North to South Europe in 46 Hours

After 7 months of working full time as a flight instructor in Spain, I was presented with a last minute opportunity to ferry a Diamond Twinstar (DA42), initially from Huesca (LEHC) to Montpelier (LFMT), then from Antwerp (EBAW) to Huesca via Troyes (LFQB). This was the single longest trip I have done in my short aviation career, a length of 1085nm in a small aircraft.

As a single engine instructor, there aren’t many opportunities to really make use of your IR(A) as most of your time is spent teaching VFR activities. However, given the length of the trip and small timescale, IFR planning made this trip more feasible. So what was last minute? Well I was on my first day of from a 4:2 roster pattern, at 10am I was called by my senior instructor to volunteer to ferry both aircraft accompanying my CFI at 1400, of which i was promptly welcomed into aviation.

Initially, there was a company requirement to ferry a French DA42 from our training base in Northern Spain, Huesca, to our second training base in Montpelier for maintenance. From Montpelier we would jump onto an Air France flight to Paris to stay the night on the 25/11 before boarding an early train the next morning to Antwerp where the second DA42 was waiting for us to go to Huesca.

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Route inbound and outbound LFMT
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The French south coast positioning for a night ILS runway 30 at LFMT

After arriving in the hotel in Paris at 1am, it was a restless 4 hours rest till an early rise to make the train from Gare du Nord to Antwerp. On the train, I got a chance to plan a few routes south using JeppFD and inspect the weather. Seeing the fast moving frontal activity, flying westward was out of the question so going straight south along the eastern side of France was the only way to avoid areas of icing and more significant weather.

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The initial plan was to get the aircraft to Huesca in one day but Huesca Airport is constrained with a winter closing time of 1700 local. Having waited for a few hours at Antwerp airport for the weather to improve meant this was unfeasible, so we got our new leased aircraft as far south as possible which was back to Montpelier with a stop in Troyes for lunch and rest. As we got airborne from Antwerp, we got a spurious “L Eng Fire” warning which promptly woke us both up, so not a good start but thankfully the warning cleared and all visual cues and gauges looked normal so continued en route to Troyes.

Troyes airport is a little gem in northeastern France, nostalgia brought me back to my hour building days of flying into smaller airports with a fantastic cafe and really friendly staff and AFIS. As an added benefit, we joined directly from the airways onto the RNAV approach for runway 17, of which we broke cloud at 3000ft to see a stunning green field airfield with one tarmac runway. The best meal of the entire trip was in the airport restaurant, Le Coucou, excellent french cuisine, 3 course lunch for a tiny sum.

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Our DA42 OO-SKW next to a Cessna Citation on the apron at LFQB

After a few hours rest, we departed at sunset to have a second night arrival at LFMT. A three hour, almost straight south heading lead us to join for the ILS runway 30 at Montpelier. One of my personal highlights, as we were being radar vectored in amongst 3 Air France airbuses to land, we were above a twilight lit cloud layer which once established and descending through it revealed the city lights and airport lead in lights over the dark sea. A view I hope to witness again.

The next day we returned to Huesca and the trip was over 46 hours after it started. 11 hours block to block and mildly sleep deprived but much learnt, in particular about the autopilot, European low level IFR operations and a first for me, getting lost on the taxiways at Montpelier the largest airport I had ever visited.

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