A rare free week left myself and Marcus Jellyman scratching our heads for something to do. For us both, the Mirage F1s of the Armee de l’Air hold great appeal, so we decided we’d head to the sole remaining base for the type, Base Aerienne 118, Mont-de-Marsan. While we were only going away for two days, we took a punt and decided to spend one day at Toulouse-Blagnac, home of Airbus, and one day and the aforementioned location. This is the story of Day 1, which was spent at Toulouse.
An 0725 departure from Gatwick necessitated an 0225 alarm being set! Ouch. I picked up my travelling companion, Marcus Jellyman, from his house in Harlow at 0400, and off we set for Gatwick. Parking, check-in and security were a doddle, even at probably the airport’s busiest time of day. It was 0530, and that meant it was time for breakfast and a pint. We both opted for The American Breakfast, which consisted of a couple of eggs, bacon, a sausage, pancakes and maple syrup and it was just what the doctor ordered! Fed and watered, we had just a few minutes to kill before our flight started to board. It was pretty busy, but despite that and the lengthy taxi, we departed on time.
Leaving the grey, damp UK behind, the cloud cover as we ventured further south into France gradually became more fragmented, and as we turned on to the final approach at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, plenty of the ground below was bathed in sunshine. It looked promising!
It was my first time at Toulouse and no matter how much research I do beforehand, I don’t think you can fully appreciate how everything looks without actually being there. The airport has two parallel runways, 14L/32L and 14R/32R. Typically, 14R/32L is used by Airbus, while 14L/32R is used by the regular commercial traffic. What had been clear just prior to touchdown was that we had landed on 32L as 32R was closed for maintenance. As we rolled out on the runway at 1015 local, out of the left window lay rows of A330s, A320s and ATRs, in various stages of dress, a number of Airbus’ A300ST Super Transporters (Belugas), and then, parked on what I later discovered was the Delivery Centre, a Thai A380 and some lighter Airbus types, sporting all manner of exotic liveries. Out of the right hand side of the aircraft, meanwhile, was the main passenger terminal, with the A380 production line located in the most northerly corner. Outside it were two Emirates examples, one from British Airways, one from Korean and one of the Airbus test aircraft. There were a few other aircraft too which confused us a little, as we were expecting them to be with the museum collection that had been located at the south-east corner of the airfield.
We taxied to parking, disembarked the aircraft, cleared customs and collected the hire car, all in double quick time; in fact, we were already conducting a familarisation lap of the airfield (or in Marcus’ case, a refamiliarisation) by 1100. Perhaps the most famous of Toulouse’s photographic locations is a big hill located about three quarters of the way down towards the threshold at the 14 end. You can get right to the top of it or position yourself anywhere in between. We didn’t stop, instead electing to scope out the other locations. After some roadwork-induced guesswork, we finally located the car park at the south western extreme of the airfield, perfect for anything landing on 32L. The problem there was that for anything taxying out, a double-layered fence had to be contended with, which rendered it useless for anything other than arrival shots. We carried on around to the eastern side and found a Spring Airlines A320 (B-9928) parked up and secured from the elements.
With the Thai A380 parked at the Delivery Centre, we decided to position ourselves on the hill, but upon pulling out of the area where B-9928 had been parked, we saw the Korean Air Lines A380 taxying out and crossing over the bridge over the road. Doh! First big opportunity missed! We raced around to the hill as fast as we could but the A380 beat us to it, sadly.
As we got into position, a Swiss A333 lined up to depart. It displaced a ridiculous amount of water when it did so but was up so early, it rendered the photos on offer a tad uninspiring…. The Korean was next, and, disappointingly, it too went up like a rocket, as did the Airbus A320 test aircraft F-WWBA (msn 001).
Commercial arrivals continued, with almost all of them vacated at the intersection prior to reaching us. This was not looking especially good! Then, on the downwind leg on the west side of the airport, the KAL A380 reappeared. It flew all the way down the approach only to overshoot at the very last minute. Second big opportunity missed. It never did return and we can only assume it carried on to Hamburg-Finkenwerder for fitting out and painting.
One positive action came with the closure of the early intersection for recovering commercial flights, forcing everything that landed to taxi down by us; heat-haze at times proved problematic, however.
Returning from a test flight was F-WWGD (msn 5530), an A320-232 with ‘Sharklets’ – the name Airbus has given to its latest fuel-saving offering – destined to join Vueling as EC-LUO. It taxied back to the Delivery Centre, so presumably will be handed over quite soon. Two of the Sharklet test aircraft, A319 D-AVWC and A321 D-AZAE also landed.
Behind us, a big bank of very black cloud was pushing in. Typically, that coincided with the one and only decent movement we were set to get that day: the delivery flight of B-9902 (msn 5524), an A320-232, to China Eastern.
The heavens opened soon after and we retreated to a nearby Quick restaurant for a late lunch, during which we decided we’d head to the car park in the south-west corner to capture some arrival shots. No sooner had we set off, we spotted a Beluga on approach, illuminated perfectly and with a jet black sky behind. Third big opportunity missed.
To be fair, we did get some really nice shots from this spot, the only trouble was they were virtually all of Air France and easyJet A320-family aircraft! The highlight was probably the HOP! CRJ1000 – which was a new carrier for me – but it certainly wasn’t what we were HOPing for!
Then, the fourth big miss of the day. The British Airways A380, F-WWSC (msn 124), which is set to become G-XLEC, taxied to the western side of the airport for high-power ground runs in beautiful light. The hill would have provided a great location to capture some taxi shots, but once again we lucked out….
With a near 200km drive to Mont-de-Marsan, our location for the next day, ahead of us, and the disappearance of the sun, seemingly for quite a while at least, we elected to cut our losses and get on the road.
Maybe 25 miles or so into our journey we noticed what we initially thought was an aviation museum on the right hand side of the road. It soon became clear, however, that this was a holding area for almost all of the component parts for an A380! The cockpit, three fuselage sections, tail plane and wings were all there on lorries, waiting for their overnight move to Blagnac. The aircraft was marked with MSN 140 all over it, which means it should become A6-EER for Emirates. In hindsight, we definitely should have stopped, but didn’t! I make that opportunity number 5 blown!
After a fair journey, albeit with a few issues in locating the hotel to begin with, we arrived at our accommodation just before 2100. Straight into the bar and restaurant, I enjoyed a beautiful steak, though I think it was still mooing and certainly wasn’t anywhere close to being medium, as I’d ordered, and we had a couple of pints before calling it a night.
Day 1 had undoubtedly been more than a tad disappointing! Would Day 2 redress the balance?