By J. DOUGLAS HINTON
It is the dream of many pilots to fly around the world. But the task of planning such a trip is overwhelming, even for the most seasoned aviator.
Just the thought of dealing with landing permits, customs and immigration, and navigating across the oceans can make a pilot hesitate in deciding to make this epic journey — then add in making hotel arrangements, dealing with possible medical emergencies, and all the other things that can happen. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could leave all the details to someone else so all you had to do is concentrate on flying your own airplane?
You can, thanks to Air Journey, a company founded more than 10 years ago by Thierry Pouille (tee-airy poo-ee), who settled in Jupiter, Florida, after moving to the U.S. from France.
Earning his pilot license at age 16, (he couldn’t get a drivers license until age 18 in France), he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, who flew in World War I, and his father, a pilot and businessman who owned a number of airplanes, among them various Pipers (including a Cheyenne), a Queen Air and King Air.
While working at a travel agency in the States, Pouille felt the wanderlust tugging at him to get back in the air, so he and a few friends rented some airplanes and took off for a 10-day trip to the Bahamas. It was such a success he knew he could make a business out of such adventures.
Air Journey was founded in 1998 and has been growing ever since. The company now offers 33 trips each year, ranging from a four-day excursion to the Bahamas to 72 days around the world. Packages are offered to Carnival in Rio, around South America, Europe, around Africa, Alaska, Canadian Maritimes, Iceland and Greenland, as well as the Galapagos Islands.
Here’s how it works: You do the flying in your own plane. Air Journey does everything else: Provides a tour director for the whole trip (Air Journey has eight contract pilots on call), books hotels and tours, does the weather analysis and flight planning, ensures fuel availability, notifies customs, arranges clearances and landing permits, and conducts a thorough trip briefing before every leg of the trip.
Most stops include two or three days for sightseeing. These odysseys have become so popular that Pouille maintains 98% of the trips are with repeat customers.
In 2007, Air Journey, having conducted several Atlantic crossings, made its first around-the-world trip and two more since. The rallying point is Quebec City and from there it’s on to Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, France, through the Mediterranean to Malta, then Egypt, Dubai, India, Thailand, Hong Kong, South Korea, Russia, then via the Aleutians to Alaska, and back home. (I may have missed a couple of countries, but you get the idea.)
The Journey Around The World trip is limited to turboprops and jets with a minimum 1,200 nm range following one bad (but not fatal) experience with a Piper Malibu that developed engine trouble over Myanmar, eventually traced to desert sands clogging up the air filters to the turbocharger. Departures for a particular leg of the journey are sequential, with the slowest planes departing first and the fastest last so that everybody more or less arrives at the same time for purposes of Customs and Immigration.
So what kinds of pilots sign up for an Around The World excursion?
“Obviously, well-to-do folks, usually company owners,” answered Pouille. “One of the big problems is for them to be away from their businesses for 72 days. Beginning six months before departure we hold a series of three briefings that include a financial commitment. Perhaps, surprisingly with the egos involved, everybody gets along famously with each other.”
Communications are “VHF all the way,” he said. “On the rare occasions we lose contact, we can relay through an airliner or satellite phone.”
Landing fees are about equal to the cost of fuel for the trip, he said, noting a TBM 700 turboprop, burning 55 gallons per hour, will have a fuel bill for the entire trip of about $22,000. “Landing fees will equal that,” he said. “For example, we pay $1,200 to land in Russia and $4,000 in South Korea. Except for Hong Kong, we haven’t as yet obtained permission to land in China.”
The final leg of the trip back to the States is from Russia to Anchorage, Alaska, via a fuel stop at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians. The problem is there are no customs facilities there. So with Anchorage’s approval, a state trooper performs the protocol and they’re on their way home, Pouille said.
Steve Walenz, a pilot from Pompano Beach, Florida, made the most recent ARound The World flight with Air Journey. A retired paving contractor, Walenz owns a Socata TBM 850 single-engine turboprop. Joining a Pilatus PC-12, a Citation 501, and a Piper Malibu in Quebec City, the group departed across the Atlantic in May 2010. Accompanying Walenz was his wife and oldest son.
It was his second trip with Air Journey. “We made a 40-day trip around South America and this fall we’re going to circumnavigate Africa in 54 days,” he said.
Flying around the world was the “trip of a lifetime,” he declared. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I kissed a cobra in Marrakesh, visited the air museum on Malta, and rode an elephant and a Bengal tiger in Thailand.”
“Not everybody that goes on these trips has experience flying outside the United States, but the professionalism of Air Journey makes it a breeze,” he continued. “They do everything for you. Accommodations are great, the food delicious, the sights wonderful, and the whole experience seamless, all thanks to Thierry Pouille.”
Pouille was also critical in helping his wife get emergency medical care during the trip. She developed a severe eye infection leaving Quebec City. A lower eyelid had turned in on itself and was causing an irritation that became ulcerated. When they got to Paris, he insisted she see a doctor before going on as medical care beyond Europe was uncertain. She was operated on with Pouille acting as interpreter, then continued the trip.
It wasn’t the first medical emergency on one of the company’s journeys. On another occasion, one of the airplane owners turned a bright red, a result of severe dehydration. But they were able to find an American doctor in Egypt who gave the owner five infusions, correcting the problem, Pouille said.
Don’t want to fly with a gaggle of people, but still dream of circling the globe or circumnavigating South America? Air Journey offers a concierge service. They arrange clearances for you, flight plans, hotels and so forth. The only thing missing is the tour director. That service applies to any of their advertised trips and destinations.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So, how much will a Journey Around The World trip cost? “It would depend on the aircraft weight, fuel consumption and so forth,” Pouille said, “but with everything included, as an example, the TBM 700 would run about $250,000.”
The company’s next Journey Around the World is slated for May 8, 2012, through July 21, 2012. It will cover 25,000 nm, with stops in 27 countries and 38 destinations.
WANT TO SEE MORE?
To see photos of last year’s Around The World journey from the Walenz family, go to Walenz.org. There’s also links to Air Journey’s blog and the blog of another pilot who made the journey.
For more information: AirJourney.com