jamesontheroad From United Kingdom, joined Jul 2005, 559 posts, RR: 1 Posted (3 years 7 months 3 weeks 3 days ago) and read 15070 times:
Earlier this week I posted a trip report of my recent flight with Loganair (flying for FlyBe) from Glasgow to Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands (read it here: Loganair (FlyBe) Saab 340B: GLA - LSI (pics) (by jamesontheroad Sep 5 2011 in Trip Reports) and also be sure to check some of my other trips, linked at the bottom of this trip report).
This was my first trip to the Shetland Islands, and had only been made possible by a favourable redemption of some generally worthless FlyBe “Rewards4All” points.
While in Shetland I had various tentative plans for places to go, things to see, beers to drink, etc. However, with only five nights on the islands, I also knew that I would have only one or two days when my schedule would be free enough to possibly allow a trip to one of the outlying islands.
For those who feel they need one, here’s a brief geography primer. The Shetland Islands are an archipelago in the North Atlantic, about 150km north-east of the northernmost tip of mainland Great Britain, about 300km south-east of the Faroe Islands and about 300km west of Norway. The islands are part of (and in fact the northern most point in) the United Kingdom, although their culture, people and even placenames strongly reflect their close Norse heritage. There are more than one hundred islands in the archipelago, but only 16 are permanently inhabited. Around the ‘Mainland’ of Shetland are clustered the larger islands of Yell, Unst, Fetlar, Bressay, and Whalsay. Smaller off-shore islands include Foula, the Out Skerries, Papa Stour, Muckle Roe and (furthest from the mainland) Fair Isle. Reliable, affordable and regular ferries operated by the Shetland Islands Council connect these many islands to one another; sometimes as often as every thirty minutes between the Mainland and the larger neighbours.
Prior to my arrival in Shetland, I had downloaded the inter island ferry timetables from the website of the Shetland Islands Council, and made some initial plans to try and experience one of the smaller offshore communities.
However, in addition to these passenger ferries, there is a small network of inter-island flights. These are operated by the small UK based airline Directflight for the Shetland Islands Council - although most of Directflight’s business is in fact related to maritime patrols and scientific observations. Whereas Loganair’s scheduled air service and some oil and gas charter flights serve the large and well equipped Sumburgh Airport (LSI) in the south of Shetland (the rest of the charters going to Scatsta SCS in the north), Directflight instead base their two Britten Norman Islanders at Tingwall Airport in the central mainland of Shetland, a shorter drive from Lerwick, the capital of Shetland and largest town.
So you can see by now where this trip report is headed
I arrived in Shetland on the last day of August, and waking in Lerwick the next day, I had a had a hankering for an adventure. On the spur of the moment I checked the Shetland Islands air timetables and realised I might be in time to make one of the thrice weekly round trips to the islands of Out Skerries. I made a quick call to Directflight’s office and established that if I could get to Tingwall by 0845 I should be able to join the flight to Out Skerries. I was, you won’t be surprised to hear, in the car before I’d even put the phone down.
Tingwall Airport is probably no more than 10km from Lerwick. It’s located in the valley of Tingwall, which was the site of the old Norse parliament of the islands. Approaching from Lerwick in the south-east, the airport is visible from some distance on the A970 north-south road. The airport has a single 2,500ft paved runway 02/20, a small hangar and a handful of outbuildings.
Inside, the friendly Directflight ground staff welcomed me and told me that a weather forecast was due in the next ten minutes. There was an indication that the wind was not going to be favourable for a trip to Out Skerries, but that I should take a seat in the waiting room next door just in case. I cross the corridor and joined the only other waiting passenger, a gentleman was heading to Out Skerries to deliver some weekly classes to students on the island. We chatted briefly, and having only been up less than an hour, I took a coffee from the counter top beverage machine.
This was surely the smallest airport and smallest check-in hall I’d ever experienced. It was almost comical, given how personal and friendly the service from the Directflight ground staff was, that they had gone to the trouble of buying a little check-in podium. To the right were scales for weighing baggage, and to the left was a DVD player and flat screen television for showing the brief safety video.
Sadly the news that came back ten minutes later was not good, and one of the ground staff returned to tell us that a departure was unlikely to be possible until the early afternoon. My fellow passenger was advised to head home, where Directflight staff would be able to call him when the flight plan was confirmed. Although there would still be two round trips today, he acknowledged it may not be worth his while for just an hour or two on the islands.
