Ingo Noka

Go East – Where the Skies are Blue

In Flight Log on July 31, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Pulau Redang

I am not much of a fan of the Village People or the Pet Shop Boys, but I had the song “Go West” in my head when I thought about my flight along the east coast of Malaysia. “Go West, where the skies are blue” or “There where the air is free, we’ll be what we want to be.” have nothing to do with aviation, but fit perfectly. So I took the liberty to reverse the direction and “Go East” to start this blog entry about my flight to Pulau Redang and Kota Bharu from 29 to 31 July 2011. Big thanks to Captain Ridzuan, who prepared flight plans and navigation logs, found accommodation and took care of all the small and big things that need to be in place before one can take off into the (for most FRAS pilots) uncharted blue skies of the East.

This flight began with a disappointment. We planned to go to Redang with a couple of aircraft, but when I arrived at the club on Friday morning, it turned out that all other pilots had cancelled their flights during the week before. What a shame. I was looking forward to the formation flight and to be together with club members, which is always a lot of fun. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to give up on this flight and thankfully, the organizer Captain Ridzuan, agreed with me.

So I sat down with Captain Ridzuan to review the flight planning and I was amazed how well everything was prepared. Everything from charts, flight plans, flight logs to airport diagrams was there.  Neetly organized and complete. I had done a little bit of preparation myself, but not nearly as much. Of course, by relying on others flight plans, you do not learn quite as much. So since I want to fly this route myself again, I am going to redo the flight logs and plans  and link them on my web site for others to use.

After an uneventful take-off on runway 16, we turned towards Kota Tinggi, which was our first reporting point. At Kota Tinggi, I decided I know better where we need to go and set course to the South-East. Somehow I thought I remember that I should not be as close to the Gunung Panti mountain. But as Captain Singh likes to say, trust course and timing and double-check on the GPS map. The double-checking on the GPS did it for me, and with the proper course we made it to Sedili Besar at the mouth of the river with the same name (besar means big; there is a smaller river a bit south that goes by the name Selili Kechil, which means small). From there on, navigation becomes relatively easy, since one cannot go very far off course as long as the coast is still in sight.

At Mersing, Johor Tower handed us over to Tioman Info (122.8).  Tioman Info is pretty assertive.  You wouldn’t know that they look after a Class G uncontrolled airspace. But they do a fine job covering the entire stretch of coast line from Mersing to Endau, Rompin, Nenasi and Pekan. We used Tannjong Agas as reporting point which is essentially the same as Pekan, but closer to the mouth of the Pahang River. There (or maybe Nenasi) we switched over to Kuantan Approach (119.7). Kuantan (WMKD)  is mostly a military airport where landing is not  possible (however the AIP specifies an address and telephone number at which one can ask for permission; maybe I am going to try this one day). Kuantan controls the airspace with a 20 nm radius around the airport, which intersect with the coast line to the South-East around Cherating. However the next reporting point we used was Cukai, which is the next bigger settlement at the coast (mouth of the Kemaman river). I can’t remember for sure, but I think this is where we got handed over to Kerteh (123.3). Kerteh asked us to stay away from the runway 34 approach (i.e. the extended centerline towards the sea), which meant we had to go inland and through some hills to reach west of the airfield. After some holding and confusion whether we had asked for prior permission, we finally got clearance to land. Since we were supposed to join base, my plan to fly a proper downwind went out of the window and I was much too high, so that the entire landing procedure wasn’t that great.

Kerteh (WMKE) is operated by Petronas, who needs to be asked for permission (call tower and ask them to send the form, which need to be faxed back.) if one wants to land there. They only have Jet fuel, which is odd for a place that is owned by the national oil company, but can probably be explained by the small number of GA aircraft landing there. The airport seems to be used mostly for helicopters transferring crews to the oil platforms. We landed on runway 16, backtracked and exited via taxiway Bravo. There is a parking area for aircraft in front of the terminal building (not to be confused with apron in front of the hangars!). The AIP aerodrome chart does not show the parking space at all. The airport building has a small “restaurant” where one can get a Kopi and the usual Malay food variety. Other than that there is nothing to see there. I think we only landed  because Captain Ridzuan wanted to have a smoke.  But landing at an unknown airfield was a good experience and exercise for me.

Shortly afterwards, we took off again. The Kerteh ATS airspace extends 10 nautical miles around the airfield and also covers a “cone” to the East/North-East reaching out into the sea (I assume towards the oil fields).

It is only a 40 minutes flight or so to Terengganu, but with no less than 4 reporting points. Thankfully, there is a detailed visual chart with VFR routes in the AIP. So after one gets handed over to Terengganu approach (123.6, or was it the tower at 119.05?) somewhere between Dungun and Penerak, you just fly along the coast. If you wonder about the circles we flew over Marang, that is not because we got lost, but because we took some picture of Cpatain Ridzuan’s house. I believe he spend most of his live in this town (or on the east side of Malaysia anyway). Eventually you get your clearance to join base or downwind for Terengganu runway 22. Runway 22 extends into the sea a bit, so that base and final need to be flow over the water. I pity the students there, because they cannot use landmarks to judge the turning points to base and final.

