Le Touquet - Information for Pilots

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French Leave

French Leave On a clear day you can see the houses on the seafront at Calais from 3,000 feet above the harbour at Dover but much of the time, you’re more likely to find a milky-white haze dividing England from France and with it, the illusion of a passing container ship suspended in the sky ahead and below your aircraft. Crossing the English Channel to Le Touquet is likely to be the first great foreign adventure for any UK pilot and like negotiating the narrow corridor between Stansted and Luton for the first time, it carries its own anxieties, “I don’t speak French”, “I can’t swim” and “What do I write on the flight plan?”

On the reverse side of the coin, there’s the satisfaction of returning home with an aircraft full of good wine, French cheese and a great story of how you survived the madness of busy circuit at Le Touquet, cycled through the shaded “Foret” to the town and beach and enjoyed a fantastic open-air seafood lunch for only €15.00 If you are planning your first flight to the continent, then you have two sensible choices available Calais or Le Touquet. The airfield at Calais has a reasonable restaurant but is isolated and distant from the town, while the elegant resort of Le Touquet, “Paris Plage”, appears almost custom-built to welcome adventurous British aviators, which it does in the thousands during the summer months. For the well-prepared pilot, the Le Touquet run is much less of a challenge than one might expect but every pilot should be prepared for the unpredictability of cross-channel weather, as the Le Touquet airfield, which is only 2kms from the beach can be invisible beneath a layer of sea mist or fog early in the day. This frequently leads to it operating under Special VFR rules before 11:00Z in summer mornings. A second point is that the French can occasionally close an airfield without it appearing in NOTAM. (See http://www.sia.aviation-civile.gouv.fr/asp/menu_uk.asp) Le Touquet is no exception and this can occasionally happen during the week, which caught me Simon Moores

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out writing this feature, so listen out for other pilots progress on the same route. If you are planning your first Le Touquet trip, study the south coast and cross channel METARS and TAFs closely, with special attention to the atmospheric conditions that indicate the possibility of sudden coastal fog, as it’s a shame to arrive over Dover and sea a dense and intimidating white wall of rolling sea mist between you and France.

Le Touquet Line-up 32

Most pilots will cross from England to France at the shortest point, via Dover or route direct to Le Touquet from Lydd. The latter has some benefits, as Lydd Airport with its excellent new runway, will fill-up your aircraft with fuel free of VAT, which saves having to reclaim it from HM Customs at a later date. Stopping at Lydd also gives you the opportunity of finding out the latest weather at Le Touquet before you cross the English coast and are able to hear the Le Touquet ATIS. You can of course file your outward flight plan directly from Lydd, wait thirty minutes for VFR departures, have a good breakfast in the terminal restaurant and then set-off across the channel, first on the Lydd VOR and then direct onto the LT ADF and ILS/DME, which can take you straight into Le Touquet’s runway 24 if they are using it. The second and possibly the most popular route to Le Touquet, takes the pilot direct to the Dover VOR and then to a point west of Cap Gris Nez before following what is normally an extended join and descent for light aircraft from Boulogne to the Le Touquet circuit. I’m inclined to follow the DVR 155 radial to the mid-channel LYD intersection before following the coast south to the Le Touquet NDB on a course of around 157 degrees. Aircraft operating between the Thames Estuary and Dover should preferably use Manston Radar on 126.35 for a Flight Information or Radar Information Service, as Manston is now busy with EUjet commercial passenger traffic and will advise you of

Simon Moores

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separation from other aircraft, sometimes a dozen or more at a time, all heading for the Dover VOR and out across the channel. If you’re leaving from the Lydd VOR, then it’s best to work Lydd Radio until they give you a midchannel (FIR Boundary EGTT) “hand-off” to Le Touquet for joining instructions. You should listen to the Le Touquet ATIS (129.12) for all the relevant airfield information which broadcasts in both French and English. Assuming that like most pilots, you will be coming from the direction of the Dover VOR, Manston will also hand you over to Le Touquet at mid-channel. Forget calling Lille Approach unless you have filed an IFR flight plan but keep a note of Paris Information, just in case you feel the need to talk with anyone else on the French side, or need to divert, they’re very friendly. Nine times out of ten on any summer weekend, Le Touquet can be as busy as any morning at Heathrow, which is why it’s important to have all one’s aviation “ducks” in a neat row, for your own benefit and that of all the other pilots joining from across the channel.

Gilbert your ATC at Le Touquet

With a channel crossing in mind, it’s best to use the quadrantal rule to keep as high above the waves as possible and leave Dover at 3,500 feet towards Cap Gris Nez on the opposite side of the channel on a VOR magnetic bearing of 170 degrees. Approximately three miles from the French coastline, you should start your descent down towards 2,000 feet and Boulogne harbour, having listened to the Le Touquet ATIS for joining information. On a weekend, the radio is likely to be busy, very busy, so it’s not recommended to contact the often harassed Le Touquet controller, Gilbert Quennessen on the tower frequency of 118.45, until you have turned along the French coast and started your descent to Boulogne on a course of 190 degrees. Gilbert speaks good English and prefers you to keep your transmissions brief, so give him you callsign, your position (descending to Boulogne, 2000 feet) and the information letter from the ATIS. You may have to wait a very long time to get a word in edgeways or for a reply, that will be equally short, i.e. “GAXGG, report downwind left-hand 32” or “Report Boulogne harbour.”

