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.
Not having flown with Rex before, nor having a SF340 in my log, I was very excited about another regional trip in Australia only a few days after my trip to Mt Isa (see "888": 8hrs, 8 Segments On An Aussie Dash 8 (pics) (by Palmjet Apr 3 2011 in Trip Reports)
Welcome to another trip report from Australia.
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 time: 1hr 30mins (approximate)
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
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
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.
’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.