It’s been a few years now since I planned to take a short family beach vacation by private plane. The current CoVid situation didn’t make things easier, as Croatia was declared a no-go area suddenly, but Slovenia and Italy were still ok. The first try didn’t work out and I had to cancel the trip due to bad weather (one of the many cold fronts we had this summer).
Then finally at the end of August everything came into place. The plane was available and the weather was looking great for the next couple of days. The plan was to fly from Graz (LOWG) to Portoroz (LJMB), rent a boat there for a day and stay overnight in Piran. The next day would involve a short flight to Venice Lido, (LIPV) enjoying the sights low level along the Adriatic coast (my family has good memories from decades of summer vacations there). Once there, spend the day at the sandy beach for some swimming, venture through the old town and then overnight one more time before flying home again on day 3.
My local airfield has nice “new” plane on offer for charter. It is a 1977 Reims Cessna 172M, completely refurbished with a new CD155 Jet-A sipping engine, very nice interior and everything Garmin has to offer at the (avionics) front. G500Txi, GTN750, GTN650, Dual G5 backup instruments, ADS-B in/out and a GFC500 Autopilot. It also comes with 4 Bose A20 headsets. Probably one of the better spec’d 172s out there and one of the nicest Cessna 172 exemplars I have seen. It is decked out! The modern and stylish interior also helps to instill more confidence for any accompanying non pilot peers as opposed to the usual 70’s and 80’s charm usually present with rental planes.
I used Foreflight for WX/Notams/W&B/FPL filing and AustroControl’s excellent free weather briefing website for their low level SigWX Chart as well as the useful (ufn german only) text forecasts. Additionally I used Autorouter bot via Telegram for updated METARS/TAFS inflight (4G reception depending).
Since my mother (a nervous flyer) and 4 year old child were coming along, I wanted the flight to be as enjoyable and smooth as possible (the GFC 500 autopilot should help with that).
(Driving time door to door would be: 3h14m)
It was late morning and the sun already showed it’s August strength when we arrived at the plane with our bags. Here is where the Cessna shows it’s advantages as a “light” family tourer. Through it’s double doors it offers easy “stand up” bag loading as well as entry to the cabin. This helped to easily load and secure the child seat in the back seat, a duffle bag behind the front seats and the rest of our stuff in the baggage compartment.
While this was going on and during my preflight, the wings offered my passengers shade from the scalding heat on the apron. Nevertheless, it was HOT. Keeping doors open and then, as soon as the engine was running, opening the large windows really helped to make things a bit more comfortable on such a hot day.
The other plane I considered for this trip was a Diamond DA40NG, 35 years younger, integrated G1000 avionics and GFC700 autopilot. Even though I usually prefer the DA40 as it cruises faster, offers better views outside and is a bit more fun to hand-fly I was happy to have some shade spending wings over my head instead of a plexiglass canopy.
The flight was planned VFR around 6500 feet, exiting LOWG CTR to the south and proceeding via Maribor (LJMB) and Celje (LJCL) to join the “famous” slovenian VFR transit route, avoiding LJLJ TMA. Some military airspace was active but Ljubljana Info was accommodating as always and suggested a heading to stay north of it.
Here we are on our way. Everyone aboard and ready for some time seaside. I found the Cessna wing air vents are simple to “set” and effective. Cabin temp was kept just right by closing the vents more and more as we gained altitude and reached cooler air.
Soon after, cruising on the GFC500 autopilot and avoiding some puffy clouds gently with a few degrees of HDG L/R, my 4 year old (issued some candy for climb and descent) was already sound asleep. Was it my smooth flying or the lack of oxygen that made him fall asleep? You decide.
There was quite some traffic on the VFR route that day, and Info issued advisories every other minute, as did the plane, sounding penetrant alarms. This VFR route definitely condenses traffic to a narrow area which is something to watch out for and I’d probably do the flight IFR the next time.
After dodging all the traffic and about an hour later we were in contact with Portoroz LJPZ approach control and the nice ATC lady requested us to fly along the coast and join the downwind for RWY33. Nice.
After landing, refueling with JET-A was immediate. Kudos to the ramp personnel at LJPZ. We were then picked up with a golf cart and driven to the terminal. The typical “Shuttle in 5 minutes” turned out be a a good 30+ minute wait for the shuttle van to the marina of Portoroz, where we had arranged a boat for the day. If we’d been told a realistic waiting time, we would have taken a snack at the restaurant instead of standing around. Whatever.
