do I need to file a GAR/anything else (except flight plan) if:
a) I plan to overfly NI on my route from east coast to Donegal?
b) I plan to fly to France from south of Ireland without stopping in UK? (for that matter, is GAR just a UK/Irish thing or is it also required in mainland EU?)
What happens if I'm some 2h in my flight, well over south of Britain and suddenly realize I desperately need a loo break (or any other random reason) making me divert to some regional airport with customs/immigration on site? Is that ok or do I face some bureaucratic nonsense sprinkled with eye-watering fines?
First of all let's talk about the Irish side. There is a document that many call a GAR in circulation in Ireland. But your exact requirements for a departure from Ireland to another country or for your return from another country depends entirely on the airport that you are departing from/arriving into. So you'll need to check that with the Irish airport.
The UK GAR is only required if you are landing in the UK. It's not required for an overflight which does not land in the UK at all. So your A & B questions do not require a GAR, as you never land in the UK.
Now if you wish to make an unscheduled landing in the UK, you have two choices. Firstly you can land at an airport that has a permanent customs & police presence. In the past you didn't actually need to give them any notice whatsoever of your arrival/departure (they were called designated airports). Now you are supposed to give them advance notice, but there is no minimum time limit for these designated airports.
Diverting into one of these is not likely to cause any problem. You can make yourself known to the police, and they will ask you to fill up a GAR. You'll have a little delay, and probably have to explain (so that they know that it wasn't a planed flight, but a genuine diversion). But no big deal and no fine.
Now if you divert somewhere else, you should ask the airport to make contact with the police and tell them that you had to divert. What happens after that will depend on the police force. Some (eg Caernarfon) will insist on coming to meet you. You'll have to fill up a GAR, and possibly get a warning not to make a habit of it. Others might simply ask you to complete a GAR and email it to them, and then you can go on your way. If it's your first time (or first time in a long time), then you won't be fined or anything. But you can expect that it will cause a significant delay while they work out what to do with you, and possibly turn up to meet you.
What you don't do is divert and attempt to hide your origin and destination! That will cause you problems! Be honest! It might cause a delay, but less problems in the long run!
If I've doubts about the weather, then I have two strategies (apart from not drinking a lot of liquids before take off!).
1. Plan a landing in the UK near the beginning of your overflight and file the appropriate GAR. Land there and then continue on. At least then you can stop anywhere else you like in the UK without further problems.
2. Submit a GAR to somewhere en-route that you can land at before your bad weather area. Don't plan to stop there. But if the weather is bad, then divert there. If not, then continue on your happy way.
Regarding the rest of Europe, most of Europe is in the Schengen zone. You need to "clear customs" entering this zone and then exiting it. Once inside you can cross international borders with nothing more than a flight plan.
To clear customs into and out of the Schengen zones, you can only go through airports which have "Customs" available. Most don't. You need to check the AIP to see if they do or not. The AIP will tell you if you need to give notice of your flight, and if so, how much notice and to who. Some require nothing and you can just turn up. Others allow you to simply turn up during certain hour and require notice outside these hours, and others require notice all the time.
My plan for these is to stop at the first available Schengen entry airport (usually the northern French coast). I'm then free to fly and land wherever I wish. When leaving I land at the last customs airport before leaving the Schengen zone.
I hope that helps.
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