It took some soul-searching to figure out my reluctance to land at another airport in Spain, until I realized I was still a little pissed off about a forced landing in the US shortly before the move. intercontinental, then fly into the oppressive environment of Germany after that. It was one trauma after another, and flying across Europe as part of the intercontinental movement actually made it worse, instead of solving the problem. For months I stayed within a radius of Cerdanya that could be flown over without refueling, gradually introducing more adventure, including the French coast and the highest point in the Pyrenees, but I couldn’t shake the absence total desire to land elsewhere.
I finally realized that, if my European Spring and Summer adventures were to take place, I am going to have to question myself and fly over 75 NM from home. In a moment of indignant fury, akin to a Scottish Highland war cry (albeit with an iPad, behind a desk), I decided that was enough and that I was going to find out. So, I set out to methodically call the airports one by one until I found a suitable candidate.
It started an interesting adventure, as I began to realize the magnitude of the reasons why I don’t land anywhere else. Maybe it has less to do with my own nervousness and more to do with a completely inconvenient, disjointed and aggravating airport network. Should I start with the two valley fields in France? Nope. French site license required, at a cost of € 500 each and an afternoon of training. Okay, maybe I’ll go to La Seu. Well, it’s 20 miles away, and a flight plan is needed, which is silly. Other airports within reasonable range had no Avgas, only Mogas, which no one seemed to know or care about if it was ethanol-free. Since my STC (and the desire not to crash) does not require ethanol, I crossed these airports off my list. Others had ridiculous landing fees (€ 80 +), or were hiding under the record reversal that fogged up in the central Catalan depression for months. France? I was not in the mood to go to France, as I live in Spain, although my analysis shows that France has a much more robust airport network, albeit coupled with an epileptically disorganized airspace system. More so, flying in one of the following directions is a totally different climatic zone with sometimes completely different weather conditions on the same day: SE & S (Spanish Mediterranean), SW (Central Catalan Depression), W (Pyrenees), N (French Midi-Pyrenees), NE (South of France).
|Username||Airport||Distance (nm)||Dealing with the French||Flight plan||Site license||No fuel||Advance notice for fuel||Absurd landing fees||Restricted airspace above||Control Tower||Winter inversion||No S or N wind|
|LFYS||La Llagonne, France||8.73||X||X||X|
|LFNG||Sainte Léocadie, France||16.16||X||X||X|
|LESU||La Seu d’Urgell, Spain||19.58||X|
|LFDJ||Pamiers – Les Pujols, France||44.43||X||X|
|LFCB||Bagneres de Luchon, France||61.55||X||X||X|
|LECI||Santa Cilia, Spain||115.39||X|
Finally, I opted for an option: Ampuriabrava on the Mediterranean coast. With the fuel being $ 12.16 a gallon and the landing fee $ 25, I decided to swallow any sense of tax justification and get on for at least one flight with it. The first hurdle was struggling with my flight planning software, which uses the ICAO format and has strict validation rules. I have yet to find an equivalent to the flight service over the phone. With that out of the way, I had to get to the airport, find someone to refuel, do an uphill flight, take off and cross the 7,000ft ridge to contact Barcelona Approach to activate the flight plan. , all before the scheduled time when the flight plan evaporates. The whole time climbing up to the Cadí-Moixeró ridge I was thinking how stupid the whole process was because the last time I spoke to Barcelona Approach it took me eight minutes to answer my request (yes, eight!), and at that point they transferred me to another frequency, which lost reception “down” to 8,500 feet due to the terrain, forcing me to give up controlled airspace and forgetting my intentions. Fortunately, the flight plan was activated quickly, and I settled in cruising configuration on the foothills of the Pre-Pyrenees.
Geological terminus of the Pyrenees meeting the Mediterranean.
I asked Barcelona Approach if I could turn on and switch to VFR, and they didn’t seem to understand what I was asking. I was given altitude and heading clearance and that’s it. Since then, I have understood that if it is a flight plan, it is normal to expect flight tracking and traffic advisories. Every time I have tried to bypass it, including in France, the controllers do not seem to understand and continue to offer the radar service. Talking with the Spaniards about this, it seems that there are two camps: flight plans are required for all VFR or “shut the transponder off” flights. The reality, based on my research, is that flight plans are necessary to fly in controlled airspace, although optional for uncontrolled ones; however, activation in the air triggers the assumption that flight following is desired.
