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Stuttgart to Sitia, Crete

Even though everything is calm and stable, always has been calm in the tourist areas and no tourist has ever been harmed, there is still a travel ban on Egypt, lead by the German government and followed by all European nations but the UK which -- in my opinion -- is remaining in place until the German elections. Even though the charter flights are gone, there is still a Cessna in the hangar. I've done the trip before in February so why not do it again, drawing from the experience?

The aircraft is a 1979 Cessna Turbo Skylane RG with modern avionics and good 7h of endurance at 155KTAS in FL100-120 and 165KTAS in FL160-180. Ceiling and max speed is at FL200 which gives it some weather avoidance capabilities although it is not deiced.

The first leg was to Serbia where Avgas is for sale at 1,15 €/l -- absolutely irresistible! There are two options -- Belgrade and Nis with comparable fees for both fuel and landing/handling (about 30 € for a technical landing). Nis is more south so we'd benefit more from the cheap Avgas. Unfortunately the NOTAMed opening hours of the aerodrome are depressing:

AD HOURS OF SERVICE: MON TUE FRI SAT AND SUN 0530-0730.

An email to both Nis and Belgrade was responded to within a day and to my surprise, Nis offered to open the aerodrome for us at no extra cost. Great. So the first leg was EDTH-LYNI with LYBE (Belgrade) as alternate. 5 jerry cans at 30l each were stowed to make it through the avgas desert in Egypt.

As always, the determining factor is the weather. Departure was planned for Tuesday September 17th which had several strong low pressure areas and several cold fronts that were lurking around.

The forecast for Tuesday was stable over the course of several days which is always a good indication that the weather model got it right. It was darn cold for the time of the year and a direct flight over the Alps would be too dangerous as one cannot overfly a cold front this time of the year in a SEP and the freezing level would be below ground which leaves little options in case of icing. About 8% extra miles via Vienna, Balaton, Pecs gave a routing which had positive surface temperatures everywhere.

The GRAMET showed this before departure:

As expected, the cloud tops were beyond reach and several layers were forecast. A flight entirely in positive temperatures was not possible under IFR due to the minimum enroute altitudes. However, in case of an emergency (icing), it is always possible to descend and today we are equipped well enough to ensure terrain clearance without ATC's help. Traditionally, GRAMET (i.e. GFS) is overly optimistic about clear areas between layers. Most often you find those gaps to be smaller or not be there at all. It was clear to me that I would be picking up some ice but I was happy with the options I got, especially the higher OC line after Vienna which should allow me to continue in positive temperatures, although IMC.

The radar picture showed a large rain area shortly before departure which was in line with the forecast.

The sferics image was clean, you don't want to get near thunderstorms when you're in IMC!

Another look at the cloud top estimation via IR satellite was also in line with the MLSP and GRAMET.

Departure was at 0600Z and the weather was exactly as predicted. We were cruising at FL100, not the most economic level for the aircraft but it seemed good from the GRAMET. First the sky was clear.

Shortly after Munich we reached the cold front and were flying between two layers and starting at around Linz/Austria the layers merged and we were in IMC for the next 2.5 hours. Temperature at FL100 was -6C.

This means we were in conditions were icing was both possible and likely. The TR182 can handle quite a bit of ice, the thick wings are not that sensitive to the negative aerodynamic effect of an ice coating (unlike the faster thin airfoil planes like Cirrus) and it can handle quite a bit of load (we were 150kg short of the MTOW anyway). Therefore the strategy was to carefully observe the ice buildup and constantly reevaluate our situation.

The max we saw was about 2-3mm on the leading edges. It was hardly noticeable, if the aircraft slowed down, it was by 1-2 knots max.

Not having a lot of experience with icing, this gave me confidence about the aircraft's ability to handle ice. We were able to determine for how long we have to stay in these icing conditions and estimate the buildup because we knew that at some point we could go to positive temperatures and quickly lose all the ice. This moment came shortly after entering Hungary and approaching lake Balaton.

Every now and then we were VMC for a few minutes but still mostly in IMC. The ice was gone within a minute or two. We remained at our FL100 because there was nothing to be gained from climbing other than getting back to freezing levels. For about an hour we were in rain, medium to heavy intensity. This doesn't seem to have any effect on the airplane. In Serbia, temperatures got warmer and the cloud base was steadily rising until we were just below in VMC conditions, starting south of Belgrade.

