Club expedition to Kerry, Ireland

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I’ve organised a few international flyouts with other members of the Bristol Aero Club at Gloucester in recent years, venturing to Sweden and Austria. Last year was a washout due to COVID, and again this year wasn’t looking promising. I spotted that the regulations had relaxed enough to allow those who are double vaccinated free passage to and from Ireland without any tests. The only additional paperwork is an Irish Passenger Locator Form filled in online beforehand.

So we planned a three day trip over August Bank holiday, flown three up in a PA28-181. We had booked an IFR capable aircraft, but it went tech a few days before our trip and we swapped to a VFR only model which was only available for two days. The forecast looked very promising VFR for those two days, then becoming cloudy on the third, so this matched our requirements and worked out well for everybody.

Flight planning

We discussed how best to share the flight times, splitting the route into three legs each way and agreeing who would fly each leg. We still wanted to experience a landing at Cork airport, where we had planned to overnight, and added a route diversion so John could fly over the home of some relatives where he’d spent several childhood holidays. Although the aircraft had to range to make Kerry in a single trip, we wanted the experience of landing at other airports and to share out the flying duties.

We had intended to refuel and depart from Haverfordwest, but neither it nor Aberporth/West Wales are open at weekends resulting in a plan for:

Outbound: Gloucester, Swansea*, Waterford*, Kerry*

Inbound: Kerry, Cork, Waterford*, Swansea, Gloucester

*Refuelling stops

Paperwork outbound to the Republic of Ireland:

  • A VFR Flight plan (submitted via SkyDemon)
  • A UK GAR form, submitted 12 hours in advance. You can use either OnlineGar.com (directly or via SkyDemon) or the free UK Government website to do this. This form is required by UK Police Special Branch – Border Force are not involved when leaving the UK. This is not required if departing from a police designated airport such as Gloucester, but I tend to submit one anyway.
  • An Irish GAR form, submitted the day before. This can either be emailed to the airport operations department or directly to the Irish Customs authority.
  • An Irish Personal Locator Form for each crewmember and passenger onboard, stating where you will be staying.

We had also emailed for PPR to the operations department/handling agents of the three airports involved.

Return inbound to the UK required

  • A VFR Flight plan (submitted via SkyDemon)
  • A UK GAR form, submitted 12 hours in advance. You can use either OnlineGar.com (directly or via SkyDemon) or the free UK Government website to do this. This form is required by Border Force with 4 hours notice and also by Police Special Branch with 12 hours notice if not landing at a Police Designated airport.
  • (The Irish GAR form submitted for arrival also covered our departure)

There may be additional paperwork/tests/restrictions apply for those not fully vaccinated and non UK citizens.

Passports don’t need to be inspected or stamped because UK citizens have unlimited rights to live and work in Ireland, but I’m sure the border authorities would have cross-checked our paperwork online.

Our departure from Gloucester to Swansea was slightly delayed because of low cloud. The METARs showed much clearer skies to the west, with an annoying layer of low cloud restricting movements from Gloucester to Bristol. We couldn’t be sure of getting a VFR transit through Cardiff (they have notamed that VFR flight plans are required even for transits due to reduced ATC manning), and the Brecon Beacon hills to the north on our direct flightpath require a higher cloudbase. It would have been easier if we had the option to fly IFR, which all three of us are qualified for in the UK. A short delay allowed the cloud to lift and we were good to go.

Swansea to Waterford

Swansea airport has changed ownership since I last visited and the buildings have perhaps has seen better times, but the parachuting club there was very active as was the Cambrian Flying Club. The cafe is closed. Fuel is available (actually a bit cheaper than Gloucester). Air/ground radio is open until 6pm.

We put on our lifejackets and PLBs (one each) and mounted up. We did ask Swansea if they could activate our flight plan, but in the end London Information did this for us. I find it quite surprising that London wasn’t too busy – it normally talks to quite a few aircraft crossing to/from France, so it was easy to get a word in. They asked for our FIR boundary time estimate, which we gave for BAMBO – an IFR waypoint directly ontrack.

Tenby, Wales
Coasting in at Waterford
Final Approach Waterford
Waterford Airport

We coasted out at around 4,500 feet over Skomer Island, just south of St David’s in the bottom left hand corner of Wales. The skies were clear, seas looked calm and flight very smooth. It wasn’t long before the Irish coast came into view and we were handed over to Shannon Information. This single frequency covers the whole of Ireland and operates similarly to London Information. None of the confusion of Basic, Traffic or other services – there is only the Flight Information Service provided by default. It’s pretty joined up, no “Freecalls” and instead “Contact” when being passed across to Approach or Tower. Waterford Tower cleared us to enter their (huge) Class C airspace and report when entering. There was some circuit traffic when we arrived, so we were told to hold at the Lake. This is shown on the VFR airport chart and conducted at 1500 feet. I don’t think they’re expecting IFR Skill Test precision for this – altitude keeping is the most important aspect here – but Russ made a very good job of flying a racetrack pattern before we then fitted in behind an aircraft practicing circuits. In the UK, we are used to remaining within the ATZ during circuits (so 2 miles from the centre of the airfield), but we enjoyed a generous scenic tour of the area following the pilot in front. Plenty of time for the pre-landing checks and stable approach to land.

Having requested fuel on the radio in advance, the fueller was waiting for us at the pumps as we taxied in. The AVGAS price was comparable to the UK and the landing fee quite reasonable. Although there are no facilities, the staff kindly made us a hot drink and provided a table and chairs for a short break.

