Flying Ireland

I have made three flights around the south and west coasts of Ireland and I thought a note may be of interest for other Modern Air members. 

I had travelled independently to West Cork and so made the flights in a Cessna 172 that I rented from Atlantic Flight Training Academy based at Cork Airport. www.afta.ie AFTA is a busy commercial pilot training outfit but also have some PPL student members and other assorted aviators and are happy to accommodate non-members. They have a range of C172s and three twins.

Flying to Cork and the west of Ireland is not a day trip from the UK but is one that I feel is seriously worthy of consideration for a 3 day plus tour for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the scenery is breathtaking. The Irish tourist board is promoting its spectacular south and west coast as the Wild Atlantic Way. The sheer beauty of the place is breathtaking in a car but the added dimension of being in the air makes it one of the greatest VFR flying experiences I have had. http://www.ireland.com/en-gb/wild-atlantic-way

Secondly, the facilities for private pilots are fabulous. Whilst there may not be a lot of smaller airfields in Ireland for anything much bigger than an ultra or micro-light, there are a small number of highly equipped commercial fields often with long tarmac runways, ILS, radar, a host of Nav Aids and a positively warm welcome for a visitor. Cork, Shannon, Waterford, West of Ireland Knock and Sligo all fall into this category. Cork and Shannon have cross runways to facilitate landing in strong winds. I believe that Donegal and Weston (Dublin) are similarly GA friendly. Landing fees are modest (€7 at Cork) and a taxi to the nearby town is easy to organise. 

All of the above mentioned airfields have Class C zones around them, which means that flight plans are required for every flight, even a 30 minute VFR jolly in the local area. My heart sank when I discovered this. My disappointment was short lived, however, when I understood the filing procedure. In Ireland, filing a flight plan still simply involves a quick phone call to Shannon ATC, to give them basic information about the plane, ETA and ETD, POB and endurance information and some route detail. No need for coordinates, reporting points for the route and precise times and online filing; it really is very easy and the guys in Shannon bend over to help.

ATC help is exceptional. The airspace is virtually empty and most of the country has radar coverage from Shannon or Dublin. So, a Traffic Service is a minimum and plenty of assistance is provided in the event that someone else happens to show up.

Thirdly, Irish hospitality is well worth the trip alone. 

My three sorties:

  • A 2 hour flight around the extreme south west coast.  From Cork, we headed south to the Old Head of Kinsale before turning onto a roughly westerly heading and tracking towards Mizen Head, Ireland’s most south-westerly point. We then routed north across Sheeps Head to Castletownbere, Bere Island and the Beara peninsula, taking in Allihies, Dursey Island and Garnish before turning for home along the north coast of the Beara, the Kenmare River and back to Cork. My mate Peter published some photos on a local blog http://balooz.com/flying-beara-peninsula/ and more information about this area is available at http://www.ireland.com/en-gb/wild-atlantic-way/kerry-to-cork
     
  • My second flight took in some of Ireland’s most famous tourist sites.  We left Cork on a NW heading for the Ring of Kerry, Dingle Bay and lunch on the Gaelic speaking Aran Islands. Lots of sheep, sweaters and bicycle hire facilities. We landed on the largest island of Innishmore. No ILS here, just 490m of uphill bitumen and a friendly man to drive us to the town for a bite to eat. From Aran we tracked the coast Northwards taking in Galway, Connemara and Mayo. Finally, we swept eastwards behind the looming Croagh Patrick into Clew Bay and inland to Knock, now known as West of Ireland International Airport, for a fuel stop. In the middle of nowhere this airport was built privately for pilgrims to the nearby shrine and is perhaps the most extraordinary airport in the whole country; 2400m of paved strip, full ATC, ILS, DME, VOR, NDB and hardly any traffic. Then it was directly back to Cork.
  • The last trip was further afield. Leaving Cork on a northerly heading we flew directly to Sligo, in the north west of the country, overflying Limerick and Galway. This is the region of Benbulbin, made famous by WB Yeats, and has a completely differently landscape. Glaciation reached here and so many of the mountains beyond the Sligo town appear to be smoothed off at the top. Commercial flights ceased here some years ago but, as home to two air sea rescue choppers, they still maintain ATC and a 1200m tarmac runway.  After a brief fuel stop and coffee break we headed out west along the Belmullet peninsula to Belmullet and Ackill Islands. This part of Ireland is very sparsely populated and the spectacular cliffs and long sandy beaches are virtually empty. 

I hope this may have provided inspiration for some of you to visit this extraordinary landscape. There is no reason why these three flights can’t be tacked together as part of some circular tour of the whole country starting and ending in Fowlmere.

Full details of the Irish AIP are available online at www.iaa.ie It is worth thinking in advance about the VFR holding patterns that are published for a number of these locations, particularly at Cork. 

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions at ted.frith@modair.co.uk


Submitted by Ted Frith August 2014