NO night VFR flights in Mexico was the warning. The implication being that bad things would befall any pilot who found himself flying under visual flight rules in Mexican airspace after official darkness. Oooh, scary! Except that it happens all the time at small airports, uncontrolled airports, airstrips and landing places of questionable status. With the exception of major airports the risk you face in flying and landing at night is two-fold.
One. You have little or no flight following, no real flight plan that can be opened at anything other than a major airport and even the flight plans that you do “file” are seldom forwarded to your destination airport. The obvious inference being that if you don’t get where you were going that night, no one is going to miss you in the darkness or for the next day or days till somebody raises the question, “Where is so and so?” No search and rescue. The military may send out a plane if you are deemed important enough. Don’t count on it.
Two. You land in the dark at an airport or airstrip in Mexico it is likely assumed you are no bueno. The greeting party may be less than friendly or even worse if its the military or police.
So here I am, next country south of Mexico, Belize, not Guatemala. I have a fresh Commercial rotorcraft certificate based on my Commercial Rotorcraft License issued from another country. You notice the italicized words, which denote the different types of flying I am doing here. The Belize regs were written before Belize was a country in 1977 by the Brits and as such they have not much in the way of their own rules as of yet. There was however a commercial rotorcraft exam to write for the Belize Civil Aviation. Most people take two to five tries before they pass the exam, the aviation examiner told me when I sat to write. I was done the exam in an hour, mostly out of frustration. “You passed” he told me. Which questions did I get wrong I asked. “Who cares”, he said. Well, I hope it was nothing critical, I thought. Would have been nice to have had one question that referenced helicopters on the test I said. “You passed” he repeated. Ok, fine
Paula and I had made several flights to a few of the Islands offshore Belize. All flights were in single engine Cessna Caravans beyond gliding distance, no floats with a passenger sitting in the copilots seat for good measure. Well, thats different. I’ve flown in Caravans out of Seattle over water with no floats, but short distances. I’ve flown in single otters with passengers up front in the second pilots position on commercial flights in Canada. This combination seemed to be stretching the “rules” a bit. The flights here had no verbal briefing before in the waiting area or on board the aircraft. Sit down and put your seat belt on was it. If there were life vests on board I didn’t see them. The waters warm.
I found myself the other evening facing a familiar problem. A drop of at Cayo Espanto Resort would mean a return flight at night across the sea. I was flying an instrument and float equipped Bell in what would be night VFR conditions in the U.S.A.
The Belize regs say no night flights unless you are on an IFR flight (instrument flight) in controlled or uncontrolled airspace.
I would be in controlled airspace talking to approach control in one of the only two VFR helicopters in the entire country. I called approach. They gave me a heads up on two Cessna Caravans heading my way but at a higher altitude heading offshore to other Islands. That would be those same VFR only single engine Caravans carrying their passengers over the sea to distant off shore locations.
Yes there is no VFR flight at night in Belize either. Except that it happens all the time.