Around the World in Seven Days
13 May 2016
From 3 to 10 May 2016 I had the privilege to travel all the way around the globe. And I got paid for it! Our mission: to pick up and bring home Air New Zealand’s newest baby, Airbus A320 ZK-OXL.
Day One: NZAA-KLAX-EGGL-LFBO (Auckland, Los Angeles, London, Toulouse)
“Day one” (not really one day) consisted of passengering from Auckland, through LA, through Heathrow to Toulouse.
Depart Auckland 2150 local (0950 UTC), arrive Los Angeles 1425 local (2125 UTC, 0925 NZ time).
Depart Los Angeles 1650 local (2350 UTC, 1150 NZ time), arrive London Heathrow 1130 local (1030 UTC, 2230 NZ time).
Depart Heathrow 1355 local (1255 UTC, 0055 NZ time), arrive Toulouse 1655 local (1555 UTC, 0355 NZ time)… except we managed to miss that one and had to wait another six hours at LHR! (Not going to live that one down in a hurry.)
So the planned duration of “day” one was 30 hours and 5 minutes. The actual duration was about 36 hours. Needless to say, I didn’t really know which way was up by the time we got to Toulouse about midnight.
Thank God for Business Premier lie-flat beds.
Day Two: LFBO (Toulouse)
Day two was a day off in Toulouse, because it was a public holiday (5 May, Ascension Day). After a leisurely breakfast and some time to sort out the suitcase chaos, Captain Eric and I teamed up with Engineer Ross and headed off in the rental car to Carcassonne for most of the day. (And yes, it’s weird driving on the wrong side of the road.)
It seems the French do what Kiwis do on public holidays: sit in stupendously long lines of traffic — albeit in much smaller cars. And they all seem to have dogs that they take on holiday with them.
Carcassonne is only about 100km from Toulouse (95.6 km according to Google) and should have taken a bit more than an hour. It took about two with the traffic and toll booths.
However, on the bright side, we had a lovely chat and got to enjoy the French countryside.
Carcassonne is a beautiful spot, so I took my real camera. (See here for photos.)
Dinner that evening was at the Winter Garden cafe just around the corner from the hotel. Yum. And great atmosphere. It’s run by a ‘father and sons’ team who love to interact with their customers (thanking Captain Paul for wearing his red-and-white-checked shirt because it matched the tablecloths). And the sons have perfect English.
Day Three: LFBO (Toulouse)
Day three saw an excursion to the Airbus Delivery Centre, where we were photographed and ID’d… and practically the only people in the building, as the Friday was the ‘bridge’ day between the public holiday on Thursday and the weekend. It seems the French tend not to come to work on ‘bridge’ days.
After diligently watching the safety video, Eric and I spent a wee while highlighting about seven maps with all of our route for the entire journey home, then refolding them and putting them (in order) back in the map holder thingy (that Eric has in the photo). Our primary point of in-flight reference would be the Jeppesen FliteDeck app, but we needed the old-school references as a back-up.
Lunch on Friday was a very special event.
With each new aircraft delivery (multiple millions of dollars, of course, but I can’t tell you how much) Airbus take the client to lunch. Pilots and engineers count as part of the ‘client contingent’, happily, so I experienced my first ever (and most probably last ever) Michelin-starred restaurant, L’amphitryon.
Situated just about on the airfield…
…L’amphitryon was everything a top-end dining experience should be. Ritualised and sophisticated, yet with staff able to make a hick like me feel comfortable. And to give you an idea of my level of hick-ness, I didn’t even recognise one of the pieces of cutlery, let alone know what to do with it.
I sat across from Engineer Ross, and we both shared a laugh when one of the Airbus group picked up his phone and took a picture of the entree. We figured that must be acceptable etiquette, so joined in.
Thankfully, I found the menu online, so I can tell you what we ate… or, at least, I can show you what we ate in French and try to remember what it was in English.
For the entree I think I had the Bavarois de petits pois et menthe fraîche, tuile de Sarrasin, copeau de haddock et brebis, or, minty froth and mashed peas with smoked haddock (“and sheep” according to an online translator, but I don’t remember them mentioning sheep…) and buckwheat chip.
My mains were Mulet confit à l’huile d’olive, petits pois, herbes et wasabi (I think. Looking at the pictures, I now can’t actually remember which was the main and which the entree. Nor what they were! Both had fish and peas in them…)
But I definitely remember the dessert, which was delicious: Crème glacée au parmesan, pralin à la noisette, poire pochée citron et thym, which was ice cream with Parmesan cheese on top. Sounds weird, but was fabulous!
