Today’s daytrip from Gloucester to Waterford, Ireland in the TB20 involved a number of unusual firsts today, in no particular order:
- First boarding pass for my own aircraft
- First full scanner treatment to get airside (belts off, wallets, mobile etc. all Xrayed)
- First private flight to Ireland
- First time had completely the wrong frequency and unable to make contact
- First flight in Class C airspace
Between a huge weather front passing through on Friday and another one coming on Sunday, there was a good weather window on Saturday as long as we didn’t head for France. I’d been considering a flight to Ireland for some time, and stimulated by a feature in Flyer magazine, looked again at visiting Waterford. This small regional airport has a few commercial flights and a thriving Aeroclub. It’s also about 15 minutes taxiride from the main city. I’d enjoyed a family holiday nearby at Tramore when our children were very young and wanted to visit the area again.
Estimated airborne time would be 1h20.
Passengers and preparation
My passengers today were Simon, who had flown with me a couple of years ago and long been promised a flight in the TB20, and Dave, a buddy pilot from the Lyneham club, with whom I’d shared a flight to Compton Abbas a few months ago.
Research involved the usual checks on where to send the paperwork, details of the destination airport and any other unusual regulations to watch out for. Ireland has Class C airspace (a new one on me, I’ve already done A/B/D/E/F & G), but this is only around the main airports with everything else being unregulated Class G. It’s mandatory to have at least a Mode C transponder and radio, but other than that, is the same air we have in the UK. My IMC cloud rating doesn’t apply and we’d have to be VFR throughout. Class C airspace is one up from Class D and provides separation for all IFR and SVFR flights. VFR flights continue to be mostly see and avoid, but are given traffic information.
Waterford airport’s website had a useful section with visiting pilot information. They do require 24 hour PPR which I requested by email giving all our details. They then asked for a GAR form (the UK format is acceptable) which I sent by return. I also sent the GAR form to the NCU (UK Border agency) and Gloucester airport, plus filed VFR flight plans using SkyDemon. Further research found this extremely clear webpage from Pembrokeshire County Council of all people, which prompted me to fill in and send a GAR form also to the Irish Border Agency (KD Enforce) – something that Waterford Airport had probably already done. According to this hefty 50+ page tome from the Irish Revenue (Customs Division), there are 9 airports in Southern Ireland authorised for international flights, although permissions can be sought in advance (and should not be refused) to land at any airport. The UK special branch (police) don’t need to be notified because we were visiting Southern rather than Northern Ireland.
I did seriously consider buying an extra chart for this trip, but after looking at what was available in the pilot shop, I didn’t believe this provided significant additional information. We had several GPS systems running with different software plus enough fuel for the round trip, plus all the plates available from the Irish AIP.
Pre-flight and departure
With the paperwork already complete (filed PPR, flight plans & GAR forms) and since the aircraft was still almost full of fuel from it’s previous trip to Alderney, it was fairly quick to pre-flight. Liferaft, lifejackets, PLB and portable hand-held radio were worn/loaded in, engine started and we taxied to the hold for power checks. The colder weather meant we had to wait there for a few extra minutes for the engine to warm up properly, allowing plenty of time to setup the Garmin with a flight plan and ensure our navigation was in order.
Departing from 27 with a slight right turn for noise abatement, it was then a straight ahead climbout west towards Brecon. We heard another aircraft inbound from that direction, so listened carefully to his height and position reports as we climbed through the cloud layer. At about 10 miles, Gloucester prompted us to switch to London Information which we did, staying with them until we coasted out. I climbed up to FL65 (checking my quadrantal altitude was correct), and we mostly kept on top of and clear of a broken cloud layer.
Just short of the coast, I could see I would either have to climb to stay above the cloud layer (no problem with airways airspace, which start at FL100) or dip down underneath. Not wanting to get caught out on top with no legal means of descent in Ireland, I dipped down underneath to about 3500 feet (below the MSA) and flew south to avoid a mast in the area which we visually identified. We coasted out over Fishguard at about 2500 feet and reported this to London Information. We couldn’t really make out the frequency they suggested we contact next, but think this included West Wales Information which we couldn’t raise (I think they are closed at weekends anyway).
We pressed on, flying at around 3,000 feet on the autopilot. The cloud layer was scattered and in retrospect we could easily have maintained our earlier higher level, which would have made communications much easier. We tried to contact Shannon Control, but could only receive transmissions from other aircraft on that frequency.
About 40 miles out from Waterford, we listened to the ATIS and contacted the tower. They provided a squawk code, cleared us to enter controlled airspace and relayed our position to Shannon. The scenery as we coasted in was tremendous, with relatively flat land, islands and golden beaches. As we entered controlled airspace, we were given a right base join for 03 and descended to circuit height, slowing down with flaps and gear. After reporting base, then final we were cleared to land. All very straightforward, taxiing to park on the main apron behind a Citation Jet which (according to the tower) wouldn’t be going anywhere today.
