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2016 - A Greek Odyssey

(A trip report on a 2 week tour of the Greek Islands via Croatia)

Kirsty and I decided to use 3 weeks recent leave to take a Cirrus sr22 on our first flying tour – from Guernsey (EGJB) to Croatia and the Greek Islands. We are indebted to the forum and to its members for some really useful tips and advice, which got us started in the right direction. In that same spirit, I have put together a trip report of our flying and some of the highlights of the trip. The report follows chronologically from our departure on the 19th April 2016, progressing south-east to Portoroz, Split and making our entry into Greece via Chios.

We then island hopped for a couple of weeks before heading home via Corfu, the Amalfi Coast, Corsica and the EuroGA fly-in at Carcassonne, returning to Guernsey on the 8th May 2016. In keeping with some good advice from the EuroGA group, we scaled back the initial scope of the trip, deciding to spend 3 days away from the aircraft at a number of stops.

Our transport….

Some key figures from the trip:

Block hours – 27:55
Air miles flown – 3,992 nm
Average speed – 143 knots
Airports visited – 13
Average fuel consumption – 15 nm/USgal

Outbound routing

Inbound routing

Aviation background

To lend some detail to the story, I have been a commercial pilot for most of my career, and only returned to the UK about a year ago after 21 years in the Far East. General aviation is therefore new to me and this trip opened my eyes to some of the significant challenges that exist in this discipline. I have a 1/3 share in a Cirrus sr22, and have flown it mostly for an hour or two from its home base in Guernsey to destinations such as France, Spain and the UK. It was my wife, Kirsty, who came up with the idea of using a 3 week leave block to take the aircraft just a little bit further afield.

In February 2015, I went to California and obtained a standalone FAA PPL and Instrument Rating (as the Cirrus is “N” reg). I have had to learn workflows as I went along, but was amazed at some of the (free) assets available to assist. Now I always use both SkyDemon and Autorouter, regardless of whether I’m flying IFR or VFR. I also use EuroFPL occasionally for flight plan filing (mostly for filing VFR where I need the ability to delay / cancel via the EuroFPL iPhone App).

I fly both VFR and IFR with no strong preference for either. As becomes apparent later in the trip report (Iraklion to Kerkira), we could not have come home if I insisted on IFR. I like flying both, and simply fly what is most appropriate for me at the time.

The planning

As we had decided early on to make an Alps crossing, we sourced a portable oxygen setup from Mountain High. After researching the available products elsewhere on EuroGA, we sourced a 512L Kevlar bottle with a two-place O2D2 regulator and cannula system. One fill lasted us the entire trip, and indeed, the bottle is still 1/3rd full. Cost? USD 1780.

Another essential prerequisite was to join AOPA. I renewed my membership of US AOPA, but any branch of AOPA will suffice. Why? In Greece, handling is virtually mandatory for a visiting pilot. Unlike some places I could mention (UK), the Handlers in Greece actually add value to your trip, both in the planning stage, getting slots and permission from ATC, and in facilitating your arrival and departure from the airport. There are three main players in the Handling business – Goldair, Swissport, and Skyserv. With AOPA membership, Goldair and Swissport will charge about EUR25 per transit (with Goldair slightly cheaper and with no weekend supplements), and Skyserv EUR40. The cost of the AOPA membership will have paid for itself after just 3 or 4 landings in Greece.

On to the flying…

Guernsey to Portoroz 19th Apr 2016

Key figures

778nm, 4:35, Max G/S 200 knots, average 169 knots, max FL150.

We had planned to fly over the Alps, from Zurich southbound, but as the departure date came closer, it became apparent that the weather would make that almost impossible. We therefore forced Autorouter to take us to the South of France and around the Alps. On the morning of departure, after days of planning, the weather was quite obviously unfit both over the Swiss Alps and over the South of France. We spent 30 minutes with Autouter re-planning to the North of Switzerland, crossing into Italy from Austria.


The Cirrus is a 2004 normally aspirated piston, and had spent most of its life at lower levels. This was the first time it was going to venture above FL120. Our Guernsey puffin came along to make sure that all was in order…

ATC quickly had us on vectors and we were sent up the coast of France and well north of Paris (about 50 nm north of planned track). As soon as we were past Paris, vectors and shortcuts were given through to Austria. The fuel lost in our early detour was never made up, but neither were we worried about running short. The weather was glorious for the whole flight, and as the flight progressed we continued to climb as the flatlands gave way to foothills, and the foothills in turn gave way to the mountains.

Eventually up at FL150, but the terrain was never far away…

The aircraft photographer even had time to be arty;

And then we were into Italy, cancelling IFR and self positioning for some views of the old town of Piran (just down to the road from Portoroz)

A downwind join of the airport….

Onto finals after turning in belly-up to high ground, and in a very stiff closing wind…

And onto the pan of Portoroz

A super friendly welcome and a golf buggy lift the whole 50 yards to the terminal. 5 minutes with Immigration, then into Airport reception to be informed there was no AVGAS, just Jet A1, and would I like some Jet A1? My heart sank until the Jet A1 came out. What an amazing reception from this incredibly efficient, and friendly airport.

The airport gave us a lift to Piran for EUR25, and we settled in to the city square with cold beer and ice creams just one hour after landing. We thought we were given the wrong bill after enjoying two beers, a massive ice-cream, and two glasses of wine in a prime location. EUR 9.60. It was the correct bill!

Friendly pubs;

And some leisurely strolls enjoying the pretty old town of Piran. We used booking.com to find accommodation whilst in the square with our beers and ice cream. Villa Piranesi was just off the square and cost a very reasonable EUR50 for the night in a self contained apartment.

Sadly, we had only planned one night in Portoroz. We loved Piran and will most certainly be going back. However, this time around we had an itinerary to keep, and we needed to push on South. Next stop – Split.

Portoroz to Split 20th Apr 2016

Key figures

190nm, 1:15, Max G/S 174knots, average 149 knots, max altitude 2,700 ft.