And then there were the sweets with the coffee. Chocolate nibbles, berry nibbles and the fabulous minty marshmallow thing to finish.
Oh, and the coffee! Or, more precisely, the sugar for the coffee…! What a work of art.
After that very convivial lunch, we headed down to the Airbus gift shop briefly. It’s co-incident with the museum (which we didn’t go in, boo-hoo), but the museum has a Concorde sitting outside!
The gift shop had the normal fare (although I have to say the T-shirts were a little underwhelming!) and I got some nice pens, a couple of Airbus caps, and finally convinced myself not to by the 100 Euro metal Concorde model that was about a foot long. I compromised and got a key ring instead…
From there we went back to the hotel and had a couple of hours free — during which time I went for a camera walk to St Sernin church. (See photos here.)
And here we are (in terrible light) outside the hotel after our flash lunch. (Engineer Ross on the left, Eric behind, and Paul taking the photo.)
Dinner that night was at a salad and pizza place about 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel. We had a pre-dinner drink at a small and cosy ‘Allo ‘allo style pub. The French owner (something of a character) has a special tipple that we had to try. I can’t remember its name (it started with Qu- ) but it’s a thick, sweet, almost liqueur type drink that was apparently best enjoyed with shaved ham eaten off a wine-barrel table. Slightly odd.
I have to say that my mind was on the next day’s duties!
Day Four: LFBO-OOMS (Toulouse to Muscat)
The Big Day.
Loading the aircraft took some time: suitcases, flight bags, overnight bags; books/manuals, maps (which all fell off the trolley as we exited the building and moved on to the tarmac…), food, and a raft of other odds and sods. We got off blox 14 minutes late at 1044 local (0944 UTC, or 2144 NZ time). And we went…
The airspace we crossed on this leg was:
- Paris, France.
- Extremely busy, and all the controllers had really thick French accents — which, it turns out, I find incredibly difficult to decipher.
- Rome, Italy
- Brindisi, Italy
- Tirana, Albania
- Athens, Greece
- Hellas, Greece
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Whilst our call sign had been New Zealand 6090 up until Turkey, from that point on it became officially Alpha November Zulu 6090 — for our flight designator of ANZ6090 — however, not only did I generally forget this, we also got called Air New Zealand 6090 on a number of occasions as well.
- Probably the most stunning part of this leg was flying over the Sea of Marmara and past Istanbul (LTBA in the second image above). I didn’t get any photos, unfortunately, as I was down the back on rest until Eric and Ross called me up the front to have a look, and I didn’t grab my phone or my camera (idiot). Very interesting to see the concentration of population in the area; and you immediately understand the significance of the Dardanelles — somewhere I had only read about in history books until now.
- Ankara, Turkey
- Tehran, Iran.
- In order not to get intercepted by the military, all aircraft entering the OIIX FIR need to contact Tabriz Air Defence Radar 10 minutes before the boundary at ALRAM. Thankfully, there were no issues achieving this.
- Muscat, Oman
I didn’t get the big camera out, but here are some iPhone bits and bobs.
On blox in Muscat at 2059 local (1659 UTC, or 0459 NZ time) after Eric did an absolute greaser on 08L — not at all easy with a very light aircraft. We followed the ‘Follow Me’ vehicle to our parking spot, 3llL.
The hotel was very near the airport, but we had to wait about half an hour for the hotel van to pick us up. The hotel (the Golden Tulip Seeb) was clean and tidy, but very 1970s. The view was uninspiring…
The air-conditioning was set on 10 degrees Celsius and cranked up to full chat. Freezing. (And outside was about 38 degrees.) And the plug got stuck in the basin, so I just collected hand-washing and tooth-brushing water… Slept relatively well, considering the time-zone mishmash.
Day Five: OOMS-WMKK (Muscat to Kuala Lumpur)
The interesting thing about KL was all the men standing around in pristine white robes doing nothing. This particular image was taken out of the taxi van when leaving the hotel, but gentlemen dressed like this were standing around the airport as well–no women with them, and certainly no girls. Many of the men at the airport had young sons with them.
It was a short drive through entirely chaotic and unorganised traffic to the airport, where we went through perfunctory security checks (no need to get LAGs out, as we didn’t have any passengers) and were bussed to the aircraft, which we’d parked on the northern edge of the North Civil Apron at gate 311L, eloquently marked by me on my Jepp plate…
Muscat is a large airport (mainly under construction — I didn’t get any images of the new terminal) with not a heck of a lot happening. The apron on which we parked was entirely deserted except for us.
