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!
Ah, calling on le tÃ©lÃ©phone is always a good idea in France. Some local aÃ©roports have very strange opening times, and you can never assume that tower hours of service are the same than fuel service operating times…
Oh, and one more tip. A group of colleagues (5 of them) once wanted me to bring them to Reims for a meeting, in a Saratoga. With 6 on board it was not possible to fly both legs without refueling there. Reims Champagne airport has some airline traffic and fuel service. But only JET-A1 !
Sounds like a lot of trouble. Is this generally the case throughout France on Sunday? If so, it would be revealing to look into fuel-starvation accident statistics on Sunday versus the rest of the week. I can see a lot of pilots in a similar predicaments flying on fumes in an effort to get to the next airport they hope to get fuel.
Glad you all found your way to a pump that accepted your cards!
Sounds like a pain (but with the pleasant bonus of being able to fly to several interesting airports in beautiful weather).
I found refuelling at La Rochelle a real nuisance. IIRC I had to go through arrivals and departures two or three times to deal with the payments. I hope it worked better for you.
Flying in France often seems like an exercise in Zen patience. I remember flying into Troyes one mid-week afternoon and Paris had me hold about ten miles from the field for a while. When I asked why it turned out that there was noone in the tower at Troyes because they’d all gone for lunch. In the end I landed and called Paris control on the radio from the ground and they closed my flight plan.
Even at big airports in France, you often get the run-around. At Cannes, they took 30m to dig up my flight plan then gave me a SID that wasn’t in Jeppesen so it had to be impatiently dictated over R/T for five minutes and then the moment I took off they had me fly vectors anyway.
Sometimes, I think they just like playing with us! :)
On the other hand, I love France, the French people and their way of life. And they have so many beautiful airports and such a love of aviation. Also, I have had some fantastic, friendly experiences at other French airports including a ride in a fire truck at Deauville. Also French airports are generally inexpensive in terms of landing fees. I fly to Holland a lot and the airports there are generally briskly efficient but horribly expensive.
Plastic Pilot: We do usually phone exactly for that reason. Such a pain. We’ve spent a lot of time already narrowing down the airfields which have AVGAS and take credit cards (usually) in the area because you really can’t rely on it. And then a few of them like to leave GA traffic sitting until every other possible plane is dealt with and leave you stranded for hours. Ugh.
Pat: I think to a great extent one expects France to be difficult. :) Also the people regularly flying through / across are likely to carry relevant fuel cards and probably don’t often end up with difficulty. But I did consider that we could be stranded until Monday opening hours simply due to having the wrong cards!
Matthew: I have to admit, it’s hard to get too upset at extra flying and pretty views. We tend to avoid the bigger airports because of the run-around and having to wait on commercial traffic. The small airports are “usually” better. Having said that, La Rochelle had us taxi straight into the pumps and we were able to pay there – no hassle at all (possibly because we were a France to France flight?)
I find myself in the funny situation of being French but having never flown GA in France since all that I know about flying I learned in Australia. I can relate to your frustration about Sunday opening hours though, after years abroad it always comes as a surprise when I go back to France.
Here in Australia a manned fuel pump or fuel truck is really a luxury so we all go around with fuel cards, but most automatic fuel pumps accept credit cards anyway. The concept of an FBO is virtually unknown here. There are airports that serve an area the size of Scotland whose terminal building is little more than a tin shed. If I dig up some photos I’ll post them on my blog.
Julien: I would love to go flying in Australia but it certainly sounds like a completely different beast!
Good idea Ian – I’m evnisioning a whole themed bar next time someone comes around for drinks :)