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Overcoming Spanish Airports

It took some introspection to understand my reticence to land at another airport in Spain, until I realized that I was still a bit unnerved by a forced landing in the USA not too long before the intercontinental move, and then flying in Germany’s oppressive environment after that. It was one trauma after another, and flying across Europe as part of the intercontinental move actually made it worse, as opposed to curing the problem. For months, I stayed in a radius of La Cerdanya that could be flown without refueling, progressively introducing more adventure, including the French coast and the highest point in the Pyrenees, yet I couldn’t shake the utter lack of desire to land anywhere else.

I finally realized that, if my spring and summer European flying ventures are going to happen, I am going to have to get over myself and fly more than 75 NM from home. In a moment of indignant fury, akin to a Scottish Highland war cry (albeit with an iPad, behind a desk), I decided enough was enough and I was going to figure it out. Thus, I set out to methodically call airports one by one until I found a suitable candidate.

That started an interesting adventure, as I began to realize the magnitude of reasons why I don’t land anywhere else. Perhaps it has less to do with my own nervousness and more to do with an utterly inconvenient, disjointed, and aggravating network of airports. Should I start with the two fields up the valley in France? Nope. Licence du site francais required, at the cost of €500 each and an afternoon of training. Ok, maybe I’ll go to La Seu. Well, it’s 20 miles away, and a flight plan is required, which is silly. Other airports within reasonable range had no avgas, only mogas, for which nobody seemed to know or care if it was ethanol free. As my STC (and the desire to not crash) requires no ethanol, I crossed those airports off my list. Others had silly landing fees (€80+), or were hiding under the record-breaking inversion that fogged in the Catalonian Central Depression for months on end. France? I was not in the mood to go to France, as I live in Spain, though my analysis does show that France has a far more robust airport network, albeit coupled with an epileptically disorganized airspace system. Even more so, flying in any of the following directions is an entirely different climate zone with at times completely different weather on the same day: SE & S (Spanish Mediterranean), SW (Catalonian Central Depression), W (Pyrenees), N (French Midi-Pyrenees), NE (South of France).

Identifier Airport Distance (nm) Dealing with the French Flight Plan Site License No Fuel Prior Notice for Fuel Absurd Landing Fee Overhead Restricted Airspace Control Tower Winter Inversion No S or N Wind
LFYS La Llagonne, France  8.73 X X X
LFNG Saint Leocadie, France  16.16 X X X
LESU La Seu d’Urgell, Spain  19.58 X
LEMS Manresa, Spain  35.70 X X
LECF Calaf, Spain  39.22 X X
LFDJ Pamiers – Les Pujols, France  44.43 X X
LEIG Igualada, Spain  47.28 X
LEGE Girona, Spain  48.92 X X X
LFMP Perpignan, France  50.52 X X X X
LFCG Saint Girons, France  51.19 X X
LELL Sabadell, Spain  51.63 X X
LEAP Ampuriabrava, Spain  56.21 X
LFCB Bagneres de Luchon, France  61.55 X X X
LENA Benabarre, Spain  64.46 X X
LEDA Lleida, Spain  70.33 X X X
LEHC Huesca, Spain  98.53 X X X
LECI Santa Cilia, Spain  115.39 X

Finally, I settled on one option: Ampuriabrava on the Mediterranean coast. While fuel was $12.16 per gallon and the landing fee was €25, I decided to swallow any sense of fiscal rationale and hop in to at least get one flight over with. The first obstacle was fighting with my flight planning software, which uses the ICAO format and has strict validation rules. I have not yet found an equivalent to phone-based Flight Service. With that out of the way, I needed to get to the airport, find someone to refuel, preflight, take off, and clear the 7,000’ ridge to contact Barcelona Approach to activate the flight plan, all before the allotted time when the flight plan evaporates. The entire time climbing up to the Cadí-Moixeró ridge, I was conversing with myself how silly the whole process was, as the last time I talked to Barcelona Approach, it took eight minutes to respond to my request (yes, eight!), and by then, they handed me off to another frequency, which lost reception “down” at 8,500 feet due to terrain, requiring me to abandon controlled airspace and forget my intentions. Fortunately, the flight plan was activated quickly, and I settled into a cruise configuration over the foothills of the Pre-Pyrenees.

