Flying Your Plane to Madeira
by Thierry Pouille
Private airplanes offer the obvious joy of flying, but also the capability of visiting remote places not yet overwhelmed by mass tourism such as Venice, Edinburgh, Luxor, etc.
Madeira is another example of a location off the beaten path, and the destination we will discover in this article.
Madeira is an island about 700 nm to the southwest of the coast of Portugal in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Madeira has a sister island, Porto Santos, also offering an airport. The closest other airport would be Tenerife to the southeast about 270 nm.
There are two ways to fly to Madeira from the United States:
If you have an airplane with a range over 1,500 nautical miles and HF equipped (no substitute), you can fly first to the Azores from St. Johns in Newfoundland. The first island, Ponta Delgada in the Azores, is only about 1,340 nautical miles – about the same distance as a flight from Goose Bay to Reykjavik – and then another 520 nm to Madeira.
If you are not HF equipped, Madeira can be reached from different places in Europe. If Porto is the place you would like to launch from, the distance is just shy of 700 nm.
The airport of Madeira is listed as one of the 10 most challenging airports in the world. There are over 180 columns that hold the runway.
Initially, the airport was built with a runway of 5,200 feet. It was extended back in 1986 to 5,900 feet and then in the early 2000s, it was extended to its present length of 9,124 feet.
The airport does not offer a precision approach for a regular equipped airplane. If you are RNP approved, there is an RNP approach available for each runway. So, when you program a flight to Madeira, you have to look very closely at the weather situation and showing per the included photo, there are limitations on take-off and landing from wind in excess of 15 knots coming from a certain direction. Since the airport is anchored on the side of a mountain, any kind of wind deviation would make the flight approach, landing and take-off dangerous.
History of Madeira
Madeira was claimed by Portuguese sailors back in 1419 and was settled by Portuguese in 1420. Interesting thing is that it never changed hands and these days while it is under the ownership of Portugal, it’s also known as an autonomous region.
Madeira is well-known for a number of reasons. Most known is that Winston Churchill loved to spend time there after the war to relax. You might have also learned of Madeira because of Madeira wine, which is a very sweet wine and comes from a number of wineries and vineyards on the island. Madeira wine fortified wine as well as local beer called Coral and some other local places.
There used to be a substantial amount of sugar cane before the production was shipped to Brazil back in the 17th and 18th centuries and these days there are a lot of bananas grown on the island.
Of course, one of the main attractions is tourism which contributes about 20 percent of the GDP of the island. It’s also a good destination for European people and if you are into whale watching. It’s certainly an interesting place to be.
What to Do in Madeira
The main thing is to relax, enjoy the destination and discover Madeira wine tasting along the way. The island is not that big with a total population of 260,000 inhabitants. The total size of Madeira is about 500 square miles.
For a pilot looking for an alternate, there is an island that is part of the Madeira Islands to the north called Porto Santo. Canary Island of Tenerife is another option south about 250 nautical miles. Madeira is also off the coast of Morocco. That is why we love to include a stop in Madeira when we visit Marrakech.
There are many hotels available but since we love the idea of a bygone era in our journeys, we stay at the famous Reid’s Palace that offers the old European charm invented by the Brits in the 1950s and 1960s. The property features different restaurants, a bar and tea in the afternoon the British way.
Looking forward to sharing more destinations in the months to come.
Tailwinds and blue skies!