Featured Partner – Air Journey

A Volcano on the Route

by Thierry Pouille

In mid-August 2017, I launched on a journey around the world westbound with a circumnavigation around Australia. I led a group of six airplanes on this unique adventure.

IMG_8742As we settled in Broome, northern Australia and not too far from the Kimberleys, I studied our next destination: Bali. When we organize these programs, safety and enjoyment is our top concern. On the safety side, we obviously look for weather issues, political issues, unrest issues, as well as mechanical or medical concerns. So far, the journey has operated very well.

On checking the next destination, Bali’s Denpasar International Airport, I had been following over the previous weeks the report that the volcano Mount Agung was reporting stronger activity. The last time there was an eruption was in 1963. I logged in to the VONA website operated by the geologists of Indonesia to get an update.

I am not an expert, but when you read that the government has decided to evacuate 130,000 people within a range of 10 miles from the crater and that the villagers are reporting snakes and monkeys running down the side of the mountain, something is going on. As the leader of the journey it makes good sense to stay away from the place. Furthermore, our hotel, the beautiful Amankila from the Aman hotel chain, is at the foot of the volcano less than 10 miles from the crater.

IMG_8741Are we going there? The answer is no. So, I met with the participants and told them about the new game plan. We would fly to Bali (it is about an 800-nm leg), land, refuel, handle the paperwork, and then launch again for a 950-nm leg to Singapore, our next destination.

Since we would be losing three nights in Bali, I decided to add three nights in beautiful Langkawi, Malaysia and the Four Seasons Hotel. We had a plan, we had an option, we had everything we need.

When you fly in that part of the world, you need permission for overflight, landing, takeoff, and parking. Another option I contemplated was to fly to an airport west of the island of Bali to stay away from the traffic as well as the risk of the volcano. However, that could not happen because of the authorization and permit we had. So off we went as we check one last time if there is any more news about Mount Agung. Nothing was reported.

With a beautiful flight and clear skies, we landed at the Denpasar Bali airport on a busy afternoon. We went straight to the FBO, which is a brand-new, modern building. They had a number of people handling us and the fuel truck was waiting to fuel our first bird before taking off to Singapore. It looked like a well-set plan.

But in this part of the world nothing is easy, and Bali being a very busy place, we needed a slot time for departure. This needed a bit of negotiation since our original game plan had changed. We were assured before leaving Australia that it shouldn’t be an issue. However, when I learned that our new slot time was 5 p.m. local, we had a problem. I refused to take my single-engine bird over the water at night on a 1,000-nm leg to arrive at a VFR-only airport at night with no published approach. That’s was no-go. We carry an SMS (Safety Management System) concept, and everything was blinking red on our list.

The decision was made: Sorry mates, we are spending the night in Bali. I had secured slots for 8 a.m. the next day. Now came the job of finding rooms for 16 people at the last minute.

The beauty of our journeys is that we’ve been to many places before, established relationships, and in this case, we secured beautiful accommodations in pool suites at the Four Seasons not too far from the airport. Everyone was excited. We secured the airplanes, and we were welcomed with music, dance, buffet and an excellent dinner before going to the preflight brief for the next morning.

Everyone was thinking about that trembling volcano. Then some local people decided around 11 p.m., that it would be fun to go to the beach and launch fireworks. When you are sound asleep and you have in the back of your mind a possible blowing volcano, it’s disconcerting to see lights through the shade and hear trembling noises. The worst-case scenario is that if the volcano erupts, the airport closes for at least 72 hours. It would be a nightmare! Thankfully it was not the volcano, only fireworks.

DSCN1622The next morning we flew on to Singapore, but not before getting beautiful photos of the volcano on departure. On this exciting and exotic journey, there was never a dull moment. But it did reinforce that we always need to be ready to deal with whatever wrench is thrown into our carefully laid plans.

The next Air Journey that will visit Bali is the “2018 Journey Around the World” and the “2019 Australia and Beyond.”

For more than 20 years, Air Journey has been the world’s leader in escorted flying Journeys, delivering exhilarating flying experiences to the world’s greatest destinations.