Jewel of Borneo, Kuching!

I am in Kuching since last Saturday, waiting and waiting. First, to source some Avgas which is hard to find here and then for my permit to overfly Malaysia and Philippines for Landing at Puerto Princess International, Palawan Philippines. All this is happening only because one Devil of a Controller disrupted all my well set plans by turning me back to KL, the other day. Otherwise, I probably would have been back in Buffalo by now. I and my agents GASE are trying hard now to resolve this new situation we have been forced into. I am sure we will, but it is taking lot longer than what I thought. It is not America, things are very beurocratic and move lot slower in this part of the world. I must be patient. Anyway, I rather be stuck in Kuching, the Land of the Hornbill, than anywhere else. It is the capital of Malaysian Borneo, a beautiful city with very welcoming people.

Just to pass time, I started looking at my old emails and spotted a contact of my good friend Phil Thomas (a New Zealander and my Sales Manager for South East Asia during AirSep days) named Sam Wong in Kuching. I had been introduced to Sam by email once but had never met. Without much hope, I sent an email to him. WOW, Sam responded in a matter of hours and came to see me. This young charismatic gentleman is an extremely successful entrepreneur, a very large real estate developer and unbeknownst to me is the son of the owner of Rimbuna Hijau, the 6th largest conglomerate of Malaysia. Rimbuna Hijau is big amongst, Oil/gas exploration, timber and real estate development, owns several helicopters and jets, pretty well-known in aviation circles here. In his earlier days Sam Wong spent years studying in Auckland, New Zealand and Nizhny Novgorod, Russia and so did I working (months not years) in both places. We had lots in common to talk. Cut through the chase, I now have access to a chauffeur driven Mercedes to take me to places I want. Furthermore, even though Avgas is hard to find in Borneo, in one phone call Sam was able to arrange the required quantity of Avgas for me from a flying club that happens to be at an airport on my way to Palawan. So, plan now is to depart for Philippines as soon as I get permit, and make a tech stop along the way at the flying club for refueling.

In the meantime, I discovered the Sarawak Flying Club/Global Aero Services of Kuching and made contact with them. The Managing Director and owner is Anand Samuel, a Malaysian of Indian ancestry, an extremely nice gentleman, who has taken me under his wing and is helping me with all my needs. Anand and his two pilots Mr. Lucas Tan and Mr. Foster Lawen are being as great hosts as any I have ever met. They have been showing me around Kuching, treating me to lunches/dinners and the whole works!  Anand even took me to his home to meet his family. Anand’s sixteen year old son Alfred Raj is an accomplished drummer and wannabe pilot. I on the other hand am an accomplished pilot (????) and wannabe drummer. Obviously, we had lots in common. All in all a great stay at Kuching.

I have just been informed by my agents that I will have the permit today and will be able to depart tomorrow, August 10th.  I am anxious to go, but will miss the company of these very nice people when I leave!!


The Devil and the Angels, Kuala Lumpur!

My stay at Kuala Lumpur is really a story of the Devil and the Angels. I stayed with Dr. Thanikachalam, a classmate of my wife. He is great and his hospitality could not be any better. After spending a night at his residence. I got ready for the next leg of my journey to Kota Kinabalu Malaysia, 883 NM over the ocean. It was raining and thunder storms at the airport, but the forecast along my route of flight was for clear skies and tailwinds all the way. Obviously, I was itching to go. Fortunately, I got a break in the local weather, I took advantage of it and departed. My flight was under Malaysian controllers for the first hour and they were extremely nice. But then as I entered Singapore air space I was handed over to a Singapore controller.

The South China Sea, controlled by Singapore ATC, is an area where either HF radio or satellite phone is required for communication. This controller asked me if I had a satellite phone. I did and I told him so. He then asked me to make a test call to him on my satellite phone. Unfortunately, my satellite phone (a brand new one at that) refused to work. While I was trying to sort out what was wrong with the phone, this controller, started to get very impatient and became extremely rude. Even though, he was communicating with me through airline pilots who were flying in the area and were nice enough to be go between us.  All that was needed was that I be able to relay my position reports at reporting points. It was OK to do that through Airline pilots when I crossed North Atlantic. But this Devil refused to accept that and told me he had cancelled my clearance and I must turn back immediately. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I pleaded with him that I was almost half way to my destination and he should let me continue. He refused to budge and made me turn back. Seeing me back in KL every one including the controllers at KL were perplexed. They told me that this should have never happened and the controller had no authority to cancel my clearance midway and turn me back. Even more so, when the weather at KL had rapidly deteriorated beyond safe. Anyway, I learned my lesson and will never be bullied by a Devil controller again!!