Planning preamble

Before looking at some more pictures, it is perhaps worth noting some of the administration required with getting permission to land in the larger airports – notably Split, but also Kerkira (Corfu), Santorini and Iraklion. I composed a standard letter with our crew details (passports, dates of birth, nationalities etc), and aircraft details (registration, MTOW, non-commercial) and with a header of “we plan to visit your airport within the next month and seek appropriate permissions for that visit. Please find our details below”. I subscribed to a 30 day (free) trial with efax.co.uk and sent this letter to all the airports I planned to visit. This little exercise took some time, but most of that time was spent finding the appropriate fax numbers either from SkyDemon or the AIP. I also sent the letter via e-mail where possible.

Some airports (Kerkira and Split) responded with a “you have permission” fax / e-mail, but the rest were a little more informal in response (ranging from no response, to an e-mail saying essentially “OK”). A lot of the time spent requesting permissions was, frankly, wasted. This comes with caveats – this was a quiet time to visit! If I could plan the trip again, I would do it thus:

Write the standard “we plan to visit” letter and save it to Dropbox;
Call airports like Portoroz the day before flight, but more out of courtesy than anything else;
Compulsory PPR airports like Split / Kerkira – e-mail the standard letter about a week before and in the header of the e-mail, state the intended dates of flight;
All Greek airports – just e-mail the chosen Handling agent a few days before planned arrival with the standard letter and an intended date of visit.
I spent about 20 hours organising permissions prior to departure – there was absolutely no need. I should have spent about 2 hours before departure and then about 20 minutes a day reviewing correspondence for the next few days flying.

That said, when we came to leave Split, the Handling agent told me that we were lucky and that in a few weeks the General Aviation pan would be completely full of Bizjets and we would be fighting for scraps.

Flight planning Portoroz to Split over coffee in the square

In the morning over breakfast, I used SkyDemon to plot an “Adria” VFR route to Split (a 5 minute doddle with SkyDemon). The skies were blue and were going to remain that way for the rest of the week, so I submitted the flightplan through SkyDemon at the cafe. We had decided to skip Losinj, as we had left Guernsey later than planned and wanted to make up time.

From arrival at the airport (the Airport picked us up for EUR20), I went out to refuel the aircraft (with AVGAS not Jet A1), returning to pay the bills and clear Immigration – all in 30 minutes. Engine started and VFR clearance “you are clear to depart as desired”, and we were airborne in less than an hour after arriving at the airport.

Remaining at low altitudes, and with occasional highish terrain, some of the villages appeared rather close.

Stunning coastline, beautiful water, and blue skies the whole way. ATC just let us get on with it. I couldn’t have made more than 10 radio calls until we got to Split.

Eventually joining Split from the North. ATC were unbelievably relaxed. “You are clear to join, the wind is 230/4 knots, use whichever runway you want. Clear to land”.

And on to final… note the empty GA / Bizjet apron half way down on the right side of the runway.

The Airport handling staff came to meet us and take us to the airport terminal. We were quickly through Immigration and then had to walk the 50 yards to the bus stop. We were going to take a break here for 3 nights and move on to the old town on the island of Hvar.

Split to Hvar 20th-23rd April 2016

The shuttle bus from the airport to the port in Split is EUR4 per head (taxis about EUR30), with buses timed to run after commercial flights have just arrived. We waited for about 40 minutes before our bus left for the port. From the bus terminal, a 5 minute stroll to the Hvar pier, where we purchased tickets for the sailing leaving about 20 minutes later.

Split port

We used AirBnB to book a place for 3 nights and our hostess met us at the Hvar pierside to show us the way. The view from the bathroom is important to us…

Then it was time to drink in the atmosphere. Puffin disgraced himself.

Hvar is absolutely delightful, but whilst it was new and amazing for us, I imagine it’s all been done before by most of the guys on this forum. So, just a few photos of our 3 days…



We also took time to hike around the coastline to secluded beaches with crystal clear (though somewhat cold) water.

We loved this charming town. Our 3 days was over too quickly and we retraced our steps back to Split airport on the 23rd April. Autorouter had filed our plan, but it was going to be a later departure in order to accommodate the later opening hours of our next destination, Chios.

Split to Chios, Greece 23rd Apr 2016

Key figures

568nm, 3:40, Max G/S 182 knots, average 156 knots, max altitude 11,300 ft.

Departure administration

A very friendly and helpful handling office, but we got a sense that it could have become swamped if there were several departures around the same time. We paid EUR87 for landing, 72 hours parking, and the necessary handling inbound and outbound – we thought this was great value for such a busy airport. An interesting aside was that GA crew have to leave via the passenger security scanners (where passengers can only carry hand-carry items and therefore no liquids or gels). When we tried to pass through with our bottles of water (and perhaps a bottle of wine), they were immediately identified for confiscation. We dug our heels in over the water which we needed for the flight, and then we ended up with a rather peculiar solution. We had to put it all into a nominated “check in bag” which was then given to the handling agent with us. He had to carry it whilst walking us to the crew bus 30 yards away, but once in the bus, it was then given back to us. Ultimately, everything worked out perfectly well, and everyone was happy.

The refuel bowser came to top us up with the fueller explaining that you don’t pay any taxes (and fuel is therefore dirt cheap) if you are “Commercial”. To be commercial, you need an AOC. We paid the non-commercial price of EUR2 / litre.

The flight – a tough day in the air

The sky was getting darker and we knew there were cells along the route. By the time our flight planned start time arrived, it was wet and drizzling. We were offered “any runway you want” for take off. On a “Z” plan our VFR departure was extremely simple. Take off and turn when you want for whichever waypoint you nominate. I requested SIPAL where the transfer to IFR was to occur. We departed 05 with a right turn to see the last of the good weather till Greece.

The next 2 hours were just hard work. No photographs to show as we were inside a cloud for most of it. We climbed into stratus and into the icing zone. ATC were fantastic by letting us stay low to stop the icing, however we were nervous of the embedded CBs later down route and knew we needed to get into some clear air to assess properly whether to continue or give it away. The temperature dropped. We descended another 1000ft and back onto QNH. Flying down the coast gave us no issues with terrain, but then over the next 20 minutes the static started on the radio, we lost digital instrumentation and the autopilot sneakily dropped out.