While fuel hadn’t been available the night before, it was available as soon as we got to the aircraft; and catering turned up not too long after.
From memory, we were out pretty much on time at 1045 local (0645 UTC, or 1845 NZ time). And I know it was 42 degrees Celsius when we left. Yes, 42 degrees!
The air conditioning was working pretty hard. We always make our own clouds in the aircraft when we’re on the ground with the doors open and air-conditioning on and the outside temperature is above about 30 degrees.
Our route was:
- Muscat, Oman
- Karachi, Pakistan
- Mumbai, India
- Kolkata, India
- Yangon, Myanmar
- Yangon has special broadcast procedures (basically TIBA — Traffic Information Broadcasts By Aircraft) in addition to normal ATC procedures, because the controlling is considered a bit suspect. 10 minutes before entering Yangon’s airspace at IBITA, and every 20 minutes thereafter, I had to say, for example,: “All stations, NZ6090 FL390 eastbound from Muscat to Kuala Lumpar via P646, position PTN at [time], estimating position POXEM at [time], NC6090 FL390 eastbound.” And then listen for other traffic… of which there was not a lot.
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
We flew over a lot of India (spending a lot of time on Ahmedabad and Nagpur Control frequencies), and saw a lot of delta-like countryside. I videoed a few bits on the iPhone. The footage is pretty fuzzy, but it’s combination of the iPhone struggling to focus through the aircraft’s windscreen, and the fact that it was actually quite hazy with all the dust/sand in the atmosphere. And, remember, we were 39,000 feet up, so quite a long way away (about 11.8 km) from what I was trying to film.
And it’s now that I discover that WordPress doesn’t allow upload of .MOV video files! So scrap that idea.
We got cleared a KIDOT 1P arrival for ILS Z runway 32L, but ended up high speed direct to final under radar vectors. We were visual, but the slope check at 12.4 DME said we were 200 feet lower than we should have been. This discrepancy continued for quite some time (even though PAPIs showed on slope). I had a momentary panic when I saw an aircraft on approach to another runway to our left — us being on 32L caused my fleeting panic — (before remembering that there is also a runway 33 at KL… I think the jet lag was starting to kick in), and we landed without incident. We were definitely on the right ILS for the right runway with the right QNH set, so we concluded that the high temperature was the reason for the mismatch between the glideslope and the altimeter readings at the check heights. Paul did another perfect landing.
Taxiing to gate A12 was straightforward, and we were on blox about 2205 local (1405 UTC, or 0205 NZ time).
Fuel arrived and was loaded before we left the airport, so it was quite a while before we made our way into the terminal and searched for a taxi van to get us to the Sheraton Imperial in town. It took what seemed like an age to get there (even though the roads were empty). But it was worth the drive. I have a video of the palatial room (that I can’t upload: damn you, WordPress). Suffice to say the room was as big as half a house, had a walk-in wardrobe, massive bathroom complete with spa bath–and all this accompanied by a breakfast fit for a king. Such a shame that we got there just before 1am and left at 11am the same day!
Day Six: WMKK-YBCS (Kuala Lumpur to Cairns)
My sector to fly, so I got up about 8-ish, had breakfast and then back to my room to look at KL’s plates in preparation for the departure. Thankfully, very straightforward.
We travelled back to the airport by train, which took an hour all up from the hotel. A short walk to the train station, one hop to the central station, then another hop to the airport. Once we got there, we waited for quite a long time for the ground handler to show up, but he eventually did, and we made our way to the aircraft.
The only part that wasn’t straightforward was the fact that our catering didn’t show up. Paul saved the day by hopping back in the van, going back to the terminal and buying a selection of pastry items to keep us nourished until we got to Cairns. (It later transpired that there was an error in the Ops Instruction: it had us out of Singapore, not KL, so there were possibly five meals waiting for us there…)
Sitting on the apron waiting for Paul there wasn’t a lot to see or do. But we were clearly of interest to the locals, as we saw a number of ground staff taking photos of our aircraft. And we sat there and took photos of the royal terminal, which was right beside us.
Performance engineer Malcolm joined us in KL. His job on the last two sectors home was to take and record an awful lot of data in order to set the aircraft’s PDA (Performance Deterioration Allowance). All aircraft have a PDA: it’s basically the difference between ‘book value’ fuel burn and actual fuel burn.
