While visiting Iceland, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Icelandic Control center. They handle all the airplane traffic flying over as well as in Iceland. In fact their airspace extends all the way to the North Pole and encompasses over 5,000,000 sq km. They handle this from a very modern facility at the Reykjavik airport. When things are busy, up to fifteen controllers are working in the room. Since it was a quiet day on our visit, there were only four people handling everything. We watched a time-lapsed movie of the air traffic flowing from the US to Europe at night and the traffic flowing the other direction during the day. It was very interesting to meet the people we had been talking to as we flew over from Greenland. Likewise, leaving Iceland for the UK, I recognized the voice of the controller who was working our sector as we flew over the last section of the North Atlantic for this journey.
They also handle Search and Rescue (SAR) operations here and we heard some hair-raising tales of pilots in trouble but the common theme was always taking on weather in airplanes not suited for it and paying the ultimate cost. Depending on where you are when you ditch, they could take up to several hours to get to you so you need to be prepared to take care of yourself until the get there. Ditching in the North Atlantic in water near freezing with thirty foot seas is very serious stuff. I was sure glad to be cruising along in the flight levels behind a Pratt & Whitney PT6 engine. On a previous trip 'across the pond' in a Bonanza (1997), I'll never forget meeting a ferry pilot who was taking off at night from Reykjavik in a Cessna 152 (a really small airplane!) loaded to the gills with fuel tanks to fly from Iceland to Scotland at night! I couldn't believe anyone could be so stupid! After talking to the controllers in Iceland, I believe they think so too!
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