My pilot friend Adam is also a keen fan of Parkruns – a free 5 km organised run held at many local parks on Saturday mornings. They started in the UK in 2004 and have spread to 22 countries, attracting almost 3 million runners in the UK alone. Participants have dreamt up a range of different goals, not just faster times, and one includes running at a location with each letter of the alphabet. X doesn’t count (until someone renames their park) and Z is a bit tricky.
The solution is Zuiderpark in The Hague, Netherlands.
Adam and I discussed the options and agreed to fly to Rotterdam, staying overnight on Friday and returning mid morning.
I’d visited Rotterdam Vlieclub (flying club) twice before and knew what to expect. This is a well run very active club and handles visiting smaller aircraft. Immigration staff are permanently at the main terminal and on hand for arrival and departure inspections.
Although I considered an IFR flight plan, the more direct route remaining outside controlled airspace was quicker and easier. Of greater importance was the weather, with a freezing level and cloud base both predicted to be around 4,000 feet. Although we could punch up above cloud at that level and remain on top, it would be risky to remain inside cloud due icing. A simple SkyDemon flight plan each way was easy to file.
There are a number of ways to file the General Declaration forms for immigration. These must be filed separately for each flight and provided to both the UK and Dutch authorities in advance. OnlineGAR (free through SkyDemon) and GENDEC.eu both claim to have direct connections to these systems, whereas the UK Government GAR system does not. A further advantage of the GENDEC.eu is that it provides a code for your flightplan, linking it to the GAR form. Apparently this makes it easier for the Dutch officers to track your flight and turn up to meet you at the right time.
I posted on a pilot forum asking for experience using these systems. Some pilots duplicate the forms which would help if one form didn’t work, but possibly causes additional confusion/complexity. I chose to use only GenDec.eu and it worked without issue for me both times. It’s free of charge, having been originally developed by Dutch IT company for use in the Netherlands, and expanded its coverage to include other European countries. Just remember to copy the unique GAR code into your flight plan before filing.
PPR with the flying club was quickly confirmed, and they liaised with the airport. I noted that their closing time was 1700 local (so 1600 UK time), and we were able to schedule our flight to arrive in good time. It may be possible to arrange a later arrival if agreed in advance.
We mostly using listening squawks after departing Gloucester, and I also explored the feature of the GTN to monitor the standby frequency. This allows you to remain on a primary frequency but if (and only if) it is quiet, then will listen to the standby – much better than trying to listen to both at the same time. We listened in to Cranfield and then contacted Cambridge because we would be flying almost overhead their ATZ. They reminded us of Granston glider site which was helpful, although we were above their published winch launch altitude.
I always like to be talking to someone when over the water, so made a quick call to London Information for a Basic service. I always advise students to have worked out their ETA for the international zone boundary before making the call, and I was lax in not having this to hand. SkyDemon and the GTN both provide that when you use a standard waypoint.
We spoke with Amsterdam information and then made the mistake of switching to Rotterdam Approach when close to the coast. Instead I should simply have switched to Tower, who grant the clearance. The published inbound and outbound routes are clearly explained, and it was no surprise to be given a Hotel arrival. One other aircraft was on frequency and also given the same clearance. He was reported a few miles further out and I was confident that we would reach the reporting point (Whiskey) before he did. Nonetheless, we did have our eyes on stalks looking out for him. Nothing was seen on the ADS-B screen which would have been helpful, and I was reminded that SkyEcho are not yet legally available for transmission use outside the UK. We only use it as a receiver because we have ADS-B built into our transponder.
You feel quite low down over the built up areas during the arrival. Separation is managed by setting 1500 feet for arrivals and 1,000 feet for departures. The waypoint sequence is quite straightforward and the airport itself looms large. You join 1,000 feet downwind for runway 24 and make a continuous semi-circle descent for base leg (like a military oval circuit) to land. A follow-me vehicle was awaiting us as we exited towards the far end, and directed us to the aeroclub parking apron.
As explained in the aeroclub’s guidance, someone came out to meet us, show us where to park, ensure that we both did have yellow jackets, and advised us that immigration officers would be awaiting our arrival in the clubhouse. We pushed the aircraft into the parking slot, unloaded, put the cover on and were quickly complete with arrival formalities. I had recalled that despite all the electronic systems, Dutch officers still like to be given a printed copy of the GAR form, just in case.
This had been a fairly short flight, almost exactly 2 hours airborne, and despite our airspeed not exceeding 140 we peaked at a 165 groundspeed. We had stayed low generally around 3,000 feet to remain clear of cloud (and icing).
We had explored the public transport options to get to our hotel, but had decided instead to opt for a taxi which was much quicker (about 20 mins). As with other countries, this can be risky during rush hour where we could see a long queue of stationary traffic on the opposite carriageway.
A quick look round
I have visited the Hague before, and there are many museums and other attractions worth looking at. Sadly I wasn’t able to take advantage of that on this occasion.
Adam successfully completed his parkrun with a new personal best. There were some 70 participants of which about a third were from the UK. This alphabet parkrun goal clearly has a lot of enthusiasts. He even met one of the original founders of the UK parkrun who happened to be there on the day.
Taxi back to the aeroclub. Loaded and pre-flighted the aircraft. The immigration officers turned up without being asked, and politely and efficiently stamped our passports.
I should have first called Clearance Delivery on the radio instead of the tower, even for a VFR departure, but that was quickly resolved. We taxied out to the hold, power checks completed behind a student under training. They weren’t ready and there was plenty of room to taxi past, so we requested departure and were quickly airborne.
The flight back was very similar to the inbound. The weather was much better than originally forecast, allowing us to remain VFR at 4500 feet until the international boundary then climb. Cambridge are closed at weekends (except for based traffic), so we stuck with London Information for longer. We listened (but did not contact) Cranfield, and I was able to hear the intentions of an instructor colleague and (thanks to SkyEcho) confirm on the screen his aircraft departing and passing well below us.
This was a short flight back due to the strong tailwinds, only 1h49 airborne with groundspeed peaking at 181 knots.
The groundtrack recorded was 258 nautical miles each way.
PIC this trip: 4:05
Total PIC: 1,977:45
Total Time: 2,189:05