Being able to book our shared aircraft for the best part of two weeks makes it possible to use it for a summer holiday. We had done this in previous years, and again took the opportunity to do so with the consent of my co-owners – this time basing ourselves in Guernsey in the Channel Islands. The relatively short distance from home (just one hour flight time) meant that I could return to collect and drop-off my daughter for the middle weekend, since she was working throughout. We were also able to make a couple of daytrips to Jersey and Dinard in France when it suited us.
Various extra paperwork applies when visiting the Channel Islands – an archaic IRA anti-terrorist law requires that UK police be notified 12 hours prior to every departure or return, separate paper GAR forms have to be filled in at Guernsey for each arrival and departure from the islands, flight plans are mandatory. Much of this is simplified by online flight plan submission and the online GAR system. I used SkyDemon to do both, filing VFR even where an instrument approach became necessary. Flights were VFR most of the time – in the UK you can fly IFR in Class G uncontrolled airspace without telling anyone or obtaining a clearance.
The Channel Islands Zone ATC has its own website worth reading. It’s slightly out of date, suggesting that PPR from ATC is required to fly there. That’s not the case but I would recommend PPR from the handlers at Guernsey (or Jersey Aeroclub or Alderney Airport), mainly to ensure parking is available. The CICZ website describes the preferred routes and noise abatement procedures.
Airways routing not worthwhile
There is quite a distance overhead in filing an airways route from Gloucester to Guernsey. The relatively short flight (about 1 hour) makes it less worthwhile climbing up to airways flight levels of FL80 and above; the airways routes divert west or east to avoid the danger areas adding further to the flight time. It’s efficient instead to fly direct, requesting transits from Bristol and crossing clearance for the Danger Areas (which are active usually only during working hours on weekdays). I found this worked generally quite well, just needed some proactive checking of the Danger Area status and early request for clearance through Bristol Zone. I was unlucky only once in the six crossings I made not to get a Bristol transit on request (due to half a dozen commercial inbound arrivals).
The large block of airspace around the Islands has been declassified from A to D, but still needs a clearance to enter. This improves the weather criteria for PPL and LAPL pilots and enables those with an IR(R) to fly IFR and make an instrument approach. NPPL pilots are also welcome, but those without a full Class 2 medical are advised to notify ATC because legally they can’t fly in French airspace.
I wouldn’t recommend making a crossing without a good onboard radio, transponder (at least mode C), lifejackets, dingy and PLB.
Arriving from the north, you always talk to Jersey Zone first, followed by Guernsey Approach and are switched to Tower for landing clearance. I didn’t hear the Ground frequency being used. One quirk is that the Guernsey ATIS is broadcast on the audio channel of their VOR – tune that in rather than the radio to hear both the identification beeps and the voice recording.
Three outbound legs to Guernsey
My first outbound flight below was all VFR and included a transit through Bristol airspace, VFR on top at 6000 feet. The clouds cleared as we crossed the coast but I asked for an RNAV approach into Guernsey, giving us great views of Sark and Herm. This is an LNAV non-precision approach without vertical guidance/indication, so you do this by numbers on the plate – confirming DME distance with expected altitude.
My second outbound trip to Guernsey was all VFR and I was instructed to approach “own navigation expect right base join for 27”. Noise abatement procedures are fairly straightforward – don’t descend below 500 feet AGL until on final and don’t overfly the Hospital below 1000. The hospital is on the ideal track to fly over for that right base join, so I kept it high. As it happened, a commercial departure was ready to go as I was about to cross the coast and so I was instructed to make a wider join by flying down the shoreline.
The third and final outbound trip was the most challenging. Approaching the islands VFR on top at about 5000 feet, the ATIS warned me of a low cloudbase of 400 feet and winds of 20 knots. I made an early request for the ILS on first contact with Jersey Control, who cleared me into the zone and passed me across to Guernsey at the boundary. With some distance to go, there were only three aircraft inbound and I was vectored in due course. It seemed strange to be asked “can you accept an IFR clearance” when it was obvious that it would be needed. But I was on a VFR flight plan and so a formal change to IFR needed to be stated for the record.
As I got closer, the weather updated to “Broken at 200 and Broken at 400”. I double checked the instruments and used the Garmin and autopilot to fly a vectored approach – just needing to turn the heading bug when instructed. The autopilot nicely following the headings until the intercept point, turning onto approach track and capturing the glideslope. I only had to reduce power, lower the gear/flaps and monitor that the machine was doing as expected. I was watching the altimeter unwind like a hawk – one set to QNH and one on QFE. The ground became visible directly below me first, then the welcoming approach lights suddenly appeared. With what now seemed like plenty of margin, I could slow down further, deploy full flaps and manually make quite a comfortable landing.
