Flight from Shoreham EGKA to Elba LIRJ, June 2014
This article describes a straighforward IFR trip from Shoreham EGKA to Elba LIRJ, with a stop at Bergerac LFBE.
Elba is a lovely scenic island near Italy.
Other trip writeups are here
For non-aviation readers, here is a glossary
FAA CPL/IR, JAA/EASA PPL/IR, ~1750hrs.
The aircraft is a 2002 TB20GT
The aircraft has an economy cruise speed of 140-150kt TAS depending on altitude and a 20000ft ceiling. It has an autopilot which will fly GPS/LNAV approaches (laterally only) or ILS approaches (laterally and vertically). It does not have LPV capability; fortunately LPV is not yet operationally relevant in Europe. An article on the TB20GT aircraft is here
Oxygen is used on all IFR flights, with the Mountain High O2D2 electronic regulators and cannulas. The performance of this system (comparison) is way above anything else on the market, with flight at 20000ft being perfectly possible with cannulas. I carry masks in case somebody has a blocked nose, but they have almost never been used.
European IFR flight is only marginally feasible without oxygen, due to the minimum practical Eurocontrol routings, and on some routes due to the terrain. This trip was filed at FL100, which is OK for legal non-oxygen flight (although after a few hours most people will be very tired), but I had to climb to FL150 to stay above weather.
Elba LIRJ is a "Customs" airport so is accessible directly from the UK. In fact it has been discovered (discussion here) that almost any Italian airport can have Immigration arranged for a UK flight, and of course Customs is not required for a flight within the EU. In this context I am using the terms "Customs" and "Immigration" in their literal sense i.e. the EU allows free movement of goods (Customs not required) while Schengen allows free movement of people (Immigration not required). But it appears that this concession is not widely known in Italy and it may not be a good idea to rely on it.
One example of a direct flight would be this one which is 712nm (including a 10% Eurocontrol routing overhead) and is easily done in the TB20 which has a zero-fuel range of about 1300nm:
However, on this occassion I was collecting a friend from Bergerac LFBE (shown below with the red arrow) so it was done in two flights totalling 821nm:
The routes were developed using the EuroGA autorouter and filed using EuroFPL. Unusually, all routes did not benefit from filing higher than FL100 so that is what I did. France is similar but other European routes, for example a crossing of Frankfurt, need to be at say FL140 to avoid a huge dogleg. Also, in France, the two directions tend to be in quite similar routes so the return routings are not shown above. The above route illustrations were done by pasting the route into Flitestar; this is a very old and now almost defunct flight planning program. Jepp are moving everything to the Ipad on which they have rendered useless handy features like printing.
Update: The EuroGA autorouter now offers direct flight plan filing so EuroFPL is now a backup facility for me.
LIRJ has no instrument approach and the flight plan is filed as "Y" (IFR to VFR) with a change to VFR at CAPCO:
LFBE FISTO DCT SOVET DCT AMOLO G39 FJR DCT BADET DCT ERLAX DCT MJ G701 BIRGO DCT STP A3 CAPCO VFR LIRJ
Only some countries in Europe enforce "Y" flight plans to non-IFR airports. Germany and Italy are the two main cases. The UK doesn't care...
Bizzarely for an airport which has a fair number of commercial / airline flights, Bergerac LFBE needs 24hrs prior notice for Customs and this applies to any flight between it and the UK. Even a flight from Bergerac to the UK needs this 24hrs notice. This is a hassle which is becoming increasingly common in Europe. Bordeaux LFBD doesn't have this issue but is more expensive - around €100.
Elba LIRJ has no PNR/PPR requirement. As I normally do, I contacted them by email, which worked! They replied saying that the flight plan is all they need. However it has to be said that they had my email address at that point so if the place was suddenly packed-out they would have told me. I don't think just flying to some little airport without a prior contact is a great idea, especially in Italy which like much of southern Europe has a reputation for never being the same twice
The weather on the whole trip was good but with a lot of haze and some isolated convective activity.
