Flying to the Bahamas 

By Adam Germain

In February and March of 2001, Adam and Dianne Germain traveled to Australia to see the Australian Outback. Some of this was conducted in a rented Cessna 182. Adam describes his outback experience.

To get the most out of our experience in Australia, and to make it a trip of a lifetime, we wanted to do something out of the ordinary. We wanted to use our Canadian aviation knowledge and do some of the trip by small aircraft. This would take careful planning.
Enter the Internet. Despite the obvious allure of the Internet and its simplification over a pen and pencil, it was still excruciatingly slow until we were able to find the major aviation Web sites of Australia.
There are two main aviation flying sites operated by the Australian government and every pilot interested in learning more about Australian aviation should start at one of these two sites.
The first of these is Air Services Australia at Air Services Australia is the publication and flight services centre of Australian aviation.
A quick walkabout under their heading “pilot center” will reveal that it is a pilot briefing site.
It is from this service that you would order all of your Australian maps, documents, phone card (more about this later), and any publications that you want on flying Australia. From this Web site you also get your Australian weather and its use is encouraged both for international visitors and local pilots. As we would find out later in Australia, due to certain cost incentives, the area briefing weather service on Air Services Australia, is the preferred weather approach:
The second major government sponsored aviation service servicing Australia is CASA. This is their Nav Canada comparable and stands for Civil Aviation Service Australia. The CASA Web site is:
The CASA Web site has a special section, which can be printed off, devoted to licensing and flying in Australia. It is of particular interest to read the section on special licences and temporary overseas flight permits.
The CASA Web site also has replicated in Internet form; a major publication for VFR flying called the “VFR Flight Guide.” The entire Flight Guide (150 pages) can be read or skimmed on the Internet and the relevant pages printed off.
For pilots planning to fly Australia the above two government sites are essential reading.
From these sites I learned the following:
? I would need an Australian licence to fly an Australian registered plane.
? To get an Australian licence you must present yourself in person with all of your original documents at the nearest CASA office. One is located near Sydney’s International Airport.
The documents that you need to fly in Australia are the following:
? Your original personal log books.
? Your original pilots licence;
? Your radiographer’s licence (if you have one issued to you);
? Your most current medical;
? Photo identification (your passport comes in handy here);
? You will be eligible to obtain either a 90 day flight authorization or a special licence (take the special licence which will last you your lifetime).
? Without taking an examination (both written and a flight test) with a designated examiner you can only get a day VFR licence.
? The rules of flying day VFR are almost identical to ours.
? The aviation charts are identical to ours with only minor differences. The Australian government has a chart called a “Flight Planning Chart” useful because Australia has divided all of their weather regions into numbered regions and when calling for a weather briefing you need the number. The Australians call their book of airports the E.R.S.A. (En route Supplement - Australia); it is a publication parallel to our Canada Flight Supplement.
Although these publications can all be purchased in Canada for flight planning purposes, the transportation costs to Canada make their advance purchase impractical.
In addition to the two main government Web sites there are some other Australian Web sites that are commercial based and provide useful information. One that we used is the Web site for the Australian Owner and Pilots Association - a sister organization to COPA:
These sites have links to other Australian aviation sites and are a good place to browse.
We also utilized the Internet to do general tourist research in Australia about the places we would go. Keying in “traveling Australia” or any of the states or territories of Australia will get numerous Web sites. Try:
During our research we focused on the two most practical ways for us to do a “fly-about” in Australia.
The first would be to link up with a tour company specializing in small plane touring groups. There are several of these in Australia.
The best known of these is Goana Aviation Services ( This company has specialized in outback tours for many years and has been the subject of favourable write-ups in various flying magazines. Their specialty is to take flying groups from Redcliffe (near Brisbane), inland to the red centre of Australia and back. Included in this specialty tour is a flight over parts of the Great Barrier Reef.
We did, while we were in Australia, run into a Saskatchewan couple, members of the Flying Farmers Association that were going out with Goana Tours for the first outback tour of the season.
What we chose to do was find a rental company and rent a Cessna 182.
Flight training is heavily concentrated in Australia in two centers, the satellite airports outside of Sydney and the satellite airports outside of Melbourne.
Through the Internet I was routed to a flying school called General Flying Services (, based in Moorabbin, Victoria.
