My friend Nick made a video of our trip to Bruges on Saturday. It’s really good and shows the flight and the town very well.
After weeks of rotten weather, I finally got to fly yesterday. First, I took my wife up to Wellesbourne Mountford. She had a meeting with the RSC in Statford-upon-Avon where she is directing a play later this year. Instead of a couple of hours on the train, it was a 30m flight plus she got to arrive in style.
On the flight back to Denham, my first in an empty plane for a long time, I really enjoyed myself. I had plenty of time. I was flying VFR without a flight plan or any constraint on my route. The weather was fantastic. I plugged my iPhone (in flight mode) into the audio system and rocked out. I did some VOR tracking and holds for IR currency and some basic manoeuvres to clear the cobwebs but mostly I just enjoyed myself.
The route between Denham and Wellesbourne takes you over the Denham practice area which is so familiar to me from my training days. I enjoyed myself so much that I really must book up some more solo flights and just go … fly.
But back to Denham for 10am to pick my friend Mungo. And then off to Rotterdam IFR. I had planned to go down to Newquay Airport (AKA St. Mawgan) but a change of plans the day before freed me up to go overseas. I’m still learning Dutch and I love to go to the Netherlands and bother the locals with my pathetic attempts to speak their language.
The departure was pretty straightforward. Sometimes the controller at Denham can coordinate it with London but on this occasion, he was too busy. I have tried other ways to get an airborne airways join but now I find that calling London Information works best. They are in the same hall in LACC Swanwick as the enroute controllers so the controller’s assistant can literally walk across the room to arrange the join. I called them a couple of minutes after takeoff and I was climbing into controlled airspace less than five minutes later. They’re good guys.
We were at FL110 (that’s 11,000 feet to VFR pilots) by the coast and despite a headwind we got to Rotterdam in under an hour and a half. This is the kind of trip that the Cirrus SR-22 is designed for – airways cruising in the flight levels. As usual, the controllers gave me direct routings all the way to Rotterdam, straightening out the slightly indirect ‘official’ airways route.
When I told my passenger (an Extra pilot who prefers to be upside down when flying) that I never flew the route that I filed on my flight plan he cocked an eyebrow and asked me ‘what’s the point of it then.’ Sometimes I think it’s just to please Eurocontrol who like to have their chaos neatly organised.
I use Jeppesen FlightStar for my planning and Homebriefing to file flightplans. I am also experimenting with Autoplan IFR. This works very well and simplifies several steps in the process of planning airways trips. I’m interested to know what happens when this product comes out of beta and goes commercial. I hope the author doesn’t charge Jeppesen’s stratospheric prices.
We had a good day in Delft, which is 15 minutes drive from Rotterdam. As usual, KLM JetCenter did a great job. We walked from the plane straight to our taxi without breaking stride for customs, passport control or paperwork. They charge a lot but actually deliver some value. (Although I was a bit irked to be charged €3.20 for two bottles of water since we had already paid something like €180 for handling.) In Delft, I recommend the new Vermeer centre.
The best bit of the trip was the flight back. We could see the English coast almost from Holland and on the descent into London we had a perfect view of the whole city and, with visibility in excess of 40 miles, we could see the North and South Downs beyond it. A magnificent view after a wonderful day’s flying. Now I remember why I like flying.
I have flown to Amsterdam four times now, once VFR and three times IFR. It is probably the biggest airport that a European PPL can visit. It is therefore a challenge and, when you’ve done it, a source of pride. Plus it’s very impressive for passengers. Don’t let the size put you off. It is surprisingly GA-friendly and easy to do, providing you prepare yourself properly.
The GA terminal is on the Northeast corner of the field and there is a runway right next to it. If you go in VFR, the approach is fiddly and low-level but you arrive right next to the terminal and have a pretty straightforward time of it. It means approaching a point several miles east of the field called Point Victor just below 1,500 feet. This is an easily-identified intersection of roads and canals. From there you turn towards the airport and begin a gentle descent to Point Bravo which is on the corner of a park. Once you report Bravo the tower will tell send you to either end of the runway 04-22 for a threshold join or to the centre for a mid-point join. The runway is long enough to turn at one end at 500 feet as if turning final and still land with plenty of room left. Avoid aiming at the wrong runway – the one you want is partially obscured by hangars until you get pretty close.
Every time I have visited I have landed and taken off on 22/04 which is dedicated to GA traffic but I have sometimes been vectored to other runways first.
Although it has loads of runways, once you know which one you’re going to (and they told me when I was half way across the North Sea) it was just like an ILS approach anywhere. Nothing to be worried about.
It’s worth studying the ground charts and planning your touchdown points and runway exits just in case they bring you in on one of the main runways rather than the GA runway.
When I went in March 2008, they vectored me for an ILS on runway 36R and then I broke right at a few hundred feet to land on 04 which runs up to the GA parking area.