Geologic terminus of Pyrenees meeting the Mediterranean.

I asked Barcelona Approach if I could activate and go VFR, and they did not seem to understand what I was asking. I was handed an altitude and heading clearance and that was that. Since then, I have come to understand that if a flight plan is involved, it is normal to expect flight following and traffic advisories. Each time I have tried to get around it, including in France, controllers don’t seem to understand and continue to offer radar service. In conversing with Spaniards on the matter, it seems there are two camps: flight plans are required for all VFR flights or “shut the transponder off.” The reality, as far as I have researched, is that flight plans are required for flying in controlled airspace, though optional for uncontrolled; however, activating in the air triggers an assumption that flight following is desired.

After handoff to Girona Tower (even though I was far from their Class D airspace), I was told, if not lectured, three times that I must contact Ampuriabrava Information if I lose Girona Tower, as there are “actually” parachute operations today, which I agreed to do each time. My protocol was to call Information anyway, as it is required and noted on the map, and in a moment of American-centric selfishness, I thought pilots obeyed controlled airspace. Perhaps they do not in Spain?

Flying along the coast.

After a flight along the coast and around the cape where the Pyrenees geologically meet the Mediterranean, I made an uneventful landing, with an Information controller that seemed like he couldn’t be bothered to say much, at least in the pattern. When on the ground, he became insistent that I taxi to the Jet A-1 area, despite 100LL signs elsewhere. After power down, the fuel attendant, who doubles as an Information controller, told me I had to push the plane over to the 100LL area as I was in the wrong spot.

After paying an emasculating fee to refuel and land, I asked if a flight plan is really required. “Oh, yes it is.” “Do you file one for every single flight, including local ones?” “Oh no, for local flights, we don’t need one.” Nobody has really explained that one to me, and other pilots have told me that Information Service airports truly do not legally require a flight plan, though they think highly of themselves and reprimand pilots that fail to file. Between this and other antics of the day, I came to realize that Spanish aviation is as confused and disorganized as every other aspect of daily life here, and nobody cares except foreigners.

A bit hazy.

Haze near the coast, with Pic d’Canigou, France on the horizon on the left.

Haze on this particular day was awful in areas, which turned out was a precursor to an apocalyptic Saharan dust storm that blew in the next day (all the way to the Pyrenees), so I opted to climb above the layer and straight to Pic d’Canigou, a tall snow-covered prominence over the border in France, and then head back via the mountain ridge. Girona Tower didn’t believe my original intentions and asked a few times as I flew to the border, and then gladly deposited me with Montpellier Approach in France, who couldn’t understand why I was not flying in a straight line to my destination. I was asked multiple times when I was going to fly to the Spanish border, and after explaining twice that I was going to take photos of Pic d’Canigou, I was told to “advise when you’re done with your little tour and heading to the Spanish border.” Montpellier Approach was more than happy to hand me back to Barcelona Approach well before the border who, in turn, could not understand why I was asking to close the flight plan with La Cerdanya in sight, though agreed to do so after asking twice, even though he sounded like my chances of crashing and dying in the final 6 minutes of flight without an active flight plan were akin to jumping off a bridge. Remember that all of this is happening in VFR uncontrolled airspace.

My “little tour” around Pic d’Canigou, France (9,137′). It is amazing to go from palm trees to this in 40 minutes.

After a successful flight, I decided three days later to conquer Santa Cilia and the length of the Pyrenees. I called the airport asking three questions: do you have avgas, how late are you open, and do I need a flight plan? The answer was satisfactory on all fronts, including that a flight plan was not needed (even though there was Information Service). Five hours and thousands of photographs later, I had one of the most amazing and memorable flights in my life, and I did it American-style: I hopped in the plane, announced upon arrival, refueled without a reservation, and returned how I wanted and when I wanted, and it felt great.

Pre-Pyrenees

Western Pyrenees – I have about 95% less concern flying here than in controlled airspace.

Saharan dust on Pyrenees snowpack at 10,000′.