They were prepared to rent me a Cessna 182 for $200 wet/per hour (approximately $140 Cdn). A C-172 would have been about $160-wet. In addition, Australia has a GST, which was included in the price.
The price of gas in Australia is extremely expensive with aviation fuel around $1.25 to $1.60/litre. The aircraft would be burning approximately $65 worth of fuel an hour. The rental price also included landing fees.
The decision was made! We would rent an aircraft and do our own touring.

The nearest and most readily accessible CASA office was the one located in Sydney near the airport. It would open at 8 a.m. We would arrive in Sydney at 6 a.m. local time after a long commercial flight over two days.
Quickly piling into a rented car, digging my logbooks and other aviation documentation out of the suitcase and struggling through Sydney’s left hand drive traffic, I made my way through the busy traffic of the Sydney International Airport to the Sydney branch of CASA. Emotionally keyed up, I paced around the outside and then dug out my movie camera to take a movie clip of the CASA headquarters.
The staff noticed that I was watching them, so they opened early to see what I wanted.
Two options were open to me. I could apply for a validation certificate (a 90 day flight permit), or I could actually obtain a special licence which would (in Australian airspace) allow me perpetual flying rights unless I lose my aviation certification in Canada. For a few extra dollars I would be better off taking the special licence and if time and circumstance found me back in Australia I would be ready to fly.
A second bonus of this laminated Australian licence is that it makes a nice souvenir!
Total cost was approximately $65 Australian and they accept credit cards. In addition they give you a free copy of the VFR pilots guide. Once I told them that I would be flying around the Melbourne area and getting checked out in Melbourne, they also supplied an airspace guide for that area.
After getting my Australian licence I showed up at General Flying Services ready to be checked out.
General Flying Services is a full service training facility. The backbone of their aviation fleet is an entire flight line of brand new Cessna 172s and 182s. This was the newest equipment that I had ever seen and their hangar area looked like the Cessna factory when all their aircraft were back on the ground.
They also have a very interesting aspect to their training in that your checkout pilots for the basic flying and your navigational checkout pilot are two different individuals.
This makes sense if you are going to be taking equipment worth over a quarter of million dollars (US) out of their sight.
My checkout was typical to that which you would experience at a competent professional flying school anywhere in North America.
My initial flight instructor was a gentleman over 70 years of age who had just missed the Second World War by a few days. His focus was on safety issues, avoiding stalls, practicing stalls, short field landings, and emergency landings. We then returned to one of Moorabin’s eight runways where we could practice both cross wind and non-cross wind landings.
Day two of my two-day checkout was a cross-country flight. Because I was new to the country and unfamiliar with the air space and the air regulations, a second pilot took me on a 2.5-hour cross-country flight through controlled and uncontrolled air space. This flight provided, an opportunity to work with the Melbourne radar services and the Melbourne Centre services. There is no standard VFR radio frequency such as we have in Canada; as a result, much time was spent in the check out familiarizing myself with radio communication and air space, procedures in Australia.
Basically, in a nutshell, you work the various Centre frequencies either through Melbourne Centre for the southern part of Australia or Brisbane Centre for the north.
To this point in time I had paid $65 for my licence, purchased about $100 worth of maps, charts, binders (some of which were useful but not all necessary), and I had spent approximately $1,000 Australian on a check out. From this point my only cost would be my hourly time on the aircraft.
Proud of my new licence, my certification in Australian air space, and with visions of kangaroos dancing in my head, I planned my outback flying experience.
As everyone who has ever flown on a long cross-country knows spending an evening lining up WAC charts and doing your flight planning is a good way to prepare for the trip mentally.
The Australian charts are identical to those in Canada and planning, using these charts was of no difficulty.
I also transposed from the IFR charts the headings, marked my distances and I transferred to the WAC charts my radio frequencies and the radio frequency cut-off points. In Canada on a VFR flight you would not do this because you would be calling the nearest station on 126.7. Since they do not have air radio service in Australia we would always be calling Melbourne Centre, even in VFR, but the radio frequencies would vary every 100 miles or so.
The second flight planning issue was weather briefing.
The Australia weather briefers are not allowed to give an outlook for the next period. For that, and for long term weather trends you must phone the Meteorological Offices.
The Australian Government has, to the annoyance of Australian pilots, commenced a user pay service for filing flight plans and obtaining weather.
