2016 Rally to Georgia and the European Caucasus

Our exploration tour to Georgia has been succesfull. Reason enough to start with the planning of setting up a international pilot’s rally to Georgia and the European Caucasus in 2016. Together with Jean Birgen, the plan is to have this rally between Saturday in August 2016.

The plan is indeed to bring private pilots from near and far to the glorious skies of “Georgia and the European Caucasus” in August 2016.

This rally will quite likely be labeled as the 5th edition of the “Hans Gutmann memorial tour”.

It will incorporate mountains, forests and seas prior to get to the most remote country of Europe, Georgia.

Pilots can either:

Fly to Georgia, Europe with their own or club plane
Rent a plane in Romania, Burgaria (or Turkey) and fly from there to Georgia
Rent a plane in Georgia (at least one C172 and one C182 available)

The plan is to fly to Georgia in three legs/days.

For the boldest pilots who leave from their home bases in Western Europe, we’ll schedule a gathering on Saturday August 13th in Jakabszallas (LHJK) in Hungary.

Leg 2 brings us the next day to Istanbul in Turkey, where we’ll be joined as well by the pilots who rented planes in Eastern Europe.

Leg 3 brings us to the Georgian border town of Batumi, where we’ll be expected on the international airport. After customs clearing, we’ll head to our home basis nearby capital Tbilisi where we’ll be joined by the pilots renting a plane locally in Georgia.

Georgian State Minister Davit Bakradze confirmed in a message received after our visit to him early August,  his readiness for welcoming our rally, which is a huge support as they are some practical burdens to be handled in advance.

We now are going to put together a team a persons helping to prepare this unique event, to boldly fly where no private pilot has gone before !

Georgia farewell dinner hosted by Amrian Manjavidze – Vanilla Sky

August 4, 2015 – evening
Our short exploration visit of Georgia comes to an end. The owner of the Tarakhtari airfield, Amiran Manjavidze, who operates Vanilla Sky and Service air warmly invited us for a farewell dinner in his own restaurant.

On our way to his place, we took a picture of what once the statue of Lenin was…now resting with a whole in in head on a field nearby Tbilisi. 

bye bye Lenin

The four of us agreed that Georgia is a truly hidden gem. This country has so much to offer in every single way. The highest mountains of Europe, great landscap, super friendly people, nice architecture and probably one of the finest kitchens in the world. 

Here under are some pictures of our farewell dinner

dinner nexwt to the swimming pool

Amiran Manjavidze, his charming wife and the four of us

meeting the Georgian Civil Aviation Agency

August 4th – afternoon
Another excellent experience we got on our exploration tour in Georgia was the contact with the Georgian Civil Aviation Agency.

I contacted them some weeks ago via internet and got a prompt response from Leval Karanadze, a young deputy director. 

I addressed our plan to setup a private pilot rally to Georgia and addressed that we are confronting some practical issues in preparation of this 2016 event.

Levan setup a meeting at his office nearby the airport and involved all the concerned persons:

  • Tamara Archuadze, Deputy director MCMC for Georgia
  • Aleksandre Gachechiladze, head of air transportation department
The meeting was also attended by Igor Aptsiauri, first deputy director.

With all these persons involved, we had a very fruitful discussion on the topics we raised:

  • there’s no AVGAS in Georgia: Indeed, there’s Mogas. The director of Service air (Vanilla Sky) earlier mentioned he could ensure to have some barrels with Avgas on his airfield. The GCAA officials were committed to find a structural solution
  • no VFR maps available: the meeting discussed that with the help of VFR pilots in Georgia we have been flying with, some VFR waypoints can be defined.
  • Flying with EASA / JAR or FAA pilot’s license. The issue will be analyzed, but a temporary authorization could eventually prove to be possible
  • aircraft registration: we learned that having civil aircraft registration numbers for the planes who are coming from Europe and Turkey are recommended.
  • Entrance point for customs clearing will be BATUMI airport
  • Pilots must have experience in mountain flying if they like to fly to the Mestia airfield
Several of the government officials we met seemed to know Luxembourg quite well and visited our country multiple times. I learned that Levan Karadnadze and myself got some common acquitances, being Hendrik Dermont of Eurocontrol, with whom I attended high school in my youth. It is a small world !

GCAA officals: Tamara Archuadze, Levan Karanadze, Aleksandre Gachechiladze
Visiting the GCAA: Artem Kirillov, Mike Kornev, myself, Igor Aptsiauri, Levan Karanadze, Jean Birgen, Tamara Archuadze, Aleksandre Gachechiladze
The 4 GCAA officials were very nice and good people to talk with. They positioned themselves as persons trying to help us as much as possible in the preparation of our 2016 private pilot rally. Preparing a rally can only work out well if you have reliable contacts with the local authorities. 