Whilst the digital instrumentation was gone for the rest of the flight, the autopilot gave no further issues. The cloud base went up a bit and we arrived abeam Dubrovnik. They needed us to climb again as we turned inland to Podgorica and up we went to 11,000ft. The cloud was pretty well broken now, but we knew there was worse to come and so we discussed options with Dubrovnik. Our plan was to fly inland and visually avoid the cells, but if that proved untenable to turn back and divert in to Dubrovnik. ATC were superb. They said that that would be no problem and that we could avoid as required. Meanwhile on the frequency I could hear commercial traffic asking for massive deviations due to weather.

As we continued inland, the icing started again, and we were now required to fly a little higher again. First Montenegro and then Tirana (Albania) and then Skopje (Macedonia). The clouds broke up, we did some more dodging, and then into another icing event. It was plain hard work. ATC at all times could not do enough to help. 30 mile deviation? No problem. You may need to turn back? No problem. Just advise what you want whenever you can. As we crossed from Albania to Macedonia, the terrain was seriously close with mountains at 9,000ft and 3nm off to our left.

The fun continued in this vein – low cloud, icing, breaking cloud, avoid, back into cloud and icing, until we were almost in Greece. With 20 nm to the border, we descended to 9,000, then 8,000 and, passing to the west of Thessaloniki, the cloud vanished and we were left in clear blue skies again.

We were then able to enjoy our first flying in Greece. ATC were not able to give us much in the way of short cuts, so we had a nice little run down past Skiros;

and then to the south-east till coasting in to Chios.

It’s barren and wild on the west side but quickly gives way to villages and cultivation as you head over the island towards the capital city – also called Chios. We cancelled IFR (that’s Turkey just off the coastline!)

and self positioned for a right base to runway 19.

Short final…

We put the aircraft to bed and were picked up by our AirBnB host for a 5 mile drive to our accommodation for the next 3 days. And of course finally achieved what we set out to do!!!

Chios tourism – 24th-27th April 2016

Planning and administration

Telephone

Once in Greece we set about getting a local SIM card. I believe the EU has capped roaming charges now so perhaps there is no great need to do this any more? We popped into Chios town and picked up a EUR15 SIM card. Hundreds of minutes to all Greek numbers, 1Gb of data, and tethering allowed. Wind “F2GR” prepaid. You need a passport and some patience when buying the SIM, but we bought from a local newsagent and the shop owner set it all up on the spot. Handy tip… After the line becomes active (about an hour), you cannot use the account until you make a telephone call! Call a random number or a friend, and after that, you have data and people can call you.

Fuel and entry

As has been discussed previously on the group, AVGAS is in limited supply. Our options for this trip were: Samos, Rhodes, Megara (Athens GA airport), Sitia (Crete), Iraklion (Crete), Kerkira (Corfu). Our big picture plan was to start at the North, stop in Samos on the way towards the South, tour the islands, and keep enough fuel for an exit via Corfu.

Customs / Immigration is easier now and the AIP (which I keep on my iPad SkyDemon) declares “INTL” at those ports where entry can be made (AIP 1.3.1). There are about 27 entry / exit points allowed. Even flights inbound or outbound from Schengen must still use an INTL port with a Customs clearance. Regardless of the Schengen principles, those are the rules. Given the 27 declared ports, this did not restrict us in any way. Indeed when we actually made both our entry and exit, we never saw or spoke to Customs.

In conclusion, Customs is not an issue but fuel needs to be thought about – at least a little.

Airfield opening hours

More interesting, especially before the tourist season kicks off in May. Airports only open their runways to accommodate the once or twice daily domestic flights that come down from Athens. The opening hours are not hard to determine (Airport NOTAMs), but there are some pitfalls. Some of the opening hour NOTAMs can be convoluted – not difficult, just long. Around Easter (which falls a week after the Northern European Easter) all the airport times change. The hours are dictated day by day and they are sometimes quite different from the normal routine. These days are buried in the Notes, sometimes at the bottom of a page long NOTAM and could easily be overlooked. Perhaps best not to make plans while in a Taverna.

Some sobering sights

The day you land in Greece is the moment you start making friends with the locals. We were met by a couple of guys from the Chios flying club and our Handling Agent from Swissport. Before we were allowed to leave the airport, we had everybody’s personal numbers and were told to call if we needed anything. Everyone made sure we both had a place to stay and a lift to our accommodation. We soon found out that tourism had been hit hard by fallout from the Syrian refugee issue. During our 3 day stay, we couldn’t help but notice it. Ad hoc refugee camps in town but, more sadly, every morning the roadside bins would have orange life-jackets in them, dumped by arrivals the night before. Flying around you could see life jackets on beaches, even some clothes dropped in the scramble to get ashore in the dark. This is a flying trip report so suffice it to say, it was sad to see – both for the refugees, and the Chios islanders whose lives and livelihoods have been so badly disrupted by the issue.

Accommodation

Plentiful and very good value. Our Airbnb room was right on the beach and only EUR40 a night for bedroom/kitchen, bathroom, wifi, lounge. We rented a car from the guesthouse for EUR20 a day, simply leaving it at the airport when we departed.

Puffin was happy to be out of the cloud and on the beach.

The last night we had to move upstairs. That’s Turkey 3 miles away.

In contrast to the barren (but still beautiful) North and West sides, much of the land is used to cultivate mastic resin. I used only to know it as the goo to seal bathroom fittings and windows, but it is has many more uses. Stabilisers for food recipes, gum, and toothpaste. It’s medicinal and apparently an aphrodisiac.

Photogenic working monasteries and an impressive church…


Great food – Kirsty eats Greek salad

And I opt for the, errr, mastic ouzo…

The mediaeval Byzantine villages – Pyrgi here;


Narrow roads…

Friendly villages. We were driving through the countryside and stopped at an unassuming restaurant. We apologised profusely for disturbing the family who were just sitting down to their own lunch. We wanted to re-hydrate a little, but the family insisted, absolutely insisted that we sit down, eat and enjoy the same food they were having. It was a superb meal.

