By Fernando Rodrigues
It all began in 1989 in Toronto when the bank that employed Dru Narwani asked him to move to the North American headquarters in New York. Dru saw an opportunity to upgrade from a Cessna 172, to a 182 and do more North American flying out of the North East. He sold his 172 to his alma mater flying school Toronto Airways at Buttonville, purchased an Atlanta-based, 1968 C-182, after a pre-purchase inspection at Leggat Aviation and based it at Danbury, CT.
For the next three years Dru and his family (his wife Ulrike obtained her solo years back and has logged many hours with him since), extensively toured Canada, the United States and the Caribbean.
The bank then asked him to move to their corporate headquarters in England. What an opportunity to fly across the Atlantic - always a remote dream! Despite recommendations from Transport Canada not to attempt the first single engine trans-Atlantic without a ferry pilot, Dru prepared thoroughly for many months to meet all the stringent requirements for such water crossings (much of this from hotel rooms in the United Kingdom where he had moved in advance of the family).
Both of us also took a course in Nashua, NH, on Atlantic crossings offered by a very seasoned ferry pilot called Ed Carlson.
At the end of August 1993, Dru and I presented ourselves to a DOT inspector at Moncton for a review and obtained the necessary flight approval. Dru had also made arrangements to continue maintaining the Canadian registration in the United Kingdom after consultation and advice from DOT in Ottawa. Since Dru is a Canadian citizen this would make life easier for aircraft annuals, his personal licence, medicals, etc.
The weather at Iqaluit, N.W.T., was not so co-operative forcing us to spend an unscheduled but very pleasant few days in the serene and magical north, where an unusual weather phenomenon had pushed in massive ice flows (icebergs really) up the Frobisher Bay from the Davis Strait.
Then came the disastrous news from the airport manager that the ground run-up prop-wash of an ATR-72 combined with the strong and gusty surface winds had toppled his 182 on to one side damaging its wingtip. The aircraft was ferried to the Montreal area for repairs by the insurance company of the regional airline.
A quick turnaround by the repair facility, and still undaunted by this setback, Dru and I set off again back to Iqaluit. En route near Mont Joli, Que., the sudden radio silence appeared deafening. All electrics had vanished. Out came the recent birthday present from Ulrike, a Sporty’s handheld; radio contact was re-established, and a quick landing revealed it was all due to a loose battery connection.
Was this another omen? Should the trans-Atlantic crossing be abandoned? Days later, having crossed the Greenland icecap, IFR, with light rime ice, and using the portable oxygen at 15,000 feet, we were now level at 9,000 feet between Iceland and Stornaway, Scotland when Dru requested an airliner to relay a position report to Stornaway.
After the relay the Captain inquired what type of aircraft we were flying. Upon hearing that it was a 182, all he said was, "I’m glad it’s not me down there!" Was this bravery? Or utter foolishness? Whatever the case, was it ever nice to see land in the horizon a couple of hours later!
One and a half years later, after numerous trips around England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Spain Dru switched employers. Shortly thereafter, he was approached regarding an assignment to spend a few years in the bank’s operations in Bombay (now Mumbai) India, as the number two executive of the bank there.
Never worked in Asia, with a purely North American family and children aged 20, 13 and nine, how would that work? But what an opportunity to fly the Cessna through some very interesting countries! After a quick consultation with a very supportive family, the answer was a resounding yes.
I, from Toronto, was another eager beaver, at least to accompany them in the Cessna. But all is never smooth! DOT would consider giving Dru a special RCA (Restricted Certification Authority) to keep the aircraft to Canadian standards and maintain the Canadian registration only after receiving a bio data of a qualified AME in India and interviewing him as necessary via phone or fax. Then, upon inquiring whether the Director General, Civil Aviation India would allow a Canadian-registered aircraft to operate in India the answer was, "this is a first for us; only on a short term basis for six months maximum with no guarantees of future renewals."
Also talking to the few general aviation people in Bombay, the general tenor was, "Don’t do it - the bureaucracy will kill you!" Nevertheless, in the summer of 1994, while their children were at Canadian summer camps, Ulrike, Dru and I set off, via Switzerland, through the ATC strike in France, Rome, Crete, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Oman, Pakistan and finally India. The hassle-free flying environment of North America becomes slightly more cumbersome in Western Europe, but truly becomes a marathon with clearances and numerous arrangements beginning with the Middle East. The trip of 44 flying hours over 12 days was full of many exquisite sight-seeing stops en route.
