Goose Bay: where is that? Why Goose Bay? I was very much inspired by the trip report published by ghYHZ, see Air Labrador: Airport Hopping Along The Coast (by ghYHZ Nov 21 2010 in Trip Reports)
covering a multi stop flight up along coastal Labrador with Air Labrador on the Twin Otter. I love the Twotter and had been looking for another flight to take on this increasingly rare but rugged little prop. So far, I only had British Airways/Loganair and Air Moorea in my log of Twotter flights. I was about to include Air Labrador to that list and to do that, I had to get to Goose Bay.
Also, Goose Bay (and also Gander) are both rich in aviation history - being the transatlantic stopover/transit points for airlines before the advent of longer range jet aircraft. I wanted to see what these places were like and see if there were any “ghosts of aviation past” still lingering in 2012.
When exploring flights to Goose Bay from St John’s, there were a couple of options. Air Canada Express could take me there via Gander, on a Beech 1900D, or Provincial Airlines (www.provincialairlines.com) could do the same, but via Deer Lake or St Anthony on a SF340. I had already made plans to fly with Provincial and as I only had one B1900D in my log, I decided to stick with Air Canada.
These would be my flights today:
Date: September 2012
Flight: Air Canada Express AC7617 opb Exploits Valley Air Service (EVAS Air)
From: St John’s Newfoundland (YYT
) - Gander Newfoundland (YQX
Seat: 3A, Economy Class
Date: September 2012
Flight: Air Canada Express AC7643 opb Exploits Valley Air Service (EVAS Air)
From: Gander Newfoundland (YQX
) - Goose Bay Labrador (YYR
Seat: 8B, Economy Class
And on the map (thanks to greatcircle mapper)
Welcome to the second part of my Canada trip. The first part is here:
Terranova Transatlantic: AC A319 To St John's (by palmjet Oct 7 2012 in Trip Reports)
The soft dawn light greeted my last day in St John’s. The day looked to be sunny and clear – in fact, according to the forecasters the previous evening, Newfoundland would be experiencing 3 or 4 days of settled sunny weather which as we all know, makes for perfect flying.
Check out of my hotel was as stress free as check in, and I am soon in a taxi heading for the short 10 minute journey to YYT
. Traffic is minimal at this time of the morning – just after 7am, and while I am exceedingly early for my flight to Gander, and onward to Goose Bay, it would give me a chance to explore the terminal and facilities at St John’s.
Goodbye St John’s - I really want to come back again someday. One last image, taken the day before.
The view of the terminal building from the carpark in the early morning light
St John’s is indeed an international airport
For some unknown reason, I am able to check in online for these two flights today. Air Canada clearly don’t consider me to be security risk on either B1900D flight, so I am also free to also use the SSK at the terminal when I arrive. Not busy, but there are handfuls of people in the ground floor departures area checking in for flights – some for WestJet, others for Air Canada, while the Provincial Airlines counters were also doing brisk business.
Check in is painless, and extremely friendly from the lovely lady at Air Canada –well, this is St John’s after all. My bag is checked through to Goose Bay and I am allowed to take my rucksack and camera bag as carry on items without any problem.
Once all formalities are completed, I make my way around the ground floor for a bit of a wander. The interior is very nice – making use of lots of natural light so it feels airy and spacious.
Surprisingly, I come across the sign directing me to an observation deck. Yay. This is worth exploring in more detail so I head up the escalator and follow the signs.
Sadly the observation area proves to be very small, with limited views through multi layers of glass. Bugger. A nice thought at least.
I head back downstairs in search of sustenance, particularly coffee. Before arriving at the small foodcourt, I pass this work of art, from a local artist, originally hailing from Bulgaria. In fact, Newfoundland seems to have a strong Bulgarian connection. Not one I imagine existed. For instance, I stumbled into Bistro Sofia for lunch one day I was in St John’s which I really enjoyed, and the same day, went on a boat trip and was accompanied by a Bulgarian travelling party. Anyone with a theory on this – please let me know!
The statue remembers September 11, 2001 which I thought was poignant and moving.
