Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Trip Report: The Channel Islands Triangle

Our annual holiday this time around took us to Guernsey, the largest island in the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which is a UK 'Crown Dependency'. This means the islands are self governing (for example they are have never been full EU members), but they defer to the UK for various matters, e.g. defense (and they have their own version of the pound). The Bailiwick also includes Alderney, Sark, Herm and other smaller isles, while the other Bailiwick that makes up the Channel Islands is Jersey.

Since it's nearby, Birmingham was the departure point of choice. Flybe operate flights twice a day (sometimes with a third to Jersey in the summer) to Guernsey and Jersey, where the morning routing is BHX-JER-GCI-BHX and the afternoon is BHX-GCI-JER-BHX. This is a relatively rare opportunity to go on a flight with a stop somewhere, something that used to be commonplace but is seldom seen today (connections don't count!). We chose the afternoon rotations and so flew on BE511 BHX-GCI outbound and BE512 GCI-JER-BHX back. The routing, courtesy of Great Circle Mapper:

BE511 Birmingham (BHX/EGBB) to Guernsey (GCI/EGJB)
Flybe Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 G-JEDP
The outbound flight was largely uneventful, and was operated by G-JEDP, once painted in the green 'low cost, but not at any cost' livery - now turned purple. Check-in and security was fine, with no queues, despite recent media coverage of delays at BHX. We were flying at a busy time of day too. Anyway, BE511 departed RWY33 and landed on Guernsey's RWY27. Some enroute pics below:

Taxiing out: a Qatar 787-8 and Flybe E175

Coventry airport

Leamington Spa

Isle of Wight

Isle of Sark, seen as we turned onto the final approach for Guernsey
Being an internal flight, passport check upon arrival are not necessary and baggage claim was fast too - from disembarking to being outside the terminal must have been not much more than 15 minutes!

Thoughts on Guernsey
It's an unusual place. It's 3/4 English and 1/4 French, I'd say, with the road names all in French and a sort of French eating/drinking culture. That is, pubs in the form that someone from the mainland UK would frequent are hard to find, aside from the odd locals-only type affair. There are plenty of hotel restaurants and bistros, through. With a small population, narrow roads, a maximum speed limit of 35 and some roads banning cars altogether, I expected Guernsey to be a quaint and quiet. Actually, and particularly in the Capital St. Peter Port, it's heaving! I do appreciated that we went in August, and that tourists are part of the problem, but most of the cars on the road were locally registered and not hire cars. The island is 10 miles at its widest. Where are all these people driving?!

In terms of attractions, there are numerous museums, including the Guernsey museum, 3 on the German occupation period, and a shipwreck museum to name a few. Castle Cornet, Sausmarez manor and it's gardens are worth a look. I couldn't help feel, however, that the guidebooks exaggerate the size of some of the events/markets/museums. The beaches are OK (we liked Pembroke best) but seafront facilities on all of them are limited. This is not a place to bring kids, I would say. It is, however, an excellent place for a walking holiday rather than your traditional bucket and space type trip.

Overall I'd describe Guernsey as being best geared towards the older traveller, and those who like to walk (the Island bus network is good, but half the fun is in taking your time and seeing the place on foot!). Some photos below:

Castle Cornet

View from the Castle towards St Peter Port

Pembroke Bay

La Gran’mère du Chimquière, a 4000 year old Pagan statue in St Martins

Moulin Huet Bay

View over St Peter Port. Herm and Jethou are on the left, with Sark in the distance

BE512 Guernsey (GCI/EGJB) to Birmingham (BHX/EGBB) via Jersey (JER/EGJJ)
Flybe Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 G-KKEV
The flight back! G-KKEV, a 10 year-old dash, arrived on time from Birmingham. This used to have Kevin Keegan painted next to the front left door, but he's gone now! Guernsey is a tiny airport, dominated by the national carrier Aurigny. There's the odd Flybe and Blue Islands service too. The most interesting flights are to Alderney, operated by Aurigny Dornier 228s - these recently replaced the famous Joey Trislanders. The departure lounge here consists of 1 café and 2 shops. Views are not great, and I'd recommend waiting as long as possible in the viewing gallery/café upstairs before checking in!

Our flights were pretty much on schedule. The hop over Jersey took just 15 minutes, helped by the easterly winds - departure off 09, a turn south, before left turns to land on 08 at Jersey. Skies were clear and we had great views as we flew over Sark at 4000ft!

