Palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1051 posts, RR: 16 Posted (2 years 1 month 1 week 6 days 2 hours ago) and read 6699 times:
Sydney, often described by tourist guidebooks as the “jewel” in Australia’s crown, certainly lives up to its reputation as one of the most visually stunning cities on the planet. The city has come a long way in a short time: a far cry from its struggling origins in 1788 as a dumping ground for petty English criminals.
Being fortunate to have lived there for a time, it was a no brainer that during my recent visit back to Australia, I had to ensure I visited Sydney for a few days to see friends.
What to do in Sydney? Well there’s always the Opera House
The Harbour Bridge
Watsons Bay at sunset for yummy fish and chips
…..and a host of other sights to explore.
However, having been a resident here, I was also looking for something a little different to do. A friend of mine, and sometimes A.net lurker, happens to have a job that many of us A.netters dream about - flying around the country in a cockpit and getting paid for it. Working for Rex - Regional Express, I was offered the chance of doing a flight from Sydney (SYD) to the northern New South Wales town of Ballina (BNK) and back again.
Although Rex has been around for a few years now, there aren’t that many reports on A.net featuring this airline - Planehunter’s excellent report is the most recent and detailed one featuring Rex.
WHERE’S BALLINA? IN IRELAND?
Ballina is located some 750km (466 miles) north of Sydney and only 205km south of Brisbane, where my Skytrans flight originated from the week before (see wwww ).
It was formed in the 1840s and lies close to the most easterly point on the Australian mainland.
I was reading that there is some dispute as to how Ballina got its name. Two towns of the same name exist in Ireland as Béal an Átha or Béal Átha an Fheadha in County Mayo and County Tipperary and given the close history between Australia and Ireland, many people assume the Australian version was named by Irish settlers. However, not all are convinced this is correct.
The name is also derived from an indigenous Australian word meaning "place of many oysters". The names "Bullinah" and "Boolinah" have been suggested. It is likely that the indigenous name reminded the Irish settlers of "Ballina" back home, so the name's origin could be an accidental or deliberate corruption of the Aboriginal form.
The simple route, courtesy of Great Circle Mapper
15 March 2011 Sydney (SYD) - Ballina (BNK) - Sydney (SYD) Rex - Regional Express Flight: ZL232/233 SF340 VH-ZLJ Flight time: 1hr 30mins (approximate) Seat 6A
Getting to SYD much earlier than most people would do for a short intrastate hop, I wanted to do a bit of spotting and take a look around the Sydney domestic terminal from which Rex operates.
A few nice views can be had from various locations - although sometimes the reflection off the glass makes taking pictures very tricky.
Qantas (Jet Connect) ZK registered 737-800
Nice to see this bird here - a new operator for SYD since I was last here
New-ish Qantas A330-200 arriving with a puff of smoke
Glad I am not travelling on this (having read the recent reports here on A.net)
Jetstar A320 close up
Tiger Airways A320 at its gate
A brood of Rex Saab 340s awaiting their next assignments
..and by themselves
A different angle
All Rex flights in SYD depart from the same gate, with passengers then called and bussed to their respective aircraft. This afternoon, a few flights were operating around the same time as our coastal dash up to Ballina.
Being at the terminal in plenty of time, after a bit of wandering around and grabbing a bite to eat, I made my way to the depature gate, where ZL232 was due to depart at 1500hrs.
There were a few people at the gate, but some of them were waiting for the other flights listed. 10 mins before the scheduled departure time, a call was made for passengers on ZL232 to make their way downstairs as the aircraft was now boarding. With boarding pass I headed down and following a check of the boarding pass by the gate staff downstairs, I was on the bus, getting ready to head out to the waiting aircraft.
Good for me, but sadly for Rex, the flight was practically empty. In fact there were less than 10 passengers on this flight. Competition on the Sydney - Ballina route is now quite intense. A number of years ago, when I was young, services to Ballina from Sydney were infrequent and expensive with a near monopoly on the route. However, these days, in addition to Rex, both Virgin Blue and Jetstar offer jet service from Sydney, capitalising on the region’s popularity with holiday makers, in particular, those heading to nearby Byron Bay.
