Karl Drage's 2012 blogGAR Entries

APR 13 2012
blogGAR: Amsterdam-Schipol in the Fog - Part 1

What seems like a lifetime ago now, I decided it would be a good idea to get away to foreign shores for a couple of days of 'civvy' shooting. Conscious of the fact that the 747-400 and MD-11's days, in passenger service at least, are dwindling with European airlines, the two destinations at the top of my 'to do list' were Amsterdam-Schipol and Frankfurt-Main, with the first named where we ultimately ended up. The 'we' to which I refer was my good mate Marcus Jellyman, his dad, John, and I.

Looking back on it now, it was perhaps a tad optimistic to hope for anything other than grey skies, travelling, as we did, on the very last two days of February, but I don't think it was unreasonable to have hoped for a bit better than what we actually got!!

With an 0730 scheduled departure from London-Stansted, that meant meeting up at the Birchanger Services at 0430. Ouch. And that meant setting the alarm for 0245. Double ouch.

Having checked in my case and cleared security with relative ease we had enough time for pancakes, maple syrup and bacon washed down with a pint of Amstel. What else would you drink at 0615?!?

We boarded our easyJet A319 chariot to Amsterdam and waited patiently for it to be our turn to depart. I think we were something like number five or six to go, so it took a while. Slightly disturbingly, the strange 'vwoop, vwoop, vwoop' noises you hear on the A320 family after the first engine is started remained for the duration of our taxi and only stopped as we prepared to line up on the runway. No-one seemed too concerned anyway.

Climbing out, it didn't take long for us to pierce the solid cloud base that was soon below us. If only we could have taken the light that was up there with us to ground level in Amsterdam!

With flight time of only forty minutes, it wasn't long before we were in the descent, with our captain informing us of a hold due to "reduced visibility"…. Great! As we finally emerged through the bottom of the cloud base, it made for anything but pretty viewing! Visibility really wasn't good, the ground was very wet and, all told, the picture was rather grim.

The one saving grace was that we'd elected to leave getting a hire car as the forecast hadn't been great. This was very definitely a day for spending on the roof of Terminal 2 at the 'Panorama Deck'.

With luggage reclaimed, that's exactly where we headed. The air was damp and was far from warm, but at least it meant we'd get reasonably close to some of the action, and, as always, the elevated angle allowed for some contrast in the images - much more preferable than trying to shoot against a flat white/grey sky.

Of course, the most prolific operator at Schipol is Dutch flag carrier, KLM, which operates an extremely varied fleet of Airbus, Boeing, Embraer and Fokker types. Prior to making this trip I'd never shot anything in KLM colours that was bigger than a 767 (which is no longer used by the carrier)! It didn't take long for that to change, with 747-400s and MD-11s aplenty parked up on the stands. A330s, 777s (both 200s and 300s), 737s (lots of), ERJ190s and Fokker 70/100s (the last two named flying for KLM's Cityhopper operation) completed the extensive list of types sporting KLM's trademark blue, white and grey colour scheme.

Another airline with a major presence at Amsterdam is Delta Airlines. At various times during the day there were six or seven A330s and 767s parked up in Delta colours. Aside from one, maybe two, United flights each day, these were the only US passenger carriers seen.

A number of seldom seen, at least in the UK, European airlines use Schipol, with Transavia and ArkeFly (owned by the same parent company as Thomson, TUI Airlines) among the more prolific.

Air Astana was a new airline for me, hailing from Kazakhstan. The aircraft, P4-KCB, a 767-300ER, carries special titles to commemorate 20 years of independence from Russia.

Schipol also sees more than its fair share of cargo operations with KLM Cargo, Martinair, Sky Lease Cargo, Emirates SkyCargo, Cargolux, China Cargo, China Southern Cargo, Lufthansa Cargo, Cathay Pacific Cargo, Korean Air Cargo and World Cargo seen over the course of our two-day trip.

I certainly wasn't expecting to see a 99 Sqn C-17 out there. I note that Dutch service personnel have been repatriated via Schipol in RAF C-17s in the past so wonder if this was another instance?

The Far East is served by Malaysian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Korean Airlines, China Airlines and China Southern.

Unfortunately for us, conditions would not really improve at all during the first day and, with the Panorama Deck closing at 1700 (in truth there wasn't really any light left by then anyway), we headed down into the terminal building, determined to get a hire car for the following day to make our way out to the approach.

After asking three different rental companies what it would cost for a small car, we decided we wouldn't bother after all, with €130 being the cheapest quote (€145 the highest!!) for a 24 hour hire!! Apparently the airport levies a €65 'tax', but even so!! With uncertainty about the weather forecast, it just wasn't worth the risk. We resolved that if the weather was good, we'd get a taxi!!

And so we joined the queue waiting for the bus to take us to our hotel for the evening, Etap Hotel Amsterdam Airport (which Marcus found and booked, I hasten to add!). Now, having stayed there in 2006 when attending the airshow at Leeuwarden, I knew exactly what to expect from our triple room, however, it seems I'd not quite managed to convey the situation sufficiently well to Marcus, who took my "it's a double bed and a bunk bed" to mean "it's a double bed and a bunk bed with TWO bunks". Cue much head shaking from the Jellymans. Now, while it might not have been ideal, faced with the same situation with my own dad, I'd have had no issues with sharing a bed for ONE night. The Jellymans, however, were having none of it and Marcus ultimately ended up sleeping on the floor!! I'm not too sure which of the pair was most worried about the other's wandering hands during the night!!

Anyway, we strolled next door to the Ibis for some food and a few beers, and it was very noticeable that the good old GBP doesn't go anywhere near as far as it used to!! €36 for six (admittedly very nice) beers seemed a tad excessive, but there you go….

After stuffing our faces with pizza and tiramisu we just about found room for one more beer before retreating to our (very) humble abode for the night, hoping (praying) that the following day would dawn just a little brighter….

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