There were the normal driving hazards for Chios,

But with the reward of secluded beaches both with sand

And also the black volcanic beach of Mavra Volia, with smooth black pebbles.


Chios windmills

And of course, that impressive church by the sea – from another perspective!

A change of plan…

Originally we had planned to stay for 3 days then move on to either Samos for a few days, or at least a fuel stop. We amended that plan so that we could take Christopher from the local aero club for a quick round day trip flight. It also allowed an early arrival into Samos before the winds really started to kick off.

Samos fuel trip, Greece 25th Apr 2016

Key figures
2 trips – each of 70nm and 0:30 duration, average 150 knots, max altitude 3000 ft. Outbound route is the westerly. VFR/VFR

We learnt too late that for an aircraft to be safe in Greece, it needs a safety cone. A special safety cone. Sadly we didn’t bring a special safety cone, just tie downs and chocks. Special safety cones may easily be rented. Special safety cones are truly special in Greece – we tried to borrow some when driving around the island but found that they are all bolted down, for some peculiar reason.

On the way to Samos, we took a quick flight down via Ikaria…

Past misty islands,

Past the 4700ft cloud-covered mountain at the west end of Samos,

Little villages,

For a left downwind join at Samos

Left base,

Final

And at the apron…

With a Samos special safety cone…

then a breakfast and some sightseeing in the main town of Pythagoreio – yes this was his island!


Paul and Christopher before heading for home (Chios)…

Some big terrain in Samos…

Left downwind join in Chios



Left base for runway 19

And final for full stop – full of fuel.

That night we were invited to a home-cooked dinner with Chris, his lovely wife and daughter. I cannot praise Greek hospitality enough. It was an honour to be invited into their home. We woke early the next morning with heavy hearts to be leaving this magnificent island with its genuine warmth and hospitality.

Chios to Paros, Paros to Milos, Greece 27th Apr 2016

Key figures
2 VFR flights.

109 nm, 45 minutes, 3,000 ft, 150 knots average speed
30 nm, 15 minutes, 2,500 ft, 145 knots average speed.

Administration and landing fees

We planned on arriving at any airport about 1 hour before desired take-off time. Any earlier would not have achieved much as generally the people we needed to speak to were not available then anyway. We expected a lot of faff and paperwork at the terminals, and were not disappointed in that expectation. However, everything was done so politely and with such charm, that we often got a cup of coffee and just enjoyed the mayhem as part of the holiday. Some airports took longer than others, some airports decided we should see a policeman, some had computer failures, some couldn’t find the right form, some asked for more forms to be completed, all wanted to make sure we paid our landing fees.

A word on landing fees

Landing fees are laid down by the Hellenic CAA and are not significant. They are less than EUR2 for an EASA registration aircraft, but significantly more for an N reg. So for example, after 30 hours in Santorini, we were asked to pay to the Airport Manager, EUR7.88 for our landing and parking fees. It takes about 10 minutes to calculate them, and about 10 minutes to find the change for the EUR10 note with lots of rushing around and forms flying about. An AOPA card will suffice in place of a licence. If you have “passengers” then your airport fees will be significantly higher. Once you have paid a landing fee, then all your landings and take offs in Greece are free for the rest of the day.

Aviation costs in Greece

AVGAS – EUR3 per litre
Airport fees – about EUR15 covers landing, take-off and 72 hours of parking with 2 crew members flying GA. All subsequent landings in the day are free.
A passenger would be charged about EUR10-20 for each departure, thus, unlike landing fees, every take-off in the day would accrue another charge. Both Kirsty and I were always classified as “crew”, although much to Kirsty’s disgust, I was nominated as “Captain” on the General Declaration, and she as “First Officer”. Only once was some sort of licence requested. An AOPA card will suffice in place of a licence.
Handling fees to be paid on top of airport fees – Goldair EUR25, Swissport EUR25 (but to this must be added weekend and other supplements – plus special safety cone hire). SkyServ EUR40. This handling charge covers both one arrival and one departure.

The route

An early morning departure with blue skies, timed to arrive into Paros just inside their first opening period of the day.

We spoke with Mikonos ATC who were more than happy for us to coast in to take some photographs for EuroGA.

Mikonos coastline, with some nice villas…

Mikonos Airport.

Then over to Naxos island.

And a view of the airport in the distance…

Before joining for a long final into Paros. Important not to join for the obvious airport (which is still being built). It has the same runway alignment and is only 2 miles to the west of the active airport.

But this one! It’s short!


A compact terminal building

But where is our special safety cone?

Bicycles were brought to us at the airport – EUR20 per day for two bikes. We then cycled for 10 minutes down to the beach in Aliki for breakfast.

Coffee and yoghurt.

Puffin horsing around….

Then a cycle ride up the west side of Paros for the ferry to the really laid back and charming island of Antiparos. The ferry runs every 30 minutes, bicycles are free, and it costs less than EUR2 per person, each way.



Here they dry out the octopus in the traditional way – on a clothes line.

Typical white villages and blue skies…

Then a quick cycle back through Aliki for a waterside lunch – right on the end of this pier! (That’s not us by the way…)

Back to the airport and depart for Milos.


Arriving into Milos

We were taken aback at how awful Milos looks from the air. It is barren and dissected by quarries everywhere. It looked like a building site. However, once on the ground you never see all the big holes in the island and over the next few days, we came to really love this island too.

Arriving into Milos… The runway is just visible to the lower left of the bay


Setting up for long final runway 26, means quite a steep descent across the high ground to the East of the airport. For the last 4-5 miles of the approach, we must have been no more than 500 ft AGL all the way. Often less.

Finals runway 26


Short finals for runway 26 showing the inset threshold. This makes it quite a tight strip.

On rollout, the runway is cleared about 2/3rds of the way up and to the right along a bi-directional taxyway to the ramp area. It can just be seen on the “finals” photo.