Who knows whether Rex will still be operating this route in the months to come.
Today, ZL232 would be operated by VH-ZLJ, which was originally delivered to American Eagle in 1996 as N380AE. It was withdrawn from service just over 10 years later and made its way to Australia in December 2007 where it found a new lease of life with Rex. The only photos of N380AE I could find showed it operating out of DFW, so I wonder whether it was based there for its entire career with American Eagle?
Registration check - yep, it’s VH-ZLJ
I was greeted at the door with a friendly welcome from the sole flight attendant, who directed me to 6A, which happened to be an emergency exit row over the wing.
First impressions were good. I was able to maneouver down to my seat without feeling cramped. The Saab’s 1 - 2 abreast setting was perfectly adequate and quite spacious.
Immediate cabin shot just after settling into 6A. Nice leather seats, and seat pitch was fine. I was the furthest forward of all the passengers - the remainder being seated behind me.
Looking forward at the empty forward cabin toward the open cockpit door - preparations were still being made for departure. We were now a few minutes late but nobody seemed to mind. I certainly didn’t - I was coming back in the same aircraft come what may! Finally the door was closed and soon the sound of the props started. I’d been warned that the Saabs were a bit noisy, but actually, I did not find this to be an issue at all.
View out of 6A just before the props were fired up. Our neighbours were all Rex 340s.
Slowly moving off stand, we commenced our fairly long taxi to Sydney’s Runway 16L, which would mean a departure to the south, out over Botany Bay, before making a series of left turns out over the Pacific Ocean and tracking north for Ballina.
Safety demonstration was done manually, with a special request made to me to ask whether I was happy to be seated at an emergency exit row. The flight attendant then strapped herself in to the crew seat just next to the forward passenger door.
Passing SYD’s distinctive control tower enroute to our departure runway
Holding short for an arriving Jetstar A320
Lined up and ready to go and not waiting around, we were soon zipping down the runway before launching into the warm Sydney afternoon sunshine
Passing the Port Botany commercial facilities
which are quite extensive
Heading east out over the Pacific briefly, passing Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs beaches (just behind the wing)
The Australian coastline fades away north into the distance as we’re still turning left
The afternoon sun now starting to shine directly toward us
Following a welcome on board announcement from the first officer with some nice flight information, the oboard service began.
This consisted of tea or coffee , some water and a snack (2 museli biscuits). Not being particularly hungry, it was still nice to receive something, particularly as I’m used to flying in Europe, and to a lesser extent, North America, where nothing is free onboard these days.
So far on this trip to Australia, I’d been very lucky with the weather. Today was no different with glorious blue skies to accompany us up the New South Wales coast.
I decided to move across to the other side of the aircraft as the light was much better for photography
Looking across at 6A, my original seat
Another cabin view - everything was well maintained and in good condition
The flight attendant made a second coffee/tea run but other than that, there was nothing to do but to read or enjoy the view outside. There’s no IFE on these birds, but who needs that when you’ve got this?
The flight up to Ballina is one of the longer in Rex’s route network, which is nicely displayed in their inflight magazine
Oh how I wished I had known about the multi-stop Mt Isa - Townsville service on Rex.....next time!
It hardly felt like time had passed at all when we started our descent into Ballina. This consisted of coming in off the coast and making a series of turns over the beautifully green landscape below us. We would approach the airport from the south.
Descending into Ballina over the Richmond River and one of my favourite images from the trip
The town of Ballina in the distance, with the Pacific Ocean on the far right - with endless miles and miles of beautiful beaches.
