Back in the days when life outside Facebook still existed and personal possessions were things other than virtual furniture in the cyberspace, there existed people that owned pointless things like personal sports aircraft. Until a few years ago these even had some sense now and then to get to hard to reach places but this is over now with Easyjet et. al. and the excessive cost of aircraft fuel and maintenance.
Personal aircraft are least sensible for trips that span more than a few hundred miles and where a regular direct commercial airline service exists. The perfect example for this is Stuttgart – Hurghada on the Red Sea in Egypt.
|Flight time||4.5 hours||14 hours (2-3 days)|
|Cost||300-600 €||many thousand…|
|Safety||very high||one keeps reading terrible things…|
|Reliability||almost 100%||at best 75% due to weather|
|Toilets||present||pee in a bottle|
|On board service||warm meals and drinks||sandwiches, home made|
|Additional difficulties||none||permissions, corruption|
We therefore concluded that El Gouna/Hurghada is a perfect destination for using a personal plane. Why El Gouna? First of all because it's one of the most beautiful places on this planet and equally important, we have access to a holiday home there, only 500 m from a small airfield. The trip was initially planned for 2010 with a much less capable aircraft but then came the revolution and the airport was closed until the end of 2012.
Flying to Egypt comes with a few difficulties and requires thorough preparation. In Europe, there is complete freedom for personal aircraft and one can – while adhering to the rules of air traffic – roam freely and without prior permission. Most countries have a large number of airfields accessible to private pilots at reasonable cost. The personal aircraft can roughly be compared to the personal car. In Africa and therefore Egypt it's not that easy unfortunately. Private aviation is almost non existant in Egypt, very rarely one spots a few jet aircraft of the upper class, flown by professional pilots. Here's a list of what needs to be resolved before departing:
- Permission of entry
- Flight planning (routes, airfields, landing permissions)
- Access to fuel
- Access to mechanics
- Excessive fees (rip off)
Permission of entry has to be requested at least two weeks in advance via the Ministry of Transport. Egypt is a highly bureaucratic country and it comes to no surprise that this requires several in-person meetings in Cairo with a heap of documents. We are very lucky to have GASE (General Aviation Support) a group of aviation enthusiasts whose mission is to help foreigners with their flying adventures to Egypt, helping with all administrative tasks at no charge! The main characters behind GASE are Ahmed and Eddy. Ahmed works in operations of an executive airline and Eddy is a British who lives in Cairo. Without GASE, we'd have to resort to an agency specialized in adventure flying which would in turn rely on local handling agents — at a very high price point.
Ahmed helped us to get access to the AIP (Aeronautical Information Publication) of Egypt. This is a standardized manual with information about the local rules of the air, airspaces, routes and airfields. Permission of entry is granted in advanced and directly linked to a specific route and date. Coming up with the route wasn't that easy as in Egypt, one is required to perform all flying on airways, only some of which are permissible for foreigners. As in most parts of the world, the first landing in Egypt has to be done on an airfield which is classified as airport of entry. Our destination El Gouna does not meet this criterion so we identified Port Said (where the Suez Channel joins the Med) as an alternative.
The by far biggest challenge is access to fuel. Aircraft gasoline (AVGAS) a a high grade leaded gasoline. It is not to be confused with Jet A-1, also falsely known as "kerosene". Jet A-1 corresponds to diesel and is used by turbine aircraft. GASE has access to AVGAS at the 6th of October airport (south west of Cairo), priced at $5.20/l ($20 per US gallon). At a fuel burn rate of 45 liters per hour (12 US gallons), this quickly gets very expensive. Therefore, we have to limit refueling in Egypt and at best bring additional fuel in jerry cans.
Should something about the aircraft break during our trip, specialized and officially endorsed mechanics are required. In Europe, almost every airfield hosts such workshops. Via GASE, we have access to a US licensed mechanic in 6th of October City and worst case, we can fly in a mechanic from Europe.
Last but not least the problem of widespread rip-offs. When landing at an airfield, one puts himself into a rather unfortunate strategic position. Desiring to take off again, one needs approval of several entities such as customs, police, airfield administration, etc. In Africa this means one is presented with all sorts of demands, packaged in creative invoices. We know that it's going to be expensive, about 50 € and 200 € per landing. With the help of our friends at GASE, we hope to be spared from the most outrageous demands.
After a few days of relaxing in El Gouna (while Achim can teach Markus how to wakeboard) we are scheduled to fly back. Based on the experience made during the outward trip, we might adjust the route slightly.