Some of you may remember the report I did last year of an awesome daytrip to FRA in the company of a.net member BA777. I mentioned at the end of the report that we’d definitely be daytripping again somewhere in Europe. And here we are, daytrip mk II, oddly enough to exactly the same place – FRA – on exactly the same day – April 11th – as last year. So if lots of over-detailed writing and of course the infamous technical data is what you’re after, read on, and if it’s not, well we’ve included plenty of pretty pictures to break up the monotony. Highlights of the day included:
- Running up the exit ramp of a car park marked “no pedestrians” and climbing over a fence to try and get to the perimeter path
- Getting sworn at by a German builder in a GateGourmet depot
- Me trying to ask for a baguette in German
- Getting a massage from a business class seat
- Getting a lift to the FRA terminals in a Mercedes
- Henry exchanging insults with an LH captain about the Royal Family
We decided to daytrip back to FRA for several reasons but mainly because of the allure of the LH Technik facilities. Last year we spent several hours looking around the hangars including half an hour onboard D-AIHE, one of LH’s newest A340-600s, and this year we hoped to have a look at some of the other aircraft in LH’s longhaul fleet. In this respect a daytrip to FRA is much more than just a day out spotting with some flying there and back, the access to the hangars is unique and well worth the visit in itself.
The date – April 11th – just turned out to be best for the prices. Booking in late January, we got return tickets with LH for £73 fully inclusive of taxes which isn’t bad at all considering we paid £89 for BA return last year. Going on LH would mean getting on the A300 – not your average European short haul ride – trying out a new airline in my case, and – of more debatable value – going through T1 at FRA and T2 at LHR.
Joining me and Henry (BA777) for the daytrip would be Sam (sam1987), a very good friend of mine who used to be in my school’s sixth form and is now a first year undergraduate at Leeds University, and Gurch, another great friend who at 16 has already completed his PPL and night rating at Benson with an Excel 737 captain and is now starting on IMC rating, even though the CAA won’t let him have his license till he turns 17!
On the German side we were expecting to meet up with another very good friend, Patrick Potrafke, aka legendary a.net forum moderator Sabena332. Unfortunately Patrick was kept back in Washington at the last minute to help fix a computer system problem. This meant we didn’t have a car at FRA as we were expecting, but this certainly gave us a lot of exercise as you will discover…
Enough rambling, on with the report!
The day began for Sam and I at 5:25am just outside Watford, where we had been staying the night. We caught a local bus to Watford Junction station and then took the 5:53am Green Line 724 bus direct to Heathrow. Traffic in Rickmansworth and Uxbridge was thankfully light and the bus deposited us on time at the newly renovated Central Bus Station. According to the sign inside it’s the most advanced bus and coach station on the planet, boasting the world’s first inflatable roof (?!). Inside there are cheesy “arrivals and departures” boards showing when each coach is due and where it’s “boarding” etc…
T2 check-in at 9am on a weekday morning redefines the meaning of the word “claustrophobia”. At 7am it’s hardly any better. We soon caught up with Gurch and helped him choose his seat using the LH Self Service check in machine. We thought it made sense to check in for the return flight as well to save time in Frankfurt, and the machine confirmed that an A300 had been assigned for the outbound flight and A321 back to LHR in the evening. Gurch chose left hand window seats behind the wing on the A300 and in front of the wing on the A321. The machine promptly printed out the boarding passes, how wonderful technology can be when it works!
After another five minutes Henry arrived – he had been dropped off by his dad who by coincidence was flying out to JFK on VS3, G-VBIG, 20 minutes after us. Henry had tried checking in online with LH the night before but the user interface sounds rather archaic. Unlike the self service machines, there is no seating plan. You just choose from a window seat or an aisle seat. Where you are placed on the aircraft, and on which side, is entirely pot luck. Henry had struck unlucky, being assigned a right hand seat. For a 27R departure from LHR using the Dover SID to FRA, this is great if you want to inspect the houses in Sipson village and see lots of grey English sky, but absolutely no good for seeing anything of the airport. Henz inserted his card in and after a lot of “please wait” screens the machine thrust it straight back at him, saying all of us on his group booking had already had our seats assigned. We decided it was time to get someone human to sort out our seating.