The weather up here this afternoon was gorgeous. Perfect for flying (at least as a passenger that is)
Farmland down below, as we get close to our destination
Floating over Runway 06, and passing a holding Jetstar A320 awaiting departure
There’s the cute little terminal in the background
Backtracking to get to the terminal
Pulling up in front of the terminal - we were the only commercial flight there
Once the props were shut down and the passenger door opened, the few passengers aboard were quickly off the aircraft and into the terminal. I elected to stay onboard and so managed to have a quick chat with my mate about the flight, as well as getting a peek at the cockpit
He also took a couple of snaps for me of ZLJ on stand in Ballina, awaiting the trip back down south to Sydney in the late afternoon sunshine.
A couple of views from the passenger door
The port side propeller
Before re-boarding, I had a nice chat with the flight attendant, who was charming and relaxed. I managed to take a picture of the empty cabin before the new set of passengers joined us. Note the last row of 4 seats.
My allocated seat for the return journey was 7A so I moved one row back, just as the passengers started boarding. Again, the load on this sector was light, with only a handful joining us. Given the light load, we were all set to go pretty quickly - after just short of 30 mins on the ground, we were ready to go again.
Safety demo again completed, and the cabin secured, we headed for Runway 06. No traffic landing or departing, so we were good to depart.
Holding at the end of the runway
Passing the lake on the border of the airport
Good bye Ballina
Heading out over the coast, and past the town of Lennox Head
Great day for a swim down there
In the distance, Byron Bay, the most easterly point of the Australian mainland
We then made a few gentle right turns before aligning ourselves with the coastline, and tracked south, just as the sun started to fade. The views from the window were stunning - showcasing the beauty of New South Wales.
Back along the coast and heading south
This looks like the town of Evans Head
Continuing to climb, we were soon above the clouds, which made for some interesting pictures this afternoon. The light was beautiful.
The same snack service was provided as on the way up to Ballina. All served with a smile!
I managed to have a bit of a snooze, and soon after I felt the aircraft starting its descent. This was confirmed shortly afterwards and the farmlands and rolling countryside was replaced with signs of more crowded human habitation - we were soon approaching the outer suburbs of Sydney.
I wondered from which direction we would land into SYD and it was great that we would be flying past central Sydney and as a bonus, I was sitting on the correct side of the aircraft for the best views.
Sadly however, the fine weather up north was replaced by more cloudy and overcast conditions, which made the approach quite bumpy.
With central Sydney off to the left, the Anzac Bridge and the inner western suburbs
Just before touchdown
Back to where it all started - Runway 16L at SYD. Of course, the landing was perfect (!)
The weather had deteriorated considerably in just a couple of hours of being away. By the time we got back to our parking stand, it was raining quite hard.
Shutting down the props
Notwithstanding the weather in Sydney for our arrival, it had been a hugely enjoyable afternoon for me. I’d managed to fly in a type I’ve not yet travelled on, and which is becoming increasingly rare in Europe. I’d also flown into and out of an airport I’d never been to before, but also more importantly, it was the first time I had flown as a passenger where I personally knew one of the cockpit crew. It was a surreal yet comforting experience.
Coupled with Rex’s simple but friendly and professional service, I’d recommend flying Rex any time. After all, if you’re going to Ballina, wouldn’t you rather fly a Saab340 than a Jetstar A320?
Thanks for reading. All comments are welcome. Also, a big thanks to everyone at Rex for making it such a great afternoon’s flying.
flymia From United States of America, joined Jun 2001, 6297 posts, RR: 6 Reply 3, posted (2 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 19 hours ago) and read 6324 times:
Another fantastic report. Seems like your having a lot of fun on these flights. I only been to Australia once, next time I am there I going to try to get on a regional flight like this, seems like a great way to see some other the smaller areas most do not see.
"It was just four of us on the flight deck, trying to do our job" (Captain Al Haynes)
Palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1051 posts, RR: 16 Reply 4, posted (2 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 15 hours ago) and read 6212 times:
Good morning, thanks for the replies
Quote: I'm seriously starting to love your trip reports! The photos are stunning too. Your reports remind me of the "good old days", if you know what I mean!
