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  Altiport-Courchevel (Savoie Alps)
Take-off and landing like on a "aircraft carrier
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Google Maps Position
 

Text:

Andreas Herzog

Pictures:

Andreas Herzog Stefan Gschwind Paul Bannwarth

 
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Our first Spotter trip 2013 led us to France in the snowy Savoy Alps, to the legendary aerodrome Altiport-Courchevel. To speak of an "aerodrome" is probably much exaggerated, resembles the Altiport in size as well as the challenging approach and departure procedures and looks more like an "aircraft carrier deck" in an alpine environment.  

Not surprisingly, Courchevel is found among the ten most difficult but also most dangerous airports in the world. Only the best pilots holding a special license and admission may fly to this airport at all. Thrill was guaranteed and we didn’t want to miss it, on such beautiful day. So we got our self in position close to the runway edge to get some perfect pictures.

   

Aerospatiale Alouette III SA 316C, F-BPPH, Secours Aerien Francaise  (Picture courtesy Paul Bannwarth)

De Havilland Canada DHC-7-102, Tyrolean Airways, OE-LLS (Picture courtesy  Paul Bannwarth)

De Havilland Canada DHC-7-102, Tyrolean Airways, OE-LLU, Note the “TAT Sticker” on fuselage, just behind the Cockpit (Picture courtesy Collection Paul Bannwarth)

Aerial view of the tarmac and hangars at Altiport-Courchevel (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Glamorous Courchevel

Courchevel together with Meribel, Les Menuires and Val Thorens, are the largest linked ski area in the world, called: the "Trois Vallées". The most glamorous place of all is probably Courchevel and attracts every winter the rich and famous from around the world. Especially the oligarchs Russians, the billion dollar rich Arabs and the aristocracy of Europe to give every winter a "tryst" in Courchevel, a hotspot of modern jet set. 

With over 600 km of passable ski slopes, the map of this ski area is to read about as challenging as a road map of Bangkok! So it is probably also considered good form that Courchevel has one of the most spectacular airports in the world, and this in the middle of an alpine ski arena!

   

View of the tarmac and hangars at Altiport-Courchevel (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

View of the tarmac and hangars at Altiport-Courchevel (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Dramatic view of the down slope runway. Note the sharp edge at the end! (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Ready for downhill?! (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

   

View of the famous “Le Pilatus” Restaurant and Alti-Bar, next to the apron. Inside you will find many of memorabilia’s of the past decades regarding the history of the Altiport, incl. many pictures of PC-12’s (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog and Stefan Gschwind)

Preparation and take-off by a powered Paraglider in this beautiful and sunny alpine scenery at Courchevel  (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Paraglider in this beautiful and sunny alpine scenery at Courchevel (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

"Experience nourishes the caution!"

According to this quote, by the Austrian musician, Elfriede Hable, you can probably also describe the take-off and landing procedures in all its facets at the Altiport-Courchevel. The only 535m short runway with his apron and buildings are situated at an altitude of 2007m. Some down slopes in Altiports is nothing unusual, but this runway also vertically kinked twice and shows on the steepest and longest part an incline/decline of about 18.66%! For every pilot a challenge at the highest level! 

Landing will be uphill; take-off will be downhill, in each case across an abyss of 300 meters! The approach and departure of aircrafts follows mostly through one of the side valleys of the "Three Valleys" with a starting point in Albertville, about 40 kilometers away from Courchevel. It certainly needs no further explanation that a take-off abort on the Altiport is practically impossible, as well as a go-around during landing probably would have devastating consequences. Instrument landing systems, such as ILS are not available at Courchevel. 

What is required here is flying skills to perfection, nerves of steel and profound confidence in their own knowledge and experience. Even the smallest mistake will not be forgiven and can result in disaster.  Such an extraordinary "Location" naturally inspired the film industry.
So the Altiport-Courchevel was also the site for film scenes of the James Bond movie "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997). Whether, the light combat jets of the type Aero L-39 "Albatros", as shown in the film, we actually dare to doubt that these aircrafts have been on the film set at Courchevel in regard to the short runway.