I then literally smell the coffee and gravitate toward to small line of people at Tim Horton’s. I am weary of coffee in North America – like in London, it can be very very hit and miss. There is nothing worse than incinerated coffee beans in the morning to make your day go south. Having had a couple of dodgy experiences with TH
in Toronto years before, I select a sickenly sweet coffee in a bid to offset a predicted burnt coffee bean smell. Thankfully, the coffee and muffin turned out just right so that was a disaster well averted.
Sitting opposite me is a gaggle of middle aged ladies bearing United boarding passes, so I assume they are off somewhere via Newark, which is linked to St John’s via United Express.
Breakfast done, I head off to departures and security – to see what’s airside.
Security is quick although I am slowed down somewhat when asked if I am carrying a thermos for some reason. I had to ask twice as I wasn’t sure what I was being asked at first. Newfoundlanders’ accents are nothing like the rest of Canada and my ear took a short time to adjust, but I still had to ask again. It seems that many people bring their own coffee with them... which I guess if they have sampled some of the burnt coffee on offer from some of the coffee chains here, I can understand why. Thankfully, no thermos for me, so I am through to airside with minimal mess and fuss.
It’s still a belts, watches off, ipad out etc affair.
Airside is busier with a few shops and another Tim Horton’s outlet. I decide to invest in buying lunch here to take with me – not knowing when and what I would eat next and whether Gander would have anything available. I am not due to arrive into Goose Bay until mid afternoon. A sandwich and drink, and a lot poorer later (I found food in Canada to be generally on the expensive side – even by London standards), I am all set.
I go and find my gate – which not surprisingly, is a remote non jetway gate. YYT
only has a few jetbridges, but for the number of flights, this seems more than adequate. Looks good for an ontime departure to Gander according to the FIDS.
I watch a bit of hoopla going on at the gate next to mine, as a Provincial Airlines flight to St Anthony and Goose Bay is cancelled. Passengers are being told that a different flight later in the day is being re-routed to accommodate them which, although inconvenient, reflects the agility that only a small airline possesses. I note Provincial Airlines has a small coffee and tea station (free) next to the gate area for passengers although it seems that anyone could help themselves whether they are flying with Provincial or not.
I spot this gorgeous EM190 which is heading to Halifax but is delayed. In the background are few classics – a couple of B727 freighters and US military DC9. Nice to see these birds still on the ground at an airport and not in the scrapyard for sure!
The United Express flight to Newark is being called – a EM170 is operating that flight, but I can’t see the aircraft from the gate area. I think it’s parked at Gate 1 – the same gate I arrived at a few days earlier.
I take a seat and wait to see whether I can spot the first of my Beech 1900Ds for today. In luck, it soon turns up more or less on time, and heads out of sight to its parking position to the right of the terminal area.
Here comes the Beech!
Twenty minutes before our STD, and the first boarding call is made for AC7617 to Gander. WestJet decide to board their flight more or less at the same time so there’s quite a few passengers milling around now. No priority boarding announcement for us – it’s just a general boarding call. Given the light load, this seemed fine. Nobody seemed bothered either – everyone just ambles downstairs and follows the agent out on to the ramp (my favourite boarding experience)!
Hello small green prop plane – definitely one of the uglier commuter planes out there, but as I only have one other B1900D in my log, I am pleased to be adding to that total today. No problems taking pictures on the ramp - no overzealous ground staff yelling at passengers with garbled “security reasons” as an excuse - well it just wouldn’t be Newfoundland if they were!
Closer up with the distinctive shape of the B1900D’s windows
The pilot is greeting passengers as I board, and he immediately says hi and welcomes me aboard. Everyone looks very relaxed. The guy boarding behind me says to nobody in particular “This is the smallest aircraft I’ve ever been on!” as he steps aboard. I am already at my seat by this stage getting accustomed to my new surroundings for this short 35 minute hop to Gander. I count 6 passengers on the flight when the door is closed. Not a great load, but not unexpected for a Tuesday mid morning flight in the middle of September.
Peering out the window as the last of the passengers board. Unfortunately the windows are covered with a tinted film which makes pictures tricky. The Beech does not have window blinds so that probably explains it - but still, very annoying!
