Recently I had the opportunity of doing an international flight for some of the Baptist Missionaries we serve. The two missionaries we flew were headed to Tete, Mozambique, to minister to their fellow missionaries there, as well as teach some local pastors. I was excited about this flight because I had never been to Mozambique, but also a bit apprehensive because with international flying in Africa you never know what to expect. The planning started with our chief pilot applying for clearances not only from Mozambique, but also from Zambia for an international flight between the two countries. He also called around to determine how much the international landing fees etc would be. I then did the actual flight planning and filed a flight plan. Tete isn’t actually that far from Lusaka, so the flight was only about two hours. The morning of the flight I took the plane to the Lusaka International Airport and found the passengers. Together we went through customs. Sometimes you get asked a lot of questions for a private flight, but usually it’s not too bad. We have nothing to hide, but too many questions can delay things. Thankfully, this time the customs agent was more concerned with his cell phone conversation than with us going to Mozambique, so he stamped everything with no questions asked! After making it through the international terminal we found the exit door for the international flights. It was locked. And the man with the key wasn’t anywhere to be found. The airport staff prepare for the large airline flights, but in between there aren’t too many people around. I went to search him out and left my two passengers at the door. After several minutes of futile searching, I came back and found they had flagged someone from outside and he had gone to get a key. So we made it outside, and loaded up the airplane and were on our way! The flight went smoothly; as we reached the border Lusaka Air Traffic Control transferred us to Beira Control. I made several radio calls but with no response. By this point we were well into Mozambique still with no response from their radios. My passengers and I had a discussion on the correct way to say “Beira” thinking that my mispronunciation may have led to the non-response. I pulled out my chart and found a different frequency and tried calling on that one. Lo and behold, they could hear me on that one and responded! I’m still pretty sure I wasn’t saying “Beira” correctly, but they graciously overlooked that. We continued on and made it to our destination Tete (we also discussed out to say that, because I heard it said three different ways on the radios during the flight…).
After landing we had to figure out where to enter for international flights. We made it in and found the window to clear customs. After the initial confusion because there were 3 of us but only 2 had visas to enter the country since I was turning around and immediately returning to Zambia. They determined that I also needed to pay a fee because I was also at the window. So after determining that I would get a receipt for it, I paid the $25 dollar fee and we, along with the missionary we were meeting there, went to pay what I thought was my landing fees. We were detained by a police officer because he wasn’t sure why we were going back out towards the airplane, but he only spoke to me in Portuguese . The missionary we were with spoke Portuguese and responded to the officer. It was interesting because the officer continued to speak to me (I had the official looking pilot uniform on) even though I obviously didn’t understand a word he was saying. He allowed us to continue and we paid the fee. I said goodbye to my passengers and went to the control tower to file a flight plan. I wasn’t sure where to go in the building, so ended up climbing the stairs all the way to the controller in the tower. He was tickled that I had come up to see him and we had a great conversation. He pointed me to the correct spot to file the flight plan and told me if I ever came back to be sure to come up and see him again! While I was filing my flight plan I was told that I hadn’t actually paid the landing fees; what we had paid in the other office was the “Customs fee” for bringing a Zambian airplane to Mozambique (even though it was in transit and wasn’t staying). So I paid another set of fees and then was free to go. My flight back to Lusaka was uneventful, and it felt like coming home when I landed back at the international airport to clear customs back into Zambia. Overall, it was a successful day without any problems, so I thanked the Lord for that! You just never know what to expect when you fly internationally in Africa. I went back and collected the guys three days later, and even knew what to expect this time!