This is a gem for the AvGeek: Four flights, three aircraft types, and one airline all in a single day. Could I generate some sort of silly AvGeek personal record? I would see. The opportunity arose by a chance encounter with Andy Butler, Distribution Services Manager for Aurigny Air Services at an industry event. Established in 1968 and nationalized in 2003, Aurigny (pronounced “Or-rini”) is the national carrier of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel (or La Manche, if you’re French). Together with the islands of Alderney, Sark, and some smaller islands, they form part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Along with Jersey, they are more commonly known as the Channel Islands.
The Channel Islands are British Crown dependencies, but are not part of the UK or the EU. Given the Channel Islands’ proximity to France, and having historically been part of the Duchy of Normandy, there is a distinctly Anglo-French heritage. Aurigny means Alderney in Norman French. Anyhow, geography and history lessons over. Back to flying.
Andy invited me to fly down on Aurigny’s Embraer 195 from London Gatwick (LGW) to Guernsey (GCI) and join the airline’s media relations manager, Euan Mahy, for a flight to Alderney (ACI) and back, followed by an operational tour for the day. I must confess that I’d only seen the name Aurigny for the first time on the side of an ATR72 at Southampton Airport (SOU) earlier this year (whilst covering the 80th Anniversary of the Spitfire). Not only had I never flown on them, but I had also never flown on an Embraer, a Dornier, a Britten-Norman Trislander, or an ATR before. This would be an aviation enthusiast overload of ducal proportions [Editor’s note: Had to Google “ducal” – “of, like, or relating to a duke or dukedom.” Nice!].
I navigated my way through the hordes of excited holidaymakers at LGW South Terminal, not stopping to sample the gin tasting (I just ain’t a player at 7:00 am) and headed for a quiet-ish corner to muse. The Aurigny pre-boarding zone was quite serene, compared to scenes around some of the other gates. The flight was sensibly boarded rows 16-to-32, then 1-to-15. No first, business, gold card member, priority boarding, or any other elite status getting anybody on board before anyone else here. I was quietly thankful for it, too.
We taxied and queued whilst LGW evicted as many winged-squatters off its land as quickly as possible [Um… Google doesn’t even help here. Best guess: “planes took off.” – Editor]. Joining the fleet in July 2014, Aurigny’s Embraer 195, affectionately known as The Jet, is a single-class 122-seater with comfortable slimline seats at 30″ pitch. The flight time to GCI is a mere 35 minutes, and the Brazilian-made aircraft’s twin GE CF34 turbofans whisked us up to a cruising altitude of 22,000ft and we were over the Channel in no time.
Well, it was enough time to enjoy a free cup of coffee or to buy VAT tax free goods, if I wanted. The flight attendant announced that the flight was fully non-smoking (I understand that Aurigny has operated fully non-smoking services since 1977) then proceeded to offer duty free Lambert & Butler cigarettes in batches of 200 or 400 for sale. I chuckled to myself at the irony of the cabin address order.
We cleared through a bit of chop and cloud and descended for the approach into GCI. I could see Guernsey’s capital, St. Peter Port, which was as close to it as I would get today. The friendliness and hospitality of the staff extended to indulging me with a few photos of the empty cabin after disembarkation. 35 minutes was the shortest commercial flight I’d ever taken. I was about to beat that.
I hooked up with Euan in arrivals and we hurried through GCI security to return airside for the “Freighter” flight. Aurigny currently operates three Britten-Norman Trislanders, a versatile three Lycoming piston-engined, British-made aircraft that first entered service in late 1970 (and with Aurigny in July 1971). The Trislanders carry an average of 14 passengers but are also adapted for cargo or emergency medi-vac operations.
Aurigny flies parcels, mail, and other freight to and from Alderney on a Trislander G-RLON. This was my first cargo flight and it bizarrely made me think of the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom except without Indy, Willie, Short-Round, or two nefarious, parachute-wearing pilots of course. Or any chickens.
I buckled up, donned a headset, and sat excitedly and in trepidation as Capt. Gillespie started the engines and steered the aircraft to the runway. The Trislander needs very little runway to get airborne. This is useful for Alderney’s 2,887 ft main asphalt runway and its two secondary grass runways at 2,405ft and 1,631ft respectively (three operational runways on an island with approx. 1,400 inhabitants…!). We would have a 12-minute flight, cruising at just under 4,000ft across the sea to an island that is only eight miles from mainland France.
The weather was generally clear and turbulence was minimal. I understand that both the Trislander and Dornier DO228 are quite sturdy in heavy crosswinds, but vast quantities of fast-moving Channel Island fog have always posed operational challenges. “We can get 60-knot fog in the Channel Islands,” explained Dornier Fleet Manager Capt. Mike Selwood. ACI does not have an Instrument Landing System, so deteriorating weather conditions will inevitably have an adverse impact on services from time to time.
We left G-RLON, and Capt. Gillespie and I headed to ACI arrivals. I was still tingling after my first flight in a unpressurised cabin on a good old-fashioned propeller aircraft. The Trislander is popular amongst the locals and I can see why. It’s one of those quirky British aircraft, an unassuming hero of a workhorse that steadily (and loudly) gets on with the job carrying pax, their (rabies-free) pets, and cargo. I loved every moment of the experience. We did a quick tour of Aurigny’s ACI base operations before heading to departures for the return leg on the Dornier DO228.
Forming part of Aurigny’s fleet is the 19-seater Dornier DO228. Aurigny have two ‘classic’ variants and a New Generation one. We were heading back on a classic! Like the Trislander, the German-made DO228-200 is capable of short take-offs and landings due to a wing design that generates considerable lift without needing much engine thrust. This also makes it a useful addition to the island-hopping fleet.
The DO228-200 is a square tube of a plane, the sort of thing that you could create out of Lego in the days before Lego starting making circular bricks. It’s great fun and the twin Garrett TP331 turboprops are powerful and fuel efficient. The captain gave the cabin address in person and announced a flight time of 10 minutes. My personal best of 12 minutes on the Trislander was just about to be broken.
We rapidly descended into GCI nose down at what felt like quite a steep angle and received a series of mild bumps and jolts from the odd low cloud. Landing was equally as smooth as it had been in the Trislander. The captain brought the aircraft to stand and stepped into the cabin to thank us for flying with Aurigny. It was such a cozy atmosphere that I loudly thanked him. I felt oddly self-conscious, but it seemed the right thing to do.
We waited for the propellors to stop and debunked to arrivals, the second time in the space of two hours for me. Euan and I had some lunch and Mike gave me a brief tour of Aurigny’s hangar. I got up close to the ATR and was hopeful of imminently flying back to LGW in one. Alas, it was not meant to be. I flew back on The Jet. Still, three aircraft types in a single morning is pretty darn good!
Aurigny runs a great service, with a fleet adapted to suit the logistical and geographical requirements of its operations. It has several accolades, winning the European Regional Airline Association’s 2015 Airline of the Year Silver award and the Which?(a UK consumer watchdog) Preferred Provider award in January 2016. Clearly, they’re doing something right. In any event, my day of flying with Aurigny in the Channel Islands had been brilliant. As I watched Capt. Gillespie expertly pilot the Trislander into ACI, I simply wished that I’d gone to flight school and not law school.
NOTE: These flights were paid for by Aurigny Air Services, but all opinions and statements are my own.