Ingo Noka

Thailand Flight – Day 1 / 27 July 2013

In Airmanship, Flight Log, Knowledge, Navigation, Uncategorized on July 28, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Pad James and Ingo at Phuket Airpark

Wow!  What a day. The weather in Singapore turned a  leisurely flight from Singapore to Phuket with plenty of breaks and buffer time into a mad race against time.

I arrive at about 7:30 am at the Seletar immigration checkpoint.  The METARs and the rain radar didn’t look great, but there was still room for hope that I could take off between 8 am and 9 am.  Later than planned, but still not too bad.  A front of early morning thunder storms moved from the North West down the coast to Singapore, but hadn’t made landfall yet.  I thought I could skirt the outer edges of the weather by flying inland rather along the cost to Malacca.  By the time I had the aircraft ready the situation was still borderline acceptable, so I asked ATC for clearance.  Surprisingly, they actually got it, but cautioned my that after Point XRAY the visibility would be so bad that I probably wouldn’t be able to proceed in VMC.  If you have half a brain left, you do not ignore a message like that from ATC, so I postponed the flight plan to 10:00 am.

Weather of Seletar does not look as threatening on this photo as it was in real live

In the mean time, two pilots started to get a Cirrus ready for a Tioman flight, but decided 10 minutes into the process that they don’t want to risk getting stuck in Tioman and cancelled the whole flight.  As they just cancelled their IFR plan, they looked a bit worried when I told them I am on my way to fly VFR to Phuket.

Anyway, I decided not take them up on their offer to have a coffee at the WoA lounge and waited instead for the weather to clear.  I refreshed the rain radar web site so often, they must have thought they are under a denial of service attack.  While there was still thunder and lightning East of Seletar, the weather towards the North West looked better and better.  At 10:45, I called ATC again and this time everything was a go.  The air over Johor turned out to be fresh and clear after the serious of storms.  Unfortunately, Johor tower was extremely busy with a bunch of scheduled morning flights, so that I had to circle for about 15 minutes East of Senai airport.  A Piper Warrior (9MFRR, I think) was holding at downwind 500 feet lower than me, which provided training in plane sighting, collision avoiding and kept me focus on my altitude.

From there onwards, the flight to Phuket was uneventful.  I had a Cessna 172 from Senai (9MWCF) following me till Subang and it please me greatly that my little Archer kept increasing the distance steadily.  After Subang, the haze was bad, but still VMC and not many CBs or convective activity to spoil the day.

At Penang I was lucky that another aircraft on the ground had already called the fuel truck, so that I was ready to go within 25 minutes.  I truly hoped that I would have more time getting myself mentally prepared for my first foray into Thai airspace, but it wasn’t to be.  Instead I barely had time to change my flight log before I hit TAMOS, an IFR reporting point at the border between Malaysia and Thailand.

Penang, sitting under the wing, waiting for fuel

As soon as I was transferred to Hat Yai Approach (126.7), the communication broke down completely.  At 1,500 feet altitude there is just a lot of voice and nothing else.  I was trying to guess what ATC was telling me, but  for the life of me I could not understand the lady controller.  I must have sounded as if I thought fighter jets are scrambling to intercept me (because that is what I thought).  Another pilot who didn’t identify himself (or maybe it was somebody else listening into the frequency?) finally chimed in and just said: Son, She wants you to report visual with the airfield – Pure comedy gold.

I think everybody just ignores the VFR reporting points listed in the AIP. I tried to be smart and kept telling them what time I will be at that point or another and they kept ignoring me. It is funny how something that is considered essential for safety in one country, does not play a role in another country, and still airplanes don’t fall out of the sky or bump into each other all the time in either country.

In the end I was at Hat Yai, which is easy to find and lies about 23 nm behind the border.  Once I was with Hat Yai tower, things got a bit easier.  I don’t think I got everything that was said, but the benefits of having a standardized language in aviation radio communication was evident.  The important bits, such as cleared for final runway 26, cleared for landing etc came through just fine.

Refueling at Hat Yai was surprisingly efficient and fast.  Everything was organized by WoA in Singapore and Thailand.  I have a contact number, but I am not sure exactly what organization is behind the ground handling there.  They even had Avgas in 50L drums, which is great, since you do not run the risk of paying for a lot of unused fuel.  I paid 69.25 Baht for a liter, but had to buy an entire drum, even so I only needed about 30L.  I think that is acceptable.  It would be even better if a couple of aircraft need to be refueled.

Very fast and efficient refueling in Hat Yai

A lady from Thai Airports waited for me at the international immigration and helped with the formalities. Immigration is charging 200 Baht and “almost forgot” to stamp my passport.  After that I had to sign about 20 forms and pay 1,231 B (1,150B + VAT) landing fees, which is the maximum sum they are allowed to charge for aircraft up to a MTOW of 50 tons.  I almost had to pay more than 3,000B navigational charges, but luckily had the Thai AIP on my iPad, so that I could show them private aircraft up to MTOW of 5,400 KG are exempted from this charge.

There was also a mysterious charge of 900B for customs.  I am supposed to get the receipt when I come back on Monday.  All in all, I think everything was quite positive and I do not think that the bad reputation that the airports in Thailand have in the Malaysian and Singaporean pilot community is justified.  At least not in the case of Hat Yai.

I considered staying in Hat Yai over night, because by the time I finalized all the formalities, it was almost 5 pm.  My mental calculation, however, told me that I can get to Phuket before the official sunset at about 6:45 pm.  I didn’t anticipate the strong headwind though.  At 7,500 feet over the mountains, I had the throttle wide open, made 135 knots true and got barely 95 knots ground speed for my troubles.  My stress levels shot up considerably and at Trang, I thought I would have to divert to Krabi to down on the ground  before the sun disappears.  I understand that Phuket International does not like VFR flights after sunset at all!  It’s a big deal.

The islands between Krabi and Phuket

I really asked a lot from my engine.  I had it going at 1650 rpm, but it worked without any complaints.  Old technology, but reliable to a fault.

Finally I was over Koh Yao Yat and could see the coast line of Phuket.  Against the sun, which is now directly into my face, everything looked dark green and I can tell you that a 500 meter grass strip does not stand out at all.  The GPS is quite accurate, however, so that I got close enough to finally see it in time for a short field landing.  It wasn’t great, but I still had about half the field when I came to a stop.

Can you see the Phuket Airpark landing strip? No? I couldn’t either.

Pad James and two other people waited for me at the field and helped to tie down the plane.  Pad is a great guy.  He drove me around  a couple of hotels until I finally found one close to the airpark that had a room available (Circle Phuket Hotel, +66 (0) 76 261190).

Thanks to Pad James and the crew for helping me at Phuket Airpark. Thanks for the great hospitality!

Well, there is a lot more to say about my flight, but I am running out of steam and need to get something for dinner now.  I am sure I will have time later to write more about flying in Thailand.

Phuket is nice 🙂

  1. Glad that you made there in time by sunset. Great info for anyone planning to follow your adventure.

    9M WCF

    • I certainly hope that more people decide to fly into Thailand. The more planes go there the more everything will be adjusted to accommodate the small time VFR flying we do. At the moment any VFR flight is considered an emergency 😎

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