On a separate note, I have finally completed another book from the good old days of flying in Wyoming, wild and free of bureaucratic nonsense. Flying Jackson Hole is a compendium of aerial imagery taken from the Cub – including Grand Teton, Jackson, and wilderness areas and mountain ranges around town, taken without worrying about flight plans, national borders, radar service coverage, site licenses, $12 avgas, or any other silliness. (Available on Amazon.com or at the author’s site)

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

27 Comments

  1. Peter Goldstern

    March 10, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Nice story about bureaucratic nonsense and absurd fees. I live in Switzerland but keep my Lake Amphibian for trips to Montana or Alaska, in California. I will never forget the time I landed in Petersburg, Alaska and was met by a gentleman who greeted me with, “Hi, I am from the FAA and I am not going to do a ramp check. Have a nice day.”!!!. Those with a normal bank account and not unlimited patience can forget about flying in Switzerland and water work is a pipe dream but otherwise quality of life is super. Not in my time, but someday the aviation despots of Europe will go the way of the Austro-Hungarian emperors, Hitlers, Stalins, and machine gun toting Russian border guards; all filled with self importance but now replaced by weeds. Without AOPA US aviation could suffer a similar fate as power hunger and jealousy lurks everywhere.

    • Peter, as a director of the Lake Amphibian Club, I found your post very interesting. However I question your sanity in owning a Lake when you have no place to land it in the water. Check out our web page at www dot lakeamphibclub dot com.

      • Peter Goldstern

        March 22, 2017 at 10:34 pm

        I question everyone’s sanity including my own ! As my Lake is based in California, I have plenty of access to water even in California when it rains. California is quite seaplane friendly and of course, Montana and Alaska are heaven. For water flying Europe is an even a worse nightmare and the common excuse is “bcause it is so crowded.” I respond to that lame argument that in San Francisco I can fly my aircraft over the Golden Gate Bridge without contacting anyone by radio and that place is really crowded. Small minded bureaucrats rule Europe’s skies.

  2. Marquitos Marin Hernandez

    March 16, 2017 at 10:25 am

    dear sir,I am Aopa -usa menber and spanish pilot….if you fly vfr (like I do) in spain you need to know a couple of things:
    -aena big airports are expensive for light aircrafts (state airports) with flight plan
    -aena small aiports like salamanca (lesa),valladolid (levd)..etc..fees around 12 euros..with flight plan
    -aena very small like burgos (lebg),cordoba (leba)..with or without flight plan..less than 12 euros..
    – private airports or regional airports like santa cilia de jaca,casarrubios (lemt),castellon (lecs) soria (legy)etc…much better,cheaper and comfortable..fees will be 7 euros or free…with or without flyplan..

    also very important to check AIP of spain….(aena-public aiports)
    http://www.enaire.es/csee/Satellite/navegacion-aerea/es/Page/1078418725020/
    with all this information you will be happy flying in my country…..
    thank you for fly in spain!!
    marcos
    [email protected]

  3. Buckholz Traffic

    March 22, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    I just spent a few days flying in South Africa and I think I see a pattern here. The smaller the airport, the less grief – assuming they have fuel!

  4. Very simply.

    When I got my FAA licence, I was expected to learn the way things work in the U.S.

    You might find it beneficial to do the same and get an EASA licence, or at least carry out some local flying training.

    We all speak English. But you spell colour, color.

    • Peter Goldstern

      March 22, 2017 at 10:39 pm

      In the US, general aviation works and in the rest of the world it doesn’t. 20,000 hrs and former Pilot to King George V of Tonga in a Beechcraft D-18. I live in Switzerland and do all my flying in the US now in a Lake amphibian. Some people spell color and some colour and that is the kind of attitude that makes aviation in Europe so unbearable. However, aviation aside, the quality of life in Europe is hard to beat and Switzerland in particular. Just have to go elsewhere for my flying and with bargain round trip air fare from Geneva to SFO of $700 which is the equivalent of renting a Cub here for 3 hrs, that is not a big burden.

      • Hi Peter
        I think it is overstated to say that GA doesn’t work outside of the UK. I have flown GA in several countries around the world and while all (including the USA) have their own idiosyncrasies, it is in only a few of these I would say GA is non-functional, A lot of difficulties flying in other countries is based on our ignorance, and if we did our homework they wouldn’t seem so hard. In Garrett’s article, for example, there were many examples of the frustration of not knowing the system in Spain. Not speaking the local language is a big barrier, and finding an instructor with good English and spending time on the ground and in the air is of great benefit.
        As usual an interesting article and great pictures, thanks Garrett.