Meanwhile, I enquired about other flights planned for that day. The agent suggested something that I hadn’t thought possible from the timetable - a trip to Foula (FOA) and back. The flight would be more expensive (£55 return) but the scenery would arguably be much more impressive. If was still interested, I could return an hour later for a departure at 10:00.
You can now consider the thought process I was having: £55 for a round trip to one of the most scenic and remote island communities in the UK, and it would be in a Britten Norman Islander. I joked with the agent that it was time I experienced a landing in an Islander, having only flown that type of aircraft before when I did a fixed-line parachute jump more than ten years previously
I was sold. I agreed to return about an hour later, and returned to Lerwick for breakfast.
Thursday 1 September 2011 Tingwall Airport (LWK / EGET) to Foula (FOA) and return Airline: Directflight Flight number: DFLOU3 (DFLOU4 return) Scheduled departure time: 1100 GMT +1 Scheduled arrival time: 1115 GMT +1 Type of aircraft: Britten Norman Islander BN-2 Registration: G-SICA Load: 1 pilot & 2 passengers Seat: co-pilot’s
I was back at Tingwall a short while later. The same ground staff welcomed me back and I chatted briefly with her and one of the Directflight pilots. While she handled my credit card purchase of the flight (which, like many such POS transactions in Shetland, seemed to take much longer to dial up and connect than in mainland Scotland) she explained that we were waiting on just one other passenger to join me for the flight. I was shown a very brief safety video on the DVD player. A computer animation demonstrated how to put on my life jacket and how to leave the plane safely, although the Islander was evidently much smaller than the generic fuselage used in the animation! The Islander can carry eight passengers and some cargo, although for bulky or heavy items the ferry (and annual supply ship) is the most efficient way for non-perishable supplies to reach Foula.
My ticket was hand-written on pre-printed ticket stock. This was the first indication I’d seen of a particular flight number, although later in flight I would simply hear the pilot refer to us as “Directflight one”.
It being a mild day without much wind, I stepped outside to wait on the bench outside the little terminal. A few cars came and went, including a Royal Mail van collecting and delivering mail sacks for the outlying islands.
G-SICA, one of the two Britten Norman Islanders employed by Directflight for these services, was on stand awaiting her next sortie. Behind her, and just visible in this photograph, was G-SASD of the Scottish Air Ambulance service.
While waiting for my fellow passenger to arrive, two ambulances arrived and proceeded directly to the ramp. Each unloaded one stretcher-bound passenger onto the air ambulance; and within a few minutes G-SASD was preparing for a departure on runway 20. I didn’t ask after this flight, but assume it was heading to Aberdeen (ABZ) or perhaps Inverness (INV), being the nearest hospitals in mainland Scotland that regularly receive patients via air ambulance.
A short while later a taxi arrived, and the driver said hello. He entered the terminal, but within a few moments it was apparent something was wrong. I later discovered (much to the profuse apologies of the local taxi company) that the taxi dispatch office had confused the other passenger’s booking, sending the car to collect her from the airport when in fact she was waiting at home for a lift to the airport. The driver quickly departed, and returned a short while later with profuse apologies and my fellow passenger. She purchased her ticket (the credit card machine taking a good five minutes to process the transaction) and was invited to watch the safety video.
I had no luggage with me, so my fellow passengers’ items were the only packages to be weighed and transferred out to the plane in the back of a pick up truck. Once the paperwork had been arranged, the ground staff agent invited us to follow her out to the plane.
As we approached the ramp, she turned to me and said the words which will doubtless go down as the highlight of my holiday in the Shetland Islands:
“Do you mind if I sit you next to the pilot?”
As I mentioned earlier, the only previous experience I had of the Britten Norman Islander was a charity parachute jump. It was infinitely more reassuring to know I’d be experience two take offs and two landings in G-SICA today. That parachute jump had been facilitated by my earlier life as a Royal Air Force Air Cadet. Climbing into the number two seat of the little Islander cabin instantly transported me back to the many enjoyable ‘Air Experience Flights’ I had flown in RAF Bulldog training aircraft as a cadet. While the Islander is naturally a very different aircraft, the smell of a small prop plane, the sounds of the fuel pump, electrics, switches and systems all took me back to those first intimate flights.
The doors on the fuselage of the Islander are on alternate sides for the different rows of seating, so I climbed in from the left side while my fellow passenger climbed in from the right just behind me. We exchanged a few pleasantries; she being a local who visited her aunt on Foula about twice a year. She would be there for about five days.