ATC was professional all the way and I was assigned an arrival procedure for Nis and radar service was terminated. The south of Serbia is rather hilly and there is no radar coverage. Everything was in VMC and we landed into Nis which is a rather large airport with lots of interesting Soviet type of stuff.

The "closed" airport was thriving with parajumpers, lots of weird aircraft landing and departing and generally a lot of staff on site. The NOTAM seems to be BS, luckily I asked them by email. Unfortunately not only the aircraft were soviet style but also some of the people. The handling agent, a young guy, was an idiot. He refused to fuel our jerry cans for safety reasons and because in Serbia people stick to the rules (yeah, right) and he is responsible. I tried everything I could, talked to his boss and the CEO of the aerodrome until I reached an agreement that they refuel the wing, I can siphon it out from the wing into the jerry cans (which have to remain in the cabin) and then they refuel the wing again. I was happy after 30 min of discussions in my rusty Russian but when we prepared for this, they changed their mind. No fueling of jerry cans, final verdict. Only after I told him 5 times that I accept his verdict he was willing to have the refueling of the wing start. The bowser truck with 2 staff was already waiting for an hour next to the aircraft. They started refueling but only after I told them how much fuel I want. "Full" was not accepted, it had to be in liters (but the price was per metric ton!). Good that I have a very accurate fuel totalizer onto which I added another 20l as cushion. The fueling took at least 15 minutes after which I checked the fuel level, something the handling agent clearly didn't like. I saw that there were at least 3cm missing below the cap which in a C182 is around 20-30l. So I told him this is not full and I want more fuel. He started to argue that it is full even though the amount of fuel shown on the bowser was 20l less than what the totalizer said would fit. Eventually he agreed to add some more and that turned out to be exactly 20l which he dismissed as being irrelevant. I told him this was more than 5% of the fuel to which his response was that I shouldn't lecture him because he's got a Master in Mathematics. Yeah, that's why he's a ground handler like most mathematicians. Anyway, payment was no problem, all fees were as expected and hadn't it been for this particular master of mathematics idiot, it would be a full recommendation.

Departing from Nis on a non radar SID in mountainous terrain, we were back in IMC again and continued further south to Macedonia.

Macedonia looks very nice from above but it's probably not the best place for a forced landing.

In Greece, the cloud cover changed to broken and it slowly cleared up as we got further south. This time, Greek ATC was excellent and we got all shortcuts we wanted, flying one straight line from Macedonia to Crete. As last time, there is one thing that Greek ATC hate: if you ask them for METARs. Their standard strategy is to ignore your request until they pass you on to the next sector. That sector took the request (it wasn't busy at all, otherwise I would not bother them) and after chewing on it for some time, they came back with the FIS frequency. That worked all right but still, a bit lame. I could have used sat internet but giving me METARs is something ATC should be familiar with.

For most of the flight through Greece, there was no good field or airport for a forced landing. On most of these islands you better do a water ditching than try to land there. It is amazing to see how many of these rugged islands are inhabited and it is hard to imagine how much effort it takes the Greek government and society to entertain the infrastructure of these islands.

Approaching Crete, we were given the standard arrival which came as a surprise because there is a radar controlled environment through Heraklion Approach. As the arrival and approach contained a DME arc and I have never flown a DME arc in real life, I thought I'd give it a go instead of doing a visual approach. My autopilot does it all by itself together with the GNS430W and you can see the magenta arc on the Aspen PFD.

Sitia is a fairly large airport which has guaranteed 90 degrees crosswind because they turned the runway to extend it. I wonder how they got that approved, definitely not possible back home where runways have to be in the main wind direction. This makes landings in Sitia rather difficult, this time we had 15kt from the right, considerably less than the 25-30kt last time. The landing was not great but within acceptable limits. One day I want to fly a few traffic patterns in Sitia to practise crosswind landings. Sitia is an uncontrolled airfield and the AFIS -- who is a very nice guy -- seems to have lost his previous ATC slang. Before I got "cleared to land", this time "the runway is clear for landing". Maybe next time he will add the ubiquitous stupid North European "at your discretion"

I asked for fuel service and turned to the fueling apron. As soon as the engine was turned off, a guy in a white shirt, blue tie and yellow vest approached and greeted me. Oh shit, that smells like handling, the parasites of airports. I asked him whether he was handling which he confirmed and I told them I neither requested nor want handling, I know the airfield and will be just fine. He accepted that and left but the story ain't over just yet...