Met by our handling agent from Skyserv, we walked out of the terminal 10 minutes after shutting down the engine, to a hire car that had been left there for us. EUR25 per day. Our 60 hours Milos holiday had begun.

Milos holiday, 27-29th April 2016

We drove up to the north-eastern tip of this small island and stayed in the very nice Andreas Rooms in Pollonia. We were very well looked after and every evening our hosts would bring up some breads, fresh eggs, or vegetables from their gardens. We spent one day driving around the island, and the next full day kayaking around the coastline and exploring sea caves. We really liked this island and again, would have liked to stay longer.

General routine

Before the photos, it would be worth mentioning our general routine (in relation to flight planning) once the trip was underway. Milos proved a classic example of how we made our decisions. The day trip to Samos had cut slightly into our fuel, but we still had plenty for our current plan to fly west to Kithera, then out via Corfu (where we could refuel). In the evenings over dinner, we would discuss the flying we had done and the flying that was up ahead. In these discussions, and in looking at the opening times of both Milos and Kithera, it made sense to “hop” to an intermediate stop. Looking at the map, we decided to go back on ourselves a bit and try to make a quick side trip to Santorini. The fuel would be a little tighter, but we still had plenty as long as there were no unforeseen problems.

This is the way planning works best in Greece:

You decide on a side trip to Santorini.
You phone your chosen Handling Agent (Goldair) using your local mobile number.
Tell him you when you’d like to come and when you’d like to leave.
Send him an e-mail with your proposed timings and with the "standard letter" attached.
Go to the taverna and have dinner.
At some stage he will phone you back having discussed your trip with the airport authorities. He will have a slot for you or suggest an alternate time. You agree your timings over the phone.
An e-mail arrives from the Handling Agent confirming your times, or you send one to him.
SkyDemon VFR plan and flight plan filing – 3 minutes.
Total planning time for our side trip to Santorini was 10 minutes – albeit spread over 2 or 3 hours whilst the Handling Agent did the running around.

Having learnt how the system worked, we stopped trying to find a way of avoiding Handling Agents and used them to the max instead. They really do provide a useful service!

With our side trip to Santorini agreed, we settled down to some tourism…

View from our accommodation at Andreas Rooms, Pollonia.



Some of the sights…





Clear cool water…

And on the waterfront at Klima, old fisherman’s houses, some of which are available to rent.

Puffin joined for the kayaking….


Our short stay in Milos was made special by the kayaking and some of the incredible meals we enjoyed at the beach front in Pollonia. The Orthodox Easter was gearing up by now and in the evenings, the whole town would turn out to join in a procession around the villages.

The next day was going to be a really early start to leave Milos just as the airport runway opened at 0700 local. Our stay in Santorini had been approved.

Milos to Santorini – 30th Apr 2016

Key figures

61 nm, 30 minutes, Max IAS 170 knots, average G/S 120 knots, max altitude 2,000 ft.

Routing
Both the routes eastbound to Santorini, and the next day’s flight westbound to Kithera are shown.

An early start as the airport opened. The apron was not excessively full.


We departed via Pollonia to have a last look at our accommodation…

Passing the little island of Folegandros, we were inspired to visit here one day. It seems to be a mini Santorini but because it does not have an airport, it promises to be completely unspoilt.


Then towards the crater of Santorini…

With our VFR arrival, we requested to join over the caldera. Approved. Self position left base? Approved. Maintain 2000 ft? “Approved. Call short final”. We flew along the lip of the caldera with million dollar views. It was impossible to get a photograph that does it justice, but it was just the most incredible view with the old white towns hanging off the edge of the crater.


Cleared to self position for left base runway 34R, there is significant terrain at the end of the downwind leg. This is the point where we turned left onto base leg (and belly up to this terrain).


Turning onto base…

Converting to final.

Met by the Handling Agent and given our very own terminal transfer bus…

We were out on the roadside and picked up by our hotel in 20 minutes. We had booked the Pantheon Villas on Booking.com for EUR90 a night. It was a steal! 3 floors, private pool, sun deck, kitchen and views. This photo is the lowest of the 3 storeys!

We just walked and walked and walked. Doesn’t everybody who visits Santorini? Puffin loved this place and came with us everywhere…

Puffin with wine

Puffin makes a friend. (A private joke – the donkey is a symbol of Guernsey).

An evening stroll to Oia.

And some of the pictures from our day walks…



A panorama shot of the caldera during our evening walk. No point in trying to give a sense of the beauty of this place. Photographs (well, not ours at least) will ever do it justice.

We packed a lot in during the 30 hours stopover, but we had to push on as we were planning to make the EuroGA fly-in at Carcassonne, and we still had a trip to make to Kithera.

Santorini to Kithera 1st May 2016

Key figures

122 nm, 50 minutes, Max IAS 165 knots, average G/S 144 knots, max altitude 3,200 ft. VFR

Routing

Both the inbound route to Santorini and this flight to Kithera are shown:

A VFR departure was given and we departed once again over the caldera.


An uneventful flight into Kithera, albeit with a darkening sky and strong winds.
Joining right downwind for runway 02.

Turning base.

Final for runway 02.

Welcome to Kithera! The apron was empty.

We were met by our friendly Handling Agent who had his assistant haul huge lumps of concrete over for our tie downs. The darkening skies were an omen of things to come? He explained the weather was changing and that there was going to be very unsettled rainy weather in the next few days.

We went hiking to the North…

To the lighthouse – the Greek mainland is just across the sea.

We went hiking around old towns with empty Easter roads… Potamos here.

We went hiking in the gorges around Milopotamos with the old abandoned water mills.


In the gorges there was the easy way…

And the hard way…

There were peaceful monasteries – here Moni Mirtidion…

With peaceful cats…

There were old forts, wild shores and quiet seaside villages.


We stayed in the town of Diakofti – EUR40 a night with Booking.com

There was a rather iconic shipwreck just off the coast;


And traditional life going on in the villages.