We were joined by a pilot, a charming man originally from Botswana. I later asked him how he ended up here in Shetland - and of course the reason was love. He had married a local girl and been here for five years. It is thanks to his warm welcome and friendly service that this report has been made possible, so I must acknowledge and thank him for letting me ask him so many questions and photograph so much of what follows. He told us both that the weather was clear and that we’d be climbing to just 1,000ft for the fifteen minute flight over to Foula. We should expect to see some great views of the western coastline of Shetland as we passed over it and began the ~ 25km sea crossing.
I am, sadly, more familiar with the experience of flight as self-loading freight (!), most recently and frequently on the Airbus A319 of EasyJet or Dash 8 Q400 of FlyBe. Therefore, I must apologise for not reporting in detail the cockpit procedures and experience in detail. I was just excited like a five year old to be on the verge of experiencing this flight from the flight deck.
The pilot conducted a walk round, and then began working through his checklists. All systems were functioning and reporting fine, and it wasn’t long before he was ready to request clearance to taxi to the runway and backtrack to the end of runway 20.
We turned at the threshold of runway 20 and the pilot opened up the throttle for one final check. Permission to take off was sought, and we were quickly rolling for a very rapid take off.
I’ve been in this position before, with only my handheld point-and-shoot Nikon Coolpix camera. Should I take photographs, or a video, or neither and just enjoy the experience? I decided to try and capture a video, which you’ll find here on YouTube, although apologies for the poor quality:
Foula presents a magnificent profile to the rest of Shetland: a huge dark hulk on the horizon. There are five distinct peaks, the tallest being more than 400m (1300 feet) above sea level. For the rest of the flight, I think it’s best if I just let the photographs do the talking.
We were soon approaching the magnificent island of Foula. The island has a population of around thirty. A small ferry operates between Foula and the mainland of Shetland thrice weekly in the summer, twice weekly in the winter, although these sailings can easily be disrupted by bad weather. Unlike most other ferries around Shetland, the boat is not a ro-ro vessel, so vehicles and large freight can’t be easily carried.
As we began to descend into Foula, I caught sight of the airstrip in the south-east of the island. As you can see in this photograph, it lies on a hill, which is disconcerting when you land and take off without a clear view of the end of the runway.
Foula is undoubtedly one of the remotest island communities in the UK. I’ve traveled to many Scottish islands, and seen few as rugged and isolated as Foula. While it wouldn’t be possible to stay for more than a few minutes this time, and while I doubt I’d want to push my vertigo to exploring the famous west coast cliffs of the island, I have a hunch that one day I’ll make it back for longer.
Again, I chose to film the landing. Having approached from the east, we banked and descended towards the little gravel air strip. Two large white stones indicate the thresholds of the runway. While a little unnerving to land ‘uphill’, and then slow down as we crested the rise and started going downhill, the landing was smooth and the deceleration was quick.
Our pilot deftly turned the Islander on the spot and we began to backtrack towards the little ‘terminal’ (hut) and assembled group of islanders. We turned again and came to a halt on the runway, there being no ramp to speak of.
Foula has fire cover provided by two islanders and this impressive all terrain Iveco truck. The same two islanders provide ground services for Directflight, and handled the paperwork with our pilot during our brief stop on the ground.
We loaded up with four passengers heading from the island to the mainland. Later that day, back in Lerwick, I started chatting with a man who had recognised me from the flight. A life long Foula resident, he was making a week long trip to Lerwick to purchase and assemble the necessary building supplies to undertake the reconstruction of a building destroyed by fire the previous year. A supply ship, which could carry outsized cargo and materials, was making its annual visit later in the year, and was profiting from a week on shore (so to speak) to get everything together and delivered to the harbour in Lerwick for delivery later in the autumn.
We turned and backtrack to take off towards the south. We’d been on the ground for all of ten or fifteen minutes. It was regrettable I had chosen not to spend any longer on Foula, but I simply couldn’t stay overnight this time. I’ll be back, I promise!
All too soon, our fifteen minute return flight was nearing its end. During the flight back air traffic control at Sumburgh had handled the flight without much incident, advising us only to be aware of a Cessna traveling south from Scatsta above us at about 2,000ft. We approached Tingwall from the north for a perfect touch down on runway 20. A few moments before landing the controller at Tingwall warned the pilot to be aware of a large and disparate flock of geese that was in the air above the runway, although by the time were on finals they were safely clear.