Finally the shuttle came and as we shared it with others, we were only charged 50% of the cost. At the marina we also had to wait for the boat for “only another 5 minutes”, which again turned into a 30+ min wait. Not fun with a kid, a bunch of bags in no shade 30+° C heat. Finally the guy came and we had our boat. The boat was ok, but in pretty run down shape for the price. The folding seat was ripped from it’s hinges, and some sharp screws were protruding out where one would have (bare) feet standing at the steering console. Ask me how I found out.
I told the rental guy afterwards, but he just shrugged it off. I see some similarities here between charter airplanes (except this 172 for now) and boats. Even during Corona, business seems to go well enough.
The next couple of hours were spent cruising along the coast, enjoying the scenery, swimming and sipping
drinks iced coffee while anchoring. The fresh water shower at the stern proved to be a good child entertainment system. Afterwards, we collected the boat rental guy again and he dropped us off directly in front of our accommodation in Piran. Superb way to arrive.
The rest of the day was spent swimming in Piran and enjoying a nice dinner on the promenade, watching the sun go down. Absolutely breathtaking views.
Airtime: 1h11m (can be done in 30-40minutes, but we did some slow flying sightseeing)
(Driving time door to door would be 3h32m)
The airport shuttle picked us up on time at 0900 local. A few minutes later I was having a pre-departure coffee at the airport restaurant and my 4yo was watching planes while my mother bought some salty souvenirs from the nice shop LJPZ offers. The airports staff was very kind and gave my kid some souvenirs (magnets, stickers).
The friendly lady from Portoroz drove us to the plane in the golf cart again and took a picture for us.
Departure was on RWY33 with a nice view of Piran and it’s Tartini square, following the coastline to the north, then crossing LIPQ CTR westbound.
View of Piran, our accommodation and the restaurant we visited.
Cruising along the coast towards LIPQ airspace with a happy camper in the back chewing on some inflight catering.
Soon after we were passing the beautiful beach town of Grado, Italy. We’ve spent many vacations here and my mother enjoyed seeing it from above.
We continued further at 1500 feet via Lignano, Bibione, Caorle and Jesolo. Padova Info frequency was heavily congested, with people stepping onto each other. A normal summer flying day I’d say.
Instead of landing at Lido LIPV right away we passed it for a quick sightseeing detour to the town of Chioggia (supposedly a “little Venice”).
Runway in use at LIPV was 05 anyway, so we came back out of the right direction. After avoiding some UL traffic we lined up for final, avoiding the town of Lido and enjoying a great view of Venice below our left wing. Welcome to Venice/Lido.
We taxied directly to the JET A pump and refueled. Then parked on the grass. Lots of planes present, including a Diamond DA62 and a Pilatus PC12 that landed right after us. They got to park on the hard surface apron, of course.
Happy to finally have this picture 😉
We took a taxi to a hotel close by and located directly at the beachfront. The sandy and flat beach here is well suited for small kids.
After a nice day at the beach we walked around the town of Lido, had some dinner and went to bed late. I must say that flying with family, taking care of everything, planning flights the evening before, checking weather etc.. is pretty exhausting. I guess doing it more often would help to get more routine and make it less strenuous.
(Driving time door to door would be 5h45m)
Wake up, coffee, get taxi to the airport. By now we had a good routine and were quite efficient. Carry everything to the plane, load up and go. Handling at LIPV was more or less quick. It does amaze me that it takes the staff there 10 minutes to collect the landing/parking fees for each plane… if there are 5 pilots waiting, that can be quite a time wasting issue. Why not simply offer a sign up form on the airport website where one can supply date, registration and credit card info and then deduct it once the plane is airborne?
On the way from LIPV to LJMB (I planned the flight back with a stop in LJMB to shorten flight times a little).
Enjoying the view of the dunes as we climb up to 7500 feet.
Passing Caorle, Italy heading eastbound.
The flight was again uneventful, thanks to the solid high pressure area that was ending only on this day’s evening.
LJLJ gave us a shortcut through their TMA, less traffic to worry about. After a short physiological break at LJMB we were on our way for the last leg back home, involving again a small sightseeing detour to the northwest and then via a 360 over our house for a landing at RWY17.
The area of Graz
Back home. Always handy to have Grandma read to you while Daddy takes so long to unload the plane and clean the bugs of the leading edge. Note the convenient because shady “waiting area feature” of the high wing Cessna aircraft.
All in all everything went very well. It was a great experience and I’ll have fond memories of the trip, but I would probably not fit that much “program” into 3 days the next time, as it was a bit exhausting too. Something I’d probably do differently for future trips is, upon arriving at the airports for departure, immediately “park” the pax at the restaurant or coffeeshop, then load everything and do the preflight alone, and then pick them up when ready to go.
In case someone is interested, here are the costs of this trip.
If you’re interested in the 360° videos of the landings, please send me an email and I’ll give you the links.
I hope you enjoyed this trip report.