Thursday, September 1, 2005
Flying In Europe
You wouldn’t believe how easy it is with just a little extra preflight planning
When the chance came to fly a Cirrus across Europe, it would be an understatement to call it a chance of a lifetime. For years, it had always seemed to me that Europe was the perfect place to have a small, personal airplane. You can fly from almost anywhere to anywhere else in western Europe on a single tank of gas." />
Those phone numbers proved to be a good thing. Prior to our departure out of Holland, a precautionary call to our destination revealed an overlooked detail—they were closed on Sunday, the day of arrival, as were our second and third choices for destinations. But the folks in Lugano, Switzerland, a full-service airport on the border with Italy, would be happy to have us. A quick revision to our flight plan, and we were good to go.
With the long-anticipated “cleared for takeoff” coming from the tower, we were off. Moments later, we were handed off to our first European air traffic controller. Much like the Euro is providing a single currency for Europe, Eurocontrol is an attempt to provide a “Single European Sky.” So far, there are 35 member states for which Eurocontrol oversees airborne traffic. With all those different languages to deal with, how do they manage? With English. All controllers speak English. Some better than others, but language typically presents few problems when dealing with ATC.
We quickly learned there are a few minor differences from the basic aviation vernacular we’re used to in the States, however. For example, if you wanted flight following, you need to ask for flight information. And course, as in much of the world, barometer settings aren’t given as inches of mercury, but instead as millibars, or QNH. CAVOK means ceilings and visibility okay, and the term “flight level” can be applied to just about any altitude, depending on the country.
En route, the Cirrus’ magic Avidyne Entegra panel made the whole flight plan come alive. We could extend the range of the moving map and clearly see the depiction of our little airplane heading right across Europe toward the boot of Italy. Honestly, it was exciting! The MFD also made it painless when a controller asked us for our position or had questions about our intended routing. NEXRAD weather isn’t yet available in Europe, but the Cirrus Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS) was worth its weight in gold, like when we were crossing the Alps. Long before the terrain started to rise, the TAWS allowed us to look ahead and pick a comfortable 10,500-foot altitude running through what has to be one of the most beautiful mountain passes in the world. No one knows for sure anymore, but the pass we flew is thought to be the route Hannibal and his elephants used to cross this mountain range 2,000 years ago to attack the Romans. Now, that’s cool! Finally, as the snow-covered peaks began to fall away behind us, we started our descent. In less than three hours, the Cirrus had taken us across three countries, and we were about to enter the fourth.
The Cirrus’ all-glass cockpit made flying in Europe much easier. While the PFD displays pertinent flight data, the MFD shows the aircraft en route above the familiar outline of the boot of Italy.
A short car ride from Lugano took us across the border to Italy. We wanted to visit one of Europe’s oldest flying clubs, Aero Club Como, which has been in the same spot since floatplane activities began on Lake Como in 1913.
Flying clubs are perhaps the best-kept secret in Europe. Many are used to getting requests from foreign pilots for all kinds of help, everything from assistance in finding an aircraft to rent to helping get your American pilot certificate recognized for flight in Europe.
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