I've spent a fair amount of time detailing the places we've visited so far on this journey, the tours we've been on and the wonderful food we've experienced however with this post I'd like to write something up for the pilots out there who maybe are wondering what it's like to fly your own airplane over here. Short story, easily doable by any competent IFR pilot who can read a Jeppesen chart, navigate and can deal with accents. If you are committed to using NOS charts in the US and have shunned Jeppesen charts in the past, you will find yourself way behind the eight-ball over here as NOS charts are not available and if you bet on a routing staying the same as you planned it you are in for a big surprise once in a while (can you say "stand by for amended clearance"?).
First of all, the planning is like any IFR flight you'd do in the US in that we pull up Flight Star and take a look at the routing options between where we are and where we want to go. We look over the SIDs and STARs and come up with something that makes sense. Once a route is selected the Air Journey folks, back in the US, try to validate the route to see if we can avoid a surprise when we call for a clearance. For the airplanes that have the range we often fly a 1200 nm leg to avoid stopping for fuel along the way as every time you land you rack up fees for landing, handling, fueling, etc. It's wonderful to have the PC-12 as we cruise along in the flight levels snacking and enjoying the view. It's the old 'tortoise and hare' scenario. Short legs, faster planes get there first, longer legs we smoke on by as they have to stop. Speaking of flight levels, it's been a real boon to have RVSM on this journey as the airspace is handled differently above FL285 and we have gotten our routing and requests for direct a lot more than people flying lower. Also, flying at FL290, we are burning a miserly 48 gallons/hour and have 8+ hours of range. Others on this journey are much more limited.
On departure day, when we get to the airport, we have to spend some time clearing customs, having our baggage and carry-on x-rayed (yeah, I know I look like a thug who may try to hijack my own airplane with my pocketknife at my throat but hey, gotta do the local mambo to make them happy). Once we get out to the airplanes we load up the luggage and call for our clearance and startup (you can't just start your engines when you want over here but you must call for permission first). Sometimes we have departure slots where each airplane is scheduled to depart 15 minutes or so apart. This is done mostly in non-radar environments but we've also run into this at major airports with radar too. The clearance is not like what we get in the US as a lot of the time our flight plan was fully accepted into the system the night before and all they hand us when we call in is the runway in use as well as a SID (standard instrument departure) and a transponder code. Without anything else we have to assume we fly the route we put on the flight plan. You need to be able to handle a SID by yourself as they assume you can read and follow the instructions without any handholding.
Along the way, things go fairly well as the traffic levels are far below that found in the US so we don't get re-routes very often. For the most part, everyone has spoken very good English but the accents sometimes trip you up. You need to put in all the intersections along your route as they will either clear you to one or ask you to report reaching one so it better be handy. Instead of expecting ATC to give you descents you have to ask when you want to go down.
As we are a group of five airplanes arriving fairly close to each other at our destination sometimes we have to adjust speeds, do 'S' turns, etc. to keep us separated for the arrival controller. So far no one has had to do a hold anywhere but stay tuned as we head into India. What is interesting is that even in good VFR conditions they still give you the full instrument approach. You have to be careful whether to accept this as some places charge for the ILS (in Inverness, Scotland it was 20 euros!). We clued into this early in the game and ask for the visual approach instead.
After we land we generally have a handler on the ground to marshal us into a parking area and the fuel truck comes over (we like fueling when we land rather than upon departure in order to cut down on the hassle on the morning we leave). No one has Prist mixed in so we need to be there to put it in ourselves. I was fortunate to have Pilatus US send along some Pilatus trinkets (key chains, pins, stickers, brochures) and the local line guys and FBO handlers are most appreciative of getting some 'goodies'. It helps to promote Pilatus around the world too so I'm happy to help out. Sometimes there's a real FBO and most times not. At any rate customs has been a non-issue so far (they just look at the passport, stamp and pass us through) and baggage is not a problem either. In fact, the worst customs and baggage hassles will of course be back in the US when we return. Having professional handlers waiting at every stop is essential when doing this kind of flying (although expensive).
A note about uniforms. We are all wearing pilot's shirts, bars and black pants with black shoes. Professionalism is respected over here and everyone calls you 'captain'. Wearing the uniform pushes us to the front of the customs and baggage handling lines and generally expedites us through the bureaucracy. We also have ID tags with our photos as well. I have to admit, I do feel like John Travolta wearing this silly thing and the stupid hat! More when we get to India and beyond!
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