More recently, they told me to expect 18R (which is a couple of miles taxi from the GA terminal) and then changed it to 22. They brought me in on a four mile final and I had to drop down from FL70 in short order. I still managed to put it down on the numbers and make the first exit right into the GA parking area. Great fun, especially with a 12 knot gusting crosswind.
When you leave, call clearance delivery. They will often give you a SID but sometimes the tower controller changes this at the threshold to give you a heading that will take you right over the centre of the airport at low level. Either way is fine but the airport tour can be a bit of a surprise if you’re not expecting it.
On the ground
On the ground, you’ll be met by a follow me truck and then a van to drive you from the ramp to the terminal. Passengers quite enjoy the VIP experience which is enhanced by parking next to some very flash business jets.
You can book in over the internet, although be careful to check if you need an arrival slot as well. Handling was pretty efficient and the terminal was pretty smart with a pilot’s lounge and other facilities.
If you call KLM JetCenter on the radio when you are fifteen minutes out they will call a taxi and have it waiting for you. From plane to taxi generally takes about ten minutes but sometimes you have to wait a while for a cab to arrive.
They have 100LL fuel but it is a self-service pump. I did it once and it took a long time to deal with the paperwork. I think Jet-A1 comes from a bowser and might be easier. I try to avoid fuelling up a Schiphol now.
Returning to the GA terminal can be difficult. Two taxi drivers have insisted on taking me to the main passenger terminal. Ask the staff at KLM for a map to the GA terminal and hand that to your driver. The key phrase, if I recall correctly, is ‘Schiphol Oost’ (Schiphol East).
Schiphol is not cheap. Last time I went, in a Cirrus SR-22, it cost me over 200 euros. Also, beware the additional navigation charge levied through Eurocontrol for IFR flights. It’s only another 20-30 euros but it can be time-consuming to pay it as they invoice you after the flight.
Schiphol was opened as a military airfield in 1916 but quickly switched to civil use after the first world war with the national airline KLM beginning operation in 1920 and a hut for passengers arrived in 1921. In 1926 the Amsterdam municipality bought the airport.
A proposal to close both Amsterdam and Rotterdam airport in favour of a new centralised airport didn’t meet with much favour from Amsterdam residents. In July 1938 more than 15,000 people rallied at the airport in favour of keeping the airport. This is surely a first.
During the war the Germans attacked the airfield and then used it. By 1945, it had become virtually unusable and it took heroic efforts to allow the first DC-3 to land on 8th July.
Since then the airport has grown and grown with the result that it is one of the largest and busiest airports in Europe and becoming, in the words of the operating company, an Airportcity.
- KLM Jet Center
- Department : SPL/WH
- P.O. Box 7700, 1117 ZL SCHIPHOL, The Netherlands
- Phone: +31(0)20 6492455
- International airport: www.schiphol.nl
- GA Handling: www.jetcenter.nl
- Handling requests can be made online or by phone.
- Note that slots are required at busy times. These can be booked with KLM. See also: www.slotcoordination.nl
I am learning Dutch and so I try to visit The Netherlands every month or so. Here are my top recommendations for visitors to Amsterdam:
- The Rijksmuseum. During the current renovations, the best bits of the collection are on display in a small, walkable exhibit. Lots of Vermeer, Rembrandt and so on. Excellent. Buy tickets online in advance if you’re visiting on a weekend.
- The Van Gogh Museum. Fantastic collection of Van Gogh’s works. I prefer the old masters but my wife loves this museum. Again, buy tickets in advance.
- The Amsterdam Historical Museum. A good insight into the history of the city and the people who live there. I like museums but I reckon this is better than a boat tour.
- Restaurants: Moeders for authentic Dutch food, De Bakkerswinkel in the centre for perfect Dutch sandwiches and cakes, Cafe ‘t Smalle in the Jordaan for an antique pub that is very friendly with seats outside by a pretty canal and, if you have time, try to visit and Indonesian restaurant and have a rijstafel. For fine dining, Restaurant Christophe and La Rive both have Michelin Stars and I can recommend them both from personal experience.
- Walking around. The centre is very compact and it is lovely to just wander around the canals and streets to see what you see. You can get taxis back to the airport from Central Station or Liedseplein (and I’m sure other places too but this is where I go).
A few words of Dutch
Most Dutch people speak English and some speak it very well indeed. However, I like to surprise them by mispronouncing their own language so here are a few useful words and phrases.
- Goede Morgen / Middag / Avond. Good morning / afternoon / evening.
- Tot ziens / Dag. See you later / g’day.
- Dank u wel. Thank you (polite).
- Alstublieft. Please (polite)
- Naar Amsterdam / Naar de luchthaven. To Amsterdam / to the airport (e.g. isntructions for a taxi driver)
- Ik wil graag een koffie . I’d like a coffee.