Sark, at the bottom, and little Sark above, turning south towards Jersey
There was no drinks service and no cockpit welcome on this short hop, understandably. Despite the perfect flying conditions, touchdown in Jersey was hard! Passengers from BHX/GCI got off and the crew made sure that the luggage left behind belonged to pax staying onboard. What they did not do, was check our boarding passes... because there was no check upon arrival at BHX either, you could feasibly buy a ticket to Jersey and stay onboard to Birmingham (if you just had hand luggage)! I'm sure they should have checked this, and it wouldn't have taken long, as only ~20 people remained onboard. You would run the risk of seat reservation clashes though!

The final leg back to BHX was fun! There were some big showers around over the channel and southern England, and given the short duration of the flight (and limitations of the turboprop powered Dash), cruise was at FL170. This meant we periodically skimmed the tops of towering cumulus and CBs, making it a fun ride - a few bumps elicited squeals from the less confident fliers!

St. Helier, Jersey, seen on the RWY08 climbout

The routing, courtesy of

The actual landing was perfectly done on RWY15, and we eventually disembarked at 18:00, 2 hours after boarding in Guernsey. This is quite a while on the Dash, which is OK for legroom but decidedly narrow. My other 'complaints' are that the cabin was boiling hot, and the crew weren't overly friendly... although I don't know what kind of a day they'd had so mustn't criticise them too much! Bag collection took 25 minutes, not as bad as I'd feared given the recent horror stories about Swissport at BHX.

See the 3 take-offs/landings here:

So that concludes my 68th, 69th and 70th flights - 5th, 6th and 7th on the Dash and 9th, 10th and 11th with Flybe. As I've found before, Flybe offer a decent service, but in terms of comfort, I think I'd rather take their Embraers where possible in future.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Trip Report: Newcastle to Birmingham, the Long Way Round

I recently went on a trip up to Newcastle, travelling up by train. When I saw the price of the trains, I though there must be a better way! So I started hunting for flights. BHX-NCL direct flights are available with Eastern Airways but these are pretty steep, instead, for £60 I managed to get a routing of NCL-DUB-BHX - more than the train, but absolutely worth the extra!

Newcastle (NCL/EGNT) to Dublin (DUB/EIDW) EI3355
Aer Lingus Regional (Operated by Stobart Air) ATR 72-600 EI-FAT
The first leg of the journey was on an ATR, my first flight on the type, operated by Stobart for Aer Lingus. I have to say that everything about the trip was quick and efficient, both in the airport and onboard. I breezed through security and the flight left pretty much on time. My impressions of the ATR? It seemed quieter with less vibration than the rival Dash 8, of course the ATR 72-600 is a newer model than the Dash, having first flown in 2009. This aircraft was EI-FAT, first flown in 2013.

The taxi was short, with take off towards the east on rwy 07. The flight took us over the lake district, the Isle of Man, across the north of Dublin and in from the west to land on rwy 10. 

Looking back over the toon
Over the lakes
Courtesy of!
With the ATR particularly, changes in thrust were very apparent during the approach, (as with the Dash) there's no autothrottle. And the ATR approach is noticeably nose down in comparison with other modern airliners. I enjoyed it! Once we'd landed and parked on a remote stand by Terminal 1, we were bussed across the airport to Terminal 2, where passport checks were swift. I was out of the terminal within 15 minutes, and making my way landside back to Terminal 1.

Dublin (DUB/EIDW) to Birmingham (BHX/EGBB) FR666
Ryanair Boeing 737-800 EI-FRI
Terminal 2 is definitely nicer than 1 at Dublin! But then, 1 is the lo-co terminal, dominated by Ryanair. I had a whopping 3 hours to spare, thankfully the views of the airfield are good from inside the terminal so I didn't get too bored. I was to fly on EI-FRI, a brand new 73H, built in April of this year. The aircraft was BHX based, by tracking the FR667 on flightradar24, I watched it land before joining the huge queue that had formed at the gate.

The flight was so full that cabin bags were being moved into the hold at the gate. With only a rucksack, I got away with it! Once onboard, I could tell the aircraft was new - it was spotless, and had the new Boeing sky interior, inspired by the 787. This meant slimmer seats (so more legroom) and mood lighting that changed from white to blue to orange.