Nowadays I use the IR image before a flight and it has proved itself to be a very reliable indicator of whether the flight is feasible VMC on top in the TB20 which can go to FL200 if necessary. Some info on cloud tops is here and here.
Shoreham to Bergerac
To reach Elba early in the morning (to meet up there with another pilot flying in from mainland Italy, another one from Germany who in the end didn't make it, and to get the best flying conditions) I flew to Bergerac the previous afternoon and stayed locally. The 1200 MSLP, 1200 SigWx, radar, IR and sferics were all clear. There was some suspect weather near Bergerac but not close enough.
Normally I depart early morning, to get the best weather and the most time at the destination, but on this occassion I was only going to end up in a hotel for an early morning departure the following morning, the weather was forecast to remain clear, and I had some stuff to do at the airport, so I departed around 1300
On nice clear days, if terrain is not an issue, I fly at FL100 because it gives good fuel economy with a tiny oxygen usage. On this Channel crossing one is out of glide range anyway...
30 minutes later, the coast of France appeared
The computed Landing Fuel on Board (LFOB) stabilised at 55 USG, so with 86 USG usable and negligible wind one could fly to Bergerac and then all the way back to Shoreham without a landing
During most of the trip I was talking to Paris Control and later Nantes. Limoges provided the vectors to the ILS.
Here we are approaching the ILS at Bergerac. For an ILS, I normally set up the GPS in OBS mode so it shows the localiser (as the magenta line) and this helps situational awareness. Also, ATC often leave the "cleared for the ILS" clearance very late which increases the workload at that point, and knowing one's exact distance to the localiser is useful
It was hot, at +32C! I have a lightweight reflective cover (from Bruce's Custom Covers in the USA) which is very effective in keeping the cockpit cool. It's interesting to note that all planes parked there that are likely to be used for longer trips were N-reg...
It was a Saturday and, apart from a few people in the hangars, there was nobody about. I tried to find out where one pays the landing fee but I can't speak French and nobody could speak English. Eventually someone understood me and sent me to an office, but it was closed... I walked up to the tower and the controller said they will just send me the bill. Apparently they get the address from google! In my case (a US registered aircraft with a US trustee) this would not be productive so I left him my details to pass on. The landing and parking was eventually settled on the second stop at Bergerac 3 days later.
One thing he told me is that Bergerac will dismantle the ILS and put in an LPV approach, around 2018. This is interesting because all indications I see suggest that the majority of commercial jet and turboprop operators is not LPV capable. They can all fly an ILS... The vast majority of IFR-capable piston GA is not LPV capable too (myself included - the avionics refit would be about €30k depending on details) but one would not expect an airport to care much for light GA!
One has the option of self service fuel if one has the TOTAL fuel card, but these are hard to get without a French bank account. I have heard that some very determined (non French) pilots have recently found other ways to obtain one but I almost never fly to French airports where that is the only option, so it's not an issue. They accept Visa if you order the fuel bowser, so the only downside appears to be that if the bowser man is busy refuelling an airliner, or is at lunch, you may have to wait...
I had an evening in Bergerac. The city is very scenic
Bergerac to Elba
We departed for Elba early the following morning. The 0600 and 1200 MSLPs indicated a possibility of convective activity (the troughs) but an early morning flight is usually effective in getting away from that. The IR image did indeed show this. The METARs and TAFs were fine for Elba but confirmed the buildups near Bergerac. There is no official weather data for Elba; the nearest airport is Bastia on Corsica and that was also the filed alternate.
