Flying in France
One of the common routes that we fly is between South-east England, where we both have friends and family to Málaga, near our home here on the South Coast of Spain. We have it down to a fine art as we’ve done the run so often, the planning almost takes care of itself. We generally stop for a layover in Bordeaux: fast refuel and on our way if it is just the two of us, an overnight stop with dinner in St Emilion if we have guests (those people in the back, traditionally referred to as passengers).
Málaga is not the most VFR friendly airfield – VFR is banned at night and on weekends – so it’s the leg between England and France that I tend to draw the straw for. This has the additional benefit of getting us straight across the channel at the point of my choosing, rather than having to follow the airways.
I’m not sure why I feel quite so insecure about flying in France – the main issue, I think, is not understanding what the other conversations are about, so I feel cut off and isolated. And sometimes, well honestly, I just do not understand what a controller is saying and I haven’t a clue how to deal with it if “Say again” doesn’t cut it. So while I’m home and not flying, I thought I’d actually focus on France and what knowledge I can collect to help myself. I find it so exciting to see the amount of websites, aimed at people just like me, sitting at a desk, hoping to be in the air soon.
A clear starting point is checking for NOTAMs for the date of my flight which I can now conveniently do online at the UK AIS Website (free but requires registration). The narrow route brief has a handy form where you can fill in your route and flight date and receive details of potentially relevant NOTAMS.
Then a brief refresher for the water crossing: a PDF created by the Royal Navy: How to fly across the English Channel – Safely with some background information about the danger areas.
Before crossing over to France, it’s a good idea to review the French Air Traffic Rules and Services (PDF in both French and English) or at least read Francoflyer’s brief explanation of French VFR Rules for UK pilots. One thing we do to make life easier is to mark 50N on the GPS as that is edge of British airspace.
Although I have no intention of speaking French on the radio, the Francoflyers list of French Radio calls looks useful for getting a better understanding of what’s happening around me. Meanwhile, I have a list of FIS contacts en route so that I can always get an English speaker for help, in case I end up in trouble.
We’ll need Olivia for the second leg of our flight. I wish we could file the incoming flight using Olivia, a great example of using technology to make things simpler instead of more complicated. The French AIPs are not quite so conveniently found online but most airfields have their own website and you can look up airfield plates at French Aeronautical Information Service (enter the airfield or code at the bottom of the page).
With that, I’m ready to go. What can possibly go wrong now?