In Terengganu we stayed for the night at the Primula Beach hotel, about 20 minutes from the airport. Because it was Friday the town was basically asleep. I did a little tour into the town anyway, and found a nice little town center with a beach promenade. The hotel was a pleasant surprise, with good food and pretty good coffee. They have two restaurants, a pool, a spa and a coffee shop. Internet is free in the lobby. I paid about Ringgit 200 for one night in a comfortable room.

On the next day we finally made our way to Pulau Redang. It is a relatively short flight of 30 to 40 minutes. We turned towards Pulau Redang at Merang, and the Island came into view after a short flight over water. At Redang we decided to fly around the island first to take some pictures. This is really a beautiful place with white beaches, a spectacular bay on the East side, rugged cliffs to the South- and North-East and lots of lush vegetation. Instead of flying around the entire island we cut across, basically flying towards the runway from the east, passing it on the north. I lost sight of the runway once we had passed it. From this side, the runway is  hidden by hills on its Northern side, so that it is hard to judge when to turn for base or final. The approach path lies in between a small island on the right and the main island on the left. By the time the runway came in sight I realized I was too far to the right (I thought I had to pass the small island (Marine Park) first) and I was far too high. There was no other way than to go-around and to try again. The second attempt turned out much better and we touched down with a comfortable length of runway still in front of us.

Parking at Pulau Redang is a bit of a challenge. There is only space for maybe two small aircraft, because the end of runway 02 is needed to turn around the aircraft of Berjaya Air, which operates flights to Subang or Changi with an ATR72 turbo-prop. We had to move the Piper, because we stopped in the wrong place. The correct place is to the left right in front of the terminal building.

There is some personnel at the terminal building, who called a car, which took us to a small lunch place and then to the jetty from where tourists are transferred to the resort hotels on the East side. The resort on the East are not accessible by road. The resort hotel in the North (in the bay) can be reached by road, but we were not allowed to go in. While I didn’t ask for room prices myself, Captain Ridzuan told me that rooms go for Ringgit 700 and more, so we decided not to stay over night, and instead went back to the airfield.

Pulau Redang has no ATC. Everything is managed by Terengganu Tower (or approach). After taking off you are supposed to call the for ATC clearing. According to the Pulau Redang page in the AIP, the correct procedure is to track towards Pulau Bidong (South-East), not climb above 2500 feet and call Terengganu for ATC clearance.

I wanted to practice one more landing, so we ask for permission, got it and I tried an approach from the South-East. We debated whether we could do a touch and go, but eventually decided against it. I think it could be done, but judging by the AIP may not be legal.

Kota Bahru is just 30 minutes to the North. Unfortunately, I cannot remember anymore whether we go handed over to Gong Kedak (a military airport a little bit inland, half-way between Terengganu and Kota Bahru) or whether we switched straight to Kota Bharu tower. Anyway we landed at the airport of Kota Bharu, which is also the man base of the Asia Pacific Flight Training flying school. Captain Ridzuan used to work there as a flight instructor, which helped tremendously with transport to the hotel and getting fuel. By the way, fuel is not readily available in either Terengganu or Kota Bharu. APFT seems to get it delivered from Kuala Lumpur and they sold it so us at an (in my opinion) acceptable premium.

In Kota Bharu we stayed at the New Pacific Hotel, which is not quite as good as the hotel in Terengganu, but it isn’t that bad either. I paid Ringgit 160 for one night.

Since I had nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon, I decided to find out how far Kota Bharu is from the Thai Border. For Ringgit 150 (slightly overpriced) a taxi driver agreed to get me to the border town (about 40 km or 45 minutes) and to wait there for an hour, while I check out the place. The town on the Malay side is called Rantau Pnajang and on the Thai side, Sungai Kolok. Immigration is somewhat chaotic, and I was the only pedestrian trying to cross-over. Everybody else was on bikes, trucks or cars. Nevertheless, passport control was no problem on either side. A lot of motorbike taxis wait on the Thai side. For about Baht 200 I hired a driver who spoke rudimentary English. He drove me around and stayed with me for the entire time. He knew where all the eateries and pubs were. Everybody was very friendly and I felt safe at all times. All in all a pleasant way to pass an afternoon in this part of the world.

Next day we took of at 8:45 with the objective to take on fuel one more time in Terengganu and to practice another landing at Kerteh. Taking on fuels worked well. The guys at the APFT are really helpful – a credit to the aviation community in Malaysia. Landing in Kerteh was initially approved, but at the last minute we were asked to climb to 5000 feet and to overfly the airfield. Out of nowhere they suddenly had a lot of helicopter traffic and didn’t want a little Piper messing up the circuit.

The rest of the flight was rather uneventful. In total, it took us three and a half hours to get back from Terengganu to Johor and I was grateful that I heeded Captain Singh’s advice to take snacks and drink with me. So, finally, after lots of cookies, water and flying, we touched down in Johor. I was happy, tiered and truly thankful to the club that made this adventure possible.

I am sure, in the not so distance future, I will back in the East … where the skies are blue and free.

  1. Hi there, everything is going fine here and ofcourse every one is sharing data,
    that’s in fact excellent, keep up writing.

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