Handling at Guernsey is compulsory, but I found ASG to be very helpful and efficient. They have a huge stand-on tug to shuffle aircraft around, and put them away/bring them out as required. Having offloaded bags, put the control lock and cover on (but left the brakes off!), this will be moved to the parking area shown at the back of the photo. There is also a lot of hangar space, with the unusual double decker parking stands that I’d found on an earlier visit.
During the two weeks, I made three flights between Gloucester and Guernsey, plus day trips to both Jersey and Dinard, totalling around 10 hours airborne overall which I’ll write up separately. That left plenty of time for the pool, beach, sightseeing and dining out.
A few points to note about the Channel Islands
– They are not in the EU and various immigration/customs formalities differ from EU trips. Also your EU health card won’t work here so check your travel insurance covers you. You’ll definitely need to take your passport and clear immigration when returning to UK (via a GAR form) or Schengen (via a Customs port of entry). Private flights to/from UK require 12 hour notification to Special Branch (handled via onlinegar submission or emailing). All flights (other than a local) require a flight plan.
– No VAT means shop prices can be much lower. While it’s tempting to buy the latest iPhone at a hefty discount, there is a limit of £36 worth of goods which can be imported to the UK (without paying VAT).
– Fuel prices are the lowest I’ve come across in Western Europe, about 2/3rds of the best UK rates. Take your AOPA card for a further 5% discount. In Guernsey, you need to pay the bowser driver directly to get this discount (and show your AOPA card). Departing the UK, pilots can claim duty drawback for fuel onboard (provided it was bought and paid for in the UK at full price). A bowser was called on request and came quite quickly, but there may be a longer wait after about 7pm due to reduced staffing.
– Bus service is very good. Standard fare of £1 for a single trip anywhere in the island. Buses run approx every 15 minutes between airport and town, alternating between routes. It’s about 15 minutes each way. Reduced frequency on Sundays. Taxis are available but best pre-booked.
– The islands print their own banknotes which may not be accepted in the UK. They are of the same value as UK currency, which is also accepted here. Unusually, they still have £1 notes but coins are also in use. ATMs dispense local notes – best to try to use them all up before departure. Cards are widely accepted without a premium for foreign currency conversion (into UK pounds). Some tourist shops and restaurants accept Euros.
– The mobile phone networks offer good 2G, 3G and 4G service on a roaming basis. Since this isn’t part of the EU, the free roaming regulations coming in soon won’t affect visits here. It’s not one of 3 UK’s “Feel at Home” destinations but roaming for voice/text isn’t unreasonably expensive. Those with higher usage or staying longer can buy a local SIM card. Mobile phones themselves are cheaper here because of no VAT, but should be declared on return to the EU and VAT applied.
– Traffic is quite sedate with speed limits of 25mph in the town. Drivers are very courteous, patiently stopping to wave pedestrians across. The narrow lanes constrict traffic flow so don’t expect to rush anywhere. Hire cars are marked with a yellow “H” sticker, bit like for learners. Petrol is still advertised and sold by the gallon.
– Weather is generally a bit better than UK, but the islands can be socked in with fog and/or cloud especially when there is a warm front. I found it surprising to find a low cloudbase of 200-400 feet at the same time as winds of 20 knots. There were a times during some days when the METAR reported a ceiling of 100 feet or less. This may require flexibility in your travel plans if you are VFR only, and even IFR pilots could find themselves unable to arrive or depart some days. Commercial flights were suspended for at least one morning during our holiday.
– Tides are extreme, with the third highest tidal range in the world. 10 metres is common. You can see the effects of these strong currents in the rocky waters offshore, and the wide variation in water height in the marina. People need to be rescued from time to time from beaches and/or tourist attractions only accessible during low tide.
Being only an hour or two flying time from Southern England, the Islands would make a great day trip or weekend destination for a club flyout or getaway. The low fuel prices, full facility airports with helpful ATC and handling make this quite accessible. The declassification of the airspace to Class D and the improved operations at Jersey make access easier. A quick refuelling stop would be cheapest in Jersey due to lower landing fees (about half that of Guernsey). There is a proposal to declassify the Q41 airway from Class A to Class D, which currently blocks transits above 3500 feet from the north east, and would help further. The only remaining constraint to my mind is the excessive 12 hour notification (24 hour if from a grass strip) required by UK Police Special Branch to conform to the outdated IRA Terrorism legislation. This can make it difficult to plan and execute a flight safely in light of changing weather conditions – it’s so much easier to go to France instead (no notification required on departure).
If you’re thinking of a Channel Islands trip, you may want to check the latest Going Foreign procedures on the AOPA website, ATC routes and procedures on the Channel Islands Zone site, handling by Jersey Aeroclub and/or ASG Guernsey.
PIC Time Flown during holiday: 10:05
Total PIC: 305:40
Total Time: 438:35