Back in KL the staff at Skypark (my agents), Ms. Tan Bee Wah, Manager Customer Relations, Sri Ganesh Thangarajai, Senior Executive, Ronald James Abrahams, Operations Consultant, Ibrahim Bin Gulong, Operations Supervisor and their entire staff, I must say are all Angels. I have never in my life met a nicer group of people than these. They were extremely attentive to all my needs and without me even asking for it, put me up in their crew room for two days (or however long I needed to be in KL) at no cost. I am not even sure where to begin, but I know that without the incredible generosity and hospitality accorded to me by all of Skypark staff, I could not have started on the next leg of my journey. I can certainly say Skypark customer service is way beyond one could ever expect. For this I sincerely thank them and will never forget meeting these Angels. Thanks Skypark, you are the best!!!!!

Now I am at Kuching, Malaysia and just been told they have no Avgas here. I will have to wait until it arrives from Singapore. Don’t really know when. May take several days.


U-Tapao and Pattaya, Thailand!

I had not flown at night for quite a long time so it was a bit different experience. I could see frequent lightning strikes in the distant Northern sky. Even though, I knew there were strong thunderstorms north of my flight path even before departing Kolkata, it was a bit scary to actually see that in the night sky. These thunderstorms were quite far away but seemed so close!

After a long nighttime flight from Kolkata India arrived at U-Tapao airport at half past twelve in the night.  As an International airport, U-Tapao has long wide runway, but it is very dimly lit. So, I ended up making a bit harder than normal landing. But with all the commotions of Kolkata behind me, I am very glad to be here.

Even though it was past midnight and the airport was closed for the night, two Rotarians from Rotary Club of Bangkok Klongtoey, Mr. Peter Chiaravanont (a cancer survivor) and Mr. Suwatchai Phongbunjert welcomed me at the airport. These two Rotarians had driven from Bangkok (a two hour drive) especially to welcome me to Thailand. It was late for them to drive back to Bangkok, so they stayed for the night at my hotel. In the morning, they ceremonially presented the flag of their club to me along with a $2100 check on behalf of Thailand RI Districts 3330-3340-3350-3360, in support of my mission. I can’t thank them enough for their extremely generous support. Truly service above self!

Peter and Suwatchai showed me around Pattaya, a beautiful and vibrant resort very popular amongst International tourists.  Thanks Peter and Suwatchai for your generosity and hospitality. It will stay in my heart forever.

Next stop Kuala Lumpur!

All good things must end, departed Ambala!

After a heartwarming week of Rotary celebrations and welcome parties, I departed Ambala for Kolkata on July 27th. Once again, the staff of Air Officer Commanding, L.K. Chawla was extremely gracious in helping me get ready for departure. They helped refuel the plane, get the weather briefing and the clearances necessary to depart from an Air Force Base. Due to strong headwinds, the flight from Ambala to Kolkata turned out to be the longest duration flight of the trip to date and I was pretty tired by the time I reached Kolkata. I was received by Sanjay Choudhry, the brother of my close friend Dr. Ajay Chaudhry. The hospitality bestowed on me by Sanjay and his family was par excellent. Thanks Sanjay, it was a delight to visit with you and your family.

But as the saying goes, all good things must end, the departure from Kolkata was entirely a different experience. Kolkata in my opinion is the red tape capital of the world. Avgas is normally not used at this airport and clearance from many departments was required before refueling. Any and all things, no matter how irrelevant, were turned into most important, as your life depended on it. Re-fueling only a barrel of Avgas required five hours. Similar goes for filing flight plan, every little detail had to be perfect and three original signed copies had to be submitted. I was about to start the engine, when the flight service station asked me to come to their office and sign the flight plan. The flight service station unbeknown to me was outside the sterile area of the airport. I had stepped out without taking my identification papers and so was not permitted to come back in. It took two hours of pleading with various authorities before I could get back in. I had reached Kolkata Airport at 7:30 AM, but by the time I finally departed it was 5:00 PM. The flight from Kolkata to Pattaya was 950 NM, longest of the trip with most of it over Bay of Bengal. Normally, I would not fly over Open Ocean during night time, but since the weather was good and I was just so frustrated, I decided not to take a chance on next day and carried on with the flight in the night.

