additional benefit with this plan is that it also includes the ability to send passenger notifications to Caribbean countries that also require advanced notice through the CARICOM system (Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis , St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago). This is alternatively accomplished by submitting a manifest through the CARICOM eAPIS website.
Source: Ipad appsiPad eases workload for Caribbean flying