I thanked the pilot profusely for the experience. In the back of the mind is always the decision I took long ago to follow a career that would take me away from the flight deck and towards something else - something just as rewarding to me, but something that still pales in comparison with a job like this!
The Shetland Islands are relatively easy, if not affordable, to visit. If you do make it there, either via Loganair’s scheduled air service for FlyBe to Sumburgh, a North Sea oil and gas charter flight to Sumburgh or Scatsta, or even by cruise liner into the beautiful Lerwick harbour, be sure to try and carve out some time to get to Tingwall to experience an inter-island flight. The fares are quite reasonable, especially for the experience of scheduled passenger service in an Islander. Day trips are possible to various outlying islands on different days of the week, but for the real experience you could consider an overnight stop or perhaps flying out and returning by ferry.
All ferry and inter-island timetables, fares and contact details are accessible through the Transport pages of the Shetland Islands Council website: http://www.shetland.gov.uk/
To all the staff and crew at Directflight, many thanks for humouring me and letting me experience your great little organisation. My apologies if I’ve mis-represented any aspect of your operation, but I hope this trip report inspires a few a.nutters to make the trip to Shetland and to experience this essential air service.
If you enjoyed my trip report, there are many others! Please drop me a line in the comments with thoughts, questions or suggestions.
BAViscount From United Kingdom, joined Mar 2004, 2338 posts, RR: 3
Reply 4, posted (3 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days 13 hours ago) and read 13986 times:
Great report again...I really didn't expect it to be up so quickly!
Loved the videos too, there's something about the sound of the Islanders/Trislanders that really lets you know you're flying! Brought back memories of my flights on Aurigny Trislanders around the Channel Islands.
Seeing your photos of the Shetlands makes me wonder what the Shetland Islanders make of trees when they travel to the mainland!
Thanks again for this great report, and on an airline I'd never even heard of.
Ladies & gentlemen this is Captain Tobias Wilcock welcoming you aboard Coconut Airways flight 372 to Bridgetown Barb
MasterBean From UK - England, joined Apr 2010, 181 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (3 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days ago) and read 13524 times:
Loved the photos and report. When I get some time off I'm thinking of heading up to the Shetlands or Orkney's to look around and fly on the Islander. I've decided I like these small propeller planes as you get a real sense of flying and a great view of the scenery below.
signol From United Kingdom, joined Oct 2007, 3059 posts, RR: 8
Reply 6, posted (3 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days ago) and read 13517 times:
This is simply awesome, and well written, I almost felt like I was there
A shame I didn't think of this on my visit in 2004, but at least I didn't have the money then for joy flights!
Another visit in the coming years may be in order!
gabrielchew From United Kingdom, joined Aug 2005, 3504 posts, RR: 11
Reply 8, posted (3 years 7 months 3 weeks 1 day 19 hours ago) and read 13240 times:
Great report - I've always wanted to visit some Scottish Islands. A few years ago I had a flight booked (and hotel booked) on a Jetstream 31 from INV to Stornoway with an airline I've forgotten the name of, and has since vanished. They cancelled the flight though, and I lost my hotel booking. Very annoyed about it still! Never heard of Directflight before - must check them out.
gpbcroppers63 From Ireland, joined Jan 2008, 534 posts, RR: 0
Reply 10, posted (3 years 7 months 3 weeks 1 day 13 hours ago) and read 12999 times:
Love the TR. Thanks for posting. It brings back great memories of my trip on an Islander from Connemara airport just outside Galway over to Inishmore. Looks like a very similar experience. 1000ft above the sea and a sharp turn onto a short island runway. I can highly recommend it to anyone who ends up in the Galway area.
According to one of my colleagues, my problem is that I'm addicted to travel!
B737900 From United States of America, joined Aug 2010, 204 posts, RR: 0
Reply 11, posted (3 years 7 months 3 weeks 1 day 9 hours ago) and read 12917 times:
Very, very nice trip report. I could very much relate to sitting up front. I have lived on two islands in Alaska and Washington state for the past 35 years. The fastest way off and on was to fly. Many times I would get to sit up front in Beavers, Caravans, twin Otters and small Cessenas. Love you TR. Thanks
Sounds like a Beaver on floats..........we're saved!!
jamesontheroad From United Kingdom, joined Jul 2005, 559 posts, RR: 1
Reply 13, posted (3 years 7 months 2 weeks 3 days ago) and read 11940 times:
Thank you all for your kind comments...