Take off was again on time and we soared into the calm evening sky. Calm being the operative word, there wasn't a single bump for the entire flight until landing! The following pics demonstrate why flying back the long way was worth it:

You don't get views like that from a train!

27,000ft over Snowdonia

We performed a little right hand orbit over the city of Birmingham, at a few thousand feet, and being on the right hand side I got a stunning view of the city lights. Then it was straight in to rwy 15 for a 10 minute early touchdown (I had hoped, given the quality of the service so far, that Ryanair had abandoned their silly on time trumpeting, but alas no!). 

To conclude? It may have taken 8 hours total door to door (rather than about 4 on the train), but for just a little extra, flying is absolutely my preferred ride home. I enjoyed the little ATR too - I'd look to fly on those if travelling to Ireland again!

Friday, 15 July 2016

Farnborough 2016

So the orders from Farnborough 2016 are in, and the main deals (orders, MoUs and LoIs) are as follows:

12x A350-1000 for Virgin Atlantic
4x A330-900neo for Arkia Israeli
1x A320neo for Cote D'Ivoire
10x A320ceo for Jetstar Pacific
25x A320neo for Germania
100x A321neo for Air Asia
72x A320neo for GoAir
62x A320neo for Synergy
Norwegian change 30 of their 100 A320neo to the A321neoLR
DHL have signed up as the launch customer for the A330 P2F programme

30x 737-8MAX for Xiamen
25x 737-8MAX for Donghai
5x 787-9 for Donghai
10x 737-800 for Standard Chartered
10x 737-8MAX for TUI
1x 787-9 for TUI
10x 737-7MAX for Kunming
20x 747-8F for Volga Dnepr
6x 787-9 for Ruili
20x 737-8MAX for Air Europa
9x 737-800 for Egyptair

10x MRJ for Rockton
90x ARJ21 for AVIC and CALC (Chinese lessors)
5x E190-E2 for Kalstar
6x E195-E2 for Arkia Israeli
4x E190 for Nordic AC
3x Dash 8-Q400 for Porter

So overall not the best show in history but some significant orders nonetheless, with Airbus the clear winner in terms of numbers. Other intriguing developments include Boeings announcement to stretch the 737-7MAX by 2 rows, and the arrival of the CS100 at Luton  - could EasyJet order the C-Series?

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

RIAT 2016

Last weekend I visited the Royal International Air Tattoo - here are some pics!

An Australian Royal Air Force A330 tanker
The Breitling wingwalkers
The Airbus A400M
The Red Arrows in formation with a Typhoon and F-35B

An Osprey
The F-35B Lightning, the new STVL stealth jet, to be the mainstay of many air forces around the world. Security was tight!

Friday, 8 July 2016

Jet2 to open Birmingham base

Jet2, one of the UK's largest low cast carriers, will open a base at Birmingham next summer with 4 newly delivered 737-800s. 15 sun and sea destinations will be on offer, to Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Greece:

This is an interesting move and continues Jet2's southwards expansion. None of the new routes are new to BHX, indeed, all of them are already served by more than 1 carrier - competition on some routes is between 7 (yes 7!) carriers, e.g. Malaga with Monarch, Jet2, Vueling, Thomson, Thomas Cook, Ryanair and Norwegian. It may be good for competition, driving down prices, but I can't see it lasting. With Monarch, Ryanair and the charter carriers being firmly established, I predict Jet2, Vueling or Norwegian, relative newcomers tot he midlands market, will be the first to cut routes or capacity.

Coming soon - the Royal Air Tattoo, Farnborough, and potentially an exciting discovery at CERN!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Trip Report: Vienna and the Austrian Grand Prix

Travel time, and a new country to add to my list, Austria, home of Wiener Schnitzel and Apfelstrudel! The reason for the this 3 day adventure? Partly for the travel, partly to see the Austrian F1 Grand Prix.

London-Heathrow (LHR/EGLL) to Vienna (VIE/LOWW) OS454 
Austrian Airlines Airbus A320 OE-LBX (Star Alliance livery)
Out outbound flight went like clockwork - security was swift, and despite a slight delay in departure, we ended up arriving bang on time. The sky was full of ominous looking showers which you can see in the video below, but we skirted round those! The service onboard was a free snack and drink, not bad considering that this was the cheapest option we could find to get to Austria and back (beating even Ryanair, Eurowings and EasyJet!).