The way in which this works is that you purchase a phone card, which has a hidden password number on the back. When you scratch and expose the password number you are then authorized to make 20 calls at $0.50 cents a call (the card cost $10), for weather briefing and for flight planning. If you file a flight plan and get a weather briefing in one transaction, you pay only $0.50 cents. If, however, you want to check the weather first, and then later file for a flight plan, you will pay twice.
When I was leaving Australia there was talk about increasing this fee.
Australian pilots seem to be unanimously of the view that this user pay approach will lead to a deterioration in flight safety as pilots will stop filing flight plans and stop getting weather reports. The Australian government reacting to this criticism has allowed at the present time, a very comprehensive weather briefing to be obtained from their Internet Web site at no charge. This plus the fact that as in Canada you can fly without a flight plan if you have a flight notification left with an appropriate person, is the counter argument for safety issues.
More annoying to us than the actual payment of the fee for services was the fact that flight briefers are on a very tight leash as to what weather information they can impart. For the truly detailed weather and for long term trends and long term advice, you must contact the meteorological offices, often by long distance phone call, although there is no fee for that service.

The morning of February 27, loomed foggy along the coast and sunshine elsewhere. Winds were light and variable. The sun was poking up at 7 a.m.; the Moorabbin airfield was still nearly deserted. The tower was not open so it was an uncontrolled airdrome. With all of our gear loaded into Cessna 182 VH-EWV, the transponder set 1200 and on standby, the navigational aids dialed in and our first way point set on the GPS, we were ready to begin flying in Australia.
Our first day of flight would test our flying skills over water some distance from shore and into a remote and lightly used uncontrolled airstrip on a small island south of Adelaide called Kangaroo Island. This area is one of the best places to see wildlife and it was to be our first stop on our Australian flying adventure. I had already determined that immediately upon take-off I would turn slightly south, climb to 500 feet above sea level and fly the coastline to see its rugged splendor. This plan was quickly dashed as fog covered the coast and was not expected to lift for hours. Our flight planning for the day consisted of a flight of approximately four hours (fuel at 15 gallons per hour with approximately six and a half hours range).
With the four-hour flight ahead I did not want to wait until 10 a.m. to start and then be still airborne at two in the afternoon in the middle of turbulence and with risk of CB building up. I wanted to do the flight in a way that was safe, practical and would get us off to a good start. All I had to do was turn inland approximately 50 miles and I would be away from the fog that was coastal in nature. Once it lifted sufficiently so that I had my 500 feet clearance I would turn back to the coastline. This required a clearance through Melbourne’s controlled airspace.
Across the Bay we flew and across the community of Avalon, where a few days earlier we had attended the Australian International Airshow. Flying inland across the Australian rolling farmland, the early morning moisture and the light rains that had fallen earlier made the area a green wonderland. We flew over sheep and cattle grazing and every so often spotted another aircraft just enjoying flight. Another pilot on frequency reported through an airdrome control zone. He was opposite direction and flying in the same area. I contacted him and asked for a pilot report concerning the fog on the coast. He indicated that the coast was still covered in fog and that was why he had moved inland. Coincidentally he was flying to Moorabbin the airport that I had just left. I was able to advise that the winds were light at Moorabbin and the weather cavok. He thanked me for that and said “good day mate” and we passed. One and a half hours into our flight we were able to drift south and start seeing some of the coast. We descended to 500 feet with the clouds above us. We traveled above the rugged Australian coast occasionally coming upon a beautiful sandy beach.
All too soon it was coming up to 10 a.m. and we could see the change in the coastline as it veered south. We would soon leave the Australian coast for a short over water hop to the small island community of Kangaroo Island and their uncontrolled airstrip at Kingscote.
I was nervous flying over the water even though the distance would have been no wider than Lac La Biche, Alta. This was real ocean, real waves and perhaps the odd shark. In addition, I had been flying a twin engine for at least 15 years and this was a single engine I was about to fly to the theoretical limits of gliding distance from shore.
We approached Kingscote Airport in a westerly direction. We would turn to land in an easterly direction into the wind and with great visibility. What our flight training had cautioned us of, is the possibility of wildlife on the airport. Kingscote is an area of low human habitation, a tourist area that is off the beaten path and an area where the kangaroos and other small marsupials, wallabies and the like, have no natural predators. As a result it is not uncommon, but extremely dangerous, for game to be hanging around the airports. The airport manager was out working the airport and radioed to the commercial aircraft that they would sweep the runway with their truck prior to its departure.