        • Peter Goldstern

          March 24, 2017 at 3:30 pm

          Hi Crackle
          Interesting discussion going on here. I m comparing US GA to the world, not UK which is also a basket case in the same basket. Have you ever compared operating hours for European airfields with US airfields ? 24/365 for the latter and a couple of hours here and a couple of hours there on certain days for the former. Part 91 ops in the US only need a landing light for night landings at 14,000 lit or unlit airfields.I have thousands of hours delivering Mooneys and Lake Amphibians to Europe, Asia and the South Pacific and remember arriving at Zurich International on a flight from Gander (non stop) a few minutes after 22:00 curfew and being denied landing permission in IFR conditions; back to Stuttgart. That isn’t an idiosyncracy, that is idiocy. You are being generous in calling the over regulation and absurd costs, idiosyncrasies. Try landing at an airfield without “Luftaufsicht”. In the US I can fly my Lake for 4 weeks to Alaska and back without talking to a single air traffic “regulator”; only thing I need is a transponder so language is only a problem because the system in Europe thinks that GA pilots must be idiots and blind, therefore needing a ground nanny. How about $12/gal avgas where none of the taxes go into aviation funding but are spent on the roads instead. Yearly flight medicals including ECGs for 3rd class because pilots keep falling out of the sky with heart attacks.

          Supporting AOPA is what saves the US aviation community from the same sorry fate.

          • Hi Peter
            (Sorry I miss-wrote UK in the first line of the previous post and have edited it to US as intended.)

            I’m not defending the unnecessary restrictions and costs of flying that exist all around the world. We are doomed to get the governments we deserve.

            Knowing your ability to alter the system is limited, it makes sense to learn and operate safely within the system that exists, however ridiculous it seems. Any other approach will incur self-inflicted frustration.

            After exposure to a number of systems it becomes clearer where the flaws in each are – but in only a few cases, have they precluded achieving my GA objectives. I suspect your objectives are more demanding of the systems, but I still don’t think it is correct to say that GA doesn’t work outside of the USA.

          • Peter Goldstern

            March 24, 2017 at 6:46 pm

            I realize that I cannot change the system but fortunately there are organizations like AOPA who do their best to do so.
            For my part and an amazing number of other pilots I have met, from Switzerland, Australia, and Germany who keep aircraft in the US and enjoy the free skies there while otherwise enjoying life where they normally live. For that matter many foreign airlines avoid their own countries and train their pilots in the US too. I am 76 and am not about to rattle cages anymore, but instead do my flying in places like Alaska where I can file a flight plan by saying my route of flight is a-b-c-d and I will cancel in 5 days when I have radio/telephone contact again. I am glad for you that you don’t mind flying in a strait jacket but I do. Where do you live ? Best, Peter

          • It would be wonderful to fly only in Alaska, but not flying in Europe, where I am based, or other parts of the world, would be choosing to be restricted to land travel and commercial flight. I started flying to reduce the time on the road and waiting for scheduled flights, and GA serves me well in this regard. It allows me to visit customers, family and friends in a time-efficient way, albeit usually at increased per-mile cost. Avoid another hotel night away or a ferry, and even in Europe it can be very cost-effective. There are still many, many wonderful recreational low and slow flights to be had in Europe and certainly in other parts of the world, as Garret’s articles and beautiful pictures demonstrate, and to NOT fly outside of the USA would be for me to don a straitjacket.

      • Peter, I think saying the general aviation does not work outside of the USA is a stretch. I started my flying in Houston but now live in the South of France. I joined a flying club in Cannes and have enjoyed my flights here much more than I did in Houston. Sure, the fuel was cheaper in Houston but I had to burn a lot of it to see something different from the usual flat terrain of Houston. Plus, as a member of a flying club in France, the wet hourly rate is not much more than what I was paying in Houston for a 172 G1000.

