|Posted by Cindy-Lou Dale on June 12, 2011 at 11:41 AM|
Like most of us, I like to travel. But current financial trends have made spur of the moment shopping trips to France, be they via Eurotunnel or ferry, far too costly. The alternative, a girlfriend helpfully suggested, was to fly. After I stopped laughing, it got me thinking – I could have Jonathan, my husband, fly me there!
A call to Bill Vidal at Lydd Aero Club revealed that a number of trial lessons are on offer. They range in cost from £74 for a half-hour flight (for one person plus an instructor), to £289 for a return flight to Le Touquet in France (for up to three people plus an instructor).
Jonathan’s first lesson took place on one of those sharp, sun-shiny crisp winter mornings only found in England. His instructor, John Tindall, a former British Airways pilot, gave him a briefing in his offices. Using a wooden aircraft replica he explaining the pitch, yaw and roll actions and how these were attained. Soon he moved onto the aircraft itself and further explained the functions of the air speed indicator, the altitude indicator, the altimeter, vertical speed indicator, direction indicator, the turn co-ordinator, and numerous other dials on the control panel. After what seemed like an interminable amount of checking, cross-checking and general faffing we got airborne and flew across the English Channel, towards France, 30-minutes away.
All Lydd Aero Club planes have dual controls so it’s hands-on from the outset. Sitting in the pilot seat, positively radiant with ignorance, Jonathan took the controls. Tindall looked at me darkly when I enquired after a barrel roll: ‘Perhaps not in the first lesson.’
Suitably chastised I gazed out the window, contemplating the dark horizon we were flying towards. ‘Isn’t that where we’re going?’ I enquired, ‘dead ahead where the black clouds are.’
Tindall considered rerouting to Calais then decided against it following communications with the Le Touquet tower who confirmed landing conditions were satisfactory. But when he put his nose to the glass it became evident that landing conditions were far from agreeable. Jonathan glanced at me and we shared a single telepathic thought – we were all going to die!
With a curious lack of urgency Tindall again communicated with the Le Touquet tower and in a typically haughty BA-pilot accent, enquired after visibility; the tower confirmed the cloud was thin.
At this stage Tindall had taken over the controls and had us flying along in a seemingly straight line, continuously descending. We were a short distance above the ground with still nothing to be seen and then bang (I use this word advisedly), there it was, the runway rushing towards us at a ridiculously accelerated speed. Tindall deftly tilted the plane, landing lightly, muttering something uncharitable about having a word with the chap in the tower.
Following some paperwork at Le Touquet’s airport we had a quick shot of vending machine coffee then headed back to the plane. Another series of checks followed, then Tindall requested permission for takeoff, which was delayed because of inbound traffic, then by visibility and finally by a helicopter pilot training at the end of the runway.Eventually we were airborne and heading home.
Planning future shopping trips I enquired after how many lessons it would take before Jonathan got his wings.
‘You need a minimum of 45-hours flight training, then pass several written exams and a flight test before you are awarded a Private Pilot Licence,’ Tindall explained. ‘The average lesson initially involves one hour flying time, but this will become ninety minutes when you start to navigate and even two hours when you start landing at other airports. Such a licence allows you to fly abroad and allows you to fly at night. You could do the cheaper National Pilots Licence which, in theory is cheaper, but then you can only fly in the UK and only during the day.’
‘What does the test involve,’ I enquired.
‘You’ll need to do a Skills Test, where you’ll demonstrate what you’ve learnt to a CAA Examiner. The test lasts approximately ninety minutes and will include general handling, emergencies and navigation.’
Contemplating my husband’s grey designer stubble I enquired after age restrictions.
‘People seeking flying lessons in their 50s are common. Occasionally we get folk in their 60s who usually claim it to be something they’ve always wanted to do and now that they have the time and means, feel they should. We also have active pilots with current licences and medical certificates (a requirement for all pilots) in their 80s.’
‘To commence Private Pilot Licence training,’ Tindall continued, ‘you must be 14 years old. To fly solo you need to be 16 and 17 before you can hold a licence. We had one 14 year old who started taking lessons but we advise such people to slow down and not waste their money by trying to move too fast - the Private Pilot License requires a minimum of ten-hours solo flight and you cannot go solo until you are 16.’
After the initial ‘taster’ lesson, prices increase. One lesson, including airport landing fees and tax averages around £150 and after forty-five of those the government charges a one-off Private Pilot Licence issue fee of £180. In each subsequent two-year period you’ll need to fly twelve-hours (absurdly, all in the second year), including one hour with an instructor. If you fail to do this you may still revalidate your licence by having a ‘mini-test’ with a CAA examiner. Currently licences are valid for five-years, but UK CAA licences are being replaced by EASA (European) licences which will have no expiration dates.‘
If you’ve done your training with us and hold the relevant qualification you could hire a plane from Lydd Aero Club. If you qualified elsewhere you could still hire a plane from us but you’ll need to do a ‘check ride’ with one of our instructors to make sure you are current and competent. If it’s a foreigner I’ll urge them to familiarise themselves with the Civil Aviation Authority website and have knowledge of England’s air laws as the air space is tight and infringement fines are dear.’
‘What are the hiring fees?’ I asked.
‘Dry hire is inexpensive at £77.50 an hour for a two-seater and £84.50 for a four-seater. It’s when you add fuel at £38.74 an hour and tax at £23.25 that it starts sounding different (for a four-seater, fuel costs £53.64 an hour and tax £27.63).’
I contemplated Tindall’s statement and did a few rudimentary calculations, planning family holidays and shopping trips and came to the conclusion that it should be me learning to fly. My girlfriends would agree that not doing so would be a direct violation of my basic human right to shop.