Simon Moores

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It’s possible that on a day with Special VFR rules in operation, and with poor visibility in the sea mist layer, that the controller will allow an ILS approach, particularly for aircraft following the 142 radial from Lydd towards the LT NDB and ILS/DME but it’s much more likely at weekends that he will request that traffic joins the pattern from Boulogne to maintain visual separation and this may be included in the ATIS.

Joining Le Touquet Base 14

Le Touquet on a Saturday is the aviation equivalent of the Staines section of the M25 on a Monday morning, so keeping a good lookout for other aircraft, descend along the coast towards the harbour at Boulogne, looking for a sharp break in the coast in the distance which marks river estuary for Le Touquet. You’ll notice that there’s a grass strip on the cliff top as you pass the town of Boulogne and this is probably a good time to descend at around 200fpm towards 1,500 feet, keeping approximately two miles out to sea to neatly intercept the base leg for runway 14 or the downwind leg for runway 32, (both 1850m). Runway 06/24 (1200m is rarely used). With so many aircraft of different speeds, descending into the airfield at any time on summer’s day, it’s a good idea to keep a tight circuit as there’s nothing worse for the experienced pilot, than to have the day-tripper in front extending towards Paris on the downwind or approach legs, which then causes the equivalent of a traffic jam back towards Boulogne. If you are landing on runway 14, descend towards a direct left base join from Boulogne at the estuary opening and you’ll see the concrete runway on the opposite side, running parallel to the estuary, with the beach and town of Le Touquet to the south.

Simon Moores

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Downwind Join for 32 at Le Touquet

Aircraft, joining for runway 32 turn left at the estuary to join downwind and keep to the northern side of the river, before turning base, roughly towards the bridge over the river, crossing behind it and then turning right and calling final approach to land. On landing, exit quickly, as there’s likely someone behind you and then taxi towards the apron where you’ll be most likely met by a man on a bicycle, who will direct you to your parking spot. Switch of the engine, breathe a sigh of relief, take off your life-jacket and walk into the 1930s style terminal with its sign “The Cote D’Opale Welcomes You.” It’s possible that you’ll see the duty customs official in his office as you pass through the glass doors. If it’s lunchtime then you probably won’t but you should take your passport anyway. If you are lucky when you arrive, then you’ll see a rack of bicycles on your right. This is important as they can be hired for €10 for the day, complete with lock and shopping basket when you book-in at the counter.

Arrivals

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Arriving pilots booking-in at the reception desk for their aircraft destination and point of origin and whether you want any fuel which is cheaper in France. When you pay your landing fee of €10, ask for a free tourist map and a bicycle, unless you plan to eat at the very good airport Escale restaurant “Gastronomique” (Tel 33 (0) 321 05 23 22 or fax 03 21 05 84 56 for a reservation) or would prefer to walk (30 minutes) or taxi (€5) into town. Taxis aren’t that easy to find in the high season and a bicycle is the quickest and easiest means of getting around. The road from the airfield to the centre of town and the beach, through the “Forest” of Le Touquet, is well-signposted, very quiet and takes ten minutes of relaxed pedalling before you arrive in the town. At this point, it’s best to head toward “La Plage”, past the Casino made famous by the James Bond novel, Casino Royale and the equally famous Westminster Hotel where Tony and Cherie Blair once stayed, into the narrow one way system, and then lock your bicycle up against one of the many bicycle parking stands in the roads adjacent to the main shopping street on the Rue St Louis.

Airport restaurant l’Escale

There’s no shortage of restaurants in Le Touquet but on any weekend you may find the best ones over-subscribed if you arrive late. It’s best to give yourself plenty of time to find a nice table at any of the restaurants along the “Drag”, which can offer an Italian, menu, fresh seafood, a local speciality or an extensive French cuisine in any of the larger and more expensive restaurants. As an idea for you budget, a large serving of “Moules Mariniere” in white wine, with soft drinks and coffee is good value at €15, wine will cost a little more and the pilot and” designated driver” will have to suffer bravely on mineral water.

Simon Moores

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Restaurant Le Matisse

This being France, if you arrive out of hours, you risk finding all the shops closed and could starve but Le Matisse (03 21 05 94 81) 3rd road to the left as you walk past the shops towards the sea, serves a “non-stop” service with tables outside and in. If you arrive early in the morning, the big local fish market on the Rue de la Paix is likely to be open. It’s a few hundred yards west of the main street and on the way, you’ll also find a wide choice of supermarkets, “chic” clothes boutiques, patisseries, cafes and chocolatiers dotted along the route. Wine and cheese you can find in abundance in the two main ‘supermarches’ but the best and widest selection of wines can be found at Le Chais on the corner of the Rue de Londres parallel to the “Drag.

