Our sabbatical year in California was almost up and it was time to prepare for our return trip to Geneva. We had taken the northern route over the Atlantic the year before, via Iceland and Greenland (see Flyer, April 1992). This time we wanted to visit the Azores, that little known group of islands in the middle of the ocean 1000 miles west of Lisbon. Once an important refueling point for commercial airlines in the years following World War II, these islands were now to be our Mooney's stepping stone to Europe. St. John's, Newfoundland (Canada), the closest town on the American continent to the Azores, was the obvious choice as point of departure.
We were already equipped with a Garmin GPS receiver, a Codan HF transceiver and all instruments needed for flying IFR. We also had a life raft, life jackets, flares and survival food. The first part of the crossing would be over the cold seas of the North Atlantic and we knew the Canadian authorities would require us to wear immersion suits. We therefore ordered them from a company in Portland, Maine, to be picked up on our way.
We were all set then - or so we thought. The wings of the Mooney are equipped with extra fuel tanks allowing for 11 flying hours at economy cruise - enough to get us to Terceira in the middle of the archipelago with almost 3 hours' reserve. (Although the nearest island for us was Flores, they have no customs or fuel.) Lajes, Terceira Island, is a civil/military airport and the one most frequently used by commercial airlines these days. According to our books, prior permission to land there would be needed from the Portuguese Air Force so we sent a fax to Lisbon, fully expecting a positive reply. However, to our dismay, they refused us permission except in the case of an emergency. The only airport in the Azores where we would be allowed to land and which had both customs and fuel was now the easternmost one: Santa Maria. It's another hour's flying time from Terceira, so we would no longer have the 3 hours' reserve required by the Canadians. It was a question of either returning to Europe via Greenland and Iceland or installing a 14-gallon fuel tank on the back seat. We chose the latter option, which proved to be more problematic than merely paying the $650 for the installation.
The fuel tank could be installed in half a day but getting the authorization for an American
mechanic to fit one in a Swiss registered aircraft took longer. The Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) had to delegate authority to the FAA to do the work. Faxes had to be sent back and forth between the U.S. and Switzerland and, due to time differences and offices being closed over the weekend, our departure was delayed by 3 days.