Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Flying into Arusha by the seat of your pants in cloud amongst terrain (big as rocks)

Above: Mount Meru from Arusha airport.
 After bagging out / insulting Air Tanzania in my last post about their mishaps I thought I may as well expose a practice that occurs in modern bush flying in mountainous third world back waters.
What I am talking about is using unofficial waypoints saved to GPS (Global Positioning System) and later used for sole navigation purposes between mountains in bad weather. Official GPS approaches are not a new thing, but they are professionally designed and are updated in GPS databases each month....Then there is homemade GPS approaches which is the scary illegal by product adopted by bush pilots and made by self GPS qualified pilots as a way of getting the job done in all weather. Mostly this happens in places off the beaten track like Irian Jaya in Asia or somewhere crazy like that. However there is one city called Arusha in Tanzania which serves as a hub for thousands of tourists flying in and out the Serengeti National Park. Regularly these tourists are flown unknowingly between mountains in cloud with the pilot relying on the co-ordinates of each homemade waypoint still being correct from when they last flew that particular route.
 I am guilty of flying via homegrown GPS tracks amongst mountains when I use to fly in was excepted as part of the job! The above is a section from a Operational Navigation Chart put together by the American Defence Mapping Agency during the early nineties but still used by pilots today a little old but then mountains don't move often...unless your god. The markings I have obviously done myself. The large two red circles are Mount Kilimanjaro (the largest) and the other Mount Meru. The black circle things are peaks in the Ngorongoro Highlands over ten thousand feet. The Pink line signifies a track starting near the Serengeti National Park then crossing the Nogorongoro highlands by the lowest points which we called the Western and Eastern rim (Nogorongoro crater), from there overhead lake Manyara airport and from there direct to Arusha this track puts you on the centre line for runway '09' at Arusha airport. As long as you descended by the steps set out in homemade approach which is pictured below you would end up safely in Arusha, in theory. This was the route myself and many other Cessna Caravan pilots preferred. The red dots of the Eastern and Western rim were just positions that pilots saved  as waypoints when flying over in nice weather. So when the weather turned to crap I would do one hail Mary and then transfer the rest of my faith to the GPS with its make shift approach / saved co-ordinates. Thankfully I now fly in the land rules (Australia) and such cowboy antics are not expected from me at all.
 Arusha quite often has very low cloud around the airport and surrounding mountains and the airport has no legitimate legal published instrument approach....Pilots have taken measures into their own hands and created the above GPS approach for Arusha. It looks legit, it is even set out like a Jeppesen instrument approach chart. It is a uncontrolled GPS approach and any person who can push buttons is able to change the saved co-ordinates in a GPS unit with the potential of a disaster. However thousands of tourists are subjected to it daily without consequence, so far....If your planning a holiday to the Serengeti that involves flying into Arusha just consider it part of your African adventure...
 Kilimanjaro International Airport is less than thirty nautical miles away as the crow flies and it has a beautiful precision Instrument Landing System....but no, I am guessing it is uneconomical and impractical for operators to base themselves at this airport.

Changing the subject entirely from bush pilot approaches, I read an article yesterday stating Viktor Bout was sentenced to twenty five years in prison on terrorism charges. If you have not heard of Viktor Bout he use to operate a transport service using a fleet of old Soviet-era aircraft to apparently supply undesirables in various African conflict zones with arms and other frowned upon cargoes. Viktor Bout is one of two people who Nicolas Cages character in the film 'Lord of War' were loosely based on.


  1. Daer sir
    I am planning to cum down africa and look for a bush pilot job , as i interested in it. can u please tell me how safe tanzania and botswana is for women pilot....?


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