        Things are different here but once you understand some of the basics (the French don’t like noise – any kind of noise, for example, so noise abatement is big here) and prepare for the environment, it is not a big deal. I’ve done more flying here in the last two years than I did in my last years in Houston. There are just too many beautiful and also challenging places to fly to close by. For example, in about an hour I can be in Courchevel (pilot tip: its much more expensive to land there when there is snow on the ground) or Corsica. Elba Island (Italy) is an extra 20 minutes from Corisca with a very interesting approach.

        And while the rules can seem more restrictive here in France as compared to the USA, that does mean they don’t try to accommodate you. Want to buzz Nice Airport on your way back to Cannes? Call up Nice and if they are not too busy they will let you do a low pass.

        France actually has a pretty good environment for flying and I am loving it. There are many destinations 60 to 90 minutes away that are great for an overnight flight. I’ve found many destinations for $100 hamburgers with great restaurants that you can taxi your plane up to (as you would expect from the French, the food is delicious and they have more too offer than just burgers). These restaurants are well supported by the flying community: I landed at one airport that was busy with traffic coming in for lunch, skydivers overhead and gliders coming and going. (Gliders are very popular in my area which means I am constantly scanning for them. On one lunch run I came across four glider ports during a 15 minute period.) I’ve also taken up mountain flying and I have been considering sea plane training. Yes, even sea planes have a place here (see http://www.francehydravion.org/ ).

        • Peter Goldstern

          March 30, 2017 at 8:43 pm

          Hello James Great that you are happy with general aviation opportunities in Europe and can also afford it. Annual 3rd class medicals with ECG for $300, $10+ landing fees, compulsory unicom, $5 million liability insurance just aren’t my cup of tea when I can fly from Sonoma, Ca. to Alaska without ever talking to any facility on a radio if I don’t feel like it. Ketchikan, Alaska has a constant stream of float planes, air carrier and GA without a cotrol tower and it seems to work fine. I know what you mean about noise. Many years ago I delivered Mooney’s from Kerrville to Europe, including Bad Ragaz in Switzerland where the air field was closed from 12:00-14:00 so as not disturb after lunch naps. One time a local called the police because an aircraft had landed during the curfew period. The police raced out to the airport and found a glider which had made an “emergency” landing there. Quite challenging to meet the noise standards if even a glider is considered annoying?

          • James Salazar

            April 2, 2017 at 7:33 pm

            Hi Peter,

            As far as the medical, it is not so bad for me in France: I use my FAA medical instead. From what I understand, France is trying to work out some licensing issues so every year I show that I have an up to date FAA medical and I am good for my French certificate. A medical with an FAA approved doctor is $250-300 here like you mentioned but I am in the States often enough that I do my medical and BFR while there.

            As far as the insurance, like any activity in France, you have to have a “license”. This is not so much a license like we are used to thinking but a matter of joining the national federation for whatever activity you are involved in be it karting, sailing, judo or flying (FFA). Along with a membership card and magazine comes some insurance and that has been enough for my flying (although I paid a little extra for a more coverage).

            Noise abatement has been definitely the worst part of flying here.

          • Peter Goldstern

            April 2, 2017 at 8:48 pm

            Interesting to hear that the French might be more pragmatic and are willing to recognize a US medical and BFR for a French certificate or are you operating an N aircraft with US certifications, which of course has been an operating mode in many countries for some time ? Sounds a bit like the bureaucracy game where everyone tries to find a way to circumvent awkward rules. “Club” liability insurance sounds very good. France could be a place to base my LA4 except there is no/not much water to land on and the Lake is VERY noisy.
            Peter

          • With an FAA certificate, I would not need the French certificate for an N aircraft. There are plenty of N planes available here for rent at schools. But, when you rent from a school it is going to cost you more than flying with a club (has to do with tax laws and other French rules). I went for the French certificate because I wanted to fly French registered planes. Aside from the greater options of French registered planes, one concern I had was for the maintenance of the N planes: I’ve had several people mention that the N planes here are not as well maintained as the F planes. I also spoke to at least two places that offered N planes but I did not come away with a good feeling after asking about maintenance.

            Just to be clear, the insurance I have is with the Fédération Française Aéronautique (FFA) which I got when I joined the FFA. My club has insurance too but that is more to protect the club (and cover the airplanes). To join my flying club I had to join the FFA which I don’t mind since I am able to stay on top of what is going on in French GA – it sort of serves the same role AOPA does for me in the USA.

