Iceland 2016

On this trip, as on previous trips to Iceland, I departed the unique and enchanted island of Iceland with a promise to return.  There is a lot to see, even though it is the most sparsely populated country in Europe, with just 335,000 souls living on an island larger than the island of Ireland. (Ireland has a population of 6.5 million).  Icelandic culture has a distinctly Scandinavian influence and the climate is temperate even though the capital city, Reykjavik, is on latitude 66N just below the Arctic Circle. Iceland benefits from the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. Reykjavik Airport, one mile from the city centre, serves flights within Iceland, and flights to and from Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Transatlantic ferry flights make up a large proportion of the general aviation activity.  The main airport for the city and the island as a whole is Keflavik International, some thirty one miles out of the city. There is an ongoing local dispute about the future of Reykjavik Airport, due to its proximity to the city centre and the value of the land on which it is situated.

This trip was my first as pilot in command. The major concern of course in a single piston engine light aircraft, like the Cessna 206, is the long overwater crossing of about four hours. After considering ditching,  I came to the conclusion that the most important thing was to be able to get into a raft. The seawater temperature was about 10 degrees, thanks to the Gulf Stream. Mitigating the risk was experience of the aircraft’s previous reliability and knowledge of its maintenance programme. It had not conked out during the previous 2,500 hours of flight so why should it do so on this trip?  Just in case it did, we wore ‘Crewsaver’ brand dry suits, with balaclava and gloves in the pockets,  life jackets, personal emergency locator beacons, and carried on board, and to hand, a recently serviced RFD four man liferaft. The dry suits were purchased from the Wetsuit Outlet.  https://www.wetsuitoutlet.co.uk  costing  £225 each, including a fleece “onesie” and storage bag.

Wick is a jolly staging post for transatlantic aviators. A cup of tea and good craic is to be had with Andrew Bruce at Far North Aviation; he will top up the fuel tanks, and if required will give advice, file a flight plan, and rent out fully serviced life jackets, rafts and beacons. He is a pilot and flies a very nice C172. Our arrival in Iceland was at BIRK, Reykjavik airport.  Filing with Rocket Route brought up a warning that handling is mandatory. The FBO was very helpful and efficient, as were the local customs officials waiting for us.

Walking back from the city after dinner the night sky developed a green hue, was this the reflection from the green traffic light at the junction just ahead?  Then the traffic lights turned red, yet the green sky remained and seemed to quiver.  Could that be the Northern Lights? A group of photographers at the hotel confirmed that it was.

The plan was to spend the weekend in Reykjavik before heading to the north west of the island, to an area called Westerfjord, to land at BIIS, Isafjordur, for a series of business meetings. Two very interesting articles in General Aviation, the house magazine of AOPA, assisted with my motivation and preparation for the trip.  The first was by Haraldur Diego in the April 2014 edition, titled ‘Iceland the Aviators Home’ where he cites the empty skies, beautiful scenery and the numerous airfields where general aviation pilots are most welcome. The second was by Martin Cundey and Richard Berliand in the April 2015 edition, titled ‘The Duchess of Iceland’, which records a flight in a “Beech Duchess from Redhill to Iceland for the journey of a lifetime”.

There is much to see in Iceland and I would recommend the Golden Circle Tour departing from Reykjavik. Just google and you will find lots of offers; it is the most popular tourist tour in Iceland.  It takes most of the day, introduces the amazing history of the Icelandic people, their ingenuity in surviving a difficult climate, particularly the utilisation of geothermal energy, and visits some amazing rugged and beautiful terrain. Other must do's in Reykjavik are to dine in some of the excellent restaurants, many of which serve delicious local seafood; visit the city’s best known landmark, Hallgrimskirkja, a church consecrated in 1986 boasting a 73m tower.  We went to a Sunday service there; the organ was fabulous, but the service in Icelandic was a challenge.  Then there are the shops; a great place to buy warm clothes, be it a parka jacket trimmed with mink fur, or a hat made of silver fox pelts. It the very best place to buy a hand knitted Icelandic sweater.

