Flying to & in Romania

Bert van Hork writes:

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It’s true to say I feel lucky in my life. The pinnacle so far is getting my twin rating, my night and IMC rating and buying a beautiful twin, G-MAIK, a Piper Seneca IV in better than pristine condition with all the toys for boys as well only 975 hours on all items….

The less good news is I’ve moved to Romania (Bucharest) for my work and what is the point of keeping her at Fowlmere when I live over 2000 kms away!? The decision was an easy one even though, as we will see later, Romania is uncharted territory…

Getting the plane to Romania was the first expedition. I’m a smoker, a heavy one (although I don’t smoke in my plane), but because we were going to file above FL100 I wanted oxygen on board. Derick Gunning, my IR rated co pilot did not like the idea so much but I found a pulse system from Mountain High. The guys at Oxford were pretty helpful, except finding a place to fill the bottle was harder, much harder, than indicated. Oxford itself was an option but they could not ship her filled and to go from Hertfordshire to Oxford just for an oxygen bottle was a big annoyance.

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Leaving Fowlmere on a misty day, we immediately switched on the oxygen and even Derick had to admit the canullas were comfortable for the entire flight and the small system worked flawlessly.



G-MAIK had just received her new C of A and at the recommendation of a friend I had the props balanced dynamically. Even before she was always vibration free, but the expectancy is that dynamic balancing will further reduce the stress on the engines and so should lead to a longer life expectancy.

Another novelty for me was the JPI 760 fuel controller with GAMI injectors. I’m still playing around with this but its a fab piece of kit for sure!

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The initial trip took us directly overhead Frankfurt Airport to Linz in Austria, a big airfield with little activity, where credit cards are not accepted… So it was off to the pinning machine even before we could retire to the toilet and the coffee bar for my urgently required cigarette….

Unfortunately throughout, the weather was cloudy so we had little view except the odd glimpse of the alps and later the Karpat mountains. So we just enjoyed being given clearances for legs of over 200 nautical miles and smiling at the thought we were in the sunshine whilst millions of Europeans had to accept the shade…

landedatbaneasaairportbucuresti_sm_02Landing some 7 hours after departing Fowlmere at Baneasa was uneventful. We taxied to the Romanian Flight School where we were greeted by the entire team of Engineers at the most modern facility of the entire (almost downtown) airport, second to Otopeni Henri Coanda international Airport just 5 miles north of Baneasa.


So Derick helped me fly to Romania….. I was looking forward to having a flying jolly at least every week. And after all, having a twin gets me safe over Count Dracula’s mountains…. Brashov is a ski resort so they’re not hills…

Well it ain’t so easy in Romania.

Derick stayed a few days and he and I are now members of the Romanian Aero club. Great people in an even more majestic building on one of Bucharest’s main Boulevards. Constantin Voicu, the Director of the club even gave me copies of the officially non existent VFR maps…. Printed by the MOD in the UK!!!!! So it s time to go flying!

I was introduced to him by Dorin Ivascu, MD of Baneasa airport where I keep G-MAIK for now, Dorin being my most important contact to date.…. But I will have to leave Baneasa soon, till the airport closes for 3 months May 10 due to resurfacing! At our departure from Fowlmere the Notam said Baneasa was closing for resurfacing from 10May 2006 but this is an error…. It is this year! Dorin had also directed me for hangerage and maintenance to the Romanian Flight Academy who operate 2 Seneca V’s for twin training alongside some new Cessna 172’s. Their facilities are heaven of modernism is desolate land.

There is so much to tell…. Miha, the chief engineer, is another great guy and ex military, he used to head a maintenance crew who work on C-130’s and is unfortunately frustrated he can’t find any more engineers.

So back to Dorin. He arranged a meeting with the boss of Air Total because there is not much avgas in Romania, only at Baneasa, Arad, sometimes Strejnic and Tuzla. For now I pay with credit card, and I have fuel so I can fly! So can we go fly now?

Well not quite….. VFR in Romania is not permitted by foreign planes unless you have prior permission from the Romanian CAA which takes 2 days and paper work….. and as the airspace is all military, you re not allowed to fly VFR above 3000 ft, which is pretty hard in Dracula’s mountains… To be honest the ladies at the CAA VFR flights department are helpful and they gave me both a fax and email number as well as a document showing me how to apply for the flights. They even promised for emergencies I they could sometimes arrange it within 4 hours. Time will tell.

There s another little issue. As I said, Baneasa is closing for 3 months from May 10 for runway resurfacing (I sure hope they will resurface the taxi ways and all Romanian roads same time hihihi). So I ll have to move my plane. Soon. Very soon.

So far I have 2 options:
1) Tiriac Aviation have kindly offered me a place in their hanger (yes the famous Tennis player and manager of Ilie Nastase, that Tiriac) but unfortunately all is very expensive at Otopeni International.
2) Romanian Flight Academy have offered me hangerage at Strejnic, an 800m grass strip 45 minutes north of Bucharest, and it s also where they will keep their maintenance during Baneasa s closure, so great!

…..Except Strejnic is an unlicensed field and the Romanian CAA have another restriction for foreign planes: no landings allowed on unlicensed fields! Hmmmm, dead end you think?

