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Virgin prop to Canberra

It's been a while since work let me travel down to Canberra. Not that I'm complaining too much because flights between Sydney and Canberra can be a bit stressful on the nerves of a turbulence hater. Yes, such a short flight and yet they can be so dramatic.

As I write this I'm staring out the window of what used to be Olim's Hotel, now the Mercure Canberra, watching swirling storm clouds flicker with lightning in the evening light, while the hypodermic Canberra Tower pierces upwards from Black Mountain.

View from my hotel room at the Mercure Canberra
Despite this somewhat unreasonable fear I still have an interest in aviation. Having flown on a variety of aircraft between Sydney and Canberra I was eager to try out the latest type on the run; the Qantas Boeing 717. Fortunately I managed to book one for the return journey while still adhering to the cheapest flight policy. But on the way to all I could get at a reasonable time was a Virgin Australia ATR72, a type I had already flown, or so I thought. Might as well get some Velocity points I guess and what can you expect on a Monday morning during the last week of parliament for the year.

Mother in law is away at the moment so it was my job to take Alex to before school care, hence the need for a not so early flight. He was so sweet last night, waking me up in the middle of the night to drag me to his room for a hug, switching on the fan and switching off the light, just as I like it. Though he's now six and so grown up his love is touching.

I caught the bus and the train to the airport, a truncated working commute. For some reason I couldn't get a boarding pass over the phone for Virgin, so I had to use one of the few kiosks. No wish to join the huge queues for the desks.

After quickly passing through security I went straight to the Virgin Australia lounge, burning up one of my two passes though I thought all government fares had access.

The lounge is quite nice, with red and purple accents. The breakfast buffet now had hot food on the menu, though the scrambled eggs were horrible! Fruit was nice and I had a window table to myself. Unfortunately there's not much of a view while sitting. The morning action at the airport is always exciting.

Virgin Australia Lounge

I walked down to the gate a little early so I could get a photo of the aircraft, Bronte Beach. The Virgin Australia livery has to amongst one of the most boring of any commercial airline. Plain white with just the most minor of red trimmings and grey lettering.

Bronte Beach

I was amongst the first to head down the ramp and across the tarmac to board. The ATR's single boarding door is at the rear of the aircraft and I was seated in 5F towards the front, almost in line with the propellor. Virtually the same spot as when we flew the Firefly ATR72-500 in Malaysia in October!

The cabin was quite fresh and the legroom fantastic but for the seat support inbetween my feet, making it impossible to fit a bag in. So I stowed mine in the overhead locker, not realising that the seat next to me would be empty.

Zhen assists a passenger

The cabin attendant up our end of the aircraft was a friendly and rather overweight young man by the name of Zhen (pronounced "Zen"). But he was very definitely Caucasian Australian, not Chinese! The other attendant at the rear was also a male.

At some point I realised that this was actually an ATR72-600 I was aboard, not the shorter 500's which I had flown prior to this. A minor point of little relevance to anyone but an aircraft enthusiast, but at least it was something.

When the pilot welcomed us onboard he sounded Eastern European, but on descent an Australian accent spoke up and both names sounded Anglo-Saxon. I was confused!

He apologised that all portable devices still needed to be switched off during take-off and landing, saying that they were still awaiting approval for the turboprops. Indeed the no-smoking lights were gone from beneath the overhead compartments, to be replaced by no-electronics. Funny to think that they may be obsolete too. One of the two pictured devices, an old fashion iPod was already out of production!

Seatbelts on, laptops and iPods off! 

On the Sydney-Canberra runs both jets and turboprops have roughly the same scheduled time of just under an hour, though the flight times are about 25 and 45 minutes respectively. The jets usually have to taxi out to the distant third runway while the turboprops can often take off on the main runway close to the aircraft terminal, saving a lot of time.

Not today, as we taxied out quite far to the main runway. A Virgin Australia 737-800 took off in front of us, then it was our turn.

Tigerair waiting to taxi out

Talking about the Jetstar Generation


Despite feeling quite positive about this flight over the past week, the fears had returned this morning. The ascent was a little shaky, but there were nice views first of the city and then the south. Had I been sitting on the other side of the aircraft I could have seen our house as we flew over the Alfords Point bridge and the Georges River.

Domestic terminals

Qantas Jetbase

Sydney's CBD

Bankstown Airport

Georges River

Holsworthy Army Base

Gums in flower

The flowering eucalypts gave a pale texture to the valleys in the green bushland below. The crew came through with small tubs of juice or water and packs of crackers and cheese.

Love the effect from my phone camera!
So much prettier than renewables says the gov.

Cheese, crackers and juice

Flying along


Lake George

More Lake George and the Obscene Windmills (according to the Treasurer)

It was a clear day below and the scenery was quite interesting. A coal mine, then south of the Blue Mountains, their sandstone ridges looming in the distance. Then the greenery faded to the browns of sheep country, the flat expanse of Lake George. Was there water or not? It was hard to tell. I enjoyed the windmills around the shore, unlike our foolish treasurer.

The blade is coming apart! Arrrghh!

We began our descent and all our electronics had to be switched off once more. We curved around the south of Googong Reservoir and then the descent got really shaky as we were buffeted by mountain waves and other winds. I gripped the seat, but it wasn't so bad.

I was glad to touch down at Canberra International, the airport where the only International services tend to be diplomatic in nature. It's such a modern, clean terminal that it seems a pity to waste it on limited domestic services.

Canberra Airport

As we waited to disembark the cabin music was crooning Christmas songs. And it reinforced why I just don't connect with Virgin. They say they want to bring the glamour back to flying but they are relating it to a supposedly stylish age that was before my time, but one that I think the CEO John Borghetti admires. I don't want golden age Hollywood glamour, I want modern professionalism and dreams of the future. And nice liveries.

As I was delayed by a case of the runs I was alone when I reached the taxi rank. The attendant opened the door for me, but I wish the taxi driver inside had had a bath.

The rest of the day was spent in meetings at work. Big white cumulus clouds arrived, portending the predicted storms. By the time we quit for the day the skies were threatening. I still walked down to the centre, but by 5.30pm on a Monday most shops were closing and the food options were seemingly limited. I returned while the clouds spat.

Cloud over work

In the end I had a hamburger at the hotel bistro then returned to my room to watch the storm. Tomorrow an early afternoon storm is predicted, which will probably make its way to Sydney. My only hope is that I'll miss it as I have no wish to fly through tonight's skies.


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