By car the journey from Reykjavik to Isafjordur takes over six hours. The 120 nautical miles bumbling along in the C206 whilst enjoying the scenery at 2000 feet, took less than an hour.  Isafjordur airfield is a tarmac strip used by commercial flights to ferry locals, and people on fish business, (like me), to and from Reykjavik.  The airfield is located in a very unlikely place, on the bank, and at the top, of a fjord with high ground all round. The general layout is shown on the section of the SID plate. There are instrument approaches but they are essentially cloud break procedures in an adjoining fjord to facilitate creeping up to Isafjordur in VMC. This north west area of Iceland is very remote and bleak and would not be to everyone’s taste for a holiday break, but it is popular for lovers of  wild places, and is also famous for its fly fishing.

After our business was over and on the spur of the moment we decided to fly to BIRL, Reykjahlid airfield, in the Myvatn Nature Reserve for some rest and relaxation.  Myvatn is a large lake in the north of Iceland.  We rang for PPR and after a few attempts we eventually reach someone who simply said “Yes” without taking any details. The weather had taken a turn for the worst with low cloud and wet and windy conditions forecast.  This is not unusual in Iceland.  Prior to the descent into Reykjahlid the Reykjavik Radar Controller requested that we copy a telephone number and call that number after  landing because below about 5000 feet radar and radio contact would be lost due to terrain. There is an instrument approach into Reykjahlid, which we found essential as you can see from the photograph of the runway, taken just after we landed.  The airfield was unmanned and on the wooden hut there was a sign saying “Closed until next summer”!    If you wish to visit this place I suggest you sort out the car hire arrangements in advance.  The airfield is not serviced with public transport, taxis, or national car hire firms. I would strongly recommend contacting the taxi firm six60 http://www.six60.is/

We stayed at Hotel Laxa, about 20mins from the airfield by car. http://www.hotellaxa.is/. This is a new enterprise, built in 2014, with a very utilitarian feel.  It is in the middle of nowhere, but does have views over Lake Myvatn.  The other guests were nature lovers, bird watchers and walkers. Myvatn is in a geothermal area.  We enjoyed visiting the Myvatn Nature Baths for outdoor bathing in a large rock pools filled with warm sulphurous water emanating from the bowels of the earth. Whilst relaxing in the turquoise water, cold beer was served by the establishment's staff.  Low cloud and squally winds added to the extraordinary experience, just 65 miles from the Arctic Circle. http://www.myvatnnaturebaths.is/

The journey home to Wombleton in North Yorkshire required fuel, and a check out with the Customs Office.  To do this we routed via BEIS, Egilsstadir. This international airport is one of four airports in Iceland which fulfill the requirements for international flights. The airport serves as an alternate airport for Keflavik Airport and is open 24 hours a day. It is located on a peninsula, on the banks of Lagarfljot lake. It is apparently an attractive area, but we landed through a 400 feet cloud base with 1000m visibility.  After 30 minutes, to refuel, and to fill a thermos flask at the Customs Office, we departed. There was no requirement to use a handling agent or pay a landing fee.

The trip took place in September 2014. All of the flights were filed in a matter of minutes using the Rocket Route app on an iphone.  The outbound flight plan from Wick to Reykjavik routed via waypoint RATSU, a distance of 641nm and with help from a tail wind took about four hours. The return flight plan, Egilsstadir to Wick routed via GONUT, a distance of 529nm.  This also took about four hours due to a head wind.  Arriving or departing Iceland from Egilsstadir does have some advantages over Reykjavik, (though I cannot imagine missing out Reykjavik on a visit to Iceland). It is less distance, and the risk is reduced because the flight passes over the Orkneys and Faroe Islands, and there are no handling fees.

So thank you Rocket Route, not only for the flight plan filing, but also for the approach charts and AIP data.  General aviation seemed most welcome in Iceland, there were no landing fees and lots of helpful oversight was given by Reykjavik Radar. The scenery from the air is stunning, as good as the Highlands of Scotland but different. There are lots of activities, and everyone we met spoke perfect English.  We will full our promise to return in the near future, perhaps on a trip to Canada.

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