This is Bergerac airport behind us
The flight was filed for FL100 but there were some significant buildups and we soon climbed to FL140 to get above/through them
The flight went along the coast of France and later Italy. The haze was thick and difficult to remove from these photos, but a few interesting airports could be seen below
This one is huge - about 3700m long
Finally, Elba appeared on the "map". We got several long shortcuts
French ATC (Marseilles) issued a new squawk and appeared to be confused about whether we were VFR or IFR - on a Eurocontrol flight plan in controlled airspace at FL140 However, the original squawk from Bergerac was 1000 which I thought at the time was suspicious... I don't think that one came from Eurocontrol.
Later in the flight, we were asked several times where we planned to cancel IFR. Elba is a VFR-only airport so the flight plan is a "Y" (IFR to VFR). Eventually I cancelled IFR at CAPCO as filed, at the east coast of Corsica.
Finally, Elba appeared in the haze. I wonder how many people have flown into that hill, on a DCT leg on the GPS... in fact somebody has just done something like that (at time of writing) on Corsica.
At this point, we lost contact with Italian ATC. They just went quiet. Later I discovered this was caused by them changing shifts and during a couple of minutes there was nobody there... apparently they tried to call us afterwards but by then I had already changed to Elba, having made a blind transmission about it. My friend Riccardo, who was meeting us on Elba, heard the exchange and told them what happened.
There was some cloud over the island but fortunately not too low.
The runway is finally visible in the middle of the picture
Clearly the runway is located at about the only spot they could have put it.
The wind was light but onshore (180/07, later 190/05) so I chose to land into wind, which needs a left hand downwind circuit
Many people choose to land from the sea, even with a slight tailwind. The runway is long enough but...
The descent rate (over 1000fpm) was too steep for my friend's ears so I did an orbit out to sea to lose height more slowly. This is from the downwind leg
There is ample parking but they don't allow piston aircraft to use the tarmac - or maybe there is a booking or charging scheme for it...
The left-base turn onto final is steep, to avoid the hill. There is an alternative technique there which involves descending on a steep long final from further out, but I am OK with steep turns to final - in this case one does however need to be fully configured to land on late downwind
Almost on final
I did have a bit of a problem slowing down, but did finally manage it
Two Jetprops were parked on the tarmac. These are an ideal long distance touring aircraft, burning Jet-A fuel and having radar, FL260 ceiling, 260kt TAS, pressurisation, and MTOW below 2000kg so not paying route charges
We got the "grass". The surface was OK but in places had many small stones
On the grass, it took some pushing with a towbar to get the aircraft in place. This needs at least 2 people; on tarmac 1 person can just about manage
Riccardo landed shortly afterwards in his Cessna and we had a great lunch in the airport restaurant
Refuelling was from a bowser. Avgas at Elba is expensive - see notes at the end of this article.
Elba is a hugely scenic place. A writeup like this cannot do it justice so here are just a few pics... We had the afternoon plus a whole next day so we took a bus around the island (two separate bus routes actually) to see a fair bit of it. One can hire cars or scooters but from the bus it was pretty obvious that the roads were narrow and full of traffic so perhaps not much fun to drive around.
Napoleon is obviously famous here and features everywhere...
There are some sandy beaches but mostly they have pebbles
Elba photo gallery
Elba to Bergerac
The 0600 1200 1800 MSLP and the 0600 and 1200 SigWx charts didn't show anything bad on the entire route back to the UK. The TAFs and METARs were clean too but the IR showed some buildups south of Bergerac.
