Why would I want to go?
I can’t say you need to fly to Ireland without saying that you obviously need to head to Northern Ireland first and especially Newtownards where I am based! I take my tea with a bit of milk, no sugar and a nice HobNob thanks, so once you get that out of the way, then you are free to head across the FIR into Irish airspace! This is a mandatory requirement I’m afraid.
So what brought this article on? Well, I recently made my first trip over the FIR into Donegal with flying partner Ben Ringland in his trusty old Rans S6 and me in my fantastic Jabiru UL-450. Of course this being aviation it isn’t as simple as just strapping on your airplane and heading off, there are a bunch of hurdles to jump, money to be exchanged and boxes to tick.
So the aim of this is to hopefully bring this information to you in an easy to follow way, with the aim to encourage you over for a visit. Seriously, the scenery is unreal. We flew from Newtownards - Sligo - Donegal - Letterkenny - Newtownards in a day and we captured some breathtaking sights. I even managed to spot Bluefin Tuna breaching in Donegal Bay - amazing stuff!
One caveat, the Irish equivalent of the CAA the IAA have a habit of changing rules and not telling the rest of us, so make sure you double check everything before getting in your aircraft!
What you need to know
So follows a list of bits you need to get in order before heading over. Most are simple enough, but the most expensive is the Medical requirement, so lets start there.
There was a time when the IAA allowed us microlighters into their airspace with our self declared medicals. A few European states still do but the IAA decided that they did not like this and so put a stop to it, effectively banning the UK microlight fleet from their airspace, unless we all got medicals done.
When we found out about it we did appeal it and the UK equivalent of the BMAA the NMAI appealed it as well, the UK flying press also made a bit of noise about it but it turns out the IAA are a stuborn bunch and didn’t relax the rules again. So it stands that you will need a medical to enter their airspace.
There are two kinds they allow a Class 2 medical or a LAPL medical. The LAPL is what I have, purely because it’s the cheaper option at £150 for the examination & issue of the medical. It is also slightly less stringent in that they check your vitals etc but don’t require an ECG.
Each medical has an expiry date based on your age, both the links above contain information on validity as well as a list of AMEs (Aero Medical Examiners) in the UK you can contact to arrange the medical. For anyone wondering I used Dr P Munro who is based in Ballyclare. See here for the full UK list.
I would expect most people who have started or completed a PPL would have a Class 2 already as they are required before you can start training as I understand it but the rest of us who started with Microlights will need this done.
Transponder Mandatory Zones
All of the larger controlled airfields are transponder mandatory, you’ll see these airfields on your maps very easily as they are surrounded by ATZs which you must get permission to enter.
All is not lost though, if you call ahead they will usually be kind enough to make an exception for you, though don’t expect to get into Dublin any time soon!
Also, there are dozens of smaller uncontrolled airfields dotted across Ireland, a few of which have fly-ins throughout the year. The TMZs do not apply here of course!
All the flight plans
If you are crossing an FIR boundary you are required to file a flight plan, regardless of where you are flying to, Ireland is no exception, so if you’re coming from the UK make sure you have a flight plan in the system before you set off. Sky Demon and other tools make this ridiculously easy, even I could do it in a few taps.
One thing to note though which caught us out, when flying from a controlled airfield to another within Ireland, you also need a flight plan filed. Not sure why this is but thems the rules, Sligo actually refused to let us go to Donegal until our flight plans were in the system. Again, thanks to SkyDemon here because it only took a few seconds to file it on my phone and we were off!
The General Aviation Report form is required when entering or leaving UK Airspace so the border force can keep tabs on you and something about anti terrorism.
Before heading off to Ireland or returning to the UK remember to have your GAR filed 12 hours in advance. The government actually did something good and have release a Free online GAR submission service so there’s really no excuses any more for not doing one as its so easy.
I still use SkyDemon as it’s all in one place for me but this is a great option if SkyDemon isn’t available to you.
As with the UK, most airfields like you to give them a call to let them know you’re coming. It’s a great chance to find out about any restrictions, local noise abatement protocols, fuel availability etc. Irish folk are very friendly, even the controllers, so give them a call to let them know you’re coming if they require it!
One thing I missed when I first published this was documentation.
As with the UK you are required to take a paper map of the area you are flying in with you. You should also bring your pilots licence, medical cert, passport, aircraft operations manual and details of insurance. No-one asked to see any of mine when I was over but I’ve heard it happen before and folk have been caught out by it.
And that’s it. The hardest part is getting the medical done, just because it takes a bit of time and money, the rest is simple enough and not much different from flying anywhere in the EU as far as I’m aware.
Hopefully this helps someone in future wishing to head over for a visit and do let me know if I’ve missed anything or got something wrong; it wouldn’t be the first time!