Simon Moores

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Wine Cellar Le Chais

If you are taking children, then Le Touquet has a fine white beach, limitless quantities of ice cream and the Aqualud water park, a magnet for children and the French equivalent of Bedlam with water slides and pools. Best east before you go in though as the food is basic “saucisse” and “chips Anglais” and the prices outrageous.

Aqualud

If you’re not staying overnight in one of the many three to five star hotels in the town, then when it comes time to leave, simply make your way back to the airport counter and pay your bill for your landing fee, bicycle and fuel, if you have requested any on arrival. At this point, hand-in the outward flight plan Simon Moores

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you will have prepared earlier in England and fill in the time box for a Zulu time thirty minutes in the future. You can also check the weather if you wish on the Minitel consoles in the lounge or even check your email or the UK MetOffice weather on a Tiscali “Wifi” hotspot at the airport if you happen to be carrying a laptop. As this will be a VFR flight, it gives you plenty of time to pack your aircraft, paying special attention to weight and balance factors on the return home, walk around for a pre-flight check, put on your lifejacket, calmly review your route home and request an engine start and taxi from the tower. By this time, the thirty minutes will have passed for your flight plan to enter the system and Le Touquet will open this for you automatically on departure. Don’t forget to close it at the UK end when you land. Le Touquet on a summer’s day offers a great day out and experience for a pilot and passengers both. Just remember to anticipate the traffic and arrive there in time to grab a good table in the sunshine for lunch.

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Useful Web Resources • •

• • • • •

French Notams - http://www.sia.aviationcivile.gouv.fr/asp/menu_uk.asp Weather o Theyr Three Day Forecast - http://www.theyr.net o Avbrief =- http://www.avbrief.co.uk/ o MetOffice – www.metoffice.gov.uk Approach Plates Online www.gcap.co.uk/ Le Touquet Town Information & Guide www.letouquet.com/index_en.aspx Activités in Le Touquet http://www.theotherside.co.uk/tmheritage/towns/le%20touquet.htm Hotels in Le Touquet http://www.cheapaccommodation.com/LeTouquet/3-star-hotel/ Detailed Map of Le Touquet http://www.letouquet.com/webspe/gb/outils/plan/plan.aspx

Hotels in Le Touquet Hotel (Stars)

Telephone/Fax/Web

Price

Westminster ****

T: (00 33 321) 05.48.48 F: (00 33 321) 05.45.45 www.westminster.fr T: (00 33 321) 06.28.28 F: (00 33 321) 05.90.93 www.thalassa.com T: (00 33 321) 05.83.95 F : (00 33 321) 05.85.23 www.lenoveaucaddy.com

€ 135 / €575 per room 2 persons

Novotel *** Noveau Caddy

€ 101 / €168 per room 2 persons € 55 / €70 per room 2 persons

Three Restaurants in Le Touquet Restaurant

Telephone/Fax/Web

Price

La Dune aux Loups

T: (00 33 321) 05.42.54 F: (00 33 321) 05.51.67

Traditionnel € 15.70 menu

La Village Suisse

T: (00 33 321) 05.69.93 F: (00 33 321) 05.66.97

Gastronomique € 20.00 – €40.00

Le Jardin

T: (00 33 321) 05.16.34 F : (00 33 321) 05.93.39

Traditionnel € 15 – €43 menu

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Flying in: Dover (DVR) Lydd (EGMD) Le Touquet (LFAT) Manston (EGMH)

Simon Moores

VOR 114.95 114.05

ILS/DME 108.15 110.15 111.75

ADF 397 358 347

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ATIS

Tower

129.12 133.675

120.70 118.45 119.925

Approach

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Le Touquet Chart– Permission of GCAP

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Pilot Study Stuart Okin is a sixty hour PPL/IMC on his first trip to Le Touquet with three other pilots in a Cessna 172. Asked what advice he would give to other pilots on their first experience of “French Leave”, Stuart suggests: •

“Be aware that you are going to have loads and loads of novice pilots in a very crowded airspace If possible have another pilot to fly with you to reduce the workload, maintain situational awareness and keep a lookout for other aircraft in the Le Touquet circuit. “It’s pretty crazy.”

“Don’t panic about the RT and don’t expect to get your RT in first time. They are so, so busy you need to get in as early as you can. We were practically downwind before we had an answer from the tower.”

“Don’t overload yourself with information. Your map, one sheet of paper with frequencies and a second with your route and alternates should be enough.”

“If you expect Special VFR at Le Touquet or fog over the channel you won’t be surprised by it.”

“Take a very large shopping basket.”

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