Arrival and Waterford City
Walking through the passenger arrival section of the terminal (discretely marked by the yellow C), we didn’t speak to anyone until we reached the information counter. After paying the (very reasonable) landing fee, a taxi was called and we had a short wait of about 10 minutes before departing into town. 15 minutes later, we were in the town centre where there was a Food Festival going on – lots of street stalls, band playing and cartoon characters walking about. Lunch was easy to find and enjoy sitting outside in the sunshine lapping up the atmosphere.
Waterford is world famous for its glass and crystal which attracts many tourists. We walked around the showroom very delicately – some of the items were priced up to 40K Euros. Shame if you bought some and had a really bad landing back at base.
We walked along the waterfront, around the city, found another band playing elsewhere (with excellent mixing desk engineering/sound quality), and then enjoyed tea & cake while chatting in a back street sweet shop/cafe for a while. It’s a long time since I’ve seen so many jars of sweets to choose from.
Your flight is boarding
Returning by taxi to the main passenger terminal, we were issued a boarding pass for our own aircraft (definitely a first for me), partly to ensure we had paid our landing fees as much as gaining access through the normal passenger security checkpoint into the departure lounge. A security guy ensured we put all our valuables through the scanner as if on a commercial flight, then let us out onto the apron. With runway 03 still in use but only one aircraft in the circuit, it didn’t seem busy. After starting up, I asked the controller if he would allow us to fly north and back down the ILS for runway 21 prior to departing home. This was granted with a maximum height of 2,000 feet, and would also allow us some great views of Waterford from the air. After takeoff, we were cleared for the approach and asked to report localiser established.
A fluffed instrument approach procedure
I had the plate and activated the Garmin with the approach prior to take-off which told me to set the course pointer to the inbound 206 degrees, but I failed to plan the outbound leg properly. After departure, I was (broadly) flying a bearing of 038 whilst climbing out, but not looking at the ADF or other reference to ensure I was on track. I must have been drifting east all the time. When the DME showed 8 miles, I made a rate one turn to the left with the HSI setup for the inbound track of the ILS 206 degrees. I was quite a bit off to the east, having not compensated for the wind or followed any navaid for tracking outbound. I could see that quite easily on the Garmin GPS screen and could still have recovered by steering a sensible interception track, but continued turning and ended up too far east. I made several coarse course corrections which meant I was only properly on the localiser by about the final approach fix.
At that time, the controller enquired to my position and progress because he would have expected me to have already reported localiser established. We then managed to stay on the localiser and fly down the glideslope towards the runway manually – not a great result but was just about recovered – so I abandoned this early with a missed approach and departure to the east. The procedure was worth trying, and reminded me how important it is to be current, fully briefed in advance and remain fully situationally aware. I need to research whether it would have been best to fly the outbound leg tracking the NDB or if that can be done using the Garmin and HSI.
Return to Gloucester with a GPS approach on autopilot
We reported at the Class C zone boundary and were transferred to Shannon Information on 124.70. At the time, I couldn’t find any mention of this frequency or service online, on SkyDemon or elsewhere. It seems we were calling the wrong frequency when approaching Ireland, hence our difficulty. Later, I resolved this issue and SkyDemon also updated their live chart data within a few minutes of my reporting it.
At the FIR boundary, we freecalled London Information. I’d climbed higher to FL55 for this return leg, making communications much easier. We routed via Strumble again, intentionally drifting slightly south to avoid weather and the West Wales danger area.
Gloucester wasn’t busy when I reported inbound and told me to expect a straight in for 09 (the opposite to the runway we had departed from). Wind was negligible. I asked for and was granted the RNAV approach for 09, straight in with a procedural service. This time I let the autopilot do all the work, and it correctly captured the glideslope and flew down to about 300 feet before I went manual for the roundout and landing. The slower approach speed and minimal wind made it much easier, and I was pleased to hear the stall warner go off just before we gently touched down.
Ireland was just as easy to fly to as France, except perhaps the extra advance notice required (24 hours seems quite a lot). After checking the Irish AIP and posting on the Flyer Forum, I was amazed to find that SkyDemon updated the missing Shannon Information frequency within 35 minutes. In future, I would do my best to fly higher if at all possible.
Helpful ATC and very friendly ground staff, and although the departure process seemed overly complicated, in reality it was very straightforward and actually quite amusing to be issued a boarding pass. Perhaps some airfields should offer these as a novelty! I have found that where airports mix GA with commercial passenger traffic, there can be some unusual arrangements.
With only a short 15 minute taxi ride into town, it’s worth taking a full look around the place having travelled that far. The food festival was an extra bonus and brought the city to life.
Flight time today: 3:25
Total PIC: 192:00
Total Time: 294:25