In late May 2005, Vic Flintham and Malcolm Bird teamed up with another pair of pilots in a PA28R from Old Sarum and took G-DIXY through France and around Spain and Portugal for a few days. Initially the plan was to visit Portugal, but soon we were planning to do rather more! The text below describes some of the experiences that may help with your flight planning for overseas trips. They and other members of the club who have undertaken such trips will be more than happy to help with any queries you have if you are planning something simlar:
Flight plans are required for every flight in Spain and Portugal. Min 30mins before takeoff but better to allow an hour. Indeed it is usual for it to take one hour at a relaxed pace from submitting flight plan to being ready for taxi in the larger airports.
In France, flight plans are not required for VFR flights starting and finishing in France. However, the Olivia terminals are popping up at most airports and allow you to submit and update flights plans easily. They are required for cross border flights.
Get your Olivia username/password sorted out before your trip!
You can also phone in your flight plan if you want to do this in a hurry and save a trip to the flight planning office.
In Spain, each flight planning office has a computer terminal running an old DOS program you can use to enter and submit a flight plan. Press F3 repeatedly until a menu screen appears that allows you to select “Submit a flight plan in English”, then proceed from there, watch the screen for instructions. Sometimes it is Tab to move to next field, sometimes it is Return! Note that for a VFR flight you do not need to enter a route unless you really want to. The system has some inbuilt routes that it uses and they are quite happy for you to nominate and change your routing once you are in the air. If you have your plan written out on a sheet of paper in the normal style they will take that too. Once accepted, a printout appears of a short form of your plan which you take as your proof of submission. In the larger airports you need to get this stamped and this then acts as your pass to get airside and back to your aircraft.
In Portugal we used smaller airports. Here, they wanted written flight plans they could fax into the major ATC units. Interestingly, each airport seems to have its own branded flight planning sheets, good as souvenirs! Again, a flight plan, when accepted, meant that a squawk code was assigned to the flight whilst in Portuguese airspace.
Fuel was available at most of the airports we used. Ask for it during taxi to stand. We always filled up if we could, just in case. The exception was Deauville who normally have fuel but the pump on the Bowser had broken down. So do be prepared for surprises!
At several of the airports we were taxiing amongst larger jets (Ryanair, Easyjet, Iberia…) and in these cases yellow follow me vans were often used. They seemed to get the jets to wait for us as often as we had to wait for them. What equality! In Zaragoza we shared the runway with some F18s. Here, they definitely had priority!
BP Fuel Card was readily accepted at most airports and preferable to credit cards which were usually turned down or cash. (Obtain before trip from AirBP website)
Squawk code issued during taxi usually remains with you for whole flight.
Study charts and make lists of all frequencies and station names that you might use. You are sometimes handed off to unexpected frequencies and it can be difficult to catch the name of the station.
Radio coverage can be patchy, flying higher helps. Sometimes the stations predict holes in coverage and say “if we lose contact, change to XXX at point YYY”, but be ready for this in any event. Sometimes, if a commercial jet hears you trying three times without success they will act as relay for you.
There are many Restricted and Danger zones dotted across these large countries. Study the chart early to get a feel for them. If you do want to go through any, ask permission using a simple phrase like “G-XXXX requests crossing Romeo 233”. They seem to understand this and will say if it is active and denied or whether you can proceed. Calls to ask if an area is active, cold or whatever usually end up in long sequences whilst they try and understand what we mean! Clearance is usually “You are cleared to XXX, report at XXX” which seems to mean that at your present altitude and heading you are cleared through such restricted areas until that point. But if in doubt still ask for individual crossings!
Don’t be afraid to fly high! Often the terrain and restricted/danger areas encourage this too! Also, once at Flight Levels the issues over pressure setting are reduced!
Study the chart to identify VRPs and also have knowledge of the airway intersection points (an low level IFR chart can provide these). Know the names of these points. Many of the larger airports have several N, W, S, E and may refer to them by the place names or as Whisky One etc. If you have previously spotted these on the charts all is easy. Note , we were given a request to report Whisky Abeam a few times, having not heard Whisky used for West before, we were looking for this place on the map for a few minutes!
English was not a problem during the whole tour. Only once did we fly out of a French airfield before ATC was awake and therefore gave reports in French (well a sort of French!) as we taxied and departed. However, a phrase book might be useful in some restaurants!
VFR in the airways is allowed in France, Spain and Portugal and can offer a quick route to places. It eases the radio work and can be particularly useful if there is some low cloud about. The low-level IFR charts show the airways, the intersection/reporting points and minimum altitudes. Follow the semi-circular rules for VFR flight to choose a FL above the minimum in the airway. (Odd+500 to East and Even+500 to West.) You must get ATC approval to climb into the airway.
Weather updates can be obtained in the flight control centres. There was usually a book to write down your requests so that this is logged. Have a list of airports ready on a sheet of paper as they take this away and return with a list of TAFs METARs and NOTAMs.
If you have access to an internet terminal at your hotel or wherever, there are some useful sites to look at:
www.metoffice.co.uk – the good old UK Met Office site
www.bbc.co.uk/weather - really impressive now it has been updated
www.meteo.fr – A lot of weather info for France
www.theyr.net – Useful for weather across the world but a good ability to zoom in.
Note that you need to register to use some of these sites fully. Do this well before your trip. The Meteo system in particular will need your pilot’s licence number etc but it is well worth it.
Sayings of the trip:
Zaragoza Approach to Nxxxx: “Turn left now or you will be brought down by ground fire.”
“I’ll call you back” pronounced “Icawubac” is used rather than the UK’s “standby”.
“Roger” pronounced “Royer”
Vic of Adrian: “Do you buy any clothes?” after spotting all the sponsored shirts worn by the IT industry people.
“You are cleared to Manchester” and “You are cleared to Heathrow” as issued by the approach controllers in Spain for departing Ryanair flights. Oh for the airways!
At Santander ATC showed a lot of imagination as Ryanair clearly thought the little planes would just hold for them. Vic checked twice (quite rightly) that G-DIXY was to depart *before* the Ryanair (who then had to hold lined-up until we had turned!)
The language barrier was more of a problem on the ground than in the air. At one restaurant we were reduced to imitating animal sounds to identify the dishes on offer. Vic chose wild board because of the effective snorting of the participating waiter. This same waiter tried to understand how our steaks should be cooked by simulating the slicing of his wrists and indicating how much red-stuff should be visible!