Fuel is expensive in Greece, about 3 € a liter. The fuel guy was extremely nice, born in Australia and we were very well served. After filling each tank, he said "Captain, please check", made my climb up the ladder and inspect the tank and close the cap myself. Perfect, that's how it should be! Once we were done, one of these ugly 4 APU turbine Avro RJ jets landed and came for fuel. At this point we were seen as a nuisance and had to go out of the way. However, the Avro had blocked the taxiway onto the fuel apron so we had to be moved somewhere within the tiny apron. We chose a spot and went there (with the engine) but then some people (I think the handling agents) decided this was not good and insisted on us moving the airplane to a different spot. That was just the best possible position to enjoy the maximum jet blast possible from the Avro. Lots of gravel and debris on the apron and the aircraft was shaking and both of us had to hold onto the controls. I was furious about this extreme level of incompetence (I hope it wasn't malice), in my opinion this could be regarded as an incident the CAA would look into. Well, we survived and then taxied over the runway onto the parking apron were the new terminal is being built (no visible progress since February but there was ongoing work, they estimate another 12 months to complete).

There we were on the parking apron, ready to go downtown and have a few beers. It was getting dark and we were waiting. I asked AFIS for permission to walk over the runway. Unfortunately not possible. After some time, the AFIS guy himself came to pick us up in an old car and said I should come with him to the tower. There was a guy, apparently the boss of the handling agent who started yelling at me. He gave me a whole suada about how dare I to refuse handling which is both mandatory and absolutely important on such a busy airport like Sitia (muahaha). For safety on the apron it is important to use handling and as I have experienced, I need handling to get from the parking apron to the terminal. I told him that handling is not mandatory per AIP or NOTAM and I was here before without handling and I managed just fine. Well, the AIP is not relevant, what is relevant is only what he says and handling is mandatory. Also it is only 20-30 € (I liked the exact figure) but how would I know when an agent jumps on me after landing? Sometimes it is $200 for going to the bathroom (a friend of mine paid that at HEGN). After 10 minutes he stopped and said I get away without paying (so zero bill in total) but not next time. The AFIS person was not part of this, he was very friendly and helpful. The difference between "mandatory" handling that is not the AIP/NOTAM and the mafia is very subtle.

After this little episode, we went through customs which was not straightforward because the duty officer was not proficient in English and all she got was the word "Egypt". The fact that we came from Germany (Schengen + EU just like Greece) and were only to depart to Egypt the next day could not be communicated. Just when they started to search our bags, somebody with good English arrived and it was cleared up. The officer must have been a rookie, she took like 5 minutes to examine our German passports and she wanted to see a General Declaration from Germany (huh?) but she was nice to look at so we were patient.

The fuel guy arranged a taxi and a nice hotel for us and off we went to downtown Sitia for dinner and a good night's sleep.

All in all a very pleasant trip that worked out as planned. The strategy we chose for the weather worked out well. The strategy that Peter uses "fly on top or don't fly at all" would not have worked but it is not the only strategy. Just in Peter's last report we saw that he had to climb very high and at the end was faced with the risk of having to descent through 18,000ft of very nasty weather with severe turbulence and icing. Flying in IMC for hours is not very interesting from a scenery point of view and it bears the risk of "hitting" something nasty in IMC. However, we had options to descend to VMC so it was a sensible approach. I kept asking airliners on the way for the tops and it was around FL300 as forecast and even layers that looked like they were rather thin (because they were bright) turned out to go to FL220 according to the airliners.

A nice trip

Sitia is one of my favourite places in Greece, or anywhere.

It's a pity they now have the handling but I would regard the €30 as a contribution to the Greek economy, which with the UK being out of the €zone I am (irresponsibly) avoiding

The strategy that Peter uses "fly on top or don't fly at all" would not have worked but it is not the only strategy. Just in Peter's last report we saw that he had to climb very high and at the end was faced with the risk of having to descent through 18,000ft of very nasty weather with severe turbulence and icing.

Not actually correct (there was no really nasty wx below) but I have only just got around to starting on that writeup.

