Nobody flies around the world by himself.
The next time you hear one of your pilot friends say, “Did you hear about that guy who just flew his Bonanza around the world by himself?” you need to understand that, well, no he didn’t. Solo, maybe. “By himself?” No, not likely. Let’s be clear about something: nobody does this by himself.
Yes, there are probably exceptions, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that nobody does this by himself. It is just too difficult. The flight planning is too complicated and too unfamiliar. You will be climbing a steep learning curve as you deal with EuroControl, with General Declaration forms, with landing and overflight permits, with routing issues and airway structures and arrival slots. We could talk for an hour about any one of the above responsibilities. Filing a flight plan sometimes seems like putting a message in a bottle. Customs and immigration in so many countries is a task in itself. Overflight permits, landing permits, landing fees, which are not only expensive but often difficult to process. NOTAMs scattered in various places. (We just found out this morning that our next airport, a thousand miles away, in Ahmadabad, India, closes its runway for most of the day for resurfacing.) The language barrier is not to be underestimated. The flight legs are long in a general aviation piston airplane. You will spend so much time in the air there is little time and energy remaining for the blizzard of arrangements that need to be made when you land or before you depart for your next leg. Some tasks can best be handled while you are en route. By whom? Avgas, piston airplane fuel, is scarce. Bring the jet if you have one. Fueling when you can find it is more complicated than you realize. Really. We’ll talk about that another day, but trust me. Weather information is not as available or as certain as we U.S. pilots are accustomed to having at our disposal readily and for free. The strict regulation of permits and departure and arrival times and airway altitudes often tempts one to fly when weather would be better another day simply to avoid the days that it may take to reschedule. Ground transportation, lodging, and maintenance requires time and effort to arrange. (We need to work on our HF radio, which seems to have a failing connector, but it is very difficult just to access one’s airplane at most of these airports.) Security slows down every arrival and departure and any misstep or misunderstanding can throw the chocks under you and your airplane.
And the daily grind is very fatiguing.
…fatigue of the sort that leads to mental errors and poor, sometimes fatal, decisions.
The people you hear about who do this, who fly a light airplane around the world, always have help of a specialized sort. We all have friends and family who take care of things for us and make it possible for us to go roaming. And we have pilot friends, including those who have done this before, or made long ferry flights, or flown the oceans or the various continents, who give freely of advice. But what we are talking about here is help of a specific sort — support services. These are companies that make arrangements for much or all of the above tasks to get done. There are large companies who provide this support, for a large fee, to corporate jets who travel across the world. And there are smaller companies that do the same thing on a more modest level.
And then there is Eddie.
When Adam conceived his plan to fly his Bonanza around the world, he shopped about for those support services and went so far as to obtain a specific quote from one of the well-regarded companies. But he also heard about and read about this guy named “Eddie” in Cairo. Occasionally there was a last name, “Eddie Gould,” and occasionally there was even a company name, G.A.S.E., General Aviation Support Egypt.
Most of the companies providing this support serve corporate aviation – the guys flying their Gulfstream to the Paris Air Show. They are large companies. They are good at what they do. They serve other companies that are willing and able to pay dearly for their service. Many of them are well known: Jeppesen, Jet Aviation, and others. We could have engaged one of those companies. Although most serve only turbine airplanes, a few, Skyplan in Canada and White Rose Aviation in the U.K., have handled piston airplanes such as ours flown by amateur pilots such as us. Some other Earthrounders, that informal fraternity of pilots who have circumnavigated the earth, have used one or more of these companies and been pleased. As I said, they are good at what they do. You go where they tell you to go; you do what they tell you to do; you stay in the hotel that they book for you; and eat where they tell you to eat. I exaggerate a bit, but the point is that they get paid a lot of money to take all of the hassle out of international flying – and there is a lot of it.
And I can see the appeal. This stuff wears you down. More than one pilot who set out to fly around the world has bailed on the attempt, worn out with the haggling and the frustration. (Two that I know of recently have wisely decided to declare victory and retreat.)
Don’t misunderstand. Adam and I are not looking for trouble. Adam is extremely smart, extremely capable, and plans meticulously. He is capable of managing much of this. But the learning curve has been steep, even for him. And none of us are tireless. We know we need help. We need someone watching our back – catching errors in flight plans, missed NOTAMs, arranging for fuel when it must be trucked in to an airport for us in barrels and paid for through a bank draft available only during banking hours, which, in a country foreign to us may not be what we think of banking hours and may respect a holiday we have never heard of. We want all of this procedural stuff to go smoothly. But we also wanted the trip to be more personal than corporate.
You have got to meet Eddie.