Meeting the Georgian State Minister David BAKRADZE (EU and Euro Atlantic integration)

August 4th , 2015

In preparation of our visit to Georgia, I got confronted with the fact that you cannot just rent a plane in Georgia as elsewhere in the EU, by just showing your flight license. In Georgia, you need to have a local pilot sitting next to you.

Although located in Europe, Georgia is not (yet) part of the EU. That’s why I contacted the Georgian State Minister for EU and Euro and Atlantic integration, Mr. David BAKRADZE and addressed this problem to him asking to for meeting to explain our plans with regards to the rally for European private pilots we are planning to setup from western Europe to Georgia in September 2016. (1st long range tourist rally to Georgia)

The Georgian government is known to rapidly modernize the country and foster EU integration. But I was surprised anyway that their State Minister answered me in person per email that he was “willing to give it a go” and so we agreed to meet on August 4th at his office at Ingorovka Street at Tbilisi. 

He furthermore provided me with some email addresses of other key persons in the Georgian government administration such as e.g. the Georgian civil aviation agency etc… I contacted all of them and also here, we got prompt responses and were confronted with an openness of mind which you rarely encounter. Amazing country, Georgia !

We did not know what to expect honestly in advance of the meeting. Jean Birgen brought some papers and news articles of previous rally’s he has been supporting over the last 28 years and explained the private pilot rallies he was involved in.

State Minister David Bakradze proved to be a young, dynamic and very charming person. He warmly welcomed us at his office. We discussed for almost an hour about general aviation topics. 

Georgia is a country where new airfields are constructed. For example, in Mestia, in the Caucasus a mountain airfield has been recently opened.

He seemed to have a profound interest in our story and proved to be a good listener. State Minister David Bakradze explained us that he sees the benefits of having the general aviation developed in his country. 

The flags in the Minister’s office show clearly how the Georgians see themselves, being a full EU member and a NATO member.

Artem Kirllov, myself, Jean Birgen, State Minister David Bakradze and Misha (Mike) Kornev

The 2016 long range tourist rally to Georgia we’re planning to setup will bring some 20 small planes and a group of some 40 to 50 persons to Georgia from various European countries.

Some pilots will fly all the way with their planes from Western Europe to Georgia (some 2500 NM + 2500 NM return), some others will try to rent planes in nearby Turkey and some pilots might be interested to rent a plane locally in Georgia.

Minister Bakradze supports this plan and was happy to hear that the contacts he provided us with were responding so well. He kindly mentioned he was to give them an additional call in advance of our afternoon meetings with the Georgian Civil aviation agency to express his support.

Summarized , the meeting with State Minister Bakradze was a complete success and only further strengthens our positive impressions of this beautiful country.

Georgia’s State Minister David Bakradze

Touch and go on Tbilisi intl airport

After we returned from beautiful Batumi, our friends Artem and Mike went for having touch and go’s on Tbilisi intl airport while we enjoyed the pool area of the Natkhtari airfield. Hereunder are some nice pictures they’ve made as well as a slow motion movie of our Georgian C182

Batumi, Georgia at the black sea (Adjania province 2)

After taking care of landing formalities at Batumi intl. Airport, we headed for the city’s boulevard. This intl airport is the entrance airport for any small planes coming from Europe. Our plan is to setup in September 2016 the “1st long range tourist rallye to Georgia” and Batumi airport will act as entrance point for customs formalities. But today, we’re just exploring the city a bit. Unfortunately, we have not time enough to go visit the Botanical gardens, that will be for next year. As clouds above us are developing rapidly ( CB’s??), we decide to go just for a lunch in Batumi. This city has changed tremendously over the last couple of years, really,a’azing how modern it looks. Just take a look to the pictures below and you’ll see it yourself.

After lunch, we’ve met a nice person who used to work in Antwerp, Belgium and he drove us back in his right wheel car to the airport. After take off, we fly again along the coast at low altitude in order to remain VMC and slowly climb out as the weather improves. Bye bye, Batumi, we’ll be back next year.
The 1,5 hour flight to our georgian home base proved to woek out well and we saw this time the landscape evoluate from lush humid valleys to dryer plains. So beautiful. After landing in Natakhtari airfield, our Russian friends Mike and Artem took over our plane as they went to perform some touch and go’s on tbilisi intl. airport, while Jean and myself enjoyed the swimming pool with outside temperatures still topping 40 degrees celcius.
Upon their return, we paid our bill ( based upon a 250 usd rate per hour for our Cessna 182). Their pricing is similar to Luxembourg. 
In the evening we went to a great restaurant in the Checkov street ( star trek trainee, remember), called Kopala…where we enjoyed probably the best view over Tbilisi….together with a great dinner. A nice way to end our flying.