Some of those villages had bridges built by the Brits – Katouni Bridge being the largest…

The old villages had traditional tavernas – we were lucky enough to get a table at Familia in Fratsia. There was no menu. The owner came over to us and talked to us about food and the sort of things we liked (everything). She went away, cheap (excellent) wine showed up and then food started arriving. It was actually Cretan cuisine, but we weren’t being picky – it was a truly amazing 2 hours of piggery which came to EUR50.

We stayed 3 nights in Kithera and absolutely loved this wild island. As our Handling Agent predicted when we arrived, the weather had been turning for the worse, and although we had some sunny periods, it was quite clear that the days of blue skies and gentle breezes were over for the week. We started to make plans (and contingency plans) for our exit to the north east accordingly.

Kithera to Kerkira (and diversion to Iraklion) 4th May 2016

Key figures

261 nm, 01:40, Max groundspeed 222 knots, average G/S 160 knots, max altitude FL170, Z plan – VFR/IFR/VFR

Routing

Two routes are shown; the first flight in yellow is the IFR high level plan to Kerkira, Corfu – which diverted to Iraklion. The second flight in blue (flown the next day) is the eventual flight to Kerkira.


Planning – a useful insurance policy

The morning of the flight to Kerkira, it was obvious we were in for a challenge. The winds were very strong from the North, with significant cloud showing on satellite returns. I knew we would have springtime CBs embedded in upper level clouds and therefore a good chance of significant icing. Bearing all that in mind, a quick e-mail with the “standard letter” was sent to Goldair, a Handling Agent in Iraklion. We advised we had no intention of coming but, in the case of a diversion, would we be welcome? The advantage of having a local number is apparent at such times – he called personally to assure me they would keep an eye on my flight and be ready if we were to arrive.

I then sent a fax to Megara in much the same vein. With Megara further to the north of Kithera, it was likely that any diversion there would prove to be a challenge in terms of weather. Again, a phone call – from the Megara tower supervisor. I was welcome to land and uplift fuel, but with the proviso that I then had to leave. As it is a joint military airport, then if we were to spend the night without the required PPR from the military, there would be a “big, very big fine”. That said, I was very welcome to drop in for fuel. With options available to us, we decided to fly the trip.

The flight

Unfortunately there aren’t so many photos today as the main camera was packed away – and we were somewhat busy. Having decided to fly, we had to wait for the airport to open – at 1500 local. As the day wore on, the build-ups started to arrive and large, grey, wet strato-cumulus started to cover the entire sky. The winds were strong and had a cutting edge to them. As we walked to the aircraft the rain started so we threw the bags (and camera) into the back and got ready for departure.

We flew out low under the cloud, remaining VMC/VFR to some blue sky off the coast, then climbed to FL140. Opening IFR went smoothly and we were given a quick short cut, direct TRL. Before long the cloud tops came up closer to us, and big build ups could be seen on the horizon. We climbed to FL170 and beat hard against the now very strong headwind. The cloud came closer again and before long we were also taking weather deviations to avoid big, building CBs. ATC again were most helpful.

FL170 – an altitude record for this airframe.

It was getting close to decision time…

We dodged and avoided clouds for about 5-10 minutes but going into strengthening headwinds it was painful progress and we knew this band of weather was extensive. ATC were already aware of our plan to turn and run if we couldn’t stay clear and as we came around yet another cell, there was a wall of high level cloud directly ahead. It wasn’t a CB, but we were well aware that somewhere in that cloud there was a CB, and we did not want to meet it, let alone at FL170.

We turned and managed about 40 seconds of actual IF in the process. ATC gave us the clearance to “do what you need to do, fly whatever heading you want, and let us know when you are ready for vectors”. What a joy to weather-avoid (and even divert) in this environment.

This view was of the high level cloud after we had turned. The tops are close, but the view behind us was very exciting indeed!

As we headed South towards Iraklion, we took vectors initially, then were instructed to track to a random waypoint in Crete. We did a SkyDemon search in Airways mode, it popped up (as a visual report point, so not in the Garmin 430 database), and we set track.

Having made the decision to turn, we now had to find AVGAS on our next stop. Iraklion was further than we had planned, so it was going to eat into our comfort reserves, but with a strong tailwind, we were making good progress. 220 knots ground speed!

The remainder of the flight was unremarkable, except for the number of visual report points that we had to track when vectoring for arrival. SkyDemon came into its own as we searched, found and tracked those waypoints, a real boon on a diversion. We were kept very high for separation from commercial traffic even though there did not seem too much around, and at 5 miles abeam the threshold, we were still up at 7,000 feet.

We were then released to self position which required some fairly positive manoeuvring.


To short final….

We were politely asked to roll through to the second exit (which surprised me as I was expecting the first to lead to “36 Parking”). As we exited, a “follow me” vehicle was there to meet us and guide us back to 36 Parking. We were invited to refuel immediately so we shut down at the AVGAS fuel station…

The fuel officer came out and managed the refuel as we were meeting our Handling Agent. He knew we were on the way as soon as we turned. My Air BP card was taken, and the refuelling completed whilst we unpacked the aircraft and put her to bed for the night.

As we had arrived at an International Port we were made to pass through Customs and Immigration; (we just smiled and went with the flow, even though we had just flown in from a Greek airport). Out onto groundside we walked 100 yards to the bus stop and took a EUR2 bus ride into the main city (every 10-20 minutes) whilst booking our AirB&B.

The view from the balcony of our EUR50 per night self contained apartment…

We were met by the entire family to make sure we had everything we needed and to offer us some treats before disappearing. One of those treats was Kirsty’s first try of Raki.

Dangerous… Very dangerous.

Iraklion to Kerkira 5th May 2016

Key figures

395 nm, 02:40, Max groundspeed 180 knots, average G/S 150 knots, max altitude 3,200 ft, Z plan VFR/IFR/VFR

Routing

Two routes are shown; the first flight in yellow is yesterday’s IFR high level plan to Kerkira, which diverted to Iraklion. This trip report covers the leg to Kerkira shown in blue.

We decided to make a reasonably early start as we wanted to join the fly-in at Carcassonne and we were now both behind time and even further away from home.