The view from 3A - cabin is well used but clean
This flight is operated as Air Canada Express by Exploits Valley Air Services or EVAS, which is based in Gander. It mainly operates B1900Ds on behalf of Air Canada in Newfoundland and Quebec. The EVAS company logo contains the green, white and pink colours of the Newfoundland flag – which is said to be one of the oldest flags in North America and certainly pre-dates the Stars and Stripes by a number of years!
FAREWELL TO ST JOHN’S (FOR NOW)
We get a personalised safety demo from the pilot himself including how to open the main passenger door in the event of an emergency. He also says that weatherwise, it’s a great day for flying. Disappearing into the cockpit which of course is sans cockpit door, means we all get a good view of what’s going on in the front.
The starboard prop is started, closely followed by the port one, and we start our taxi out. What’s that? A Canadian North 737 is arriving - did not see that coming..... I suspect it’s on a charter?
We head for Runway 29 to take off into the west - the opposite runway from where I landed a few days previously. Passing the AC
EM190 still at the gate.
Checking wing surfaces
There is no delay to our departure. We quickly gain speed as the props are fired up. As I am sitting close to the port one, I get the full prop experience - which is (nice) and loud. Today I really feel like I am flying!
Good bye St John’s
We climb out quickly over the sparsely populated area west of the airport.
Boat or plane?
The pilot was right - it is a great day for flying. There is absolutely no service onboard these Beech 1900Ds so the window view will have to do for entertainment (oh no, what a shame!) I love it. I don’t even bother to get out my music or book. I sit captivated - listening to the sound of the propellor roaring away next to me and watching the landscape below.
My window is very blotchy and scratched - EVAS, please clean your B1900D windows more frequently! I move to 4A which has a cleaner window. Not surprisingly, the view is pretty much the same. Loving the views of central Newfoundland as the flight progresses smoothly - no bumps at all so far.
Yep, it’s a Beech alright - note Newfoundland flag and EVAS branding
Legroom is generous
I spot an Air Canada historical wallchart in one of the seat pockets (see previous report) and grab it quickly for my collection. Sadly, only one to be found on this flight. Looks like they’ve been popular collectors items!
The views continue to impress over central/northern Newfoundland as we pass over the Terranova National Park and before long, we start our descent into Gander. A recorded message is played in English and then French to get ready for landing.
We approach the airport from the east, with Gander Lake and the Trans Canada Highway on my side of the aircraft. Things start to get a bit bumpy as we slow and make our final approach.
The landing is smooth however, and we zip over toward the terminal
No other commercial aircraft on the ground at this time
The terminal at Gander
We pull up outside the arrivals area and the props are shut down. The co-pilot climbs through the cockpit and opens the passenger door, allowing us to deplane. I tell him how much I enjoyed the flight and he seems pleased and wishes me well as I head down the little airstairs in the Beech’s door. There are a couple of ground staff meeting the aircraft but there are no problems getting a picture of my ride sunning herself on the ramp, after a short hop from YYT
I thank the ground staff member who is waiting for me to go through the door - she says “sure, no problem” which again is so refreshingly different to what I am used to in Europe. I end up in the small but functional arrivals area - there is no transit lounge/area here from what I can tell. At least not for me.
Welcome to Gander - why thank you!
I walk toward one of the FIDS to see if there are any issues with my next flight and am pleased to see it’s due to leave on time. It’s all Air Canada Jazz/Express territory here.
The terminal is sparsely populated and the handful of people on my flight make their way out with friends and family having meeted and greeted. One other passenger and I seem to be the only passengers in the entire terminal for a short period of time. I make my way into the spacious, but dated departures area to take look around. I have plenty of time.
The area is jam packed full of stories about transatlantic crossings made by those pioneering aviators and aviatrix’es all those years ago. It’s so great to see such detail at a commercial airport. There are also big murals on the walls capturing scenes from days gone by when Gander was extensively used as a refueling point for transatlantic flights.
The airport is definitely reflective of a bygone period. While it has regular connections offered by Air Canada today, the airport design and interior screams “retro”, which is actually quite a contrast from the modern terminal back at St John’s. I spend a good amount of time reading all the bits and pieces about Gander’s past as a few more people start to trickle into the terminal.