Not in Romania!

Everything takes longer here but everything is possible too! So the Romanian Aero Club have offered me to assist in providing a waiver for my potential claims against the Romanian CAA so they can allow me to land at Strejnic! Great solution (especially for them) except it s end of April and I still have had no clearance….

Dorin must be Mr Fixit in Romanian Aviation. He s also the FBO for Tuzla, the first licensed (!) private strip on the black sea coast where you can learn to fly, parachute jump and admire the Romanian hippies at Vama Veche beach not far away. I truly recommend it! Come on European Union, break new ground, come and visit the new family member. People are friendly here, hospitable, and the young people speak good English. Just remember the country and most of the inhabitants are very poor.

Anyway Dorin has a pilot, Vali, who coincidentally also teaches at the Romanian Flight Academy. I thought their teacher would jump at the chance to fly (IR) with me because one Seneca is u/s due to new engines being required and the other one just did a wheels up landing (ooops), so currently no twin ratings available in Romania! Helas, only 3 IR instructors for 18 IR students, so none of them would fly with me, except Vali

Vali is a seat of his pants pilot who does EVERYTHING different from what Derick my flying guru taught me…. Vali is my man (for now). He has an IR (I think) so we could legally fly IR within Romania. Vali has a 31 year old child and flies anything you can name as long as it has props. His English is mainly restricted to flight lingo so I didn’t find out much more about him except he s flown all his life, worked as a pilot in Pakistan for 2 years and hates curries! Hope we ll get on….. I love curries!

So yesterday was the day. We were going to fly to Iasi and back, Iasi being a great town on the Moldavian border, with great history and architecture, I know the city well, and if your club outing takes you there, I highly recommend the Corso café. Slow service but a flowery garden heaven in the centre of another dusty city.

We met at 1100 to fly at 1400 local. First thing he wanted to see was the insurance cover. I liked that. His request had a hint of experience about it and I felt better after finding out he was not the pilot who landed the schools Seneca wheels up. After a coffee we made the flight plan and went to the briefing room of Baneasa s beautiful 1920’s airport where a kind lady who spoke mainly Romanian gave us a list of all relevant notams, the main one being that the airspace above Bacau was closed due to military activity up to FL245 but luckily vectoring was offered. Then on to Met where we were informed the weather en route was going to be CAVOK.

Off to the airplane by kind assistance of Dorin (again) as the hanger is far away, so we went in a car….. Over the taxi way because there was an air show on! Once in the hanger we found the taxi way was closed to planes due to the air show, so G-MAIK was towed by car first to the main apron. We were parked right next to two Italian Eurofighters (Typhoon). The typhoon next to us was just being prepared for start so I offered to the front seat pilot to swap planes (I really did, and later to a top brass Italian chief as well!) but they declined with a smile on their face….

Once all outside checks done, we started the radios and asked for start up approval which we duly received. Hmmm is it going to happen? Not quite…. Once started we were told we could not fly to Bacau unless we could accept FL 245 or above. It took 30 minutes and our reminder the Notam included a vectoring facility before they allowed us to depart. In fact that was coincidentally great, because I was able to understand meanwhile why the Italian pilot declined my kind offer to swap his boringly grey Typhoon for my beautifully coloured and in pristine condition Seneca IV G-MAIK. What a display!

After a normal STID we set course to Iasi via Bacau at FL 100. The trip itself was great except the forecast CAVOK weather 80 miles around BACAU was actually 8 octas of cloud with light turbulence and light icing. G-MAIK behaved well, all systems worked and once past Bacau we got permission to descend to FL40 where the ice melted and we were able to shoot a nice ILS after having been vectored in till we were visual.

IASI has a single concrete runway with a virtually new terminal building. Apart from one security guard, one apron marshal, a few ground stewardesses and a lonely Austrian waiting for the 1900 flight to Bucharest, there was no one there….

No one to change my 1 Lei bill into two 50 Lei cent coins for the coffee machine. GRRRRRRRRRRRR! Thank god the car park attendant did have coins! Multumesc (thank you) sir!

The lonely Austrian was a nice guy and he still had two hours to wait so I offered he could come with us back to Bucharest, which he accepted. He turned out to be working in the concrete business but his life was all about mountaineering and skiing. I never let pass an opportunity to make new friends and show people my love for flying and he was grateful for both the trip and the time Vali and I spent telling him about our flying (I think….).

The return trip was slightly better. We were given FL130 and just skimmed the Bacau clouds in the sunshine, returning for an NDB approach. No issues here. Andreas the Austrian stayed with me as we parked the plane on the main apron and took a taxi to the hanger to wait for the refueller. Of course the plane took 75 minutes to arrive back at the hanger behind a car and it took another 20 minutes for the refueller to arrive, but Miha, my friend and chief engineer was kind enough to offer Andreas a cup of tea and me a cup of coffee with my nth cigarette after the flight.

So you see? Life is great in Romania! I love this to bits, including all the frustrations! I have met many new kind and helpful people, made my own little history and I live a life of black and white, no grey’s, just as I like it!

There will be more to come, I am sure, I will keep you posted! Organise the club excursion to Romania! I ll be happy to be your local coordinator!

Bert van Horck