After 10 minutes of queuing we were able to explain the problems to a very helpful LH representative. We explained carefully which seats we wanted and after a lot of typing into his computer and frowning at the screen, new boarding cards were printed – with just the seats we didn’t want. He then disappeared to the other end of the check in hall and returned a further 10 minutes later with the right boarding cards…though it felt like forever waiting with the rest of the check in operating around us. Wahey! There was now not a great deal of time till boarding so we headed straight for security.
Once through security (tip – don’t take an A380 model in your hand luggage if you don’t want to get your bags thoroughly searched … ) we made our way through T2 and the Flight Connections Centre to the Europier, where windows are somewhat more prolific and seats aplenty. From here we could also inspect traffic on 27L, which this morning was all arrivals. As usual, the pier was home to the usual line up BA 744s on its south side, along with, more unusually, The Great North, SA 747-400 ZS-SBK, on 147 (usually SAA aircraft use the middle pier). Across the other side of the cul-de-sac on stand 134 was ZS-SNA, an SAA A340-600 which had operated the SA220 flight from CPT (I flew on this flight 2 years ago, when it was operated by the 747-400). LHR is, rightly or wrongly, becoming something of a 346 hotspot with VS’s every growing fleet, SA using the 346 daily on the CPT runs now, CX on the late night HKG flights and Qatar rumoured to be replacing some 330 services with the 346HGW and also Etihad with their A340-500s beginning in August.
It occurred to me that we should see our A300 arriving on the inbound FRA flight, as we had not seen any LH A300s on the way past the T2 stands that LH normally use and it was about the right time. Sure enough, about five minutes after arriving in the Europier the distinctive shape of an A300 appeared on the horizon. As it glided down for a smooth touchdown on 27L we caught the registration – D-AIAR. Listening into LHR Ground I heard it being cleared onto stand 207 – about a 10 minute walk from the Europier. After another five minutes’ photo shooting we decided it was time to head to the gate.
Our carriage has arrived! D-AIAR gliding down onto 27L at 8:25am local
G-EUOG getting loaded up on 143 ready for departure to MAD as BA458
D-AIAR on 207 taken from the Flight Connections Centre
London Heathrow (LHR/EGLL) – Frankfurt Main (FRA/EDDF)
Airbus A300-600R D-AIAR
Tuesday April 11th 2006
Scheduled departure: 0905 Actual departure: 0931
Scheduled arrival: 1135 Actual arrival: 1133
Photo © Paul Jongeneelen
Photo © Denis Roschlau
Technical flight information…. Non existent!
I’m afraid I lost the sheet with the tech data on it! In fact, the flight crew hardly filled any of it in. Here’s the route though, which I remember was the same as last year:
That’s EGLL DVR5F DVR UL9 KONAN UL607 SPI UT180 DITEL T180 OSMAX OSMAX2E EDDF. Only slight mistake in that route picture is we landed on 25R, not 07R, so actually had a long downwind stretch north of FRA and then looped back round. Thanks to fallingrain.com for the map.
There were a fair number of passengers congregated in the gate area when we arrived, and D-AIAR was clearly visible getting loaded up outside for the return trip, the airbridge connected onto door 2L so J pax don’t get disturbed by the ruffians wandering through their cabin . The time for boarding, however, came and went, and it was only at 8:55am (scheduled departure time of 9:05am) that the first boarding was announced. LH assign boarding cards with a “zone” between 1 and 4. What zone you are allocated seemed to be entirely random. Sam and I had seats next to each other and had checked in at exactly the same time yet I had zone 1 and he zone 4. Zone 1 was announced first, so Gurch – who also had a zone 1 card - and I headed to the desk.