Yes, I am feeling particularly nostalgic for flying the way it used to be. These days, you only tend to get that experience on small regional flights, which is why I am currently enjoying doing as many as I can afford! Thanks for your comments!
ryan h - thanks for your comments too.
flymia - thank you! hope that you get on a regional flight the next time you are in Australia. Yes, I had a lot of fun doing these flights. I also did a Sydney - Canberra - Sydney - Brisbane sector recently so might post a report of that trip as well -that was all with Qantas/Qantaslink.
PlaneHunter From Germany, joined Mar 2006, 6190 posts, RR: 79 Reply 5, posted (2 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 4 hours ago) and read 5817 times:
another great report about regional flying in Australia. Your pictures are excellent, what a pleasure! Good to see you enjoyed flying REX, just like I did last year.
Quoting Palmjet (Thread starter): Although Rex has been around for a few years now, there aren’t that many reports on A.net featuring this airline - Planehunter’s excellent report is the most recent and detailed one featuring Rex.
Quoting Palmjet (Thread starter): Glad I am not travelling on this (having read the recent reports here on A.net)
I have to admit, after getting the A342, I'm not keen either on flying on that carrier again anytime soon...
Quoting Palmjet (Thread starter): After all, if you’re going to Ballina, wouldn’t you rather fly a Saab340 than a Jetstar A320?
Palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1051 posts, RR: 16 Reply 6, posted (2 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 3 hours ago) and read 5755 times:
Hi PH - thanks for your comments and feedback. I was inspired by your Rex report from your travels down under last year! Yes, although I was keen to sample the AR 342, I think I was happy enough to experience that through the excellent trip reports on A.net !! Cheers P/jet
Palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1051 posts, RR: 16 Reply 8, posted (2 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 13 hours ago) and read 5500 times:
Markus - thanks very much for your comments. Glad you enjoyed the report and pics. If you get a chance to get to Australia again - you must go. I am sure A.net readers would love to see some trip reports from you from this part of the world. The Saab 340 is getting quite rare in Europe these days so I was pleased to be able to add this type to my log. Cheers P/jet
Palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1051 posts, RR: 16 Reply 10, posted (2 years 1 month 1 week 4 days 9 hours ago) and read 5403 times:
Quote: Probably gives me something to do on my next flying trip around Aussie! Nice pics.
Thanks for your post. Yep, would definitely recommend it.
Quote: I found the calamari from Doyle's better than the fish and chips - in fact probably the best calamari I've ever had in my life. I'll see if I can get a main sized dish next time I go there!
Oh yes indeed! Yummy indeed. We also had some calamari and it was amazing. The Barramundi that I had for the main course was incredible.
Quote: AR wan't too horrible! It was a fun experience, also to grab the A342!
True indeed - glad it was you and the fact that you posted an excellent trip report. I felt like I've done it now too !
Quote: Rex sure does look like a nice little airline. Too bad fares seem pretty steep!
Rex was indeed great and like all airlines these days, you need to plan in advance for any chance of a decent fare. Some fares are high depending on whether there is competition on the route. I was glad to be able to try them out as they don't fly in or out of BNE, where I was based during this trip back to Australia. Cheers P/jet
FlyingFinn76 From Finland, joined Jun 2009, 1705 posts, RR: 41 Reply 11, posted (2 years 1 month 1 week 3 days 19 hours ago) and read 5260 times:
Wow, your Australia experiences continue with this excellent report. Very beautiful pictures of Sydney and NSW, liked those a lot, and of course the (mostly) beautiful sunny Australian weather helped a lot!
REX does look like a very nice niche carrier, that route network has quite a few interesting milk runs. Good service and from what you wrote I gather their staff have that laid back, friendly attitude that Australians are world famous for!
The Saab is a great little plane - not that rare in my log as there used to be quite a few flying in Finland (all gone now except for Air Åland operated by NextJet) and still are around the Nordics - I think I've logged around 30 segments on the type which is not too shabby.
