Flying and Travels

Bilbao and Loire Castles

In July we had an opportunity to fly from Paris to Bilbao and visit Chateaux de la Loire on the way back. What a treat.  You may want to skip the first part if you are not a pilot.

Our friends Denis and Sophie took us to Bilbao and Denis was brave enough to let me fly his immaculate Cirrus SR22. With tail winds, the flight from Toussus le Noble, a GA airport close to Paris, to Bilbabo took 2:30. We flew IFR, because crossing the border (yes, they still have borders between France and Spain) would require a flight plan and squawk code anyway. Denis was working the radios and although I am fluent in French, I had initially some trouble understanding the phraseology. In fact, IFR is easier in such circumstances for a visiting pilot, because you get more hand holding. Denis Cirrus is N-registered, which would allow me to be a PIC based on my FAA license – my EASA conversion, which I would need to use to fly any European registered aircraft is VFR only.

The air was calm at 9,000 feet and the sky clear, except until we were close to Bilbao. An overcast layer forced us to fly an ILS approach. The airplane has dual GTN650, a DFC-90 autopilot and and Avidyne screen, the setup I am very familiar with, so I didn’t think I would have any trouble flying this approach. Denis had Jepessen approach plates, which I reviewed and didn’t see anything unusual. Here is the plate I found online, it is not Jepp, but the information is similar.

If you just load the approach as usual, you will have trouble identifying 4,900 step down fix from BLV, because it is not in the navigator database. Might be that’s why the approach plate says DME required! The easy solution is of course to set up BLV (or IBLV) as a waypoint on the #2 GPS, so that you can see the distance. Otherwise, during the approach, you will have to do the subtraction BLV 15 – BLV 12.9 to figure out that fix is 2.1 nm from FAF. After Denis suggested setting up #2, I was already very high on the glideslope and technically, we should have gone missed. But this was gentleman IMC and the ceilings were high enough, so we continued and landed.

The DME is in fact mandatory in Europe for approaches like that and they do not support using GPS in lieu of DME, as we do in US. In fact, even ADF is mandatory if the approach plate says so. I saw weird panels with the latest Garmin Perspective and 30 years old King ADF box squeezed in the middle. Somebody should tell EASA that we are in the 21st century.

Handling is mandatory in Bilbao and we paid about $200 between handling fees, landing fees and various taxes. Think about it the next time you complain about that $25 a FBO charges you if you don’t take fuel.


The main Bilbao attraction is of course the Guggenheim museum. 

If you’ve been to Southern California, you might think they did copy Disney Hall in Los Angeles, but that would be the same as saying that Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria is modeled after Disneyland (I actually did hear that exact thing being said by an American couple strolling through the castle). Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Bilbao in nineties and the museum opened in 1997.  He followed with Disney Hall, which was opened in 2003.

The Bilbao puppy next to the museum is endearing and we probably took thousand pictures of it.

We departed Bilbao IFR and this time I was also manning the radios – in English, because I don’t speak Spanish and with Denis help. We soon were switched over to French controllers and I continued in English, but than we decided to land in Poitiers and refuel and somehow, we switched to French. It was actually relatively easy – speaking French is a definitive advantage if you fly there. A LPV approach was a piece of cake.

Chateaux de la Loire

After Poitiers, we continued VFR at 1,500 feet, to visit Chateaux de la Loire. It was bumpy, but worth it, we saw Loche, Chenonceau, Amboise, Blois and Chambord.


Namibia Dunes




  1. David

    I had the same experience on the LOC 28L into MRY. The KLN 94 does not give you the step down fixes, only the FAF and MAP which is at the threshold. The step downs are based off DME on the LOC, so something like 1.7nm from the MAP displayed. This was a solid IFR day, and it proved to me that doing basic math while hand flying an approach in actual conditions is nearly impossible.

    I really enjoyed reading this blog!

    • Thomas Daniel

      David, thanks for reading. You make a good point. Flying behind a 430W in US, you won’t see any missing step down fixes, but we sometimes forget there are older GPS boxes out there, which have less capacity and hence don’t include all waypoints.

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