The weather once again looked challenging, with big build-ups to the North of Crete. However, our plan today was to remain VFR until clear of the cells to the North, and then to climb above the next band which was sitting over the Peloponnes peninsula. We exited via the Crew Channel in the Terminal, and presented ourselves to Immigration once again. We then had to pay EUR60 in airport charges and handling; Iraklion was unusual in that there was a non-standard landing fee well in excess of the standard CAA fee. We weren’t going to quibble – given how busy the airport was, and how good the service, it was a fair price to pay. We were then taken to the aircraft.

It was a promising start…

And during the VFR departure off runway 30, there was plenty of sunshine towards Crete.

However…. to the right of the aircraft (and to the North), things did not look so pretty.


We stayed low so that we could thread our way around these monsters.

Lightning started, and it wasn’t occasional either. Once it kicked off, there was a band of lightning showering the sea and, going the other way, water spouts being lifted up into the cloud. Needless to say, we weren't going to go near these, nor were we going to climb if we risked going IMC. It was developing so quickly that IFR was now out of the question – we weren’t going anywhere near those cells unless we could see them. We therefore cancelled IFR and requested to remain at low level till clear of the band, and then to re-route VFR around the western coastline of the Peloponnes peninsula. With ATC co-operating with us yet again, we were given clearance to continue as required and with two frequencies to try when we could. At 3,000ft I was able to raise Chania who were happy for us to navigate as desired. I explained I was going to have to descend to remain VFR and that might put me out of radio contact for a while. No problem. We continued for a while at 2,000 and then 1,500ft keeping well away from the cells and making a general line towards Kithera. We entered Chania’s military airspace and as expected, were unable to speak to them at that altitude. Climbing after another 5 minutes we were back in radio contact and later handed off to Athens. All very helpful and laid back.

We made it back to Kithera where the CBs were much more isolated.

By now we were speaking to Kalamata, and with trepidation that an ad hoc transit of the MTMAs would not be allowed, or so closely controlled that we would be going round in circles and unable to avoid the weather. Nothing could be further from reality. Kalamata were open to our request to self navigate along the coast VFR, and they coordinated that request with the next agency Andravida.

Given the freedom to navigate as required we were able to avoid the weather without any great difficulty. The CBs over the Peloponnese peninsula had really turned ugly – when we looked back over it was obvious we would never have been able to fly that route.

With open sea and isolated cells to our left, and all the terrain and the filthy weather to our right, we were able to enjoy the scenery and take some photographs.

As the flight progressed, the clouds disappeared (though not from the mainland)


And we were left with calm seas and open skies…

As we coasted out over Lefkada, we were taken aback by the amazing turquoise sea, and whilst I’m no expert in these things, I assumed that it was sand in the current making these patterns.



We were soon approaching Kerkira, and passing farmlands and small interesting towns,

Once handed off to Kerkira we were told to report KRK not above 1,000ft, and then we self positioned for final.

Approaching from the South….


To final…

And rolling out past a busy apron

to the GA apron towards the end of the landing runway, 35.

And that, we thought, was that… Unpack the plane, a dash of fuel, then head off to an AirB&B. We fell into conversation with the pilots of the Bonanza parked next to us and, as pilots do, swapped stories and marvelled at the blue skies. Our Swissport Handling Agent drove up to take EUR25 and then said he’d be back. Discussing our long day tomorrow (Kerkira – Figari – Carcassonne), we mentioned we’d like to find an intermediate stop for today whilst the weather was fine (and to balance the flying days), but that Italy was just too hard to organise at short notice. The guys suggested Salerno as an option (en-route, has AVGAS, and reasonable landing fees), and so back in the aircraft, I planned a quick Autorouter IFR flight and checked SkyDemon. Blast! 48 hours customs notification. I telephoned Salerno Ops on Skype and somebody answered! They had no issue with the Customs (as I was coming from Schengen) but they were concerned as the airport Police closed at 1700 local. “How much notice are you requesting?”.

“I’ll be there in 2 hours if you are ok with that?” I shot them our “standard letter” and an e-mail came back with an approval – as long as we didn’t arrive after the Police had left the office. It was all happening quickly now. Kirsty had grabbed a lift to the terminal to buy some water and snacks, I had no landing fees to pay as that had been done in Iraklion. The refueller had already delivered 90 litres (enough for Kerkira / Salerno / Figari) using my AirBP card. I decided we’d give it a go – even though this second flight would have us landing just 25 minutes before their closing time.

A quick check on the radio and ATC confirmed the flight plan had been received. When Kirsty arrived we discussed our plan with the Handling Agent who presumably was delighted not to have to look after us any more. We mentioned that Immigration might want to discuss this, but he gave me one of those looks that I took to mean “there’s an easy way and a hard way”. Knowing this was an intra Schengen flight, I just replied with a, “ahh, ok, goodbye” and he drove off with a cheery wave. We closed the hatches and left Greece for Italy in blue skies…

Kerkira to Salerno 5th May 2016

Key figures

256 nm, 01:40, Max groundspeed 212 knots, average G/S 152 knots, max altitude FL110 ft, Z plan VFR/IFR/VFR

Routing

An easy VFR departure after just 90 minutes on the ground in Kerkira, and IFR opened in the climb without a hitch. Looking back to the East, it was still apparent that there was severe weather over the Peloponnese peninsula – an IFR transit in our aircraft would not have been possible on a day such as today.

We were flying west in blue skies and with a good view of Brindisi…

About an hour into the flight and over on the west coast of Italy, the clouds were still building.

Getting closer…

We decided that we would be better off dropping down below and remaining VMC. Unfortunately, Brindisi were’t quite as relaxed as Greek ATC and we were told to maintain level until clear of the TMA. Fair enough, but we were certainly starting to get close to the clouds and I had already identified my entry path to VFR below, and I didn’t want to go past it.

IFR was cancelled, we were released by Brindisi, and down we went…

Back in familiar territory now, we followed valleys and progressed generally west with the knowledge that there was no controlled airspace ahead of us, it made the navigation a breeze – just follow the valleys to the coast.