Within a few years after the airport officially opened, it had four runways and was the largest airport in the world which is amazing to think now.
GANDER’S AVIATION HISTORY
I was interested to read that the airport’s location was sufficiently close to Europe to allow the piston-engined planes of the 1940s to make a non-refueled transatlantic flight, and the same qualities made it ideal for the fuel-inefficient jet aircraft of the early post-war decades. The airport grew in importance during the Jet Age, as it was situated almost precisely on the great circle route between the major cities of the U.S. East Coast and London. Consequently, early jet aircraft of airlines such as Trans-Canada Air Lines, British Overseas Airways Corporation, and Pan Am made Gander their main refueling point.
Having said that, El Al was famous for its “No Goose, No Gander” adverts when it introduced Bristol Britannias on flights from North America to Israel - as the aircraft had the range to cross the Atlantic and avoid the stops at Gander and Goose Bay.
Sadly for Gander, with the advent of jet aircraft with extended ranges in the 1960s, the need for a refueling point ceased on most flights. Gander has steadily decreased in importance since then, but it remains the home of Gander Control, one of the two air traffic controls (the other being Shanwick Oceanic Control in western Ireland) which direct the high-level airways of the North Atlantic. Every plane travelling to and from Europe or North America must talk to either or both of these air traffic controls (ATC). Gander is also commonly used as a stopover for ferry flights, even today as well as medical diversions. You never know what’s going to be on the ground there at any time although these days, it seems like the airport is very quiet in terms of regular commercial traffic.
During the Cold War, Gander was also notable for the number of persons from the former Warsaw Pact nations who defected there (including Soviet concert pianist Igor Vasilyevich Ivanov, Cuban Olympic swimmer Rafael Polinario and the Vietnamese woman famously photographed fleeing a napalmed village, Phan Thị Kim Phúc). It was one of the few refueling points where airplanes could stop en route from eastern Europe or the Soviet Union to Cuba. After reading this, I spotted a large Sunwing advert for seasonal flights from Gander to Cuba!
In 1985, Gander was the scene of a terrible aviation disaster - the crash of an Arrow Air DC-8 in December of that year. The aircraft stalled on take off from Gander’s North-South runway in a doomed, pre-dawn takeoff, and plunged into trees below. The crash remains controversial - despite official reports, there are still doubts about what brought the plane down - some say it was a malfunctioning engine, ice on the wings, overloaded aircraft, and some maintain sabotage. On board were 256 people, mostly US servicemen returning home from assignment in Egypt. There were no survivors and it remains one of the deadliest air crashes in North America. Sobering thoughts for me, as I take a moment to think about what happened and all those who perished.
Of course, Gander is also remembered in more recent history as being one of the places where many transatlantic flights were diverted to on 9 -11. As many know, Lufthansa also later christened one of its aircraft “Gander/Halifax” to remember the kindness shown by locals who assisted the stranded passengers on that terrible day. Of course, I am not surprised - I’ve been the recipient of many acts of kindness since arriving in Newfoundland.
On 9-11, Gander International played host to 39 airliners, totaling 6,122 passengers and 473 crew and the airport received more flights than any other Canadian airport involved in the operation apart from Halifax.
There are also lots of plaques around the terminal
I see a sign which makes me do a double take - but given the terminal’s vintage, I guess it’s not surprising. I wonder if it’s still open?
Only one way to find out.... start exploring! This is what I find.
Nice! If only there was something to watch. Sadly all I spot is the Gander Airport sign
and not much else.
I make my way back downstairs, where I grab a drink, have my lunch and surf the net for a bit. Wifi is again free here as it is at St John’s - unrestricted. Hear that London Airports!
I get a bit restless and later go for a wander outside - why not, as the weather is so nice. Not much to see however, but here’s the view of the terminal from the approach road. Departures and arrivals are both on the same level.
There is a cafe landside and a well stocked shop for gifts. I pick up a couple of postcards for my collection and chat to the nice lady behind the counter for a bit. Things are pretty quiet for her today as I am the only passenger browsing.