            I would not say that I am circumventing rules but taken advantage of rules that have been put in place to make our life easier. A similar example is getting a driver’s license in France: It can be expensive, take time and the driving exam will be in French. But, France has agreements with some US states that make getting a license easy. I was lucky in that Texas has an agreement with France so all I had to do was submit paperwork so I wouldn’t have to take driving lessons or an exam for my French license. Believe it or not, the act of getting the French pilot certificate was less work than getting a French driving license.

            By the way, I know of at least one Lake based at my airport plus there always seems to be a Cessna on floats. Granted, despite how close we are to water, those planes are not landing on water.

          • Peter Goldstern

            April 3, 2017 at 7:33 pm

            Hello James
            Interesting to hear about seaplanes in your area with no place to go. No doubt you are young and can’t compare what flying was like to what it is now in most places. I am 76 and have been flying for 50 years now. It’s a bit like skiing where I remember how much snow we used to have and how little there is now.
            With regards to non US opinions on shoddy US maintenance practices, I have been hearing this as long as I have been flying. I have had aircraft maintained in the US, UK, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Canada, Iceland and Australia and never found that any of these countries were much different. As a matter of fact I myself am an FAA, A&P with an IA rating. For me the bottom line is evident from fatality statistics which show that in the US there is 1 fatality per year for each 570 aircraft while in France the number seems to be 1 per 135 aircraft or 450 % higher. That would suggest that “better” French maintenance does not save lives ? Indeed what it does suggest is what NZ CAA has always aspired to for safety, which is, accomplish the US safety record ! By the way, I am a New Zealander and Austrian, not an American and recognize that the US is by no means perfect but for aviation they come pretty close.
            Remember to fly low and slow. Peter

          • James Salazar

            April 4, 2017 at 5:45 pm

            Peter,

            Just to clarify, it is not the USA based A&Ps that are a concern but the ones based here in France working on N planes. I think one concern is that they may not have the FAA’s oversight like they would in the USA. Also, here they are used to the 50 hour inspection vs the 100 hour and I know that was a concern for a few I spoke with.

            The concern I had with one place I checked out was that the school had multiple airplanes (F and N) and one person running the school, teaching AND doing maintenance (and he admitted that he was a very busy man).

          • Peter Goldstern

            April 5, 2017 at 10:05 pm

            Jim

            I have been an A&P/IA for 20 years and pilot for 51 years. I have never had an FAA inspector in the US check either my maintenance work or licenses, so more oversight in the US is not the case. Even without the oversight, I have never had something I fixed on an aircraft, fail ! Over the years I have noticed a latent anti American aviation attitude in the rest of the world. I remember before I had the A&P rating, that I wanted to employ a US A&P for work in Tonga and the New Zealander who was Tongan Director of CA refused because “US A&P ratings can be obtained in a weekend.” On a later occasion, I pointed out to him, that because of questionable US mechanics’ skills, all employees at Boeing aircraft were probably New Zealanders and Australians? The bottom line is, when the fatal accident rate in France is 4 times higher with 50 hour inspections than with 100 hour inspections in the US, what is better about 50 hr inspections ? I can assure you that frequent disassembly of aircraft is not good for the aircraft and in fact adds to the risk of screwing something up in keeping with the old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Peter

    • We all speak English, apart from the Germans, French, and Spanish who don’t.

  5. I have lived much of my life in France, and obtained my first pilot’s license there. I have flown VFR all over the country for almost 20 years – without ever filing a flight plan, except for night flights – and always with flight following available and helpful. The most complicated thing about flying VFR there is the labyrinth of military controlled and restricted airspace covering much of the country, and requiring constant vigilance and lots of frequency dialing to find a controlling authority capable of telling you if a certain zone you’re about to fly into is active or not. If you do not speak French there is another hurdle, as most of the uncontrolled airports are French-speaking only, and even Class D fields revert to pilot-controlled and French only when the tower closes. There are many more subtle differences, such as transition altitudes and levels that vary (you usually have to set your altimeter to 1013.25, or 29.92 at 5000 feet, and you have to listen to an ATIS to learn at what level you set it back to QNH (local altimeter) on the way back down. Also, airspace above FL110 is Class D, requiring a clearance, and ATC essentially NEVER gives such a clearance to VFR traffic. Night flights are complicated by the fact that they must follow specific, published departure and arrival routes, and by the fact that airports do not have beacons. Transponder codes are different than US (VFR is 7000) and things like entry procedures into uncontrolled fields is different as well. All in all, there are enough differences that I believe European pilots should have a short training course before flying in the US, and vice versa.
    If you are interested in learning something about the very mathematical approach the French have to flying, and if your French is good, I would recommend the excellent “Guide du Pilotage” by Jean Zilio.

