Across the Pond #4: Life At The Leading Edge

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Across The Pond

What with costs, price hikes and user fees, you have to thank God for AOPA fighting our corner on high. Its international arm, IAOPA, performs sterling work in keeping GA alive if not kicking in Europe. Presently headed by Regional Vice President Dr. Ruedi Gerber, the organization consists of several national AOPAs that are in regular contact with each other. To give you an idea of what GA is like across our scattered continent, I'll introduce you to some of AOPA's national leaders in Europe over the next few columns.

Martin Robinson, Deputy Vice-President of IAOPA Europe and CEO of AOPA U.K.

This month, Martin Robinson, Deputy Vice-President of IAOPA Europe and CEO of AOPA U.K. has his say. He is a firm believer in the value of numbers: "Being part of a large international organization with 500,000 members globally gives our members a voice on important issues at the highest level for both national and international issues." He is committed to working with lawmakers in Europe before ideas become rules. Here it is virtually impossible to change a regulation once it is in place. Says Martin, "Having a voice in Europe is an important part of what I do. It helps to combine our resources across the region."

His biggest achievement to date is being a major player in the fight that prevented VFR charging in Europe. Martin attributes this to the relationships he has built up during his tenure. For example, as the GA-charging debate was raging, Martin asked one of the lawyers drafting the legislation if he could have a quick meeting with him. During that meeting, Martin pointed out that the annual income generated by GA for en route user fees amounted to only EUR 150 million and that even a small increase would cripple -- if not kill -- the industry. He then compared that to the EUR 5.25 billion (thousand million) gathered each year from heavy iron traversing the skies. The lawyer took the point and sat down and immediately drafted the text stating that aircraft below two tons would not be liable for fees. Says Martin: "The EU accepted that there was no value in pricing us out of the skies. In any case, we already pay taxes where the airlines don't."

This bites hard in some quarters. In the U.K., for instance, although ICAO mandates that taxes should be ploughed back into the industry, the government does not reinvest the cash in the sector. Martin is fighting to keep as much Class G airspace as possible in Britain. "Most GA activities take place in Class G airspace. There will come a time in the next 10 years when, in order to continue flying safely, we will need to use technology. 'See and avoid' will become more 'sense and avoid' as we turn to Mode S and all kinds of aircraft will be operating in various pieces of airspace." Mode S will inevitably push costs up, as will rising fuel prices and AOPA U.K. is actively working with the U.K. government to find a solution to soaring avgas costs.

An experienced pilot who flies PA-28s and C172s and "whatever else I can get my hands on," Martin is ably assisted by a team including Mandy Nelson, with whom he has worked on and off for over 20 years. Mandy has worked for a large aviation financing company and is eager to learn to fly herself one day. She says, "It's a real challenge working for AOPA, but worthwhile and interesting." Martin's next venture is sitting on a European task force, set up to collate data on GA across Europe. This will enable the EC to make more sensible legislation decisions. At present it is operating from assumptions, which is always dangerous for the private pilot.

Red Bull Gives London Wings

Red Bull Races

I live very close to the river Thames in London, and especially near to the monstrosity Britain built to celebrate the turn of the century -- the Millennium Dome. (It now languishes in neglected splendor in a south London wasteland, waiting to become an "entertainment complex.") This puts me in pole position to watch Red Bull's U.K. leg of its Air Race series on July 28 and 29. The racers will screech past history as they hurtle along the riverbank, 30 feet above the water. British pilot Paul Bonhomme is ecstatic: "Flying here will be completely different to anything else. I'm looking forward to steaming past these buildings at over 400 kilometers per hour." Red Bull's brand manager, Guy Carling, described the race location as "audacious and challenging," adding, "It's the ultimate for us and will create a historic event."

Derelict waste ground in London's docklands area will be turned into spectator areas; control towers will go up and a temporary runway established near London City Airport. The race is expected to attract 23,000 spectators, paying around U.S.$40 per head. According to Red Bull's press release, "The event can only be viewed from the designated ticket areas." I'm not sure how they'll curtain off the entire skyline view from the opposite side of the river. In case they don't manage that, my enjoyment of the race will multiply, as I'll be watching it for free from the comfort of my front room. Two races have been held in the series so far this year, and British pilot Paul Bonhomme (who flies a 747 for a living) is currently leading the field.

Polar First For Intrepid Pair

Last Brits story this month I promise, but this one merits a mention. Polarfirst Bell helicopter pilots Jennifer Murray and Colin Bodill (featured in Across the Pond #1) have reached the North Pole. The duo finally reached their destination on April 20. Jennifer described the North Pole leg of the journey as "terrifying in parts." Because of poor weather, the pair has shelved the U.K. leg of their tour and was due to arrive at their final destination (Fort Worth, Texas) yesterday (May 23).