A short moment later I had made my first landing on our outback adventure. Excitement assisted in the speed with which we finished the shutdown checklist, tied down the aircraft, wrote up the logbook entries, and hot-footed it over to the rent-a-car agency. There, we happily ran into a retired captain for a major airline, who gave it all up to spend more time with his family and realize his dream of building a wilderness world class resort. His lodge would be our home for the night.
The airport at Kangaroo Island is to the north. All of the attractions and all of the wildlife are to the south. As a result, the rented car route was an easy one. It wasn’t long before we were at Sea Lion Bay. This is an area where sea lions come and sleep off their belly full of food and nurture their young.
All too soon it was time to end our tour and, head down to the next attraction on Kangaroo Island, a place they call “Little Sahara.” It is mountain upon mountain of glorious sand and once you walk past the tree line and turn around you are completely lost in the pure desert like sand, hence the name “Little Sahara.”
Our next stop was a coastline geological formation called “Remarkable Rocks.” Over the years the volcanic rocks that line the coast have been eroded in mysterious and wondrous shapes.
The next day we were back across the same water we flew the day before. We obtained an immediate clearance into Adelaide controlled airspace. Prior to reaching the Adelaide VOR, I was turned downwind and cleared to circuit height. A short turn on base leg and a beautiful touch down at Adelaide gave me a feeling that I was now starting to identify with this Cessna 182.
We spent only one day in Adelaide, but it was sufficient time for us to see that Adelaide is a delightful capital city of South Australia, situated beside the ocean.

Our purpose for landing in Adelaide was twofold. First it was going to be our last place to obtain any reasonably priced supplies and provisions for our outback trip and secondly it was a natural fuel stop.
At Adelaide we also made one other adaptive change for our flight into the outback. I had lugged all the way from Canada a collapsible five-gallon container for water. I filled that along with the four litres of water that we routinely carried in Australia. We would now be flying into temperatures as high as 50 C. Even on a cool day we were not expecting the temperature to be much less than 35 C. The route from Adelaide to our next stop Coober Pedy, was a route where you could fly the road. Even by flying a direct GPS course, which I intended, we would never be far from the highway.
Our pre-flight planning consisted of noting the few dry lakebeds very carefully on our map and our commitment that we would position report as frequently as we could.
We intended to fly as low as we could to enjoy the stark scenery of the outback until the desert heat forced us up. Armed with those good intentions and with forecasts of aggressive thunderstorms later in the day, we left Adelaide at first light (7 a.m. local time) and were quickly cleared en route north to Coober Pedy. All too soon the coastal green and coastal airports disappeared under our wing and we looked ahead into a frightening expanse of shimmering heat, increasing temperatures and sparse vegetation broken only by the road and by the salt of the dried out salt lakes. We were not able to maintain low altitude flying. As the temperature soared past 30 C it simply became too uncomfortable in the airplane. The thermal gusts coming off the sand began to rock the aircraft; it was time to climb.
By the time I reached 9,500 feet I was abeam an Australian community called Woolmara. This is an area near Australia’s Olympic Dam. The Olympic Dam Airport is an open airport but the Woomera Airport is military. At that time, an all stations warning was broadcast concerning dangerous CB that was building up.
Here I was, a small town boy from western Alberta, flying in the desert, temperature over 40 degrees and now I have a severe CB warning. I look around and the weather ahead of me still looks good although lines of higher clouds are starting to form. Off, however, to the east I see the source of the warning; a series of impressive CB clouds rises out of the desert and heat.
We press on. Soon shimmering out of the heat we began to see “large anthills.” We had reached the almost mythical outback community of Coober Pedy. Our excitement increased as we flew into the “city limits.” Since most people live under ground at Coober Pedy all you see is an increasing number of these mounds and the highway going between them. You see a small centre street community that consists of a post office, a grocery store and a few pubs. Immediately behind those buildings you see more mounds.
