Mexican ATC Tried To Kill Me (Again)

Santiago picked me up at about 9 to give me a ride to the airport. He’s a cool guy. Has lived in US, Mexico and France, trilingual. Flew ultralights for decades and finally got a private pilot license just recently and is a partner in a 182. He’s done tons of flying in Mexico, including a lot of cross country trips in ultralights, and we’ve been talking about destinations we might check out.

Got to the airport and finally met the owner of the hangar I’ve been keeping my plane in. Nice young guy named Abraham. He runs a spray operation and owns a couple grass strips near Puerto Vallarta that he says we can use anytime. That could be an interesting option!

The planmaps was three legs. First, Celaya to Saltillo. In Saltillo clear customs and get a final load of cheap fuel ($3.60 a gallon, about $1.50 a gallon cheaper than the US average). Then stop briefly in Laredo, TX to clear customs into the US. Finally, Austin, TX for a couple nights of visiting and music.

The weather gods smiled on me this trip with hundreds of miles of the best tail winds I’ve ever flown with. The Maule is about a 120kt aircraft. You might be able to go a little faster at full blast, but in a comfortable cruise that’s a good compromise to keep from burning fuel for no good reason. At higher altitudes you can’t get enough oxygen to go any faster anyway. From Celaya to Saltillo I had a few times where my ground speed was over 170kts, so a tailwind in excess of 50kts. Makes the flight a lot shorter for sure!

Arriving in Saltillo, COA the control tower told me that winds were calm. I found this surprising given the winds aloft. I’ve also learned over the years not to trust ATC in Mexico when they give you a wind reading. I don’t know if the official placement for the wind gauge is in the tower or the equipment breaks and no one notices, but people flying in Mexico should be advised to never trust the wind information given by the tower. Look for wind socks, smoke, flags or anything else you can think of for wind information, just don’t trust ATC. The actual winds were 12G18.

Having survived another attempt by Mexican ATC to kill me, I departed for Laredo. Strong tail winds continued and I arrived nearly 30 minutes ahead of schedule, a shocking if not completely unprecedented occurrence in general aviation. I’ve complained about US Customs in the past. Least importantly they just always seem to be an odd combination of really, really bored and really, really full of themselves. Just unpleasant to interact with. More importantly, they have lost my paperwork then threatened me with a $5,000 fine. They have lost my amended arrival times and greeted me as I walked into the building with “It’s about time, I was just about the shred your paperwork”.

Given my previous complaints, I feel compelled to share my latest experience. The guys at Laredo this trip (notably, the location where I was threatened with a fine some time back) were fabulous. One came out on the ramp and explained the process to me courteously and quickly, the man at the desk was equally quick and pleasant. The entire thing was done in 10 minutes and everyone was very helpful.


The wildcard this trip would be the final leg to Austin. When I left Mexico there was a huge storm over the town. I knew that the storm would be gone by the time I got there, but there was a good chance that the weather would still be low clouds and strong winds. Plan B was to stay in Laredo overnight, but when I did my flight planning in Laredo it was clear that everything was going to be ok. The biggest challenge, as it turned out, would be selecting from the thousands of similar restaurants in Austin.

When I first came to Austin ten years ago I constantly heard people say that they regretted how Austin had changed that that it wasn’t the same city it was in the 80′s. One of my friends in San Miguel de Allende says something similar about when he moved out in the 70′s. Of course I never doubted them, but it’s really striking to me how much the town has change even in the past 10 years. I still like the city a lot (though not the heat!), but having walked around since arriving yesterday I have to say that it no longer feels “weird” in any meaningful way. Walking down 6th street I found restaurant after restaurant that were minor variations on a theme. All had extensive outdoor seating (because why sit inside and be comfortable when you can sit outside in the humidity and sweat while inhaling exhaust from the passing cars), all had well appointed bars, most had some southwest/texmex/fake mex kind of a thing. All were very well done, don’t get me wrong, but if the weirdness of Austin was mostly gone 10 years ago when the long-timers were commenting, it’s almost completely gone now.

Still a lovely (expensive/hot/crowded) city, but no longer weird.

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