We finally got airborne quite a bit late — but at least we had food and drink! Scheduled departure time was 1545 local (0545 UTC, or 1745 NZ time) with a planed sector duration of 6 hours 31 minutes.
There was a bit of weather to dodge out of KL, but luckily it was all isolated and easy to dodge. I do have video, but that’s not much use here!
We could smell home! But it was still a little way off… (What’s 4000 NM, or 7400 km, between friends?)
Our route for this day was:
And the airspace we transited was:
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Jakarta, Indonesia
- Ujung Pandang, Indonesia
- OXL is a domestically configured aircraft, which means it has no SATCOM capability and no HF radios fitted. That, in turn, meant that the delivery flight home had to be planned entirely along VHF routes. And we were on a VHF route. But previous experience proved that there is a small ‘hole’ just after KIKEM. We had instructions to pass our KIKEM position report to Ujung Padang and ask them to relay it to BNE — if we couldn’t raise BNE at the boundary. Which we couldn’t. The problem was, however, that the Ujung controller could not comprehend what we wanted him to do. He gave us HF frequencies; we told him we didn’t have HF, could he please pass our position report to BNE. So then he told us to log on to CPDLC; we told him we didn’t have that either, please could he pass our position report to BNE. He asked us to confirm that we didn’t have HF, which we did. Then there was silence. Then we finally got hold of Brisbane. Sigh.
I decided to fly the RNP-U for runway 15 in Cairns, and we got vectored direct to CODIE with no speed. We were visual a reasonable way out, and the wind was a very light south easterly.
Not quite sure what time we were on blox, but with the delay out of KL it was probably about 2300 local (1300 UTC, or 0100 NZ time.)
Thankfully, in Cairns, we were scheduled for almost 18 hours on the ground. Bliss. Time to relax on home turf!
Day Seven: YBCS-NZAA (Cairns to Auckland)
Familiar ground! Although I’d only ever been to Cairns briefly once before, it still felt like home. Except for the heat! Yes, it was a lot cooler than Muscat and KL, but the humidity was unbelievable. A short, relaxed stroll down the promenade for brunch (after a delicious sleep in) resulted in sweat after about three minutes. Ick. But the eggs benedict and good coffee was worth it!
Relaxed in the hotel room for the rest of the day, as the jet lag was starting to seriously take its toll. Caught up on some emails out on the balcony of my room at the Cairns Hilton with this rather agreeable view.
Our route for the final leg was tailored to our requirement to have a buddy flight home across the Tasman to provide relay VHF coverage. We had to time our departure to meet up with NZ108 out of Sydney — and to ensure we remained within VHF range of them (roughly 200 nm) for the entirety of the flight outside of VHF range from land.
As a back-up we were required to carry a satellite phone — which we had to test before leaving Cairns to ensure it was operational. We actually had two with us: Paul had taken one up to Toulouse with him a week before we arrived, but it had failed to charge. We brought another one — only to discover the first one would now charge and turn on. However, when I tried to use it at Cairns, it failed to register on the network. So there I was, standing outside in abysmal heat and humidity, waiting for the @#$% thing to find a network it was never going to. Some sweaty 15 minutes later I gave up and turned the other one on… which found what it was looking for in about three minutes and I was able to ring Brisbane Oceanic and give them our new number.
Our track, then, was:
The only slight glitch with this cunning plan was the fact that NZ108 had an IRS problem on the ground in Sydney, which delayed its departure a bit. Paul and Eric slowed right down, but still had to do a hold just off the coast so that we didn’t leave NZ108 behind.
I was the spare pilot for the leg home, so spent the time from Cairns to just after Sydney down the back enjoying having the aircraft to myself. (Again, I have a video, but can’t post it!)
I was up the front for less than two hours whilst we crossed the Tasman, and we had no dramas with comms with NZ108.
We had good tailwinds (about 100 kt) all the way across, so our final flight time was a brisk 4 hours and 53 minutes. We landed at about 2340 NZ time (1140 UTC), and were well pleased with our efforts. I finally climbed into my own bed at 0133 on Wednesday morning, next to my snoring husband, and stayed awake for the next hour or so as my screwed-up body clock struggled to accept the opportunity for rest!
It’s three days later as I write this — all the laundry’s done and I’m pretty much over the worst of the jet lag. It was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that will stick with me forever. What a privilege!