Next Generation PC-12 Picks Up The Pace

Although my home country throws up great explorers, it is sadly lacking in aircraft manufacturers. However, there are plenty of great aircraft built in Europe and one of the leaders comes from Swiss manufacturer Pilatus, which has just delivered its 700th PC-12 single-engine turboprop aircraft to David Fountain, a private investor from Halifax, Nova Scotia. The PC-12 is the world's top-selling turbine business aircraft, and its next incarnation recently flew to the U.S. for flight tests. The airplane stopped en route at Iqaluit, Canada, for a series of cold weather trials, before arriving at the company's North American headquarters in Broomfield, Colo. The aircraft performed well and completed its cold weather testing a day early. The next generation PC-12 should be certified by the end of the year and will feature fully integrated Honeywell Primus Apex avionics, a new BMW Designworks cockpit, and a P&WC PT6A engine.

LISA's So Light

LISA Solar Hybrid

You may have noticed I'm interested in green technologies. I'm pleased to report that there is yet more good news on fuel-cell development. After last month's story on Boeing's electrically powered aircraft, comes an announcement by French company LISA (Light Innovative Sport Aircraft) that it is also working with similar technology. LISA's version is based on a motorglider, called the Hy-Bird, and debuted in April at the EVER environmental transport show in Monaco. The Hy-Bird has two sources of power: solar energy, which comes from photovoltaic wing and tail mounted cells and hydrogen, via a fuel cell. Next year the company is planning a round the world trip in 15 stages of 3,000 km each.

Flying in Paris

Aeroclub Air France

As promised, a note about great places to fly in Europe. First port of call I'd recommend is Meetup. Register for the Paris pilots group and a very friendly guy named "Martin on the plane from Bologna" will offer help and advice about flying near France's most famous city. Martin belongs to the Aéroclub Air France flying club located near Charles de Gaulle airport. Set in a spectacular location, the field is located at LFPP, in Ermenonville by Senlis and Chantilly. The club also has properties in Toussus-Le-Noble (next to Versailles) and Lognes (next to Disneyland), as well as Le Lamentin (Martinique, Caribbean).

According to Martin the northern location is "quite spectacular, with low traffic, good facilities (Runways 07/25), a businesslike, jovial atmosphere, breathtaking views of the surrounding vast rolling countryside, with abbeys and castles in all directions and an impressively qualified cast of instructors (e.g., ex-Air France)." The club also boasts some interesting personalities, such as a retired technical long-haul pilot, who is an instructor and the grandson of a famous expressionist painter. May and June are tricky times in France with many people on vacation. That said, get in touch anyway if you're planning a trip. Costs range from EUR 121 (to hire a Cessna 152) to EUR 245 (for a Socata TB20).


Talking of Paris, airshow season is upon us with a vengeance. Some of you folks out there might not appreciate this, but there are areas in Europe where there's a really short window of good flying weather. So as summer rolls out, show season cranks into gear. Granddaddy of them all is the bi-annual Paris Air Show at Le Bourget between June 18 and 24. If you haven't been and are anywhere near on those dates, it's well worth a visit. Not only does France boast (arguably) the greatest aviation history in the world, but it also offers one of the globe's great airshows. You'll wear your shoe leather out traipsing around the vast array of military and civil aircraft on display, but it's truly worth it.

Red Arrows

Another show of note June 2 and 3 is Biggin Hill International Air Fair near London. Exciting as watching Spitfires, the Red Arrows, Harriers and other special displays may be, the organizers believe the Air Fair should cater for the entire family. Hundreds of companies are attracted to the show site, which is one of the largest temporary exhibitions in the U.K.

Meanwhile, over in Norway on June 2-3, the Sola Airshow will show off the "new" Pitts Python from Sweden. The aircraft's empty weight is a mere 650 kg, and the engine is 400 hp, so it promises an airborne performance "unlike any seen at Sola before."

A week later AeroExpo opens its gates at Wycombe Airpark (EGTB), also near London. This is the U.K.'s only GA show this year and takes place between June 8 and 10. At the same time, on Sunday, June 10, the Royal Danish Air Force will congregate at Air Station Aalborg in Denmark. There will be various military and civilian aircraft in flying and static displays.


June 10 is a popular date. On that Sunday RAF Cosford Air Show in the U.K. opens its doors to the public. The RAF's world-famous aerobatics team, the Red Arrows, will perform along with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane. Current combat aircraft from the RAF, along with international participants, are also being lined up. Over in Holland, on June 16-17, the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force (NAEW&CF) and its partner nations will open its gates to the public, offering visitors a closer look at its history, airplanes and daily activities. In Poland on June 16 and 17 GORASZKA 2007 will take place for the 12th time. Visitors will have a chance to fly on simulators specially designed for all the aircraft at the show.

At the end of the month comes one of the most spectacular shows in Europe. On June 22 the Midnight Sun airshow takes place in Finland. The show started in 1945 when the Finnish Air Force Training Air Wing's personnel organized the first midsummer airshow, which gathered 6,267 spectators. The airshow grew, and became the Midnight Sun Airshow and festival. The annual event gathers every June and attracts foreign participants and some 15 000 spectators. Flying starts at 7 p.m. and lasts close to midnight when the last display is flown.

So, though we may not always get much sun over here, we do manage to squeeze the last drop out of it. Enjoy your month.

For more aviation news and information from Europe, read the rest Liz Moscrop's columns.