The 2 hour journey was largely uneventful, apart from a 10 minute rough patch during the descent  - there were torrential thunderstorms later that night. Overall, I'd happily fly Austrian again. Here's the flight:

...and here's the routing, courtesy of flightradar24:

The Stay in Austria
Vienna is a large city, and Wien Hbf (the main railway station) is nowhere near the city centre! It's a good 30-40 minute walk, and I'd highly recommend getting a U-bahn (underground) day pass instead. For 6 euros, you get unlimited travel on the U for the that day. Alternatively, you could get the CAT train to Wien Mitte, which is more central (but further from the hotel we'd booked).

On the evening of arrival, it was 30 deg +, and so after gorging on wiener schnitzel...
we hid in a cafe and watched the Italy-Germany match! Unfortunately that meant we got caught in a downpour on the way back, but hey.

Day 2 was all about the race - we got up early and headed south with OBB railways toward Knittelfeld, near Spielberg, Styria, the location of the Red Bull Ring. The journey was interupted and we were told to get off at Gloggnitz - apparently, the rain from the night before had caused a landslide and the line was closed. To their credit, the buses were waiting as soon as we left the station. The issue was that the train at Bruck (to take us to Knittelfeld) was delayed by 1 hour... we flirted with the idea of a taxi (and met a nice group of New Zealanders!) but decided not, with fares as high as 250 euros. Luckily, the delay was 1 hour and no more, and we got there with plenty of time to spare.

The pre-race airshow got underway shortly after our arrival...

The insane flying bulls...

And then, it was time! Lights out and away we go!!

What else would you drink in a place like this?

A good view of the track from up here!

An epic win for Hamilton - being on turn 2, we saw Nico and Lewis approaching the bend side by side - they went out of view - and then they appeared, Lewis ahead, with Nico's car showering sparks! What a final lap!

After all that excitement, the 200Km journey back was sleepy, but despite another bus change, we weren't too late getting back to Wien Hbf. 

Day 3! Time to investigate the city of Vienna. My impressions were that it was very clean, the architecture was fancy, and some of the people were either unfriendly or trying to fleece you. For example - on the train back, a woman wouldn't move out our reserved seats, we were ushered out of a museum because "our bags were too big" (we had to leave entirely as they wouldn't fit in the lockers), some refugees conned us out 10 euros (for a rose!) and a waiter gave us a 5 minute lecture on why they're paid badly and should get a large tip. Suffice to say we didn't tip him. I'm sure most the folk there are friendly, and maybe a group of 4 'lads' gives people the wrong impression, but I have to say it was the least friendly place I've brexit feelings maybe?!

Regardless, the city itself was nice. We visited Demel cakes, the palace, and the aforementioned war museum. 

Alas, it was soon time to head back to Wien flughafen.

Vienna (VIE/LOWW) to London-Heathrow (LHR/EGLL) OS457
Austrian Airlines Airbus A320 OE-LBS (Eurovison livery)
The check in and security was once again rapid with no complications. I was disappointed to find that all the seats had been chosen and we were stuck without window places, but never mind! Once we got into the terminal 3 G gates departure lounge however, we had a nasty surprise - a 2 hour delay! I immediately took to flightradar24 to find out what our scheduled aircraft had been up to. That day it had flown Sofia-Vienna-Cairo-Vienna and had arrived on time from that last leg, so it wasn't our aircraft that was the problem. I looked at the Vienna arrivals, and there was one delayed arrival - from Larnaca - which was due 2 hours late. So that was it - the crew were late inbound! Interestingly, two other flights were also delayed by 2 hours, perhaps the Larnaca crew were going to disperse across them?

Once we started boarding, the reason was indeed given as a late crew arrival, and we set off for our night flight across Europe, landing at 23:45 BST (scheduled as 21:30). The service on this flight was 3 rounds of free drinks - to make up for the delay perhaps? The routing, with arrival on 27R:

Overall then, Vienna was a nice looking city, and Austria a nice country, particularly down in the alps. The F1 was certainly an experience, and with ticket+flight+hotel being the same price as a Silverstone ticket, it just made sense to go abroad to watch a race. Shame about the few unfriendlies we met, and the travel delays, although these were dealt with well. As for Austrian Airlines, like Aer Lingus, British Airways, Air France etc, they are decent flag carrier with competitive fares who I'd happily fly with again.