Georgian flying: Natakhtari to Batumi at the Black sea coast (Adjania province 1)

August 3, 2015

The plan for today was to explore the coastal area of Batumi, in the south eastern part of Georgia in the Adjana province.

Early in the morning, we headed from our Tbilisi hotel ( British House) to our Natakhtari hub where we prepared to take off. The weather in Batumi is often quite different than in The Tbilisi region, it is not different today. Batumi has many low hanging clouds and there’s some risk for CB’s. 
Flying from tbilisi to Batumi, we effectively saw the landscape change and become much greener and we’be been overflying many lush valleys. The ceilings were quite low when approaching Batumi.
We’ve been flying along the coast of Batumi and sw the remarkable architecture of their boulevard buildings. It seems Las Vegas, all very modern.
Landing at Batumi was perfect, air traffic control speaks well English I noted.

Telavi (Kakheti province) to Natakhtari

Aug 2, 2015. Afternoon

The airfield of Telavi was absolutely empty…no planes to see. But there’s security and the airfield is secured as well. The airfield is named after Mimino, a georgian bush pilot, who played in a Russian tv series in 1977. The views drom this airfield are absolutely spectacular ( again): you see the wide plains and behind it the Caucasus mountains. Stunning !

Telavi airfield

The city of Telavi is quite small ( 22.000 inhab.). We made a quick tour of the city in a cab and had lunch prior to fly back to our Natakhtari home basis. Hereunder are somme additional pics of tjis memorable day
Landing at Natakhtari airfield – Vanilla Sky in our Cessna 182
After landing, we enjoyed the vibrant music scene at the swimming pool of Natakhtari airport…a unique combination which makes this place even more special.

With temperatures outside nearly 40 degrees, we were happy to end this flying day in a fresh and cool water swimming pool

Cessna 182 flight from Natakhtari airfield in to the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range

Aug 2, 2015

We presented ourselves early in the morning at the Natakhtari airfield (Vanilla Sky) and were presented to the owners and pilots. The landowner Amiran Manjavidze built this airfield built a unique combination of a winery, an airfield and a hotel and swimming pool for the local youngsters with good music. When we arrived in the morning, the swimming pool was already full. Very cool !

After a short briefing, we discovered our plane we’re going to fly with: a Cessna 182. This airfield is not very formal from a setup point of view and we were able to take off quickly. The first thing which struck me, is how green the land is from above. We saw the Caucasus approaching in front of us and started to climb out on our way to the highest mountain of Europe, which is located over here: the Shkhara of more than 5200 metres ( forget the Mont Blanc!).

We passed a place I’m particularly interested in, which is Gudauri and which is high on my to visit list as this should be a great place for Caucasus skiing ( at inexpensive rates compared to the Alps). From the air, it proved promising as you can see hereunder

I recorded my flight with a Hero 3 Go Pro
Flying in the Caucasus
Gudauri from the air
Gudauri map
moving higher in the Caucasus
Europe’s highest mountain : Shkhara 5193 m

The views high in the Caucasus were spectacular and worth the voyage. We neared the border with Russia and South Ossetia but made sure not to cross it 🙂 The transponder was turned off btw.

From there, we flew over the mountains at a 9000 ft altitude with our small Cessna to the airfield Telavi where we landed for lunch

Will be continued….

Georgia here we are

August 1, 2015. 
We landed in the late afternoon at Tblisi airport. The weather was hot, almost 40° celcius is the shade. Our friends Artem and Mike picked us up at the airport. They arrived a day earlier than us and have been flying on this Saturday to Mestia with a local Georgian Pilot. They were very enthusiastic, to say the least. They have been climbing to more than 9000 ft in the C182 of Vanilla Sky operations. It proved to be big fun with great Caucasus views. 

We checked in at the boutique hotel British House. The staff proved to be unusually friendly, very nice welcome. We went to a hotel, which is ranked quite high at Tripadvisor, called ” the shadow of Metekhi” it proved to be on top of some kind of canyon who crosses the capital city of Tbilisi with spectacular views. We enjoyed a great dinner by sunset…and learned that Georgian food is indeed extraordinary in every way….see pictures below

The Georgian wine tastes also delicious.l..although sweeter than what is typical for us Luxembourgers. We also tried out the famous salty water Borjomi, which has an unforgettable taste.

Jean (Jänghi) Birgen and myself

Borjomi water (quite salted) has an unforgettable taste. Recommended !
We ended our first evening in Georgia in a local pub with live music ( all pubs seems to have live bands..).