I’ve had some cool helicopter flights over the years but this one in the Faroe Islands stood out amongst the rest. There was no simulated engine failure and hard landing like the time I flew in a Chinook with the Royal Air Force, nor were the doors off like my flight over Miami with FlyNyon or over Rio de Janeiro with Vertical Rio, and there was no landing on a volcano like in Iceland with Nordurflug, but what there was on this flight was a whole host of fascinating sights and facts.
Firstly, the flight was operated by Atlantic Airways, the airline of the Faroe Islands, but what makes this special in a sense is that the Faroese are able to travel between the 18 islands with the helicopters as a sort of taxi, subsidised by the government to make it cost-effective and allow the locals to get about, see their family, their friends, and anything else you’d like to do. My flight was between Klaksvík and Vagar, with some stops along the way, and it cost £40 ($50) for the ticket.
Secondly, the helicopter fleet doubles up as the islands search and rescue fleet, meaning that the aircraft and crew are on call 24 hours a day, every day. The aircraft, an Leonardo AW139 is equipped with cameras including infra-red capabilities as well as a winch, and everything else they require for their SAR function. The passenger seating feels secondary to this.
So, let me tell you about my flight. I arrived at the departure lounge (actually a shed) at Klaksvík half an hour before my flight to find the passenger manifest sitting next to a computer displaying the current ATIS, which showed an unreadable cloud base and advisories I’d never before seen, but my name was ticked off whilst the pilot was downing a decent-looking lunch and I explored the pad briefly before we were called to board (and by that I mean the pilot said, “ok let’s go!)
On the walk up to the aircraft the pilot introduced himself and said, “you must be David.” I felt kinda cool for a brief moment, then he continued, “I dropped some workers off on Mykines this morning, do you mind if we change the route so we can pick them up? You’ll have a longer flight.” Obviously my answer was no, let’s do it! Already scheduled to stop in Tórshavn we were now making a trip of three legs, each approximately 15 minutes, and each taking in various sights along the way.
The first leg to Tórshavn took us through the fjords and along the mountain lines, ducking and diving where weather dictated to maintain VFR (Visual Flight Rules) along the way. On landing in Tórshavn the pilot announced to the disembarking passengers, “this is Tórshavn, and there’s a man who will come and open the door for you – his name is Peter.” Everyone got off a side from me, and two German chaps got on. The landing was hot, meaning the pilot kept everything running (including the rotors) and as soon as the other passengers were clear we took off again, turning south and following the coastline cliffs down to the island of Vagar and then past Dranganir towards Mykines. Mykines is a small island, featuring dramatic sheer cliffs to the north and a gradual slope up from the sea to the summit from the south. The helipad is on the edge of a very small village, and when we landed the two workers got on board for their ride back to Vagar airport. The take off here, with the pilot seeming to be in his element, was fantastic. We went up to a low hover, the inclining slope ahead of us, and then the pilot dropped the nose and pulled the collective, giving us an awesome ride up the slope just off the ground until we reached the top and suddenly the land beneath us disappeared and was replaced by incredible cliffs plummeting straight down to the cold, rough Atlantic, and we turned hard right towards Vagar. Interestingly, Vagar airport was built by the Royal Engineers of the British Army during the Second World War, where the British occupied and defended the Faroe Islands from nazi invasion following their invasion of Denmark. The runway, therefore, is very short and sits amongst mountains, so any arrival features twists and turns to avoid the terrain and very hard braking to stop, and departures have hard acceleration and steep climbs. There’s a fun fact for you, free of charge.
The approach to Vagar airport, the base of Atlantic Airways and the only airport in the Faroes, was very calm and signified the end of the working day for the crew, but the start of another journey for me. As we landed and were taken from the helicopter to the airport terminal (still open but with no flights arriving or departing) I now had to deal with a problem. You see, with the government subsidises helicopter flights there comes a catch. You can only take one flight per day, and I was now at almost the complete opposite end of the Faroes to where I’d parked my rental car!
The bus network (ssl.fo if you ever need it) is also pretty good, with the 300 taking me from Vagar airport to Tórshavn and then the connection 400 taking me from there to Klaksvík. The cost was £11 ($15) and it got me back to my rental car parked up in a residential street in Klaksvík where it was now snowing pretty heavily in around 2.5 hours, but for all that adventure it was well worth the approximately £50 I’d spent!
If you ever find yourself in the Faroe Islands, you must see them from above, and Atlantic Airways is the way to do it!