Crew rest area – a table and chairs were all we really required
Survey aircraft loading up for a mission
The SAR helicopter that might have been despatched to rescue us if we ditched in the Irish Sea

Waterford is a passenger airport and despite most of the activity being GA, we were escorted through a full security scan before going airside.

Waterford to Kerry

Waterford to Kerry was pretty straightforward. We were handed between Waterford Tower, Shannon Information, Cork Approach, back to Shannon, and finally on to Kerry Tower. Clearances were given on request, but I did check each time. The cloudbase required us to dip down at times, but in general the weather was excellent. There was very little commercial traffic around, and we had a clear run into Kerry. Wind was light and variable, so we were given a straight in approach on 26. I landed long to save on the taxi time down to the far end. The fuel pumps are away from the main apron, along taxiway Bravo and offshoot that was not entirely obvious to me. The Tower clarified where we needed to go, and a refueller was again waiting for us and marshalled us to our spot. There seemed to have been some confusion with our flight plans – the tower still had the original aircraft PPR booking by email, despite my later emails and subsequent VFR flight plan – but that was easily clarified over the radio.

This is a regional commercial airport currently with a handful of flights each day. A marshaller escorted us from our parking spot into the terminal and airside. No need for any silly minibus drive here, although they do have one. There’s a pilot lounge available which has a coffee machine and printer/Wi-Fi. The main cafe is only open prior to commercial flights. There is a bus service into town, and taxis are probably around to meet commercial flights. I had booked one from Waterford in advance (it did take me five phone calls, so I would recommend to do this). A 20 minute drive into town and we were ready to celebrate. I even managed a few minutes in the hotel pool.

We had arranged to meet John’s relatives for dinner, and they found a lively pub in the town centre for drinks and pub food. There was an Irish Football match that evening between Kerry and Tyrone which was enthusiastically supported. We have a very enjoyable evening, learning what life has been like in Ireland in recent months and hearing about some of the tourist attractions in the area.

Kerry to Cork

We had arranged to breakfast at 8, taxi to the airport at 9 and depart for Cork at 10. There was dense fog at both Kerry and Cork early morning, but it was forecast to lift and so we headed out to the airport anyway. Nothing much happened until around 10 when suddenly a spot of blue sky became visible and within perhaps 20 minutes or so the cloud had broken up. We had delayed our flight plan to Cork (quite easy using the SkyDemon App), so completed the pre-flight checks and headed off. A full passenger security scan was required to go airside, but this was quickly done.

Kerry Airport check-in and flight information screens

John wanted to fly this leg and fly around Mitchelstown (and specifically a cousin’s house). We did this, and they did see us, but we couldn’t identify their specific house. Heading back into Cork, we were cleared in to Dunkettle, then down to Carrigaline, and from there onto base/final for runway 34. These are all clearly marked on SkyDemon and easy to find. After landing, the taxi instructions were to turn right, then left, then all the way beyond the terminal to spot 16. John wasn’t familiar with the airport, so sensibly asked for progressive taxi instructions, but once on the ramp it is very easy to find. A Weston Aviation marshaller was ready and waiting for us.

We were able to use the facilities of the handling agent, which had a pleasant lounge and toilets, and we also were driven across to the main terminal where we could remain airside and buy a sandwich for lunch. We learnt that Cork main runway will be closed for 10 weeks while they completely rebuild it. Although I smaller 800 metre portion of 07/25 will remain open for VFR only, the handlers won’t be operating and I doubt GA visitors will be accepted. Flight training and some other GA activities are relocating temporarily to Waterford for the duration.

Cork to Waterford

I flew the next short leg up the coast to Waterford in less than an hour. The large airport sequence of listening to ATIS, calling for start and subsequently for taxi on the ground frequency, then switching to tower and approach has become familiar to me from Brize Norton. The second radio on the aircraft is 25kHz spacing only, so works really well in Ireland which had not reallocated any frequencies to 8.33 spacing that we required. There is no technical need to do that with so few airports spread out across the country.

Waterford Tower cleared me to join downwind via Tramore racecourse – we could easily see Tramore itself but did struggle to identify the racecourse itself – then easily positioned downwind. Once again, we were directed to extend our downwind while some other traffic turned final and ended up with a rather large circuit pattern. Plenty of time to slow down (it’s easy to get above flap limiting speed on this particular aircraft) and become stable prior to landing.

Once again, the refueller was ready and waiting for us. We didn’t have to pay fuel duty because we were leaving the country, and this offset the cost of the landing fee. Another short stop and crew change, then back onboard for our return to Blighty.

Waterford to Swansea and Gloucester

It’s really pretty uneventful – certainly none of the frantic radio chatter than I’ve been used to on previous cross channel trips to France. Shannon must have called London Information because they already had our details on handover. We stopped in for a crew change but not refuelling at Swansea, then back to Gloucester which was eerily quiet on arrival – they gave us a very long straight in approach and we heard nobody else on frequency. Somewhat strange for a late Sunday afternoon (it was around 5:30).

Packed up, completed the paperwork and a quick debrief before heading home.

Taxi back to parking at Gloucester main apron

In think the biggest risks on the trip involved being stuck due to low cloud/fog (more prevalent on the Irish west coast) where the UK IR(R) rating is not valid (you need a full Instrument Rating and IFR capable aircraft to depart) or the aircraft going tech (not that many aircraft engineers in the area). Although radar coverage isn’t provided at the smaller airports, there is a good general Flight Information service throughout that appears to be well co-ordinated and connected with airport ATC. Although the requirement to file flight plans for access to controlled airspace may be cumbersome for those living there, it wasn’t too much of a hassle for a short touring trip like this.

PIC this trip: 1:50
Total PIC: 1388:10
Total Time: 1594:55

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