I made a silly mistake a few days earlier when I filed the flight plan for this flight, confusing 0900 local with 0900 UTC (a 2hr difference), and this was discovered only after engine start when the tower said we were going too early. One can delay a flight plan easily (the airport tower can usually do it and that is usually by far the easiest way - just a radio call or a telephone call) but the only way to move one to an earlier time is to cancel it and file a new one. I can do this (access the EuroFPL website which I use for flight plan filing) with my phone but the small screen makes it a bit of a torture, so I got the laptop out of the backpack in the back of the plane. In reality it could have been done with the phone, but the laptop is a luxury which is hard to resist... As bad luck would have it, there was almost no mobile signal (I used my phone as a wifi access point for the laptop; the laptop's internal 3G adapter with a Vodafone UK PAYG SIM didn't work) so it took a while. Eventually we departed an hour late. This wasn't a real problem because there was enough leeway for me to get back to Shoreham on the same day, but it did create a bit of stress because in these "southern Europe summer" convective conditions I like to get away as soon in the morning as possible. Also, in the rush, I forgot an earlier idea to fly down to Monte Christo Island which I last saw in 2005 on this trip
The departure was easier than the arrival - straight out over the sea
The runway is behind us on the right
There was again some low cloud close to the island
Now back over France - an impressive collection of boats. Again, the haze made the photos difficult to enhance
By St Tropez we climbed to FL140 to stay above the thick haze. There were some buildups which were best avoided by maintaining some sort of straight-ahead visibility...
I now have a dual Sandel SN3500 EHSI setup (details here) and the RH panel has been moved around to create a proper "pilot panel" on the RH side.
At FL140, temperature was very warm, at -2C!
In the descent to Bergerac, the haze thinned out
The route actually flown, from the Eurocontrol tracking facility, is below. It closely follows the filed route
Bergerac to Shoreham
An hour or two later, having refuelled and dropped off my friend, I was airborne again
The flight, at FL110, was uneventful, though some activity could be seen on the stormscope to the south of Bergerac - exactly as shown on the morning's IR image
Approaching the northern French coast, there were some buildups
These could be outclimbed easily but I didn't bother and went through the top of one or two, and at about -5C instantly collected some ice
Tracking link for this flight:
The tracking images for the other two flights were not captured before they expired.
Bergerac LFBE was €42 for 2 landings and 1 night's parking (1400kg aircraft). Avgas was about €2.20/litre which is fairly average for Europe right now.
Elba LIRJ was €102 for 1 landing and 2 nights' parking. Avgas was €3.54/litre (including 22% VAT) which makes it Europe's most expensive.
The Value of an IR
This trip could have been done under VFR, and would have been quite scenic at low level, but it demonstrates how "light IFR GA" is useful even in good weather. The implicit whole-route clearance delivers a very stress-free way of flying through some messy airspace layouts e.g. around the Cannes/Nice area.
Very little oxygen was used on the whole trip - probably 30% of the 48 cu. ft. cylinder. But without oxygen I would have never attempted it under IFR because not having it cuts off half of the aircraft operating ceiling and even at FL100 one would arrive very tired.
Flight times (airborne times):
As is evident from the above, winds aloft were very light.
Italian GA Tax
This is not a popular topic among pilots in the area but it should be noted that Italy has imposed a "luxury" tax on GA aircraft.
For a TB20, 1400kg, 250HP, this is around €3000 for a year, but is imposed 100% up front. When originally created (several years ago) it was going to be imposed after 45 days' stay on Italian soil. There are some exceptions for aircraft type or age but no exemptions for aircraft grounded due to weather or e.g. pilot licensing/medical issues. To avoid completely farcical situations arising, there is an exemption for aircraft undergoing "maintenance" (which is not defined but presumably means booked in with an Italian maintenance company; a prospect which I would think about hard). I stopped flying to Italy during that time, due to the risk.
In 2013 the period was increased to 6 months i.e. you have to be parked on Italian soil for 6 months before they hit you with the €3000. This is acceptable - so long as you do not suffer a major problem with the aircraft.
I have not been able to find official references (with translations) for the foregoing, but have been assured by one pilot that this would not apply to a non Italian aircraft... perhaps not a good idea to rely on that! Recent reports from Italy suggest that some of the border police there don't even know what "European Union" stands for.
In the case of Elba, there are no maintenance facilities so leaving a non-flyable aircraft there for 6 months might create an interesting scenario...
Some information and other opinions on this topic can be found here
I owe my thanks to my friend and co-pilot Jenny for many of the great photos and without her the trip would have been much less fun
This page last edited 13th August 2014