It was a
cold early morning start from Ushuaia (5 degrees and winds at 25 knots).
The authorization from Buenos Aires to fly to the Falklands via the
changed routing had come through just in time, thanks to the friendly
Operations official at the airport. We had only phoned him on the Friday
afternoon from the aeroclub once we knew we wouldn’t be able to buy fuel
in Ushuaia, so he didn’t have long in which to contact the authorities
before their offices closed for the weekend and this was Monday morning.
But he wasn’t quite so efficient when it came to working out the airport
fees. It took at least an hour before he handed us the bill… for less
than one US dollar!
The Falkland Island Civil Aviation Authorities warned us that the
Argentineans don’t forward them the flight plans, so we had faxed them a
copy of the flight plan directly the evening before. We also called them
just before take-off to verify that they had actually received our
We flew IFR to Rio Gallegos over desolate and barren countryside. We
were clear of cloud the whole way, but there were 30 knot winds gusting
to 40 knots when we landed in Rio Gallegos (flight time 1:40 hrs). Here
it was the fuel company that delayed us, as they had computer problems
when making out the bill. And before giving us our start-up clearance
for Islas Malvinas, the controllers wanted us to obtain the IFR clearance
by HF radio from Comodoro Rivadavia centre, but unfortunately we didn’t
have the particular Comodoro Rivadavia HF frequency installed in our
Codan HF transceiver. We then got the permission to use our Iridium sat
phone instead and they gave us the phone number of Comodoro Rivadavia
centre. As luck would have it, the sat phone didn’t work very well to
begin with (no nearby satellite for 10 minutes), so there were further
delays until we finally got the enroute clearance and they were happy
with the readback.
We made the required position reports via sat phone to Comodoro
Rivadavia centre without any hiccups, except that when we made the last
position report they did not do a proper handover to the Falkland Island
centre or even pronounce such a forbidden name! He simply said: ‘You may
now contact your next controlling agency’. Soon after we were in VHF
contact with ‘Island Radar’.
The IFR flight to Stanley took 2 hours 45 minutes, and we only just made
it into Stanley airport before it closed at 4 p.m. Gusty westerly winds
and rain showers greeted us on arrival. We almost felt like keeping our
immersion suits on! While we nonetheless struggled against the wind to
take them off, some British Air Force Tornados swooped over us with a
deafening noise. We’re still not sure whether this was meant as a
welcome or as a reminder of who is in charge in the Falklands!
Once in the airport building, all went smoothly. We were just in time
for Customs and the formalities didn’t take up any time. In the tower,
Bernadette showed us photos strung up around the room of all the small
aircraft that had visited Stanley. Amongst them, we recognized several
of our pilot friends’ planes: Margi and Gerard, Andy Hopper, Dick Smith,
Martin Rappallini. The photo of our Swiss friends Reto and Trude, who’d
passed by only about a month earlier, had yet to be added.
Bernadette closed the airport and gave us a lift into town. We booked
into the cosy Waterfront Guest House, run by an English/Chilean couple,
then went for a drink and some food in the Victory pub.
several months of Spanish culture, it was fun to be in a British
environment. We could almost have been in a village in Scotland. The
total population of the Falkland Islands is around 3000. Sometimes the
‘population’ doubles when big cruise ships are visiting. Fortunately, we
weren’t around on the busy days.
The next day we went back to the airport to talk to the friendly airport
manager Gerard Robson about flying to other islands. We had made
reservations at lodges on Pebble Island in the north and Sea Lion Island
in the south. Gerard was very helpful and gave us some charts for the
landing strips on these islands. While we were talking to Gerard in the
tower, Eddie - the chief pilot for FIGAS (Falkland Island Government Air
Services) - came in. Gerard said, ‘Here’s the man to talk to. He knows
everything there is to know about the air strips.’ To our surprise,
Eddie hummed and hawed and eventually said, ‘I don’t want to give advice
that might be misinterpreted. In fact, I don’t want to talk to you.’
Diplomatically, Flemming said we just wanted to know where to park our
plane at Sea Lion Island so that it would be out of the way of FIGAS
aircraft. And, to that, Eddie replied: ‘Wherever you park you will be an
obstacle for us.’ Then he turned to Gerard and said: ‘I would thank you
not to put me in such an embarrassing position again. I really do not
want to talk to visiting pilots.’ How’s that for a slap in the face!!
Eddie was a little more congenial when we walked over to FIGAS to
request fuel for the day of our departure from the Falklands. The price
was more than double that of Argentina but we would need a little extra
in case of headwinds, which were likely in a westerly direction.
That evening, to make up for the rather grotty fish n’ chips we’d had at
lunch, we dined at Stanley’s best restaurant, the
Brasserie. Needless to
say, the wines they served were Chilean, not Argentinean.
In Ushuaia we were driven to Honey Mooney's parking with the device which normally serves to move baggage in and out of much larger aircraft...