Island hopping with Nauru Airlines

Last weekend I got to take what was an invaluable island hopping flight to Nauru and the surrounding islands courtesy of Nauru Airlines….the lessons I learnt will be invaluable over the next 12 months….HERE IS MY DIARY FROM THE TRIP:

9:30am (Nauru) Fri 13 Nov 15

Gotta love 1am flights! Boarded Nauru Airlines flight ON002 Brisbane – Nauru at 12:20am. Before boarding I got a personal page over the PA to come to the counter to get a high vis vest as I will be airside at some point during the journey. Yew! First personal page, feeling special. The service on the flight to Nauru was absolutely phenomenal. Great staff, good pilots and overall very nice service. Amazingly, I had a whole row to myself. Would have been able to enjoy it if my head hadn’t absolutely been killing me. Have had a bad head cold the last few days but this has been the worst. I have been timing my Panadol doses so that they don’t wear off and the pain doesn’t come back. At one point I woke up to a screaming headache. It took an hour for the Panadol to kick in again and I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything. Just wanted someone to knock me out. Climbs and descents are painful too, the sinus is not complying at all.

Flying in to Nauru was good fun! Most interesting approach I have seen to date in a commercial airliner. We were flying along in the descent and I saw an island off to the left, I thought it was just an outer lying island off the mainland of Nauru… Until I saw the runway that ran the length of the island… It was Nauru. Seeing that was really the first time everything came to light for me as to the size of what I am trying to do. This tiny little island in the middle of that huge ocean and I will be landing on even smaller islands, that without GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) there would be absolutely no hope of finding. It’s a lot of water, a lot.

Photo 13-11-2015, 4 17 04 PM

The approach into Nauru was interesting from the passenger perspective. Looking out of my little window we were getting lower and lower towards the ocean with no land in sight until just before we touched it, boom there was a runway. Talk about not wanting to be low on the approach.

Stepped out of the bright blue streaked Boeing 737-300 to cop a smack in the face from the heat and humidity which was warm compared to Australia for mid-late Spring.

The airport itself is a world away from those I am used to in Australia (not talking distance). The ground staff are all joking around and having a good time while still getting their work done and the security staff were barely checking a thing! Looking outside now I can see the ground boys lying back on a luggage trolley in the shade under the wing having a yarn while they wait for some more luggage, it is so different to Australia. No one is in a burning hurry to run their legs off getting from A to B. The other difference is the infrastructure. The airport literally consists of one little concrete two storey building with a paint job from ‘Bananas in Pyjamas’ surrounded by dense tropical rainforest on one side, and a runway followed by endless blue ocean on the other. I was great.

Now waiting in the departures lounge to re-board the same aircraft to head out to Pohnpei, Micronesia via several other islands. I’m really looking forward to the next leg of the journey as I will be able to take part in the flight from a flight crew perspective and see how it all works with international flying. This is an amazing opportunity to get a glimpse of what I will be undertaking next year. Not only the international requirements, but also the difference in airports and more.

7pm (Pohnpei, FSM) Fri 13 Nov 15

Route to Pohnpei:

  1. Honiara, Solomon Islands
  2. Nauru
  3. Tarawa, Kiribati
  4. Majoura, Marshall Islands
  5. Kosrae, FSM
  6. Pohnpei, FSM

 

Have had a phenomenal time getting here to Pohnpei. At Nauru was asked by a flight hostess if I would come up the front, so I did, and was moved to business class! Got to sit next to the other pilot’s who were on the flight going to Chuuk and I bombarded them with questions about flying internationally and weather through the Pacific. I really learned a lot out of this trip so far. Also got to hop out of the aircraft and put on the high vis vest I had been given in Brisbane and do the walk around of the Boeing 737-300 with one of the pilots in a lot of the stops. All the airports are like Nauru with the runway being on the edge of the water and the buildings being tiny compared to Australian international airports!

There will be a lot more to think about with these airports. Everything from security of the aircraft to clearances. As California controls all this airspace and the lower limit is around 5000′ , if there is another aircraft within 300nm of the airport they won’t let you take off which can leave you waiting for over half an hour. Also, some of the islands have little to no security and leaving the aircraft on the apron over night, and I’m told, can see you get your fuel stolen at least out of one of the tanks. The rules are also very relaxed and safety is not no. 1 priority. Some of the ground workers are just wearing thongs!

Once arrived at Pohnpei, went through immigration and a very relaxed customs (didn’t even look at my bag) then went outside to try and find a way to the hotel. Was eventually picked up by a car from the hotel and taken back. The room is quite nice and has been recently painted, and the restaurant below the rooms is nice too.

The country is very densely covered in tropical rainforest and plantation. It is a very relaxed place where road rules are optional and 3mm clearance between car mirrors is perfectly acceptable. And don’t look at the dogs as they will nip at you! Tomorrow I will go exploring.

7pm (Pohnpei, FSM) Sat 14 Nov 15

Had a fun day today! A nice sleep in to kick it off as only had 3 hours sleep yesterday. Had a shower and headed down to have some breakfast at the restaurant. Afterwards got some stuff from the room and went to reception to get a taxi to go exploring. Was going to go to Sokeh’s Rock however it was a bit wet and the taxi driver offered to give me a tour of the island. We agreed on $50 for a shortened tour and off we went.