Being so quiet, and with so few people around, I am reminded of a statement made by an airline pilot, travel columnist and author, Patrick Smith who laments the decline of a once great transit point, and describes Gander from a different perspective - perhaps influenced by the changeable winter weather that hits this part of the world:
“Gander’s isolation feels fossilized in the meaningless jumble of its airport identifer: CYQX, the letters clattering like blocks of ice. Cold, empty, forgotten. If there is a sub-zero equivalent of tumbleweeds, they are rolling across the apron at Gander...”
Thankfully my visit did not co-incide with ice or sub zero temperatures, but I could understand the sentiment, even on this gloriously sunny autumn day.
An hour or so before departure and I decide to see if I can go airside - security looks like they are letting people go through so I head over and am welcome to go through. No beeps or buzzer goes off and I am through. They want to check my boarding pass and passport to ensure I am in the right place and the guy checking me has a puzzled look on his face for a couple of seconds - not recognising my Australian passport and initially thinking it was some kind of mutant Canadian version (as both passports are the same colour). We have a friendly chat about why an Aussie is all the way over here in Gander and I am allowed to head to my gate.
There are a few people milling about - although most of them I later find out are waiting for the Air Canada CRJ200 to take them to Halifax, NS. It looks like a vast area of the terminal isn’t even used these days from where I am sitting.
I get a great side of view of my next Beech, and thankfully, it’s a different aircraft to the one earlier today. This time, C-GAAT will take me up to Labrador.
The very retro gate area, with our Beech sunning itself outside. No activity yet - it’s still too early to start preparing the aircraft.
I don’t wait very long - and in the meantime, am suitably entertained by a woman passenger who seems transfixed on trying to get the vending machine to accept her loonies or toonies. The gate area fills up while our ground agent turns up and starts getting ready to board our flight. There is activity outside now too and I see my bag being loaded on the aircraft - always a good sign!
We are called for the flight to Goose Bay, which then goes on to Wabush/Labrador City, but only a handful of passengers get up.
I am out onto the ramp quick smart and manage to get another snap of our aircraft in better light and sans window glass.
Similar routine to when I boarded earlier today in St John’s. This time a welcome from the co-pilot. We have a grand total of 6 passengers onboard when the door is closed. The guy sitting opposite me and in the row in front, decides to increase his leg room by pushing the seat in front forward. Looks very Tupolev-esque perhaps?
The view from 8B while my fellow passengers are boarding
Seat pitch is again good with a copy of EnRoute in every seatback
The front door is closed and manual safety demonstration complete, I hear the props firing up and we make our way out to the runway. No other aircraft are moving - it’s just us. It feels like we have the whole airport and all the runways to ourselves.
I’d forgotten that these 1900Ds have lavatorial facilities onboard at the rear of the aircraft - Jonas you would have been impressed. I remember my CO
Express B1900D flight from TPA
a couple of years ago for the reason that there were no such facilities on that aircraft and passengers were advised while at the gate to use the facilities because there were none onboard!
I guess it makes sense - this sector from Gander to Goose Bay would be a hefty 1 hour 40 mins, which in a B1900D, is a long flight in anyone’s language. I vowed to investigate the lavatorial facilities later on in the flight - even just to satisfy my own curiosity, and that of the a.net trip reporter community!
We depart from the same runway we landed on earlier in the day, and after a spritely take off, we are on our way north to the Big Land - Labrador. Needless to say, I am very excited at this point.
Goodbye to Newfoundland soil for a bit - our shadow gets smaller
As we pass over some residential area not far from the airport
The views of Newfoundland continue to amaze and I am once again glued to the window - which thankfully is much cleaner and easier to take pictures from. I also don’t have the prop in the way this time round, so I get a different perspective.
Again, no service on this flight and no flight attendant - it’s just you, yourself, the sounds of the props and your fellow passengers. Flying conditions continue to be calm so we make good progress with few bumps enroute.
My seat colleague across from me spends much of this flight in a flat bed style position. I continue to peer out of the window. There’s no sign of autumn down there... yet
Close up shot of the seat in front.
