Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 26, 2013


If flying yourself in an exotic, far-off land seems unaffordable, perhaps an airplane exchange could make that dream happen.

Flying Down Under
As in Canada, the Aussies built their national airspace system around NDBs rather than VORs, reflecting the economics of their similarly small population bases coupled with large empty spaces. So, although their small GA craft seem avionically challenged relative to the U.S. legacy fleet, a functioning GPS gets you around pretty well. We relied almost exclusively on our iPad loaded with OzRunways, an antipodean version of ForeFlight without a lot of the bells and whistles you'd associate with that fine product.

Flying VFR in Australia feels very different than in the U.S. There isn't the equivalent of Flight Following, but instead, the use of search and rescue (SAR) times is strongly emphasized. If you're not where you said you'd be at the designated hour, they (fortunately) start looking for you asap. However, local lore suggests that, less fortunately, the meter starts running almost immediately and that you should anticipate a big bill in the mail. So, you'd better be truly lost and not just forgetful. If you need to amend your SAR time, you can contact Air Traffic Control (ATC) en route but, in our experience, expect them to treat your request with low priority and in an abrupt fashion.

Our Friday flight across northwestern Victoria took us from orchard country through a wheat belt and then into an uninhabited desert stretch. At the border with South Australia, the cycle reverses and we re-established radar contact with ATC for a smooth approach to Parafield, Adelaide's GA airport.

This transition was aided by a rather special feature on CASA's website—a sequence of aerial photos taken at the preferred altitude of each reporting point along established VFR corridors. Arriving at the Warren Reservoir waypoint after a three-hour flight felt like we were coming home.

The post-flight routine in Australia feels different, too. Despite a high level of activity at Parafield, the convenience of a rental car waiting at your destination FBO is essentially unknown, but a short taxi ride got us to our agency, and we were off to the Barossa.

The challenge of finding an appropriate bottle of wine inspired the whole weekend as we focused almost exclusively on top-end offerings from the legends of Barossa winemaking: Penfold's, Yalumba, Henschke. We ended up with two wonderful reds for Wayne and Faye and a couple of cases of more pedestrian grog for ourselves.

On Sunday, we hopped over to a nearby GA airfield for lunch with another respondent to our mass mailing, and then returned MWB to her home base via a route that took us by the dramatic Grampian Range. We declared the experiment a success and were particularly touched when, bidding us farewell, Wayne and Faye offered us open use of their airplane in typically blunt Aussie fashion: "The keys are above the stove…and you're free to use the house, too."


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