Ready for boarding
Onboard, I was instantly reminded that this was a widebody by the much roomier fuselage and, of course, a second aisle. A polite FA greeted us and pointed down towards the back along the left aisle. The aircraft condition was not bad, although the seats aren’t up to BA standards and the cabin, completely grey, looked a bit drab. We reached the seats to find Gurch’s already taken – great start! It was an elderly couple, and an FA explained they had been moved and would Gurch mind sitting in the exit row? Of course he didn’t – much more legroom . I took my assigned seat in the row behind the elderly couple. One big plus point of the A300 is the 2-4-2 seating arrangement LH use, it’s never very far to an aisle.
I noticed an FA hanging around so pulled out my forms, put on the usual beaming smile and gave them to her to pass on the captain. I have a 100% success rate with these although it would have to be a very stingy FA to refuse… A few minutes later Sam and Henry appeared in the last boarding group. Henry took his new exit row seat next to Gurch and Sam next to me.
Wing prior to pushback
Boarding continued until about 9:20am. A brief welcome aboard from the purser followed, promising a flight time of an hour to Frankfurt. No word from the flight deck, however, and no explanation for the delay.
Pushback clearance was received from LHR Ground with no pushback delay and the engines were started in the push to save time. Taxi clearance followed, left on Alpha and holding at ROKIT for 27R. No hanging around, the engines revved up and we taxied out of the cul-de-sac and left, in front of the Europier in which we had been sitting an hour previously. I always like taxiing past glass buildings in an aircraft and seeing the reflection, a humble reminder of the giant metallic contraption that will soon be rocketing you through the air six miles above the ground at many hundreds of miles an hour.
Engines started, awaiting taxi clearance
Taxiing out onto Alpha, in the background bmi A330 G-WWBM is just visible on tow to stand 127
Holding in front of us this morning were two BA 744s, a BA 777, AA 777 and a bmi A320. We were instructed to line up behind the BA 777 (G-VIIG operating BA185 to EWR) after it began its takeoff roll. LHR was living up to its reputation of the construction site with its own runways - this morning it seemed half the 27R holding area was being dug up. This work is to realign the northern taxiways so that they run straight across to the 27R holds instead of requiring aircraft to turn a corner and then go back on themselves. LHR’s taxiway system is, frankly, a mess. It seems the concept of straight taxiways parallel to the runways and 90 degree corners was alien to the original airport designers.
Wouldn't be LHR if they weren't digging up half the place! This is (I think) preliminary work to realign Alpha so it runs all the way down 27R
With G-VIIG getting going to EWR, we get permission to line up behind
Airport or building site?
I noticed that no flaps were set for takeoff, only slats – something you could only really get away with on an A300 for a European flight. G-VIIG was soon speeding off and we taxied round onto 27R and held as told. Takeoff clearance followed almost immediately – VIIG was probably going out to Compton, separation required after takeoff is less if the two aircraft are going in opposite directions – and the CF6s roared into life.
Rolling… Germany here we come
It was a real rocket-style takeoff, similar in style to the 757 we took to FRA last year, rapidly rotating and climbing away giving great panoramic views of T3 and T5, to those of us who had thought about this in advance and got left window seats . Climbing through 500ft we passed the Thistle Park Heathrow Hotel, where a.net user fraspotter was waiting, camera at the ready! A big thanks to Chris for the two photos from shortly after takeoff, in the second one we are beginning the left turn on the SID at about 3 miles from the 27R threshold (2 DME from the I-AA localiser in technojabble ). Sad as it sounds, it’s always great to have photos of an aircraft and know “I’m in there”.
Stab of left aileron to counter the crosswind
Typical T3 morning line-up, at least 55 aircraft visible in this photo
Remote stands to the west of the CTA. The Malaysia 747-400 in Hibiscus scheme is 9M-MPD
Cheers Chris! Taken from perimeter road opposite LHR Thistle Hotel
Chris’s photos show, alas, that the weather around London was pretty poor this morning. Nonetheless visibility was sufficient to get a good few shots as we did the standard almost 180 degree turn around LHR to the Epsom NDB and then onwards to Detling and Dover VORs. Here’s a selection; sorry - we just couldn’t decide between them! As you can see, most of the infrastructure for T5 is complete, the M25 spur road is almost done now and the car parks are going up behind the main building. Over the next two years the interior of the main terminal and T5B will be completed before the planned opening in March 2008.