What we did get was a much stronger than forecast headwind which took out the option of a nice pleasant drop-in halfway enroute for fuel. I would have done it if flying alone but not with Justine who is easily scared. This headwind stuff is something I need to take better care of next time...

Flying in IMC for hours is not very interesting from a scenery point of view and it bears the risk of "hitting" something nasty in IMC. However, we had options to descend to VMC so it was a sensible approach.

That's fine if you accept the need to either abandon the flight (descend and land) or descend and continue low level VFR. Some are happy with that, some are not. I fly to get from A to B and if it looks like I can't (safely) then I don't go. I am a fairly rigid planner and like things to work out right. Many pilots are more "free and easy" in their life, regard popping into odd airports as one of life's adventures, and they are happy to "have a go". I think that is very much a legacy of the way the VFR PPL is trained, but I operate IFR differently.

I have picked up > 30mm of ice in about 5 mins (-5C) but a recent record from a pilot I know is 10mm in 1 minute, flying through a TCU or similar, at -5C. He was only just able to hold altitude at FL100. In this case, looking at those charts, I think you just got lucky. You could have had the same and had to plummet very fast - which is OK because you were above warm air and above the MSA and were happy to take the risk of that.

The great thing about flying VMC (on top usually, in the Eurocontrol IFR context) is that you can turn back in 100% safety.

I rarely fly if there is really hazardous wx in the terminal areas, but crossing it VMC on top enroute is acceptable.

It would be interesting to see the IR and sferics images for your trip's time.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Approaching Crete, we were given the standard arrival which came as a surprise because there is a radar controlled environment through Heraklion Approach.

Maybe the reason was that according to Heraklion TAR chart AD2-LGIR-VEC of the AIP, Sitia area is outside the official TAR coverage.

We chose a spot and went there (with the engine) but then some people (I think the handling agents) decided this was not good and insisted on us moving the airplane to a different spot.>

It is their responsibility to park you where your airplane will be safe - that's why you'll give them the 20 Euros (or in some cases 80E)...

I told him that handling is not mandatory per AIP or NOTAM and I was here before without handling and I managed just fine.

According to AIP GEN 1.2.4.1.4 "It is obligatory to private aircraft to accept marshalling at all Greek aerodromes as well as crew and passenger transportation wherever such service is available."

The question is, was there any service available to you?

[edited to make the quotes appear right; simply use the > character at the start of the paragraph you want to quote, not followed by any spaces]

LGMT (Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece), Greece

Good to know about Nis. I had the same impression when flying by it that they were open when notamed shut, but seeing that Osijek asks 170 Euros to open out of hours I never considered them. Pity about the fuelling guy, in Belgrade they were absolutely professional, fast and cooperative in any possible way. Fuel truck arrived before I could actually exit the aircraft and we were refilled and all charges paid (16 Euros landing fee and cheap Avgas) per credit card at the plane.

The handling mafia is getting worse and worse. Was this a problem outside Europe before, it seems to have taken a strong hold here now at many places. Good of you to refuse them whenever possible. Unfortunately, if they are in bed with the airport authority, chances are not too good sometimes, as you are of course vulnerable with your aircraft there.

Anyway, keep the pics and writeup coming :)

LSZH, Switzerland

Maybe the reason was that according to Heraklion TAR chart AD2-LGIR-VEC of the AIP, Sitia area is outside the official TAR coverage.

OK, makes sense. However, in February I got vectors. I do remember that I on the VOR approach, not a visual approach. Anyway, I really enjoyed watching my AP fly the DME arc

According to AIP GEN 1.2.4.1.4 "It is obligatory to private aircraft to accept marshalling at all Greek aerodromes as well as crew and passenger transportation wherever such service is available."

Who would not accept marshalling? Handling is dangerous unless you arrange it in advance with written evidence about the services and fees. Somebody coming to greet you can cost you any amount of money. This is why I always question handling agents that I did not expect. Had I known before that there is mandatory handling and that it costs 20-30 €, I would have had no problem with it. There should at least be a NOTAM advising about handling and spelling out the contact data of the available handling agents.

It is their responsibility to park you where your airplane will be safe - that's why you'll give them the 20 Euros (or in some cases 80E)...

Meaning if I tell them I don't need handling, they put my aircraft right in the jet blast?