Other ways to fly to The Netherlands
- Rotterdam. I prefer Rotterdam Airport to Schiphol for IFR trips. It’s not cheap but it is friendlier, smaller and easier to get into. Public transport in Holland is so good that you can get anywhere pretty fast by train. It’s actually easier for The Hague and pretty towns like Delft as well as, of course, Rotterdam itself.
- Maastricht. I only went to Maastricht airport once and that was to visit a great restaurant in Belgium. Still, it’s a good mid-size airport. [Update 20.9.12 – I’ve been back a few times and it’s much more GA-friendly now and Maastricht the town is well worth a visit.]
- Lelystad. During daylight hours Lelystad is a VFR-only airport but at night it reverts to IFR and has an NDB approach. However, on an IFR trip you can drop out of controlled airspace over the Ijsselmeer down to a low level and fly the last few miles VFR into the busy circuit. It is, however, the best GA airport I have ever visited with a lovely restaurant, a great museum and good facilities.
- Eelde / Groningen. In the North, Eelde Airport is an excellent IFR airport that is friendly and not too big but fully equipped. The nearby town, Groningen is nice to visit too. I went there a lot a few years ago to get our group’s Cirrus aircraft upgraded with DMEs.
I flew to Deauville yesterday with the missus and a couple of friends. It was a lovely, blue-sky day.
Deauville airport (LFRG) is small and friendly. It has an ILS and a long runway so it’s easy to get into. Sea fogs can cause problems, as with many airports in northern France. In the summer, visitors park on the grass but yesterday I parked on the main apron. Customs and landing fees take minutes and every time I have been there a taxi has always been waiting outside. The only frustration is that it can take a while to get a clearance and taxi instructions to get airborne (20 minutes yesterday).
Honfleur, a 15-minute cab ride, is a beautiful harbour town. It reminds me a little of Brixham and Dartmouth, near where I grew up.
Avoid the harbour-side tourist cafes and walk a minute or two into the town for lunch at L’Homme De Bois (30, Rue Homme de Bois). It’s quieter and quainter with a great (mainly) seafood menu.
There is also an excellent ice cream parlour right by the harbour.
Sion, in Switzerland, is the perfect place to start with some mountain flying. The airport is located along the Rhône valley in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by mountainous peaks with summits well above 10’000 feet. The runway is at roughly 1’500 feet and if you need an escape route, it is possible to fly along the Rhône to Lake Geneva area at 2’500 feet. This is also an easy way to find Sion: fly from the eastern end of Lake Geneva, follow the Rhône, turn left at Martigny and you’ll have the runway in sight.
Because of the local aerology, the active runway is almost always 25. If you come from the west, you’ll fly an interesting circuit. You’ll fly much closer to ground than to mountain tops. A small town on the right hand-side is exactly at pattern altitude – don’t miss the photo of the white church. The valley is not as tight as at Samedan, but there is not engoug room for a base leg. Simply fly a continuous turn from end of downwind to final.
Don’t be surprised if you get traffic informations about military aircraft. Sion is an air-force base frequented by F-18s but also business jets, KingAirs and a lot of rescue and taxi helicopters. Beware of the arresting cables and nets before the threshold: your landing gear and prop would probably not survive if you land a bit short of threshold and roll over this military gear. The positive side of the military nature of the airport is the runway itself: over 2’000 meters of concrete with lights and PAPI.
There is an IGS procedure (no typo, this is an Instrument Guidance System). The localizer has an offset of more than 7 degrees with the runway axis and the glide slope ends a few thousand meters before the runway. Unless you can start the approach at FL180 and have local training, don’t even think about flying an IFR approach. Your best option for a leaving is St-Prex VOR (SPR) or Fribourg VOR (FRI), then fly below Geneva TMA through the mountains or via the Rhône valley.
One word about mountain flying for pilots not having experience with this kind of operations. Don’t consider flying in the Alps if the winds at FL050 and FL100 are above 20 knots. You could encounter serious turbulence and downdrafts, possibly well above what a light aircraft can compensate for. Apart from that, getting to Sion is really easy, and many flying excursions are possible from there: Matterhorn, Aletsch glacier, Jungfraujoch, Saanen, …
Click here to see a YouTube video a passenger of mine made of a landing. The video starts by begin of downwind 25, shows the famous church, the base turn, and ends after touchdown. This is in a DA40 TDI, flying approximately 110 knots on downwind and 70 knots on final. Flying the same circuit with a faster plane can become impressive, but the valley is not that narrow.
In the “airport restaurant” category, the local one is slightly above average. The possibilities for Golf, Hotel and Whiskey in the Valais area are countless, but if I had to retain only one resort, this would be Crans-Montana. The 9-hole course designed by Jack Nicklaus is really a wonder… Finally, because it’s a vineyards region, The “W” should for this time stand for “Wine”.
“I’ll miss Concorde,” says Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi. “Speed is everything today and Concorde gives you an extra day a week. Working in NY for a French company based in Paris and a key agency in London, Concorde was meant for me. It gives me a big time competitive advantage.”