Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Planespotting in Moscow: a colorful festival

A Kirgizstan Airlines TU-154, see in the background the large amount of old Soviet-made airliners parked (most of these aircraft do not seem to be in active use)

Azerbaijan Airlines Boeing 757

An A320 of Armenian carrier Armavia

This year I missed Farnborough airshow because I had scheduled a trip to Moscow on the same dates, however, what I saw during my wait at Moscow's Domodedovo airport was probably more interesting for someone, like me, interested in airliners, as one after another aircraft from the myriad of airlines that operate today in Russia paraded in front of the terminal in their way to or from the runways.

I guess the first word that comes to the mind of the Western planespotter in Russia is "diversity":

Diversity of airlines, because besides the main European and Asian airlines you get to see many airlines that seldom operate outside Russia or the countries of the former Soviet Union and also diversity of aircraft, because Moscow's airports are one of the few major hubs where you can still see a considerable amount of Soviet-made aircraft alongside the typical Boeing and Airbus models.

Soviet-era airliners are becoming a rarer sight as Russian airline's fleets become Westernised, and they seem to become increasingly confined to the fleets of former Soviet republics' airlines.

This Westernisation might reverse, though, when Russia successfully launches its new range of civilian aircraft, such as the Irkut MS-21.

The evolution of the civilian aviation sector in Russia has a fascinating story and I think it deserves more than one, watch this space!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Planespotting at Perpignan & the advantages of small airports

A far cry from the grandiosity of Barcelona airport (BCN), or even the super-fast growth of neighboring Girona-Costa Brava (GRO) airport, the small airport at Perpignan, in the South of France right next to the Spanish border, has preserved some of the obvious advantages of small regional airports.

If commercial offering is almost non-existent in the terminals, the no-crowds, no hassle, fast boarding experience is a strong positive point. With only a handful of flights per day (namely Air France to ORY, Ryanair to Stansted and Charleroi and the new several-times-a week Flybe routes to Birmingham and Southampton and BmiBaby to Manchester), airport transit procedures are quick and efficient.

Perpignan (Perpinya in the local Catalan language) is the entry point to the wine-growing Roussillon area, which has many important, if a bit underrated, tourist attractions, such as the Cote Vermeille (with the magnificent seaside town of Collioure/Cotlliure) and the Pyrenees. With Girona airport becoming ever more congested (although this might change again as a result of Ryanair's recent landing at BCN), Perpignan can be given serious consideration (provided you have a car) as an alternative entry point to the Costa Brava.

Planespotting at Perpignan is quite limited given the small number of regular flights at the airport, nevertheless, in my recent visits to the airfield I could see how some roadside areas on the approaches to the airport are always packed with spotters at the times when there is some air traffic at the airport. So I joined the crowd and here are the pics!

Ryanair's Boeing 737-800s are regular visitors at PGF since the Irish low-cost airline operates daily flights to London-Stansted (STN) and Charleroi (CRL)

A view of a Ryanair Boeing 737-800 by the PGF control tower

Air France A320 landing at Perpignan as seen from the airport access road. Air France operates several daily flights to Paris-Orly (ORY)

A view of the small terminal at Perpignan-Rivesaltes (PGF) with an Air France A320 in the foreground

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Planespotting at Perpignan airport (PGF): the Patrouille de France

Perpignan/Perpinya (PGF) is usually a pretty quiet airport but this week was different, as it was hosting the “Patrouille de France”, the acrobatics team of the French Air Force (Armee de l’Air), that was training ahead of an upcoming air show near Perpignan, where it was scheduled to perform alonside the Breitling Jet Team.

This visit by the “Patrouille de France” was an outstanding opportunity that local planespotters did not miss (as you could see the crowd gathering all along the road that leads to the airport. The “Patrouille’s” Alpha Jets performed their exercises at low altitude and right over the airport, including the traditional display of the French tricolour, and several other acrobatic moves.

Another unusual sight at Perpignan was a C-160 Transall from the Armee de l’Air, that was there supporting the “patrouille’s” temporary deployment to the Catalan airfield.

The timing of the exercises was also coincident with the arrival of the two most frequent visitors of the airport, Ryanair’s Boeing 737 from London Stansted (STN) and Air France’s A320 from Paris-Orly (ORY), not a bad planespotting afternoon for such a small airport!

One of the Patrouille de France Alpha Jets on the tarmac at Perpignan

Air France A320 arriving from Paris-Orly passing by the Patrouille de France Alpha Jets

A view of the terminal and control tower at Perpignan, with a Transall C-160 in the foreground and a Ryanair Boeing 737 in the background

An unusual sight: a Boeing 737, a C-160 and several Alpha Jets together at PGF

Ryanair's Boeing 737 preparing to depart for London Stansted (STN)

A Transall C-160 of Armee de l'Air

Patrouille de France deployed to Perpignan airport

Two of the Alpha Jets were painted in a more military grey-green rather than the tricolour livery worn by the rest of the "Patrouille"

The tricolour

Perpignan airport fly-over

An Alpha Jet in its ascending path over Perpignan airport