Started off going to another rock to climb up however it was very slippery and I was wearing my quality climbing Vans so didn’t make it to the top. Still had a nice view and certainly an interesting experience trying to follow an almost non-existent trail (it was like trying to follow a path that a goat walked on 25 years ago and has been growing back ever since :/ ). Following that we visited an old Japanese grave site from WW2 which was at the College of Micronesia. Then we went to a place we could see the ocean and got some photos of the water, which is nice. Following that we went and saw the left over Japanese tanks from WW2 and then on to the Spanish church. The Spaniards were here in the late 1800’s and built a bell tower and I saw one of their old grave yards which was cool. Nice to see the history but unfortunately not very well maintained. They don’t seem very interested in the history surrounding their home. After this we headed back to the hotel. On the way home we passed a kid with a sign that said road block, and had an arrow pointing to go to another street. My taxi driver just laughed so I asked what it was about. Apparently those kids have a car wash and wanted us to go in it!

The 'track' and the shoes!
The ‘track’ and the shoes!

My taxi driver, Ameri, was such a champion! He swam in the Sydney Olympics for FSM, does marine farming to look after the fish and also is a taxi driver. Talk about a diverse resume.

Heard about the Paris attacks today. It’s very sad and shocking, I just wish there was something I could do to help over there. It’s a worry the way the world is going at the moment. Hoping things like this don’t become a roadblock for the trip.

Have to be at the airport at 5ish tomorrow morning for a 6am flight so early night tonight.

9:30am (Majouro, Marshall Islands) Sun 15 Nov 15

Found out later last night that the airport shuttle actually leaves at 3:30am. Who needs sleep right? Eventually got to the airport around 3:40, caught up with my new airport mate Ryan and checked in. Found out I had to pay a tax at the airport which I hadn’t been told about, lucky I had left over cash. Only problem, however, was that the tax guy wasn’t there. He was supposed to get there at 4am… 4:40am he finally rocked up so was waiting standing in the muggy hot waiting area for an hour, haha oh gotta love the island times.

Paid my tax, went through immigration and security, this time a bit more thorough, and entered the departure lounge. Ah the air-conditioned bliss! Aircraft arrived and we boarded just before 5:40am. My seat: 3D, business class yew!

Had a chat to Anthony (a pilot) on the way to Kosrae, a lot more knowledge gained and experience to call upon! We landed in Kosrae and I was told that on the next leg I would be in the jump seat! As the passengers were being offloaded I joined the engineer and did a walk around of the aircraft, discussing various features and designs it has. Following this I headed back up the stairs, into the aircraft then straight to the jump seat!

It was an amazing experience to sit up in the cockpit for the whole flight from take off to touch down and see the different systems that airline pilots use. It is all similar in a way to flying light aircraft, however everything is just a lot bigger. There are also a few new systems such as pressurisation and different Comms, however the basics of flying and navigating an aircraft don’t change.

I learned a lot out of the experience and now have a much greater idea of what to expect when it comes to taking on international flying in mid next year. The HF transmissions can sometimes take quite a few attempts to get through on a frequency that works and once you are through the signal isn’t too bad. As the people you are talking to aren’t controllers, the only relay information to controllers, all transmissions must be repeated word for word. Also learnt a bit more about weather and clouds and what to expect when flying through different areas. Towering cumulus are definitely ones to avoid. Weather can change quite quickly through here so it’s always important to be monitoring your surroundings and have a plan of where you will go. Stay upwind from storms so you don’t have to try and outrun them because in a light aircraft, often you won’t.

Overall, so far has been an extremely educational and beneficial trip, I think one of the best things I could have done so far in my preparation for the journey next year.

Now in the air on the way back to Tarawa, Kiribati. Might get back out and have another walk around the aircraft as will likely be my last stop that I can.

7pm (Nauru – Brisbane) Sun 15 Nov 15

Ended up being invited back into the jump seat again for the Tarawa – Nauru leg! I absolutely enjoy every second up there so I heartily accepted and spent another hour and a bit speaking with Glen and Robert and watching them work this machine. I’ve been trying to absorb every single bit of information that I can as this is not an opportunity that arises everyday. Drawing on the knowledge of people who fly these airspaces and over these waters day in-day out has been incredible and j have learned so much. Feeling a lot more prepared.

At Nauru had to get out and clear security again and wait in the transit lounge for the next departure time. Upon re-entering the aircraft I was bound for seat 19A when Anthony and Ross asked which seat they (NA) had put me in. I answered and they replied with ‘oh we will fix that up’ and went to organise a seat for me up with them in business class. Unfortunately a passenger that required assistance and their accompanying friend were already placed in the seat I was going to be moved to (which is totally ok, they need it more than me!) so Anthony came down and apologised and let me know what happened. Made me feel so special I really appreciated it! Would like to develop a relationship further with these guys – who knows where it may lead in the future. Ended up getting out and having another wander around the aircraft with Anthony at Honiara (thought I would sneak one more close up look at a Boeing 737 when I could) and discussed it and other possibilities that may occur when I take a Cirrus through these areas.

Almost back in Brisbane now and looking forward to bed. My day began at 3am this morning (2am Brisbane time) and won’t be home till 8:45-9pm. I am so grateful for this trip and the sponsorship from Nauru Airlines. It has been a most valuable experience and I know that some of the lessons I have learned over the past few days will be critical to the success of my world journey next year.

– Lachie