On 27th March 2017, I flew the PA28 from Biggin Hill to Jersey with my favourite wing-man, Alastair.
Here, I’ve tried to collate as much information as possible to help you if you’re considering this trip, but please be aware that this article is written in 2017, and may not be updated. As we all know, regulations and rules in aviation change all the time!
I chose to route EGKB – HOGBA – RUDMO – KATHY – MP – EGJJ. In layman’s terms, this is a route from Biggin Hill to Jersey via Guildford, St Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight & Cherbourg. The channel crossing was on the track SAM VOR- to MP NDB…it’s marked on the Southern England half million chart as the ‘recommended VFR route’. I chose this route, because it allowed me to cross at up to FL105.
The downside of taking the recommended VFR route is that it passes through Danger Area D036 which is active most weekdays. Had I not been able to get a crossing clearance through D036, my back up plan was to route KATHY – ORIST. This narrow strip between the danger area and a Class A airway would have allowed me to continue my crossing at a high enough flight level.
The night before the flight, I telephoned Plymouth Operations on 01752 557550, who told me that a crossing looked likely.
At the time of writing, both a UK General Aviation Report (GAR) form, and a Jersey General Declaration form are required for both the outbound and return flight, and need to be submitted 12 hours before departure. A flight plan must also be submitted for both legs, submitted 1 hour before estimated off blocks time (EOBT).
The Channel Islands are within the Brest FIR, and you may have to cross French airspace to reach them, as indeed I did. You are therefore subject to French rules regarding minimum heights above towns and cities, and have to comply with the semi-circular rule. This means you will need to fly a flight level commensurate with your track made good. So for magnetic tracks between 0-179 degrees you’ll fly at odd +500 flight levels, and for tracks between 180-359 you’ll fly even+500 flight levels. Be aware that the UK IMC (IR/R) rating is not valid in France, but is in Jersey. There are different rules/procedures for flying at night in France too. You’ll have to read their AIP.
Jersey, is situated in the Channel Islands Control Zone which is class D controlled airspace. There are published procedures and routes for VFR traffic, and it’s worth studying these long before setting off on your adventure. The Channel Islands currently do not require PPR to land, but they do introduce PPR at busier times. The CICZ website, has a wealth of information, and the site seems to be updated regularly.
You’ll no doubt be worried about crossing that huge stretch of water. The route I took was 55nm over the English Channel. The glide range in nil-wind, for my PA28 at FL85 is around 17nm. You can therefore see that there was 20 miles of sea where I couldn’t make land if the engine failed. That only exposed me to about 10 minutes of riskier flight time, but you have to bear this in mind. Your passengers need to be aware of the risk too.
Make sure you wear life vests, and tell your passengers how to use them. You may wish to carry a life raft, and some may wish to wear a full immersion suit. Consider the time of year you’re travelling, and the likely water temperature. You won’t last long if not saved very quickly.
You legally have to carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) now. Attach this to you or one of your passengers.
Read up on the ditching procedure. Just search the internet for “CAA safety sense leaflet ditching”.
Consider the inflight visibility, and nightfall. Poor visibility, low cloud, and night will make it far harder for a search and rescue team to find you.
As this picture here aptly demonstrates, be aware that you may have a limited horizon with which to orientate your aircraft, especially on a day with poor visibility. It would be prudent to only make the crossing if you’re comfortable with instrument flying. It’s likely that you’ll have a long period of time over the water without any ground features to navigate by too. Do you have GNSS/NDB/VOR that you can use, both for your primary and secondary routes? What are you going to do if you suffer an electrical failure?
We departed Biggin Hill, routed towards Guildford and obtained a traffic service from Farborough Radar. At Portsmouth, we changed frequency to Plymouth Military, and requested a Danger Area Crossing Service (DACS). We were cleared to cross D036 at FL85 as requested. When we reached our cruising level, 16 miles north of the FIR boundary, Plymouth said they were content and requested we changed frequency en-route. We contacted Brest Information, and before long we were talking to Deauville Information.
I was using GNSS as my primary navigation instrument, but had both the SAM VOR/DME and the MP NDB frequencies tuned and identified as backups.
I made the required position reports at the FIR boundary, and when coasting in. As we turned over Cherbourg, I began my slow descent to 3000ft AMSL. I had by this time received the Jersey ATIS. Jersey first cleared me to enter the zone at or below 3000ft, but it wasn’t long before that was reduced to below 2000, then 1000ft. It was a little disconcerting to be flying so low over open water, so I turned in towards the island, tracking just offshore.
Runway 08 was in use, and we were routed to the north-west corner where we were asked to orbit for an inbound passenger aircraft. We followed behind no2 with 4 miles separation due to wake turbulence.
Jersey Aeroclub handled all the formalities. We re-fulled at the amazing price of £1.00 per litre. The landing fee was £13.36. The club called us a taxi which arrived within 5 minutes, and we were charged around £13 each way from the airport to St Helier.
For the departure, watch for the noise abatement procedures.
Also watch for the low-level restriction you’re likely to be given. I narrowly bust my departure clearance of “not-above 1000ft”. I reached that altitude just as I was handed off to the approach frequency. I quickly spotted it, and rectified my mistake, but it was embarrassing and not my best moment.
The return journey was just as straight forward as the outbound leg, but it would be wise to make contact with Plymouth/London Information some distance before you reach the danger area. It may take longer than you expect to get your crossing clearance, if routing that way. When we approached, Plymouth had gone home, and London Information cleared us through as the area was no longer active.
We timed our channel crossing to ensure it occurred before sunset, but on reflection, it may have been more sensible to give sunset a bigger margin. Had we ditched in the sea, a search wouldn’t have commenced until after nightfall.
Owing to a reported visibility of 5km at Biggin Hill, we changed our flight rules to IFR over the Isle of Wight, and opted for an ILS approach at Biggin Hill. 5K visibility is the minimum night visibility if flying VFR, and finding the airport in 9999 is often hard enough in itself
I hope you found the information useful. Here is the video of the flight.
Video: Biggin Hill to Jersey
Video: Return flight Jersey to Biggin Hill