T5, a truly vast building and a huge construction site
I think my best photo of the day!
Thanks to SA006 for outstanding edit of this, it’s clickable if you want to view it at larger res
Just past parallel with LHR, the engines spooled down as we had hit the altitude restriction on the Dover SID of 4000 feet until clear of the Ockham and Biggin holds for LHR arrivals above us. There was a good view of London, sprawling into the haze, with the City, Canary Wharf and the Dome just visible on the horizon. Then, with a real kick that pushed us back into our seats, the engines whirred up again and we climbed higher, through the thick cloud layer and up into blue sky at last.
South of London on the Dover SID
Shortly afterwards the seat belt signs were turned off and we continued to climb steadily to 33,000 feet. Unfortunately the white blanket of cloud below made it impossible to tell where we were. About 25 minutes after takeoff and up at cruise altitude, it began to thin out to reveal the approaching Belgian coastline.
The cabin crew now came around offering a choice of drinks and the infamous LH inflight snack – the cheese sandwich. To be precise it’s a cheese and lettuce sandwich, and not particularly tasty at all. Certainly not on the same level as BA’s All Day Deli, which isn’t always terribly thrilling itself. Nonetheless it was nice to have something to eat, since our delay checking in had meant no time to buy breakfast airside.
Cruising over the Channel
As we crossed the coast of Belgium I looked down and saw, as I expected, Ostend airport clearly visible just inside the coast and took a few photos. At this point Gurch leapt out of his seat, came down the aisle and, pointing at Ostend, said “Look guys, it’s Le Touquet!” Errr, are you sure Gurch? For the record, Le Touquet, favourite daytrip location for English PPL-holders, is about 100 miles down the coast from Ostend. Gurch is planning to fly us all there in a Cessna 182 next month, which will certainly be a different sort of daytrip! Anyway, he now assures me he has seen the error of his ways and appreciates the two airfields are 100 miles apart in different countries : ).
The cabin crew came around to collect up rubbish and then vanished from sight for the remainder of the flight. We passed over Brussels and then BRU, where looking closely I could see an A330 on the ground holding for 25R, presumably SNBA. I took a few more photos and then decided to scrutinise the LH inflight magazine.
BRU from FL330, a quieter airport than it looks these days
Half the magazine was, perhaps unsurprisingly, in German, but the section with LH news, their route network and fleet seemed to be in English. The fleet was covered in one page, without any illustrations of the aircraft, though it did at least remind me that the seating capacity on LH’s A300s is 268, which is huge for European routes. In fact, it’s substantially larger than a lot BA’s 777s which seat 220 in high J/F configuration. Looking around the rear cabin, the majority of seats were empty, including almost all the middle block. Over the next page was a lot of propaganda about the 346, and then another section of random articles in German. Enough inflight magazine.
Meanwhile, back in the exit row Henry needed some relief and decided to go for a pitstop at the rear lavatories of the aircraft. In his excitement he leapt from his seat and made rather firm contact with the overhead locker…well I suppose it woke him up properly! Thankfully for him there weren’t (too) many people around to laugh and he continued on his voyage undeterred.
We soon passed into northern Germany and began our descent, virtually undiscernibly, towards FRA. The captain came briefly over the PA system to update us on the weather in Frankfurt (now 6 C temperature, oh joy) and our ETA. However, he didn’t so much as mention the delay. I think if a flight is delayed for 25 minutes, the crew should at least acknowledge it, even if they can’t provide a full explanation.
Looking around the cabin, I noticed a number of window seats on the right hand side of the aircraft were free and suggested to Gurch that he and I move to two of these seats, meaning we would all have a window seat for landing. This turned out to be a good move – within no time the seat belt signs had been turned on and the picturesque German countryside gave way to the suburbs of Frankfurt. We were flying downwind of FRA and would then loop back round to line up for landing on 25L or 25R. On the right hand side we had a great view not only of downtown Frankfurt but FRA itself in the background.
