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Physician heal thyself (1)

Very many thanks to all of you who sent good wishes to me following my brush with the wrong end of the scalpel – yet another example of it being better to be a giver than a receiver! Recovery proceeds slowly –  both literally and figuratively a pain in the backside.

Physician heal thyself (2)

I emphasized in a recent newsletter the importance of fully understanding the Metars and TAFs and not overlooking any symbols that you cannot interpret. With some guilt I subsequently recollected an occasion on which I had broken this rule with possible disastrous consequences.

The whole of France was bathed in wall to wall sunshine so I only paid for 20 minutes internet time and hurried to get the weather and NOTAMs while preparing a return journey from south-west France. Nothing out of the ordinary save for a Sigmet for “VA” in one of those maddeningly complicated areas denoted by a series of lats. and longs.. I made this out to be somewhere over the North Seaand well above my planned FL085 so I didn’t fuss about my ignorance of the abbreviation “VA”.

Contentedly droning northwards the length of France VFR in CAVOK, I think it was the controller in Poitiers who interrupted my sandwich lunch to enquire if I was aware of the Volcanic Ash  overUK. Hm, so that’s what VA stands for. I reassured him that I’d read the Sigmet and proceeded merrily on my way.

The Nantes controller gave me the same warning as we crossed the Loire, but with that tone of voice normally reserved for an errant aircraft about to bust controlled airspace etc. “No problem” I acknowledged but felt the first pangs of unease.

Minor panic ensued when the Rennes controller casually informed me  that Norwich airport had closed,  whilst Brest Info further heightened the tension with the news that Heathrow and Gatwick had closed due to the volcanic ash. I could imagine the swirling maelstrom of grey ash engulfing the Cirrus and checked the alternate air was functioning properly.

As you may have read in Michael Thompson’s article on a trip to Spain (it’s on the School web-site (Ed. from Ben – link here)) the French controllers all speak decent English, but often it’s only when one uses orthodox “aviation speak”. So it was with great relief that over Cherbourg (still in glorious CAVOK) that I could speak to London Information to try and understand what was going on. One felt a bit lonely ensconced in a small plastic box hurtling toward the content of a volcano. They at least could tell me in colloquial English that the CAA had ordained the closure of the FIR and indeed London Heathrow and Gatwick were closed.

I played my trump card and told them Southampton was my alternate and I’d just heard their ATIS indicating perfect weather.

“What’s your ETA for Southampton?”

Quick consult of faithful GPS.

“Estimate Southampton one six one zero zulu.”

Was there a hint of triumph in his voice as he replied

“Southampton will be closing at sixteen hundred.”?

The story has a happy ending as the London Information FISO contacted Lee on Solent (my destination) by land line, where the duty Police pilot  confirmed conditions were good and could see no problem with our arrival. We landed there in almost perfect conditions and with considerable relief.

So there; everyone now knows what “VA” stands for (and how the CAA over reacted to it) but I did nothing about my ignorance.

To retain any shred of credibility in your eyes, and indicate I do practice what I preach (usually!) I point out that there was a Plan B which was to divert to Cherbourg and catch the ferry home.

North Sea Flying Adventure.

I’m not sure the link for this Flyer Magazine article worked  but we’ve now included it on the School website. Have a look – it’s a good read! (Edit from Ben; the article in question can be found via this link)


Geoff Prout.