Never Ever on a Sunday
Our route for Sunday was simple: Málaga to Shoreham with a stop to refuel in Périgueux-Bassillac in France. We’ve been using Périgueux as a refuelling stop for a while now: the people are friendly and there’s never a queue for the pumps and so we get a fast turnaround. I noted that I didn’t have a Destination post for the airfield and made myself a note to write something on my return and quickly made a cheat sheet.
I have a form that I fill in for every airfield that we’re expecting to stop at. I verify the details each flight; it’s proven very useful to have the print-out on my clipboard for fast reference of all our stops in addition to my normal flight plan.
Location: Périgueux (Bassillac), France
Date: 6 August 2009
Sunset: 20:23 local
ATC Tel: 00 33 5 53 02 79 75
ATC Fax: 00 33 5 53 02 79 78
Aquitaine Approach 119.275
Runways: 11/29 1750×30
Airfield Elevation: 328′
Weather Info: LFBE BergeracMeteo·Mobile | Metar LFBE by aviador
Divert: Angoulême or Bordeaux
Google Map View: Périgueux Bassillac
I only found half the details for Périgueux, they don’t have a website and the AIP is somewhat lacking in detail. However, as it was only a quick stop to refuel, I wasn’t that bothered. We knew that they had AVGAS and a very active flying club, so there wouldn’t be any problems.
Cliff flew the first leg and as we approached the airfield, he informed Aquitaine that he’d be switching to Périgueux information. Aquitaine politely pointed out that there was no one there for us to speak to.
“It’s always been manned before,” I said, nervously. Usually, Cliff rings the airfields as a politeness measure but it had been so hectic the day before, he hadn’t notified Périgueux directly. Not that it mattered as PPR wasn’t required, but it was a bit of a shock to hear that they were closed.
“Sunday in France,” muttered Cliff. “Everyone is asleep on a Sunday in France. I checked the NOTAMs, the airfield is open and fuel is available so it doesn’t much matter.”
We arrived to find the place was busy, a glider, two small planes and a model aircraft all preparing for flight in the beautiful sunny weather. I sent 15-year-old Connor to find someone to ask about fuel, thinking it would be good practice for his French studies. He found a friendly looking pilot near the club and asked him “…petrol?” with his best smile. It was a success, in that the pilot came to our plane to find someone who spoke passable French (Cliff, not me).
“Of course there is fuel,” he told us. “The pumps are automatique.”
We nodded happily as he reassured us that there would be no problem filling our plane and continuing our journey. “You just need a TOTAL card,” he said.
He explained that you put the card in – only the one specific popular-in-France fuel card – and then the machine would turn on and we could dispense the fuel. And if we didn’t have a TOTAL card? Well, in that case, the machine would not turn on. He gave us a gallic shrug and wandered back to the club house.
“What will we do?” wailed Connor, convinced we’d be trapped in rural France forever.
We did not, as you may have guessed, have a TOTAL card. However, we had plenty of time and 30 gallons of fuel in each wing, 225 litres in total, so it was hardly a tragedy. Cliff needed to phone Air Traffic Control to close the flight plan anyway, so while he was speaking to them, he asked if Angoulême was open so that we could go there to refuel. Oui, Monsieur, Angoulême is open and has fuel, yes, they accept all major credit cards, not a problem at all.
We piled back into the plane and made the short hop to Angoulême where we were told to go to the Flying Club and speak to someone there.
“Of course there is fuel,” he told us. “We run the pumps at the weekend on behalf of the airfield. You pay us and we put it on our account.”
That sounded fine until the man explained that he had no means of taking any credit cards at all. “The fuel company, they take credit cards but they are not here on a Sunday,” he explained. “I can put it onto my account and they will bill me but I can only accept cash.”
We pooled our finances together and found that we had a total of 17.63 euros which hardly seemed worth turning on the pump for.
Cliff got on the phone again and this time asked for advice as to where we might get fuel, in France on a Sunday, where we could use a credit card. La Rochelle, said the helpful man at ATC.
“Will you please contact them directly and verify that they are open, that they have fuel and that they will accept my credit card today?”
The gentleman took it with good grace and came back to us in a few minutes, confirming that La Rochelle did accept credit cards, even on a Sunday. Another 20 minutes in the air (the weather was crystal clear and the views were gorgeous, which made up for a lot) and we were at airfield number 3. Although we had to wait until Easyjet had their fuel before we could get ours, the young man was very helpful and more than happy to take our credit card in return for a few litres of AVGAS.
Who knew that France on a Sunday could be so exciting!