Dru has described flying in India as pure pleasure mixed with many headaches. Scores of paved runways all over the vast country, friendly airport personnel, almost no traffic, superb flying weather most of the year, great tourism spots; but a heavily paper-based bureaucracy that was suspicious of foreign-registered airplanes. The aircraft was hangared in between Boeing 727’s, maintained to Canadian Standards with the RCA from Ottawa.
A year later, though, the renewal by the Director General, Civil Aviation India did not come through. For some nine months the aircraft was technically grounded. Many appeals were turned down. Just before arranging a ferry pilot to take the aircraft back to Canada, Dru made a last-ditch attempt and wrote to the Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of India for assistance.
A month later, with no apparent hope in the horizon, totally unexpectedly, the Director General Civil Aviation issued another renewal. Wings were back! After three years in India, the bank approached Dru for an assignment to run the Bank’s operation in Bangkok, Thailand, as the CEO. Wow! The only unanswered questions were whether the Director General in Thailand would be as co-operative with a foreign aircraft.
Civil Aviation had just recently opened up the skies to private pilots and there were only a handful of them in the country. Initial investigations yielded "impossible!" Dru did not give up. Many appeals and discussions later, he received the first ever, conditional approval from the very highest political powers in Bangkok, almost an experiment by them. The condition was that every flight within the country would require a clearance from the Director General, two weeks ahead of time. (Thank goodness though, after a few months the lead-time became two days only).
In the summer of 1997, again while their children were at Canadian camps, Dru, Ulrike and Satish Soman, an aviator from India and actually the AOPA chapter head in India, flew across India into Bangladesh. Over the "hump" of Myanmar, into Thailand, a trip of 17 hours over eight days due to sight seeing and an unexpected 36-hour ATC strike in India. However, Ottawa, at this juncture decided that Dru’s continuing stay overseas could no longer be considered an exception and they insisted he get a Canadian AME to sign off his annuals. Very luckily, a Thailand-based, Canadian helicopter operation had a fixed wing AME called Lauchie Currie who did the necessary for two years, after which a colleague of his signed off the year following.
During the three and a half years there, Dru and family extensively toured Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and Malaysia. During this time many other firsts were encountered, including the first ever landing of single-engine Cessnas at airports in Burma, Laos and Cambodia. At Siem Reap, Cambodia, he was presented with a fee of $1,220 (US) for landing and parking for three days. This was later reduced after extensive negotiations to $720 (US).
Finally, in June 2000, Dru decided to bring to an end his marvelous overseas adventures and return to Canada, to spend more time with family (by now two of his children were at university in Canada).
Coincidentally, an Australian aircraft broker had been eyeing his 182 since the year before. The allure of flying it to Australia was too strong. I also jumped at the chance to fly with them and took a commercial flight out of Toronto to Bangkok.
In June 2000, Dru, Ulrike and I departed for Cairns on the Northeastern Australian coast, fully equipped with a life raft and life vests. A thoroughly enjoyable trip via Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia (including Bali and the volcanoes) and across the Timor Sea to Darwin, through Kakadoo National Park, along the beautiful coastline of the Gulf of Carpentaria, to Cairns, a trip of 40 eventful flying hours over nine days. There we handed over the keys and "commercialed" it back to Bangkok.
In September, Dru and family returned to Canada. Currently he is in the process of writing a book. He has just purchased a Cessna 210 and is planning a trip to the final continent, South America. He would love to receive any feedback and information on flying in that part of the world.
Dru has been a COPA member from 1979-1989, a member of AOPA from 1990-present, and rejoined COPA in 2000 upon returning to Canada. He is a private, IFR pilot and has accumulated over 1,300 hours. There are many very detailed stories that he would be willing to share. He can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dru Narwani, won the COPA Achievement Award at this year’s COPA Convention in Peterborough, Ont., for adventurous private flight to, in, and through the United States, Caribbean, Atlantic, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Crete, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, India, Thailand, and more.