Long-time lurker, planning a first longer trip within Europe for this weekend with an eye to take a PA28-180 from Elstree to Bex in Switzerland. I’ll be with a pregnant lady which means that i’m looking to stick below 10,000 ft and a break at the mid point for comfort would be welcomed. I’m also strictly VFR only.
My thought was to route via Reims, Eparnay or nearby to clear Schengen customs/border and then route to Bex. I’ve done longer distance trips before (around 50hrs in Southern Africa) but not so in Europe, and at the moment I’m getting a bit lost in the Restricted airspace around Besancon (and through a lot of France).
Would anyone be able to offer some suggestions on a good central stopping point, as well as how worried to be about all the restrictions on the way there?
My experience in France so far : all flexible and easy, if you just talk to the respective I formation / Approach sections. Always reveived clearancefor more or less direct crossi g. Occasional altitude changes / vectors for CAT or military traffic. Just talk yourself through it ;-)
(I always avoid Paris, though)
If your pregnant lady is like mine then, have additional optional landing stops ready (driving only, then, but I recall stops often after 30-60min)
Reims is a nice airfield, but has no customs AFAIK. Metz LFJL would be nearest, on request.
Welcome unblonde !
Reims does not have customs (I think it changed recently).
For customs in the vicinity, you have Vatry LFOK with customs on site (no PNR), but fees have increased recently it seems. With PNR, Troyes LFQB seems the better choice (restaurant on site, good reviews, cheap fees).
There is a gliding championship in Chalons LFQK si tree avoid at large.
Crossing the channel, you will be taken care of Lille, then Paris, then Seine, then Bale I think. All very good service except from Paris when they are busy. Just be aware to leave them when approaching Seine area (abeam Epernay).
With a G-reg you will get a special treatment :), they won’t let you cross an active military area (they would be in trouble if so), and on a weekend very few areas are active.
SD works great in France. Overall it’s like flying in the UK, but easier !!
Bex is a quiet little aerodrome, so I suggest you check that it is an acceptable port of entry into Switzerland – might be ok from France (Schengen) but not from the UK direct. The airspace between Besancon and Lausanne looks trickier than it is, because the French restrictions are rarely active. However, if you are VFR, you’ll have to get between the Jura mountains and the Geneva TMA, which can be tough if there is any cloud about. In particular, look out for a southerly or a northerly wind, as the orographic clouds can make it difficult. Early in the day is better from this point of view. There is a high voltage power line running parallel to the runway at Bex, so watch out for that. Overall though it’s an amazingly scenic area, so enjoy!
Use this website to help you plan around military areas. They are normally off on weekends. If you then go here and go to 2.5.1 you can CTRL+F all the danger/restricted areas in question and find out if you are likely to get through them or not. You will find that the ones around Paris are a 24/7 no-go for VFR traffic. Yes, this a pretty tedious process and you could just do it via the radio en-route but just giving you the comprehensive approach
With “high-risk” passengers like that I find it best to clear customs as early as possible (i.e. LFAT). You can be in & out within 20 mins. This gives you the option of landing at any of the many small airports in France without having to worry about a potential Police intervention.
As @Raiz mentioned – Bex is only usable for Intra-Schengen flights. So you can use it from France, but not from the UK. Before flying to Bex, a customs form needs to be filled out 2h before ETA on their website, but not before 24h ETA. In any case, you need also PPR 24h before ETA via their website, so you need 2 forms (customs and PPR)! The airfield is open daily from SR up to SS.
In contrast to France, Swiss ATC normally doesn’t grant access to the Geneva TMA for VFR traffic, so be prepared to go below the Geneva TMA, which can be tricky if clouds block your way over the Jura mountains. Crossing Payerne CTR or TMA is no issue though, the Swiss military will clear you trough.
I find it best to clear customs as early as possible (i.e. LFAT). You can be in & out within 20 mins
If going VFR, by the time LTMA starts to go up you start to have LFAT & LFAC in sight
Unlike other places in middle of France, you can can be in & out in less than 5min via L2K or Calais if you have more legs to go!
Also, assuming VFR once you cleared customs then you are almost direct anywhere in France at 5500-7500ft except around PTMA if you are in a hurry or if you are relaxed just fly low and stop anywhere you like in France when you see something interesting or have doubts on your special pax
Be aware, around 11am LFAT does get invaded mainly by people who have the whole weekend a 1h flight duration (I enjoy taking my time when I am in that group but I don’t think you want to be number 2 )
around 11am LFAT does get invaded
Only on weekends and only if the sun is out
I went there on Saturday, landing 1000 UTC, and there was loads of room
They have tons of tarmac.
The beach was packed (French holiday) but we aren’t talking about that.
LFAT is the best place on the N French coast for clearing schengen – if it is reasonably on the route. You walk in, pay and walk out again. Cherbourg is cheaper (€12 v. €30 for LFAT) but that’s barely relevant and you have to give previous day’s PNR. Deauville LFRG is also PNR but the AIP doesn’t say how far back.
Thanks all for the advice. Very much appreciated. I think i’ll amend the plan to stop at LFAQ on the way – i pass overhead anyway, so why not. My wife thanks you in advance. It’s a tiny bit further, and avoids LFAT which is a regular logbook occurrence.
I assume Seine TMA (class E) is fine to fly through without a clearance (even with the TMA and the NOTAMs presently saying it is active). Obviously, I’ll talk to someone, but just wanted to confirm my understanding that they can’t turn me down.
I was looking for details of LFR158A or B which are marked as active every day. I did find this, which when translated seems to suggest that you’re normally fine, but it’s possible to get utterly stuck if everything is active!
As a follow-up, would anyone recommend anyone at Bex for some mountain training / flightseeing. I’ve done a little, but would feel better (and probably see some better places with a pro next to me!)
Looking at the Simplon pass to Lugano (or Locarno) for a day trip. A smaller gafor route from Bex to Saanen as ‘training’, and then hopefully flying myself (solo with wife) to Innsbruck for an overnight (which I’ll ask about separately)