Please note that these photographs were taken with a telephoto lens and whilst in the photos the clouds and mountains look close, conditions were always legal for VMC, VFR flight. It certainly was not CAVOK, but it was manageable. This is one of the reasons I like to fly both VFR and IFR. They are to me complementary skill sets and, as such, I take time to practise and stay comfortable with both. I couldn’t recommend diving under cloud if close navigation makes you uncomfortable but for me, in my aircraft, having a degree of comfort in both VFR and IFR flying allows me more flexibility of when and where I fly.

Regardless, at the end of a long flying day, we started to reach the flat coastal plains.

With Salerno airport in the 12 o’ clock

We made a downwind join

With a tight right base

For short final.

Rolling out on runway 05, the main terminal area is to the right but we park on a little GA pan to the left side of the end of the runway (which can be seen on the photograph of tight right base).

We unpacked the aircraft and were driven to the terminal where a taxi was called for us. The Police never met us and we were told that it really is not required for intra Schengen and so they were not interested. The taxi into Salerno was expensive (although a fair price) at EUR45. And so, after a long day, we settled down for a beer on the seafront whilst we booked a place to stay for the night – the Novotel Salerno Est Arechi, on an unbelievably good deal. Cheaper than the taxi.

Salerno down time

What to do in Italy in 18 hours?

Beach

Beer

And, of course, Bizza

The next day we decided to try the bus to the airport, which was actually OK. It was of course crammed full, and there was no way of buying a ticket – but we supposed it would be about EUR2 for the 40 minute ride to the airport. We stopped for a croissant and a strong coffee before walking the final kilometre to the terminal. There was a fair bit of waiting around but an hour later we were in the aircraft with engine started.

Salerno to Figari and Figari to Carcassonne 6th May 2016

Key figures – Salerno to Figari

284 nm, 01:50, Max groundspeed 176 knots, average G/S 159 knots, max altitude FL100, Z plan VFR/IFR/VFR

Routing

Airborne, we had to remain below Naples zone whilst we tried to raise them on the radio. Terrain shielding was a problem in terms of the comms, but not in terms of the view. We were instructed to remain below 3,000ft, which suited us perfectly as we flew down the Amalfi coast. When Napoli asked us whether we were ready to climb, we asked to remain low to Capri – and they had no problem with that. Remaining level with the road and over the sea at 2,000ft, we were treated to stunning views all along the Amalfi Coast, and then of Capri.


Passing Capri we climbed and opened IFR. Not much track shortening so we spent a lot of time flogging over the sea. However, on arrival to Figari, we cancelled IFR and took a fly down the coast – to be very pleasantly surprised by the glorious view of Bonifacio,

Then it was time to join Figari. Number 1 to final. Very windy, pretty bumpy.

Rolling out to the large pan to the right, we pulled up at the vacant fuel pump and shut down. Kirsty went indoors to pay the bills whilst I refuelled the aircraft. As we were just stopping for fuel, there was no landing fee – just a “refuel fee” of EUR18. This was for a refueller to come out and swipe my credit card. After he did that, he pointed to the pump and it then became apparent that the rest of the refuel was self service. 200 litres at 1.67 Euro / litre.

Kirsty re-joined me and we were airborne again 55 minutes after landing. It is worth noting though that we had to wait about 20 minutes for the refueller (card swiper) to come to us from his office. We were first in the queue so it only took us 30 minutes for the refuel – by the time we left the pump there were 3 planes waiting for fuel, so it might take a bit of time to refuel on a bad day.

Figari looked like a good spot for a visit although they were a bit strange with us when we got our original PPR slot for an arrival from Kerkira. Customs / Immigration were going to be mandatory and when I asked why this would be so for an intra Schengen flight, it was explained that since the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, that arrivals from Greece were being fully scrutinised. I didn’t argue with it, but couldn’t help being a little surprised – we had exited Greece without Immigration, arrived in Italy without Immigration, and (later) arrived in France without immigration. Yet had the same aircraft and crew flown directly from Corfu, we would have required Immigration on exit and Immigration on arrival. I’m glad I’m not responsible for enforcing these rules – does anyone really know what they are?

Salerno to Figari and Figari to Carcassonne 6th May 2016

Key figures – Figari to Carcassonne

365 nm, 02:20, Max groundspeed 173 knots, average G/S 157 knots, max altitude FL100, Z plan VFR/IFR/VFR

Routing

Uneventful. A bumpy departure in the strong winds, but with some good views – going to have to go back there for a few days.

And then lots of sea and blue skies till the South of France

Marseille Airport

And then starting descent and visually self-positioning behind Ryanair – who was performing an NDB approach. The green fields made us feel we were “home”.

At last we were on final, remaining high just in case of any lingering wake turbulence. Strong winds made it a little lumpy.

And a chance to look over all the EuroGA aircraft

Before checking into the accommodation and admiring the view from the balcony.

It had been a tough few days of flying, but we had caught up with our itinerary and were looking forward to our very first fly-in.

Carcassonne to Guernsey 8th May 2016

Key figures

436 nm, 02:25, Max groundspeed 209 knots, average G/S 181 knots, max altitude FL70, flight plan IFR/VFR

Routing

Well, we were all there in Carcassonne, so no need to discuss the weather. We planned to stay 3 nights originally but looking at the weather forecast, it was going to be a difficult trip home if we stayed the third night, and so we made the decision to head home on the Sunday 8th afternoon instead. A very windy take-off and into cloud pretty quickly, but we knew the weather was localised. Indeed, 20 miles to the north we were in the clear and Puffin started mithering for the Channel – home.

Eventually, after our epic journey, our island home loomed in the distance.

Joining for right base and the Easterly runway.

Onto finals


And a final landing before gently putting the aircraft to bed. She never really missed a beat throughout the whole trip. OK, so we lost the digital instrumentation on the way south (due to static?), the landing light had gone pop, and she had used about 2 litres of oil. Apart from that, she had behaved perfectly.

Puffin was happy to be back home again in Guernsey sunshine.

All that was left was to return to the hangar the next day to clean her out and to give her a well-deserved wash. And then of course to sit down and write up a trip report…

The End?