Destination in sight! Downwind for 25R
Turning base, east of Frankfurt
FRA has a number of elaborate RNAV transitions that will route the aircraft onto the final runway approach courses – this means intercepting the localiser directly from an FMC route - and is very useful when the weather turns nasty. However, judging from the weather today and the proximity of other aircraft, I guessed we were on radar vectors. We flew about 8 miles past the airport, descending all the time, then right onto a southerly heading and then sharp right again to pick up the localiser for 25R. Flaps were extended to full and there was a loud airy sound as the gear was lowered and lock into place.
Is this the stadium where England played their first World Cup match against Paraguay?
Over the autobahn, short finals 25R
Moments from touch down, US A330 holding, not really on the centerline!
Final approach onto 25R takes you over a lot of deep forest and then past the Frankfurt suburbs before passing low over the A5 autobahn and down onto the runway. The view of central Frankfurt was great and at least two other aircraft were visible on the downwind leg flying exactly what we’d just done. Soon we swept in over the (very busy) autobahn, down past the regional apron and T2 and then onto 25R, with a US A330 holding to depart after we’d landed. Touchdown was on the firm side, the spoilers shot up and idle reverse was used, making a quick exit about half way down the runway. My third time on German soil, and all within the space of a year! As we taxied back up towards T1 the A330 roared past, CLT-bound I suspect, and just across the field an LH 737-500 was on short finals for 25L. Too bad the USAF base is closed now, it added a little bit of variety the previous year with the military traffic mixing with all the civil activity. And the LH aircraft remote parked on the ramps don’t make up for the C5s, C17s and the like that had their places until last October.
Back on German soil, welcome to Frankfurt
Parking next to an Adria CRJ
I was a bit annoyed to see we turned onto a remote stand, since this tends to pose problems with visiting the flight crew as they don’t like keeping the bus waiting. We pulled in next to an Adria CRJ and the engines whirred down. Gurch and I got up quickly and crossed over to the other side of the cabin to gather our belongings, although it turned out there was no rush as everyone was waiting at least five minutes before the door was opened. We joined the queue and when we reached the front (or rather, 2L, where the stairs were connected to) I asked the FA if it was possible to collect the forms. Usually this is the cue for a visit to the flight deck but after some calling to her colleagues one of them brought them down. I asked if we could quickly meet the captain and have a look up front, but after some debate they apologised and said it was against security regulations.
Apologies for being cynical, but we were not much impressed with the flight. It was late, without even being acknowledged, the crew didn’t seem particularly bothered about us, we were refused access to the flight deck and on examining the forms I saw the bottom half hadn’t even been completed, the FO had scrawled a note apologising, “ran out of time”. Hmmm. At least we were at FRA though and I’d had my first A300 ride, which I have to say really does make a change from your average narrowbody on a European flight.
The bus ride to T1 was, in Gurch’s words, a mini ramp tour, taking in a lot of the T1 apron. In terms of aircraft, all the usual suspects, a Turkish 737-800 taxied very close past us on the way out to 18, and we saw D-AIHE, the A340-600 Henry and I had got on last time we went to the hangars, being loaded up.
The bus eventually dropped us in some strange underground part of the terminal. It wasn’t clear where we were - after we got off the bus we found ourselves in a sort of subterranean gate area with passengers waiting for a flight to RAK. One of the staff asked Sam which flight we had come from, and from the look on her face she would have been perfectly satisfied if we’d said Vietnam Airlines! We got on an escalator, the only route available, and finally saw an “exit” sign on the floor above. Interestingly T1, or at least this part, doesn’t use split level arrivals and departures. I thought this sort of prehistoric habit of having arriving and departing passengers on the same level only survived at LHR , but obviously not! We passed through several security checkpoints and eventually realised we must be landside as the entrance to the terminal was right in front of us, though it really wasn’t clear.
Report continues in the next post...