Quoting ryan h (Reply 1): Want to come off a A380 to a plane like that. I will do it in 2012.
Quoting TCASAlert (Reply 3): EK A380 -> AKL, Great Barrier Airlines Islander from there
I flew back to GLA with Loganair in another of their Saab 340B, and we touched down just a minute or so after the daily EK 777 had arrived from DXB. We taxyed past as it was pulling on to stand, and I wondered whether anyone on board was looking down at our little aeroplane having the same big/small thoughts as me Time it right at GLA and you get to see that aircraft alongside one of Loganair's two Tw'Otters
Quoting ryan h (Reply 1): Now that is something different from the usual trip reports on here.
Quoting EDTrauma (Reply 9): Very impressed throughout. Funny how the shortest flights can make the more interesting TR's. Great Job!
Thank you; I only like to contribute something when it's unusual, and unlike many regular posters here I don't get to turn left when boarding very often. My TRs are generally about obscure planes/routes rather than exclusive cabins
Quoting BAViscount (Reply 4): Great report again...I really didn't expect it to be up so quickly!
Thank you - it was more of a photographic trip report, really, so when I go home it just wrote itself
Quoting BAViscount (Reply 4): Loved the videos too, there's something about the sound of the Islanders/Trislanders that really lets you know you're flying! Brought back memories of my flights on Aurigny Trislanders around the Channel Islands.
Funnily enough I saw a Trislander of Aurigny at SOU just the other day. After the Islander they look even stranger; I'd need a very eloquent aeronautical engineer to explain to me how and why a tail mounted prop makes any sense at all
Quoting MasterBean (Reply 5): When I get some time off I'm thinking of heading up to the Shetlands or Orkney's to look around and fly on the Islander. I've decided I like these small propeller planes as you get a real sense of flying and a great view of the scenery below.
It took me right back to my first air experience flights as a cadet in a RAF Bulldog... the smells, the sounds, the proximity to moving parts. Flying in a small aircraft is a quite intoxicating experience, one that I will never forget.
Quoting signol (Reply 6): This is simply awesome, and well written, I almost felt like I was there
Quoting signol (Reply 6): A shame I didn't think of this on my visit in 2004, but at least I didn't have the money then for joy flights!
Erm, neither did I really, but as they say "for everything else, there's Mastercard"
Quoting Lap747 (Reply 7): Would love to do some flights like this, it looks fun! I have also never heard of this airline, but it looks like you enjoyed your days flying.
I did, and I hope very much you get the opportunity as I did.
Quoting gpbcroppers63 (Reply 10): Love the TR. Thanks for posting. It brings back great memories of my trip on an Islander from Connemara airport just outside Galway over to Inishmore. Looks like a very similar experience. 1000ft above the sea and a sharp turn onto a short island runway. I can highly recommend it to anyone who ends up in the Galway area.
Well reminded - I would love to make that trip myself. I have one foot planted firmly in Ireland at the moment, so it would only take a little bit of co-ordination...
gpbcroppers63 From Ireland, joined Jan 2008, 534 posts, RR: 0
Reply 14, posted (3 years 7 months 2 weeks 1 day 13 hours ago) and read 11578 times:
Quoting jamesontheroad (Reply 13): Well reminded - I would love to make that trip myself. I have one foot planted firmly in Ireland at the moment, so it would only take a little bit of co-ordination...
Yeah it is a fab experience. I'd love to do it again. Even though I live just outside Galway, it's one of those things that you only tend to do when you have visitors. Lol!!
According to one of my colleagues, my problem is that I'm addicted to travel!
Palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1233 posts, RR: 15
Reply 15, posted (3 years 7 months 1 week 6 days 14 hours ago) and read 11240 times:
Hi there. Great report and pics - thanks so much for preparing this report. Some amazing landscapes up there. I flew to Barra a few years back on the Twin Otter which was a unique experience, but I'd really love to fly to the Shetlands as well. Thanks for showing us an amazing experience you had.
Quoting ryan h (Reply 1):
On my recent trip to Vanada, did some float plane flying and sat in the front seat of a Beaver.
Great trip report! I can remember leaving on a canoe trip in Manitoba once where I had the right seat in a float equipped DH Beaver. Right before takeoff the pilot handed me his half eaten apple and asked me to hold it for him during takeoff. An experience I will never forget.