Quoting Palmjet (Thread starter): Oh how I wished I had known about the multi-stop Mt Isa - Townsville service on Rex.....next time!
Funny, exactly my though when I looked at the route map!
Palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1051 posts, RR: 16 Reply 12, posted (2 years 1 month 1 week 3 days 11 hours ago) and read 5183 times:
FF76 - hello !
Quote: Wow, your Australia experiences continue with this excellent report. Very beautiful pictures of Sydney and NSW, liked those a lot, and of course the (mostly) beautiful sunny Australian weather helped a lot!
Thanks v much for your comments.
Quote: The Saab is a great little plane - not that rare in my log as there used to be quite a few flying in Finland (all gone now except for Air Åland operated by NextJet) and still are around the Nordics - I think I've logged around 30 segments on the type which is not too shabby.
You've done well. I seem to have missed the SF340s heyday for some reason, so glad that I managed to get one in the log. Rex operate a large fleet of them as well which I also found surprising. Good work logging 30 segments - I also agree that it is a great little plane.
Quote: Funny, exactly my though when I looked at the route map!
lol - still kicking myself...
Quote: Any more Oz adventures coming up?
I did a Brisbane - Sydney - Canberra - Sydney - Brisbane flight with Qantas/Qantaslink so am thinking of doing a short report. I am also thinking of reporting the CX flight I took from Brisbane - Cairns - Hong Kong on the way back the UK. While CX has been reported many times, I don't recall that particular route being featured before.
AlwaysOnAPlane From United Kingdom, joined Sep 2010, 299 posts, RR: 2 Reply 15, posted (2 years 1 month 1 week 3 days 2 hours ago) and read 5026 times:
Once again an amazing report here. Very nicely written and as ever your photos are just amazing. The scenery is spectacular and I particularly like the lighting effects on the return leg. Some amazing looking beaches down there.
All I can say is "keep em commin mate". Very much looking forward to your next write up.
Palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1051 posts, RR: 16 Reply 17, posted (2 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 2 hours ago) and read 4871 times:
Hi Lee - great to hear from you. Thanks for your comments and glad you enjoyed it. Yes, the beaches in this part of the world are amazing. I had forgotten just how beautiful Australia is. Next trip report currently being planned! Thanks again.
Kent350787 - yes, this is something that is not well known. I was certainly surprised how many Rex now have. Thanks for your post. P/jet
ba724 From Australia, joined Nov 2010, 44 posts, RR: 0 Reply 18, posted (1 year 10 months 3 weeks 3 days 16 hours ago) and read 4033 times:
Hi Palmjet..What a great TR ,I actually flew REX a couple of months back from Sydney to Taree on the Mid North Coast.Fabulous little plane the SAAB,I took a quantity of pics but never got around to doing a TR.We had quite a bumpy approach into Taree but that was heaps of fun in this small plane,would travel again tomorrow with REX and the mighty SAAB'S.Thanks for a great TR Best from Dave
Palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1051 posts, RR: 16 Reply 19, posted (1 year 10 months 3 weeks 3 days 14 hours ago) and read 3984 times:
Quote: What a great TR ,I actually flew REX a couple of months back from Sydney to Taree on the Mid North Coast.Fabulous little plane the SAAB,I took a quantity of pics but never got around to doing a TR.We had quite a bumpy approach into Taree but that was heaps of fun in this small plane,would travel again tomorrow with REX and the mighty SAAB'S.Thanks for a great TR Best from Dave
Hi there - thanks for your comments. I've never flown into Taree but I remember many years ago (my first time in Sydney actually) and hearing boarding calls being made for an East West F27 flight that was going to Taree and the on to Port Macquarie. I've always remembered that for some reason. Glad you enjoyed Rex as well - even if a little bumpy. Those are my favourite type of flights as well (a few bumps here and there!) Are you going to do a TR? Would love to see it.