Handling problems and storys like this are really normal for Greece ... unfortunately. I once landed on Corfu and paid € 0.97 landing fees incl. handling ... (bur with the obilgatory 25 copies and 30 stamps)... and when I flew back the same route 3 days later they wanted € 70. Same service, sae plane, same crew ... When I DARED to ask what the reason was and wanted to see a proce list they told us to "get lost" and not pay anything ...

(From there we flew to Pescara in Italy and had almost the same experience again).

It's really hard to take those peopel seriously.

One time they did not want to let me VFR from Corfu to Heraklion because "there is absolutely no parking space". After one hour of discussion they agreed to call Heraklion airport and then (with a big generous gesture) they told us they would make an "exception". We came to LGIR three hours later and the GA apron was EMPTY, completely empty!

What I also did not like was that they FORCE you to fly 3 hours over water when there is a much less risky way to Crete. I am actually not afraid of over water flying, so i did it, but I don'zt think it's okay that they force you to do it.

What I also did not like was that they FORCE you to fly 3 hours over water when there is a much less risky way to Crete. I am actually not afraid of over water flying, so i did it, but I don'zt think it's okay that they force you to do it.

What was the route?

Normally Greece wants all traffic, VFR included, to fly published "airway" routes - as described in one of my oldest trip writeups here

The route followed the A14 airway and was LGKR KRK ARA TRL MIL SIT LGST and was flown entirely at FL075.

Until a few months ago Greece never had any airspace classification. The funny thing is that I never noticed I never had any VFR charts, using the 1998 ONC charts instead, and Navbox Pro. Maybe it will now have some Class G in which you can "just fly"?

I have not had any significant issues on my numerous trips to Greece. Unlike some other places (Spain and Italy come to mind) I find they speak good English which simplifies everything. Olympic Handling have (in the last few years, since they got privatised) been superbly efficient and courteous. And as Achim says the girls are good looking so you always give them extra leeway

But Kerkira LGKR stands out for some bizzare practices like 24hrs PPR and telling you to **** off when you have a few miles left to land, if they cannot find their copy of the stamped PPR form. I always faxed all comms there so never had a problem, but when one official looked out of his window at the totally empty apron (big enough for all 100 Turkish F16s) and said with a completely straight face that they need 5 days PPR to manage apron capacity, he would have passed the audition for Yes Minister.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

They have some classification since June 2013 (also discussed here)

Unfortunately large parts of the airspace are controlled by military TMAs and there is little G airspace over land.

As is the case in every country, it is good practice to consult the local AOPA department and its pilots. They may be able to suggest an easier route.

I always provide detailed information to every pilot asking and wishing to fly over the northeast Aegean (Lesvos - Chios - Samos - Limnos etc).

In general, handling to AOPA members costs around 20E for Swissport and Goldair, while Olympic charges around 80E (which is the full price). Non-AOPA receive full charge. LGAV is excluded, they have other charges there. Also some airports have the PPN or PPR, and if these are required the handler or airport officer must be informed, or else they may charge you the whole 80E, or the airport may refuse your flight due parking. Of course the handlers may be nice and charge 20E even if you don't perform the PPN/PPR stuff, but it is their discretion.

Based in Lesvos, whenever I fly to other airports in Greece I always call both the handler and the airport officer to make sure. The phones are on the handler's site and on the Hellenic CAA site (www.hcaa.gr) respectively (you can find the latest AIP there, too). It's much better to fly relaxed than under pressure. This applies to air and ground operations.

Things are changing in Greece lately and I wish it becomes more GA friendly.

LGMT (Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece), Greece

Things are changing in Greece lately and I wish it becomes more GA friendly.

It is still many times better than its reputation among GA pilots. Of course there could be more airports, more sources of avgas, cheaper prices for avgas, etc.

In general, handling to AOPA members costs around 20E for Swissport and Goldair, while Olympic charges around 80E (which is the full price).

I paid around 35 € in Iraklion to Swissport (AOPA member) and the guy in Sitia said 20-30 € even though it was Olympic.

Actually the only reason I think there is value to my membership of AOPA Germany is the discounts I get in Greece

Actually the only reason I think there is value to my membership of AOPA Germany is the discounts I get in Greece

That's a bit unfair, isn't it? You completely forgot to mention the lovely high visibility vest labelled "AOPA Air Crew" they sell for only EUR 7,50 ;-)

RXH
EDML - Landshut, Munich / Bavaria
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