Adam has been for a few years now, since he first contemplated this crazy adventure, reaching out to the worldwide community of Earthrounders, people who have actually flown around the world and not merely dreamed of it like the rest of us. (Dreamers are always welcome but the status of “Earthrounder” is reserved for those few among us who actually make it happen. There is even some dispute about whether one can be a true Earthrounder without crossing the equator en route.) And from some of those acquaintances and friends he kept hearing about Eddie and G.A.S.E. They all said some version of, “You’ve got to meet Eddie. He’s a character,” and some version of, “Eddie did a great job for us. Wouldn’t have wanted to do it without him.” Eddie will probably object to being known only by his first name when he has a partner (Ahmed Hassan) and a company (G.A.S.E.), but the wonderful thing about working with G.A.S.E. is that you are working with Eddie and Ahmed. This is not a corporate office, which is not to say that they are not professional, but when you deal with GASE you are talking to Eddie and Ahmed and pretty quickly you come to think of them as friends, as colleagues, and as compatriots. If and when you stop in Cairo, your day may well end sitting around the pool of the Fairmont Hotel with Eddie and a cold beer discussing Egyptian politics.
In the many emails we exchanged with Eddie before setting out around the world, he emphasized that GASE could provide all of the services we might expect from one of the big corporations at a fraction of the cost. At every turn, Eddie never failed to tell us that he could save us so much money, that he could get the same services cheaper, that he had connections everywhere along our route, that GASE would charge us a fraction (truly a fraction) of what we might pay one of the major support companies. After awhile, the promises seemed almost too good to be true. I am not going to make Eddie’s fee structure public and I am not going to mention quotes that Adam received from some of the large support companies, but suffice it to say that Eddie is asking so much less for his services that they are, by comparison, a striking bargain. (Please understand, when you are flying around the world through countries where avgas may cost $22 a gallon and buying a hundred or more gallons of it at a time … a bargain has a different meaning.)
How is this possible, we asked ourselves? We are still uncertain. We found ourselves some mornings this past winter sitting around the Bean and Barrel, our local coffee house and unofficial war room, where we met frequently to discuss plans, saying to each other, “You know, I don’t understand Eddie’s business model and his promises seem too good to be true. Maybe we should go with one of the proven support companies, even if it will cost so much more. Can we afford to take a chance on some guy named Eddie in Cairo who doesn’t even seem to have a mailing address?” And then we would say to each other, “Yeah, maybe, but on the other hand, this entire trip might be worth it just to meet Eddie…”
Not certain I would go that far; it’s a long way to Cairo; but having now been to Cairo and having now met Eddie; our experience is so much richer for having done both. Our days in Cairo were fascinating. Ahmed was at work in Dubai, where he is an airline dispatcher, but Eddie took it upon himself to be our personal tour guide through one of the most fascinating – and intimidating – cities in the world. More on that interlude as time permits. Cairo and our experience there was so overwhelming that it is difficult to write about.
And Eddie and Ahmed have been at our figurative side the entire trip.
Ahmed, whom we have not yet met personally, is the operations side of G.A.S.E. As a professional dispatcher for an airline, he understands the aviation world and the complexities of Middle Eastern operations in particular: how to plan routes, how to file flight plans, how to suss out the important NOTAMs. When flight plans get lost in the system, or when a route is rejected, or when an undecipherable NOTAM pops up at the last minute, Ahmed fixes it. When you need to fly through airspace owned by countries that don’t get along with each other, Ahmed knows the language of air traffic control and can make it happen. As I write this, in my hotel room in Abu Dhabi, Eddie and Ahmed and Adam are tossing emails back and forth to solve problems that have arisen with the next leg of our journey, a crossing to Ahmadabad, India, where fuel is available only by the barrel, must be pre-arranged, must be paid for only by US dollars and then changed into a bank draft, where the fuel is not available in partial but only in entire drums, where we just learned that the runway is closed for most of the day, where there are no nearby alternates with avgas, and where we will reach Ahmadabad by flying through airspace regulated by the UAE, by Oman, Pakistan Iran, and India, each of which will probably require special handling and permitting. For all I know they have already, in the last hour, had to make wholesale changes to our plans. (A developing low over the Arabian Sea is another factor. The regulatory complexities of a general aviation flight such as this are so time consuming that one must be careful not to take weather for granted. Sometimes it seems like an afterthought, which is a good way to get oneself in a world of hurt. As I will probably say again, in the words of Edward Abbey, “Nature bats last.” Lest we forget.
How does G.A.S.E. do it?
He has negotiated lower fees with handlers at airports that serve piston airplanes such as ours rather than simply passing through higher fees to his pilots. That may be how he does it at such a relatively low cost. Why does he do it? We flat out asked Eddie when we were in Cairo and he told us, in perhaps the expurgated version, the story of his life and it became clear that working with pilots who want to fly long distances in unfamiliar parts of the world, to have flying adventures or to work as ferry pilots making flights no one else wants to make, is simply a passion for a man who has loved aviation all of his life, who has acquired a great deal of knowledge about flying in far-flung places, and who genuinely loves the challenge of solving problems for pilots and helping to make their dreams come true. No matter our experience, we pilots who love aviation enjoy living vicariously through each other. Eddie’s mission, if I may take the liberty of characterizing it from my view, seems to be to make it possible for pilots to live their dreams and then to work equally hard to help them, through his social media efforts, photographs, and website, share those adventures with the aviation community. How wonderful is that?
As for my original assertion that no one does this crazy thing without professional support. Perhaps there are exceptions, but I doubt it. If so, they are few. It’s just too hard. So, the next time someone tells you that he did, just look at him and say, “You must know Eddie.”
…. and smile.