Next stop U-Tapao, Thailand!

Dream comes true, landed at Air Force Base, Ambala Cantt!

In an incredible act of grace and generosity towards me, Rotarians and Citizens of Ambala Cantt, Air Officer Commanding L .K. Chawla granted me the very rare, if ever granted, permission to land and park my plane at the Air Force Base. Not only did he grant me the permission, he also along with his staff, Chief Administrative Officer N. K. Singh and Chief Operating Officer A. Srivastava,  greeted me to the base. I thank them all and Wing Commander Rahul Monga from the bottom of my heart for helping my dream come true.

After the reception at the base, I was driven with police escort to my home. Then later, I was invited by the Rotarians in Ambala as Guest of Honor to their installation meeting. The next morning I was invited as Chief Guest to the Annual prize distribution function at the Taneja Public school. I am extremely humbled by the reception accorded to me their native son, by Ambala Rotarians and Citizens. I am simply overwhelmed.

Mission continues, next stop Kolkata!





Made it to Ahmadabad, India!

After sitting in stifling heat from desert sun for half an hour, while taxing and waiting for clearance, I was more than ready for takeoff from Muscat. It was the last leg of my flight to India and my heart was racing. So, as soon as the tower cleared me for takeoff,  I full throttled the plane and climbed to my assigned FL 150, headed over the Arabian Sea. After flying for four hours, the Pakistani controller handed me over to the Indian controller. This controller must have been handling at least twenty flights at a time. I have never experienced such a busy controller. This controller had extraordinary talent to calmly handle so many flights at one time, the instructions were coming like bullets from an AK 47. Very professional, very impressive. He vectored me for an Instrument approach to RWY 23 and I landed. My first landing in India!

I really hope the civil aviation authorities get some more help for these poor controllers in India, working at such fast pace continuously is just not humanly possible.

The welcome given to me after landing in Ahmadabad was incredible. Representatives of Aggarwal  Samaj, received me at the airport and took me to the reception they had especially arranged for me.  All the major local and national papers and TV channels covered my story.

So, far my flight has gone smoothly, much better than expected. The main reason for this I believe is the incredible great work done by my logistics support team at G.A.S.E. (General Aviation Support Service Egypt). They arranged all my overflight and landing permits, ground handling services, prepared and filed all my flight plans, arranged for Avgas and hotel stays. They even continuously tracked my flight and communicated with me during flight, beaming METARS and helping me pick out flight levels where the winds were more favorable.

Thank you Eddie and Ahmed, I could not have done it without your help. You both are my incredible partners in flight, I feel like you are always sitting next to me while flying. Exemplary service!

Next stop AMBALA CANTT !

Every time I feel fleeced there is more coming, on to Muscat!

By now I should better get used to outrageous handling and fuel charges. The handling at Bahrain was $710 and the barrel of Avgas $1000. Only good thing, I did not have to pump the gas from the barrel myself. They brought an air compressor and a pump to the plane. As for handling charges and cost of gas, I don’t care anymore, it is what it is. I am just too excited to get to India.

Flying in the desert is a new experience for me. I don’t have air conditioning in my plane. While cruising at any reasonable altitude it is cold enough and the plane is very comfortable, but on the ground while checking things out after startup and waiting for clearances from ATC, it is just unbearably hot. I probably loose a pound of sweat in 10-15 min that I am on the ground. Moreover, even though it is sunny all the time the visibility and ceilings are extremely low due to lots of sand dust in the air. I would classify the landings to be in low IFR range. While landing in Bahrain, I did not see the runway until I was about to touch down. Same was true today in Muscat!

Met Mr. Sulaiman Al Mufargi, a wannabe Earthrounder, who has been communicating with me and following my flight for a while. He picked me up at the airport and drove me to Hyatt, my hotel. The drive to the hotel went through most of Muscat, it really is a beautiful town. Even has a Buffalo Wing Restaurant. Checked in at Hyatt. This Hyatt  is built like a Castle, really fabulous. Probably, the best I have ever stayed at.

But with all that said, after staying in Buffalo for 40 years, I don’t think I can ever get used to the desert. I miss the snow already!!

Next stop Ahmadabad, India!