As I am in the second last row, about half way through the flight, I head back to check out the lavatory - which turns out to be... interesting. Firstly, the door won’t shut properly or lock - great going if you really needed to go. Inside reminds me of one of those campsite public toilets - not overly hygenic and very basic! I am sure it would have been fine though if you could find some way of securing the door!
Not as bad as the lav which Alex posted on one of his Russian trips on the Antonov, but not far off - yuk!
I stumble back out of the confined space and retreat to my seat, curiosity satisfied and thankful I did not need to go. Views are still great - as we leave Newfoundland
And cross the Labrador Sea and into Labrador
The views of Labrador from my window show wide open spaces - lots of water features and lakes, a handful of roads and hardly any signs of human habitation. It certainly feels like the Big Land from here.
GOOSE BAY ARRIVAL
The flight comes to an end surprisingly quickly - it’s amazing how time can fly when you’re having fun on a B1900D! We receive a recorded message telling us how to prepare for landing, and the aircraft starts its descent into Goose Bay.
I see very little evidence of any towns or houses until we get very close to Goose Bay airport. The approach is very scenic though - lots of water and trees! Lake Melville is off to our left as we get closer.
Passing over residential Goose Bay and being buffeted a bit by the wind
We then make a sharp left turn to align with the airport’s northern runway - gear now down too.
Passing over the Hamilton River Road just before entering airport property
and we touch down smoothly with rapid breaking action following
Our taxi to the terminal is relatively short, and my first view is of a US Airways Express SF340! Hmm, that’s weird. On closer inspection, I see that it’s actually being operated by Provincial Airlines and has a C-registration so it looks like a new addition to the Provincial fleet - no time to repaint yet? Still seems strange seeing a US Airways Saab so far north.
We pull onto our stand, and soon the door is popped open to allow us to leave. I have a quick chat with the co-pilot and say how much I enjoyed this flight - the longest Beech 1900D flight I am ever likely to take. He wishes me well and I am walking on the tarmac toward the arrivals door. I turn to take a quick snap of our aircraft, which is quickly being refueled for the next sector to Wabush.
No problems taking pictures (again) and I thank the gate agent for holding the door open for me. I now find myself inside the compact, but very modern terminal right next to the single baggage reclaim belt. Through the window, I catch another shot of the Provincial SF340 before grabbing my suitcase, which is already out. I love small airports!
I have now arrived in Labrador. Another new place for my log, and more flights to come. I make my way outside, where it is distinctively chillier than in Newfoundland - and I also adjust my watch, as there is a time zone change. Finding a taxi, I ask to be taken to the Hotel North - which by all accounts, should only be a short taxi ride away.
My first impression is that it feels like a colder version of the wild west - not helped by my first impressions of the Hotel North. Looks like a big shed!
However, my first impressions were way off. After a friendly check in, I get to my room, which is spacious, clean and has its own kitchen. I feel I am going to be quite happy here for 2 nights.
On the eve of my Twin Otter flights, I go for a walk after dinner. The light is beautiful and so peaceful. I make my way along a walkway and take in the dusk air.
Local advertising - Air Labrador
and Air Canada Express
I hear the distinct sound of a Twin Otter climbing high above me, as it heads away from the airport. A good sign for tomorrow!
It’s been a great day of flying, and as the sun sets, I head back to my room, as I have a very early start tomorrow morning.
Goodnight Goose Bay!
Today’s flights were a lot of fun. I was fortunate to be able to add two new B1900Ds to my log and enjoyed some amazing scenery enroute. No onboard service or fancy airline meals - but it felt like a real flying experience. I was pleased to be able to see Gander with all its aviation history and pay homage to those pioneers who risked life and limb to make transatlantic flying the almost routine “bus service” that it has become today.
Air Canada Express were exactly as you would expect on these routes - the crews were very relaxed and friendly and made everyone feel at ease. I’d do these flights again in a heartbeat.
Thanks for getting this far. The next part of this series is intended to cover my Twin Otter flight to Nain, Labrador - outbound with Air Labrador, and the return with Innu Mikun Airlines (Provincial Airlines).
Please feel free to leave a comment.
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