  6. Jean-François BILY

    March 23, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Hi Garrett, I think you depict the darkest side of flying in this boundary Spanish area.I ‘m holding both FAA and French experience and I know the U.S. are the best flying place in the world. Pyrennees are my home base for my N airplane and my glider.LFYS,LFNQ,LaCerdana. I agree that medium to large French and Spanish airports are attempting to kill general aviation with unaffordable fees. It’s a rather recent airport managing problem,5 years ago landing in Gerona, LEGE, or LERS, with my Robin 4seater was only charged 6 euros with fully efficient atc,weather and fuel service. See Pygmalion comment about operating differences between FAA and easa rules, and share flying with local pilots. Feel free to land or drive in Ste Leocadie and have some chat and flying time with Icaria’s chief pilot. ..He will welcome you for aerobatics or mountain strips landings, and advise for administration free cross country flights. Deal with European flying rules and enjoy this fantastic aera.

  7. Jan van Zonneveld

    March 23, 2017 at 10:01 am

    Hi Garret, Great Job to show the world how difficult it is to fly the ” American Way” in Europe.
    I’m living in the Netherlands and you do not want to know what you have to pay ….communication fee, landing fee, ramp fee if you want to refuel ??? and take a rest. . fuel 5 times as in Florida and on and on. But I have to admit when I see your pictures of that area in Spain, I’m yelaous, I want to go there and fly a couple of hours with you and share the costs ……is that possible ? my e-mail is:
    [email protected]

  8. Peter – interesting! I guess the photos were worth the trouble in the end.
    Curiosity Question: What was so “oppressive” about flying in Germany? Can you be a bit more specific?
    Years ago, I have been based at and flying out of EHEH for a few years, with my N-registered C172 and 152. At the time primarily a Dutch air force base, only open to GA on weekends, and only with a “slot time” one needed to get by Friday 3 pm….) , where they even charged the full landing fee for each T&G, add ATC fees….; compared to that, flying in Germany was comparatively “heaven”….

    Now based in KRHV (San Jose), and in the summer occasionally in EDSH

  9. As a Brit who lives in Connecticut but still regulalry flies in Europe, my first thought is how arrogant to expect every other country in the world to work like the US. Of course flying in Europe is different in some respects just like flying in Canada is different! You should have done some homework, perhaps a few hours with an instructor rather than trying to figure things out “on the fly” (no pun intended).

    However, I also empathise with the frustration caused by over regulation, fees and vague local practices. You have to appreciate that each county in Europe is much smaller than the US and as a result, geography is not a friend to GA. If you can drive from one end of the country to the other within a day, then the government is not going to consider GA as an important part of the transport infrastructure and that is the major difference between the US and Eruope.

    Through the FAA, the US government provides significant funding to airports which is why few charge landing and parking fees to GA aircraft. In the UK, for example, there is no public funding for airports and they must therefore remain financially viable by charging these fees. This is the same to some degree in each European country.

    In addition, the European Union created EASA to try and harmonise aviation across Europe but trying to get 27 countries to agree is like herding cats. To make matters worse, the remit given to EASA was biased toward Commercial Air Traffic (CAT) which meant for some years, every regulation coming out of that organisation gradually strangled GA. The situation is improving but the damage has already been done and may never be completely repaired.

    I just hope that ATC privatisation doesn’t happen in the US because I fear that will be the start of a rocky road.

  10. Thank you for writing this – I hope to see more of your trips around Europe. Perhaps another success story is possible? Example: somewhere strange like an island off France or Spain, no bureaucratic nonsense, happy friendly FBOs, awesome unusual airstrips, beaches or nifty restaurants nearby. Maybe it’s flat-out impossible but who knows – maybe it is?

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