On holiday in Cyprus Rachel has aviation ‘cold turkey’… but no helicopter is available! What to do?
19 July 2023
You’d be forgiven for thinking that a Mediterranean island awash with Brits would have a reasonable General Aviation scene going for it, but you’d be wrong. Cyprus doesn’t have any small airfields, so the private pilot experiencing withdrawal symptoms has no choice but to turn to an international airport for their holiday flying fix.
Such is my situation when I arrive at Griffon Aviation at Paphos International Airport, run by the delightful Marios Papanikolaou, who’s also the CFI. My search for a helicopter school on the island having proved fruitless, I’ve settled for some fixed wing flying, and our machine for the day is a good old Cessna 172. That means my friend Eman, who’s flown with Marios here at Paphos before and highly recommends him, can come along for the ride.
It’s a bright and early start due to a notam in place for the training area we’re planning to use – there are military exercises scheduled – which means we need to be clear of the area by 8.30am. To make sure we get to fly before we leave Cyprus, Marios asks us to arrive for 7am at the latest. On the drive over, I’m already wondering whether I’ll be able to get my brain into flying mode at what, for me, is an ungodly hour.
The Griffon office is ‘off-airfield’, so after sorting through the paperwork and briefing the flight we climb into Marios’ ancient car and make the short journey to the airport. On arrival, we’re required to show our passports and go through a mini version of airport security in a small hut next to the gate. It’s somewhat less thorough than the main version, and thankfully free of any insane shoe-removal, 100ml-liquids-in-bags shenanigans.
We park right next to the aircraft, where, watching Marios doing the A check, it’s immediately clear that he’s incredibly methodical in the way he works. His careful working through the checklist carries on into the cockpit, where he gets to the initial start-up checks and hands over to me to start the engine.
From this point, at my request, he’ll be doing the radio and I’ll be doing everything else. At 2,699m, the runway is so long that there’s no sense backtracking, so I taxi us to the nearest intersection and we’re soon airborne from there.
Climbing out to 1,000ft, I can see we’re a couple of hundred feet below an area of localised cloud, and there’s a radio call from ATC asking if we’re happy to proceed. We won’t be needing much altitude for what we have planned, so no worries! We fly parallel to the coast for a while, before Marios tells me to turn towards the sea and descend to 500ft.
Once at the water, I make a right turn and from there follow the coast for some miles. This lower altitude gives us a fantastic view of holiday villas whizzing past, rocky headlands higher than us and waves breaking on beaches below. We also fly past the famous ‘Blue Lagoon’, a bay famed for its crystal clear, vivid blue water.
After a while, Marios points out a small pass in the hills up ahead and directs me to aim for it, ascending to 1,800ft. On arriving at the hills, it’s clear that 1,800ft altitude doesn’t equate to much height above the ground.
What follows is the most exhilarating part of the flight, and indeed one of the most exhilarating flights I’ve ever done. All of a sudden I’m flying along low-level not far from the valley floor, down what my brain seems to register as a rocky riverbed, past terraces of vines and isolated homesteads. I’m banking with each and every turn of the river, with the wooded valley slopes above me on either side.
This close to the ground, our 100 knots feels very fast indeed, and it takes a lot of concentration. The terrain below is rocky, bushy and sloping, and I just about have enough mental capacity for it to occur to me that our options should the engine conk out would not be favourable.
That said, we’re out the other side of the mountain pass in no more than five minutes, at which point Marios draws my attention to a bridge back towards the sea and tells me to aim for it. This will position us perfectly to join downwind back into the airport.
Back in the circuit, I hear a Ryanair flight calling for taxi and correctly surmise that he’ll be waiting for me to get out of the way by the time I’m on final. Sure enough, I clock the 737 waiting at the hold as I make the turn from base, and decide to land further down the runway so I can quickly vacate at the intersection next to our parking area.
I don’t know whether it’s the waiting aircraft full of people or the fact that the runway is so much bigger than I’m used to, but I can feel my heart pounding more than normal as I touch down. The wider runway seems to do interesting things to the peripheral vision when flaring, but it’s nevertheless a smooth landing and a great entry for my logbook.
Given the popularity of Cyprus with Brits, I feel more people should know about Marios and his flying school. The weather is so good that he virtually never has to cancel flights, and my low-level fun and games have certainly given me a different perspective of this great little island – and significantly enhanced my holiday.