Stories by Bernie Leighton

MANAGING CORRESPONDENT - SEATTLE, WA. Bernie has traveled around the world to learn about, experience, and photograph different types of planes. He will go anywhere to fly on anything. He spent four years in Australia learning about how to run an airline, while putting his learning into practice by mileage running around the world. You can usually find Bernie in his natural habitat: an airport. Email:
Alongside the corporate aircraft, Lanseria also sustains LCC service - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Why does Rolls Royce name their jet engines after rivers? Because a river always runs. The Rolls Royce Spey engine is what made the Gulfstream II special, and it carried on to the much more popular variant: the Gulfstream III.

The Gulfstream III, in North America, has been ruined by noise regulations. It can still fly, but it is not loud — and I love loud. The Speys are hushed and neutered with heavy and awkward looking hushkits. So, if one wants to have the real (loud) Gulfstream III experience in 2015, you are going to have to go a long way.

To have this experience, I found myself in Lanseria, South Africa. Home of Medair, as well as being a more efficient way for citizens living in Pretoria and the Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg to depart than making the long drive to O.R. Tambo International. Lanseria is not just a domestic airport, it has a full customs and immigration set up. A good thing, as I was going to take the Gulfstream up to Maun, Botswana — the heart of the Okavango Delta. Why there? Because October is the major elephant migration and it was time for me to fly VIP, 1984-style!

Cathay Pacific has unveiled their new livery  - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Though there have been clues for over a year as to what Cathay Pacific was doing with their rebranding, it didn’t become fully clear until they recently unveiled it (including a new livery) in Hong Kong.

The previous hints were namely removing red from the boarding passes, corporate letterheads, and other places where customers may see the trademark “brushwing.”

There were even numerous rumors last year that a new livery was coming soon. That turned out not to be the case, but quite a bit of work was going on behind the scenes on the rebranding effort. Now, the world gets to see what Cathay has done to their aircraft.

The suite was too long to fit its entirety in my 14mm lens! Photo- Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

“That was the bulliest experience I ever had. I envy you your professional conquest of space.”

Thing is, Teddy Roosevelt never flew Etihad. Guy missed out. If a small biplane could impress our only president to ever ride a moose, I think the sheer awesomeness of Etihad would likely have left him a gibbering fool!

AirlineReporter Senior Correspondent Jacob Pfleger flew Etihad’s first class product back in the days when it was still called “Diamond First Class.” It was amazing, but with the introduction of the Facets of Abu Dhabi scheme and removal of the word diamond, Etihad has taken it even further. Out of a sense of curiosity and jealousy, a need to travel to South Africa, and a desire to best Jacob, I found a good fare from Los Angeles to Johannesburg that would let me put Etihad to the test on their longest pair of flights. I flew from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi and back, the route that Etihad purchased their 777-200LR fleet from Air India specifically to launch.

Now, when these planes came from Air India, they were in legendary Air India style. Missing parts, missing documents, pretty much close to the axe; the aircraft were not taken care of. Worse, Air India had decided to purchase the auxiliary fuel tanks from Boeing that were necessary for their dream routes to the U.S. West Coast that will only materialize this year (maybe). Etihad and Boeing worked for months to bring these aircraft up to scratch.

However, when you get on board, there is not a trace of the old horrors and neglect that these wonderful machines faced. The result is a first class cabin that is better than both Gulfstreams I have flown on.

The extremely wide seat extends into a bed well over six feet in length. Feeling exposed? Yeah, I would be too. Even though you can’t really see any other passengers when seated, that’s not the point – you have the ability to shut your doors and have ultimate privacy. When I fly, I’d rather not see anyone but the cabin crew. Commercial flights are not about socializing for me. Etihad understands.

RA-64518 preparing for the long journey to Komsomolsk-na-Amure on the ramp at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Preface: As I was stepping off my flight onto a hard stand at Domodedovo, I learned that Aeroflot was purchasing Transaero. What that will mean for Transaero is unclear at this time. What I can assume, however, is that Aeroflot’s dislike of oddball fleet types puts Transaero’s three Tupolev Tu-214s in extreme danger and that makes me sad. It also made the fact that I have now flown on a Tu-214 that much more important. The things that I had to do to get that flight — they might cause the standard AvGeek to go mad!