With Visby effectively closed for GA during our trip, we had decided instead to route home via Lithuania and Poland. The weather outlook was good and improving so we wouldn’t get boxed into the Baltic countries. Vilnius is another capital with a hideously expensive airport for GA, and so again we considered alternatives. My contact Ivar, in Tartu, again came up trumps with a recommendation to stop at Kaunas, and in particular EYKS. The city is the second largest in Lithuania, and like Tartu has a large university
The name for Aleksotas airport is a bit confusing, being also known as ‘Steponas Darius and Stasys Girenas’ after two famous Lithuanian pilots. It’s the oldest in the country, being continuously open since 1915, but the hard runway was resurfaced in 2018 and the airfield appears in generally good condition. There is a radio operator on duty. AVGAS is only available by prior arrangement. The landing and parking fee were the cheapest on our trip so far, and favourable compared with the handling and landing fees at the international airport nearby.
The departure from Spilve was as exciting as the arrival because there are so few emergency landing options. Weather was excellent and no other traffic was around. I contacted Riga Tower to get a squawk code before departure, and this also proved useful as a radio check. I confirmed my departure plan was via Bridge and was reminded that this would be entirely within uncontrolled airspace. I kept low, about 1,200 feet until clear of the TMA above, and at this early stage of the morning there wasn’t any turbulence at this level. There was a small gap to negotiate between a couple of danger areas upstream of the river, before we climbed up to a cruising altitude of 2,500 feet, which I kept for most of the flight.
Riga Information activated my flight plan, and subsequently all I heard on frequency was a commercial helicopter announcing they’d finished their task for the day.
The autopilot had decided to have the day off and although the lights came on as normal, there was nobody home. As the flight progressed, perhaps that was no bad thing because there was a little more turbulence from time to time to cope with. Riga warned me that I might lose two-way radio contact before the FIR boundary, and if that happened gave me the next frequency. In fact, that wasn’t an issue and there was a handover just before we crossed into Lithuania. A bright ATC response confirmed the QNH and that there was no other traffic. Later, anticipating my route, they asked if I would like a transit through the TMA ahead. Soon after, they confirmed that I could proceed at 2,500 feet on track to my next waypoint. So, little fuss and no need for me to change frequency, just the way it should be.
As I approached Kaunas TMA, I started a descent to remain outside their TMA. I was handed over to their FISO and although I could have asked for a transit through their airspace, instead descended to keep below it. The TMA starts at only 1000 feet AGL from quite a way out, so this meant flying at about 800 feet above ground level over a village and along the river. The Garmin voice was quite unhappy and continuously warning us about terrain, although not at the PULL UP, PULL UP stage. I almost got a little carried away following the river, but broke off to make a long final approach in to 09. The radio operator at Aleksotas had said there was no other traffic around, and I was able to position and announce long final. Once again, the GTN proved useful with its ‘visual approach’ landing guidance – I really like using that feature into smaller airfields.
I couldn’t believe the number of green insects that had plastered themselves across the wings, elevator, nose and windscreen during such a short flight; many more than we had had during all our previously flights, and possibly due to a combination of higher temperatures, lower flight altitude and more active farming. It took more than a few minutes to wipe them all off, but it was best done while still fresh and before we put the cover on.
We paid our landing fee at the tower, which included one full day/night parking.
Another Bolt taxi took us quickly into town.
We spent most of the afternoon walking around and exploring the city. It has a nice feel to it, light and airy with plenty of green space, modern buildings and lively activity. Perhaps not so much of a tourist destination compared to Tallin, and quite a contrast to Riga, which seemed austere by comparison. We stayed in a very quirky hotel (The Very Bad Hootel), which is quite new, has unusual decor and was another big contrast to the huge hotel we’d just left.
We enjoyed a very pleasant dinner at a pizza restaurant, sitting outside for the first time this year. It felt almost Mediterranean!
Planning ahead for the next day
I spent quite a bit of time planning our flight for the next day. Our intention (conceived once we knew Visby was out of bounds) had been to land at Poznan and stay for one or two nights. The weather looked favourable.
I made a thorough check of airspace including Danger Areas and NOTAMs. Quite a few were lit up near Kaunas on departure, then up to 4,300 feet along the Polish border in the gap between Russia (Kaliningrad) and Belarus. On the Polish side, a fairly large area would become active at 1100 local and a correction to the SUP document (this time named and linked from the NOTAM) extended the airspace involved down to ground level.
The weather looked good VFR conditions and wouldn’t preclude flying above the Danger Areas. Out of interest, I did generate an IFR flight plan and was surprised that this would take me through Russian (Khaliningrad) airspace. I strongly suspect in reality an alternative route would be generated by ATC.
Plan A – Poznan
There is a published price list which made it seem quite reasonable (approx 25 euros), but mandatory handling and other charges apply. On first contact, the handling fee had been quickly stated, while details of the landing and other airport fees took another 24 hours, and subsequently confirmation that VAT at 23% also applied. The fees included VIP lounge access for both arrival and departure, that we definitely didn’t want or need. Perhaps it might have been less if I were able to claim my wife was crew. We really did not want to pay that much and preferred to look for an alternative. There just wasn’t the time (or inclination) to haggle about it with the handlers, who don’t appear to be interested in serving the needs of smaller GA visitors. I’d really like to see a simple fixed-price tariff for <2 tonnes at these airports – no VIP lounge, just landing, parking and quick exit/entry landside with refuelling as an optional extra.
Plan B – Lubeck via Bydgoszcz
It seemed harder than expected to find a Polish airport that would be open for AVGAS en route to Lubeck. I selected Bydgoszcz which had favourable pilot reports. Handling is again mandatory but at least it doesn’t involve VIP lounges. AVGAS is available by bowser but requires 6 hours prior notice. I’m not sure quite how rigorously that rule might be applied.
So with a clear plan to reach Lubeck the following day, we prepared to be first down for breakfast at 8am.
PIC today: 1:20
Total PIC: 2035:25
Total time: 2248:35