I have never landed a Cessna 182 in 40 degree heat on a desert strip. I do not want to mush in when I run out of airlift. All of this goes through my head as I line up on final. By the time it takes to narrate all of this we are down at Coober Pedy. We open the windows and taxi down the runway. The minute we slow down flies begin to stream into the aircraft. We quickly close the windows and spend the next few minutes chasing flies away. The desert is alive with flying insects. We film the small, one room Coober Pedy International terminal building. The refueler arrives and he very graciously brings out water. He apologizes for keeping us waiting.
We share the cool water and talk to the fueler about where we can get a car. He is also the Budget representative. I push the plane back to the desert gravel and look at the tie downs that the flying school made me take along. The tie downs are two-inch angular steel and the implement to push them into the ground is a sledgehammer.
The heat turns sand into cement and with sweat running down my back after two minutes of laborious pounding, I am wishing that I had taken a larger sledgehammer.
The clouds have become more ominous and the wind is howling. The aircraft is straining against the tie downs! I get back in the aircraft and pull the safety brake on another inch. I find some larger rocks and put them under the wheels. The aircraft is tied down for the night.
Coober Pedy has several unique features that have put it on the map. The scenery is so stark and brutal that it has been the location for several desert outback movies, or post-nuclear holocaust movies, or space landing movies and as a result it gets its share of big name stars. Ninety per cent of the opals in the world are found and mined in Australia and of that 90 per cent approximately 90 per cent are mined in Coober Pedy. It is home to an eclectic group of miners.
Coober Pedy is as outback as you can get. In terms of genuine outback, and living in conditions of deprivation and hardship nobody in Australia can hold a candle to those hardy souls who live here.
We would spend two days in Coober Pedy, and during that time we would see the stark majesty of the wilderness. We would root around for opals. We traveled out to a fence 5,000 kilometres long. The so-called Australian dingo dog fence. At one point it was the longest man-made structure in the world. It is a mesh barbed wire fence that separates the wild dingo dogs from the sheeping industry in southern Australia.
A tour guide warns us not to put our hands in any holes, crevices, or caves. The warning is to avoid the risk of confronting a brown snake or a taipan snake, the most dangerous species of snakes in the world that inhabit the outback in Australia.
The fifth day of our cross-country venture started beautifully. The weather looked good but we had no way of checking the destination weather until we got to the phone at the airport at Coober Pedy.
We arrive at the airport and after contacting flight services I quickly find out that the route to the great Australian icon, Ularu is absolutely impossible. It is below IFR, there are thunderstorms in all quadrants, and the weather forecast through the entire day will be poor. Alice Springs, normally a desert, was in the middle of its wet period. The temperature was hot, the CB activity was great, and the rainfall was heavy. I quickly ruled out Ularu. Alice Springs looked theoretically possible.
There is no other practical place in the outback where I could purchase gasoline. My return if I cannot make it into Alice Springs will be Coober Pedy.
Our flight began as planned. North of Coober Pedy we began to see there was standing water in the desert. There was a profusion of green, as the fresh water triggers the long dormant plants into a frenzy of chlorophyll creating activity. I flew over a ranching station. I noticed that they had their own airstrip with two dissecting runways. The centre of both runways was in a bit of a dip and there was standing water.
On schedule, about one and a half hours into our flight, clouds were looming ahead. As I got closer to Alice Springs the weather deteriorated. We continued our route north and quickly found that the clouds were worse than forecasted. We contacted Alice Springs and they were unable to give us a cloud breaking procedure. Alice Springs told me they had just issued a special weather bulletin. They had gone to 300 feet in height and 1,500 meters in visibility. They were only 50 feet above their full ILS procedure limit.
I asked them for the forecast and a new forecast had been issued. Weather would be like this for approximately the next six hours. I was not able to hold outside of the control zone for six hours even if I had wanted to. I had flown within 30 nautical miles of Alice Springs and would have to turn back to Coober Pedy. I thanked the staff at the Alice Springs Tower, asked them to add three hours to my flight plan for search and rescue purposes, and advised them that I would be returning to Coober Pedy.
We landed at Coober Pedy and made our plans. Were we going to stay at Coober Pedy for another day and try and get to the Alice Springs and then to Ularu or would we carry on in an easterly direction to the other outback locations that we wanted to see?
The answer was in the weather. I contacted the flight briefer and closed my flight plan. The flight briefer was not optimistic. The heavy torrential storm that had settled into Alice Springs looked like it was going to be there for a while. I contacted the meteorological office at Alice Springs and they were not encouraging. They suggested that safe VFR flight into Alice Springs may not be doable for four days. What to do?