After the transfer to the Girona Tower (although I was far from their Class D airspace) I was told, if not lectured, three times that I should contact Ampuriabrava Information if I lost the Girona Tower because there are “in reality” parachuting operations today, which I have agreed to do each time. My protocol was to call in Information anyway, as required and noted on the map, and in a moment of America-centered selfishness, I thought the pilots were obeying controlled airspace. Maybe not in Spain?
Fly along the coast.
After a flight along the coast and around the cape where the Pyrenees geologically meet the Mediterranean, I made an uneventful landing, with an information controller who seemed not to bother to say much, at least in the diagram. Once on the ground, he insisted that I taxi to the Jet A-1 area, despite the 100LL signs elsewhere. After the power was turned off, the fuel attendant, who also acts as an information controller, told me that I had to push the aircraft towards the 100LL zone because I was in the wrong place.
After paying an emasculating fee to refuel and land, I asked if a flight plan was really needed. “Oh yes it is.” “Do you file one for each flight, including local flights?” “Oh no, for local flights we don’t need that.” No one has really explained this to me, and other pilots have told me that news service airports really don’t legally require a flight plan, although they have high self-esteem. and scold pilots who don’t. Between that and other antics of the day, I realized that Spanish aviation is as confused and disorganized as every other aspect of daily life here, and that no one cares except foreigners.
A little foggy.
Mist near the coast, with the Pic d’Canigou, France on the horizon on the left.
The haze that day was horrendous in some areas, which turned out to be the forerunner of an apocalyptic Saharan dust storm that blew the next day (all the way to the Pyrenees), so I chose to climb up- above the layer and directly to the Pic d ‘Canigou, a high snow-capped prominence above the French border, then return via the mountain ridge. Girona Tower did not believe my original intentions and asked repeatedly as I flew to the border and then gladly dropped me off with Montpellier Approach in France who could not understand why I was not flying in a straight line to my destination. I was asked several times when I was going to take the plane to the Spanish border, and after explaining twice that I was going to take pictures of the Pic d’Canigou, I was told to ” advise when you finish your little tour and heading to the Spanish border. Montpellier Approach was more than happy to get me back to Barcelona Approach well before the border which, in turn, did not understand why I was asking to close the flight plan with La Cerdagne in sight, although agreed to do so after asking twice, even though it looked like my chances of crashing and dying in the last 6 minutes of flying without an active flight plan was akin to jumping off a bridge.Remember that this all happens in uncontrolled VFR airspace.
My “little tour” around the Pic d’Canigou, France (9,137 ′). It’s amazing to go from palm trees to this in 40 minutes.
After a successful flight, I decide three days later to conquer Santa Cilia and along the Pyrenees. I called the airport asking three questions: do you have gasoline, what time are you open and do i need a flight plan? The response was satisfactory on all fronts, including that a flight plan was not necessary (although there was an information service). Five hours and thousands of photographs later, I had one of the most incredible and memorable flights of my life, and I did it the American way: I jumped on the plane, announced to on arrival, refueled without a reservation, and returned as I wanted and when I wanted, and that was great.
Western Pyrenees – I have about 95% less trouble flying here than in controlled airspace.
Saharan dust on the Pyrenees snowpack at 10,000 ′.
On a separate note, I’ve finally finished another book about the good old days of Wyoming theft, wild and free from bureaucratic nonsense. Jackson Hole flights is a compendium of aerial images taken from the Cub – including Grand Teton, Jackson and the wild areas and mountain ranges around the city, taken without concern for flight plans, national borders, service coverage radar, site licenses, $ 12 gas or whatever. (Available on Amazon.com or on the author’s site)
Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of America’s most rugged and wild terrain from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Pyrenees Spanish to continue the adventure of flight. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, the Southeastern Highlands, and the Outer Banks, with more American and European books in preparation. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.