Atlantic Airways took delivery of its one and only Airbus A319 a bit more than a week ago. It’s fitted with special features to help get it into its remote, storm-battered, terrain-surrounded home base at Vagar, Faroe Islands.
I’ve just flown in there on Atlantic’s first A319 commercial schedule serving its main route, Copenhagen – Vagar. That’s the new machine (below), on the pan at its home base during its first working turnaround.
The aeroplane is the hero of this Nordic saga, the new approach to Vagar is the storyline. Vagar has Europe’s first EASA-approved required navigation performance (RNP 0.1) satellite guided precision approach system. Normal navigation aids would be no good because terrain makes ILS useless there, so visual approaches used to be the only option until last Woden’s Day (sorry, last Wednesday).
During winter, that means the schedule couldn’t operate a lot of the time. And if the crew takes a risk on a marginal weather forecast and it doesn’t work out, the nearest diversions are in Iceland, Norway or Scotland.
Atlantic got me clearance to occupy the jump seat on the CPH – FAE route.
To me, the Faroe Islands had previously been just a name in the shipping forecast broadcast by the BBC on medium wave radio around northern Europe. So on departure from CPH heading north west we traversed sea areas Fisher, South Utsire, Viking and Fair Isle before entering Faroes.
Atlantic’s A319 has a single-class 144-seat cabin with special provision for medevac cases. It’s navigation system (RNP AR 0.1) was developed by Airbus subsidiary Quovadis, which also designed the approach and departure procedures, working with the airline.
The aircraft is fitted with the most powerful CFM International engines on any Airbus A319 – the 27,000lb thrust-rated CFM56-5B/7 – to improve its single-engine performance because of the terrain at either end of Vagar’s runway. Other unique features include a single head-up display for the pilot (still working up to operational status), and a so-called “Florence kit” giving the A319 lower approach speeds and improved braking.
We began our descent toward Vagar as we entered sea area Faroes, when we first saw the waypoints/navaids cluster appearing on the navigation display.
We’re talking to Vagar, and know we’ll be landing on runway 30.
The first choice for approach is a Y descent to 30, which looks like this…
We’ll be using BUREM as the initial approach fix, so we’re more or less straight in, with a couple of gentle curves to follow.
But then we hear that the wind direction has backed to 300deg, so the crew decides to switch to the Z approach, which is even straighter…
That’s the thing about area navigation approaches: you get lots of choice if it’s needed, and for approaches to Vagar, wind direction really matters, because the terrain-generated turbulence can be fearsome. The crew’s local knowledge of the microclimate on approach to either end of the runway here really matters when conditions are marginal. For this reason, the RNP approaches are optimised to imitate the visual approaches that the pilots would have chosen to carry out if they had the same winds but visual flight conditions.
Suddenly the south eastern islands in the archipelago start showing up on the nav display. We can’t see them yet because of cloud…
Looks good. The newly-lengthened runway is 1,799m long (in early December it was only 1,250m). I think we’ll go manual…
…there’s the terminal…
and well done Atlantic Airways. Setting up Europe’s first satellite-guided precision approach has been a lot of work, and there is yet more to do to prove and refine it and get the approach minima as low as they can go.
It’s spring here. OAT 6degC, Latitude 62degN. Not as far north as Iceland, but nearly.
A bit later I’ll show you what it’s like on terra firma in the Faroes. But I only had a 1h turnaround to take some pix, so I couldn’t stray far before re-boarding for CPH.