We decided to fuel up and go to our next outback location, Broken Hill.

We have heard a lot about Broken Hill; it is a major tourist area. They call it the “accessible Outback.” During our trip we flew near a large salt lake, Lake Eyre that for the first time in approximately 20 years, due to the heavy rains, was full of water and has itself become a tourist attraction.
Having made the decision not to pursue Alice Springs any further and being happily back in the air flying to another destination, we took the time to revel in the majesty of this great desert. We were seeing things that few people see. There were no roads below us, just large cattle stations. They all had gravel airstrips. The quality of the runways and the numbers of them in the outback owe their existence to the Flying Doctor Service.
All too soon we begin to see the rocky outcrops of the mining community of Broken Hill. Broken Hill is a prosperous outback community that boasts an irrigated golf course, a large commercial centre, a large tourist base. Broken Hill is a community of abandoned and still producing mines where we would come face to face with a wild billy goat, camels, and more kangaroos than we could ever hope to see anywhere else in the world. The town fathers at Broken Hill have engaged a series of artists from all over the world to create sculptures on top of a large hill. One of these pieces has been very carefully created with a hole through it to catch the setting sun. Our two days in Broken Hill quickly flew by and we were once again airborne in a southeast direction.
A short trip south from Broken Hill brought us to the irrigation community of Mildura. Our Outback experience was ending but we were still flying in the remote portion of Australia. Mildura is a popular tourist point for Canadians because it was two Canadian scientists that were given most of the Mildura area on the basis that they would be able to create an irrigation system out of the Murray River. Many in Australia scoffed at that possibility; but the Canadians were undaunted and in the early 1900s turned the community of Mildura from a desert along a river to a lush garden of Eden growing citrus and other fruits. Mildura brought more wonder to our trip with a trip up the Murray River (Australia’s longest river), in an old paddle steamer. After a day, it was time to take off from Mildura and move on to our next destination, Swan Hill.
Swan Hill was one of the initial farming communities in Australia and they have done a great job of preserving the remnants of the farm community in a historic recreated town. Swan Hill is grain-farming country and it was in this area that some of the earliest farm implements which modified farming techniques in Canada and North America are on display. Life was harsh as people battled the desert elements to create a grain and sheep growing industry. Farming is interesting, but the allure of gold at our next stop got us airborne.
South of Swan Hill and en route to Melbourne is the gold mining community of Ballarat. The folks in Ballarat say that if it weren’t for them, Melbourne would never have grown to be the large city it is today. It was here that gold was discovered in 1854, and set off one of the largest gold rushes and population growths in Australia. Australia originally received its settlement as a transportation colony for convicts convicted of petty crime or poverty in Great Britain. However once gold was discovered in Ballarat everybody raced to the gold fields and like all gold rushes some of the folks that came, settled down and remained in the community. Ballarat has recreated the gold rush era with a gold replica town called Sovereign Hill.
All too soon the high rise towers of Melbourne appeared in the windscreen of our aircraft, arriving where we had begun, we were cleared by Melbourne radar directly to Moorabin. I was turned on to a long final and we were soon taxing to the tie down area. Our trip through the Australian Outback was over.
I was grateful for the opportunity to fly internationally in such a unique flying environment. Canadian pilots who are properly licensed, and who have a proper appreciation for safety, have numerous opportunities to fly in Australia. They need only make contact with a competent flying school, take the appropriate check ride, make sure their flying documents are in order and present themselves for licensing at any one of the CASA offices in Australia.
Hopefully we will fly again in Australia and perhaps tackle the West Coast, the far north and try the Red Centre again. Perhaps such a trip is in store for you as well!

Adam Germain is a lawyer and business person in Fort McMurray, Alta. He has been a member of COPA for numerous years and is a member of the Airport Commission in Fort McMurray.
He flies a PA23-235 Apache and holds a multi-IFR rating. COPA members who wish to contact Adam Germain by e-mail may do so at

*One of my flight instructors bears special mention because he worked with me for the 18 months of preparatory time leading up to my Australian flight. Ben Ward,, is a young professional instructor at Cathy Pacific and is happy to maintain a dialogue with pilots who are genuinely interested in flying in Australia.