Shepherd Aero - Blog



The North Atlantic Non-Radar Paradox for Light Jets

Aug 9 is a big day for the @80days80stays around the world in a #HondaJet. Starting in Halifax, the route will take us up to Goose Bay, and then over to Narsarsuaq Greenland and then to Keflavik Iceland.

The ocean works a little differently then over land. Because there is no radar coverage across the oceans, and also no radar coverage in the entire southern half of Greenland, aircraft have to be separated by time and altitude rather than by radar observations. Instead of planes being 5 miles apart at the same altitude, they generally must be 120 miles apart in open oceanic airspace for planes not going the same direction.

For the hundreds of airliners that cross every day between 32,000 feet and 37,000 feet altitude, this means to them they might have to cross at an altitude a little lower or higher than they want, but that is the extent of their inconvenience.

The HondaJet (like most modern business jets and all light jets) wants to fly between 37,000 feet and 43,000 feet altitude, above the airline traffic. If forced to fly lower, jets consume around 50% more fuel per hour at 30,000 feet than at 40,000 feet.

Which is no problem in radar airspace. But a big problem when we want to descend into southern Greenland for fuel on our westbound trip. Because we have to be kept 120nm from any airplane at our altitude going the opposite direction, and because mid-day Greenland time coincides with the daily airline rush-hour traffic west-bound across the North Atlantic, it is practically impossible for ATC to descend you through the thicket of airplanes.

And the reason we are stopping in Greenland in the first place is because we don't have enough fuel to hop over it, even at 43,000 feet where the best fuel economy is. This is the light jet paradox over the North Atlantic. You are stopping because you don't have the range, and ATC realities mean you lose 1/3 of your range due to flying at such a low altitude.


So, experience is that 29,000 feet is the most common altitude to be offered for a Narsarsuaq involved (S Greenland) North Atlantic Crossing. Which reduces the useful range of most light business jets to not too much further than the 670nm distance between Goose Bay and Narsarsuaq and Keflavik. I normally push as hard as I can for minimum 31,000 feet, but only with mixed success.

Departing Greenland, where the same problem occurs, I actually have Gander Oceanic on my phone's speed dial and call them first and negotiate, before calling the control tower to request clearance.

Very careful planning is needed to be safe on this route. A few years back a Piaggio P-180 ran out of gas flying to their alternate after finding weather at Narsarsuaq to be below landing minimums. Compounding the risk is the high mountainous terrain all around the Narsarsuaq airport, including a chunk of granite rock rising to 1100' directly on the 3 mile final for the airport.

N108GF crash near Kangerlussuaq -- AIB Denmark

For our flight, we have an alternate route planned, via northern Greenland where there is one airport with radar, so desents/climbs from high to low altitude is possible. Kangerlussuaq (know as Sondrestrom or Sondy) is a few hundred miles out of the way, but if the weather is not fantastic at Narsarsuaq before we leave Goose Bay, we will accept the 30 minutes extra flying time and go via a northern route.

The southern route across the North Atlantic is particularly hazardous to light jets because of the unwritten ATC procedure to not clear aircraft stopping in Greenland to normal light jet altitudes. The risk can be mitigated, but easy to stumble into disaster if not mitigated effectively.
Fly safe everyone!

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10 Things to Take on a Trip Around the World

Although we spend a lot of time on the road at Shepherd Aero, this is a longer than normal trip, @80days80stays. Correct, this isn't just any trip, but a private jet adventure in the brand new @HondaJet with, a very advanced light aircraft perfect for adventure touring.

With the support of @HondaJet and @80days80stays we get to tag along and help make sure everything goes smooth.

Not even mentioned are the basics like eye-shades, travel pillows, international power plugs, worldwide phone plan on your mobile, travel wallet, and laptop and/or modern tablet for computing. In support of a trip around the world, here are a few extra things we are bringing in our flight-bag...

1. USB charging hub - good for up to 5 devices extra fast, this is a life-saver in the hotel and also useful in the @HondaJet with it's AC power outlets on board. Charge-hub is our favorite.

Enough charging power for everything and the kitchen sink. OK, not the sink.

2. Lots of cables and spare batteries - got to pack them safely, but cannot go wrong with plenty of Re-trak cables and a few small universal batteries to charge devices we forgot to charge on-board the aircraft.

3. Second passport - a trip around the world requires a few visas, some of which only get issued for a few days duration. So have to have a spare to send out for visas issued down the road a couple weeks.

4. Battery powered printer. This will print flight plans, weather briefings, even rental car confirmation or letters for signature in blue ink.  5lb of bulk, but invaluable when needed. We use the Canon ip110 in our bag. Spare printer paper, printer cartridges, SD card reader. Printer is no good without means to use it in a pinch.

Printer and spare cartridges and goodies.

5. Extra bag of documents. Separate from the main identity documents, and even from the second passport, is a pouch with an expired passport, my APEC Business Traveler and NEXUS identity cards, and a previous drivers license.  The combination of these is a backup plan for a bad day in the field.

6. Extra bag of little money. Near the extra bag of documents is $20-$100 worth of local currency from a dozen countries. Not enough money to do too much, but money for a coffee or a taxi fare can be a godsend sometimes in foreign countries.

7. Bag of backup credit cards. Credit cards get cancelled on the road way too often. ATMs eat debit cards. So a couple spare company cards, a couple spare personal cards are must-haves for a long trip away from home.

8. Health insurance credentials. Not only do these have important phone numbers to call in an emergency on the back, the card itself sometimes helps with entry requirements in countries you might not even be able to locate on a map.

9. Bag with instant breakfast cereal. Sometimes late at night, sometimes in the morning a little instant breakfast from home brings comfort in the field.

10. Swag! We cannot bring enough microfibers, pens, hats, hand-warmers, and stickers to a trip of this duration. We want to give something to all of the hundreds of folks that will help make this trip a success, and it becomes a challenge to carry enough stuff in our bags. Rest assured we are bringing a pile. :-)

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