   
 

Paraglider in this beautiful and sunny alpine scenery at Courchevel (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Pilatus PC-12/47E, Jetfly Aviation SA, Luxembourg, LX-JFN (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Pilatus PC-12/47E, Jetfly Aviation SA, Luxembourg, LX-JFN (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Pilatus PC-12/47E, Jetfly Aviation SA, Luxembourg, LX-JFN Ready to leave. Just waiting for the Skiers to be back. (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

 
   

Pilatus PC-12/47E, Jetfly Aviation SA, Luxembourg, LX-JFN on downhill take-off  (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Socata TBM-700N, Private owned, D-FMCP (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Socata TBM-700N, Private owned, D-FMCP (Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind)

Socata TBM-700N, Private owned, D-FMCP (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

   

Socata TBM-700N, Private owned, D-FMCP (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Robin DR400-180, Aéroclub de Courchevel, F-GPAP (Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind)

Robin DR400-180, Aéroclub de Courchevel, F-GPAP (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Robin DR400-180, Aéroclub de Courchevel, F-GPAP (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

"Regular" traffic at 2000 meters above sea

Undisputed "top dog" is probably the Aéroclub de Courchevel with a small fleet of Robin DR400/135cdi "Ecoflyer" which offers there guests a fantastic flying experience over the Savoy Alps.  Certainly not inexpensive, but unique! Incidentally the Aéroclub de Courchevel stays also for a sustainable training of domestic and foreign pilots to renew their license for Courchevel, so, according to the spokeswoman of the Aero Club. 

In the search for the responsible Airport Authority person, we were successful very quickly and found another charming French Lady who was very excited about our visit to Courchevel. After a short "Smalltalk" we got permission to settle a little bit closer next to the runway to take our pictures. Once there, with the hope to enjoy the magnificent view, we've been back in full stress, because one of our “Highlights” a Pilatus PC-12/47E was on final approach to Courchevel.

   
 

Robin DR400-180, Aéroclub de Courchevel, F-GPAP (Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind)

Cirrus SR-20, French Air Force, F-HKCS (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Cirrus SR-20, French Air Force, F-HKCS (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Reims F182P Skylane II, Aéroclub du Dauphiné, F-GDIX(Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind)

 
   

Reims F182P Skylane II, Aéroclub du Dauphiné, F-GDIX  (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Extra EA-330SC, French Air Force, F-TGCJ (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Extra EA-330SC, French Air Force, F-TGCJ (Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind) Extra EA-330SC, French Air Force, F-TGCJ (Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind)

“Catwalk” for helicopters

In addition to all the planes, we recorded also some heavy traffic of numerous helicopters that day. Take-off and landing of helicopter on the lateral Heliport looked more like a choreochraphie on the "catwalk" of the Paris fashion weeks. Each incoming helicopter first hovered from one side into the premises, then in an elegant turn past us again to land on the other side of the heliport. This allowed us to photograph the colorful helicopter at close range, from both sides.  

More interesting visitors were: 

  • D-FMCP, Socata TBM-700N, Private owned
  • F-GMTU, Eurocopter EC-135-T1, SAF Helicopters
  • F-GVGT, Eurocopter EC-155-B1 „Dauphin 2“, Heli Sécurité
  • LX-JFN, Pilatus PC-12/47E, Jetfly Aviation SA, Luxembourg
  • F-HBED, Eurocopter EC-120B „Colibri“, Private owned

and many more

   

Jodel D140E Mousquetaire IV, Private owned, F-GSCD (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Jodel D140R Abeille, Private owned, F-BOPK (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog) 

Jodel D140R Abeille, Private owned, F-BOPK  (Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind)

Eurocopter EC135-T10, SAF Helicopteres, F-GMTU (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

   
 

Eurocopter EC135-T10, SAF Helicopteres, F-GMTU (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Eurocopter EC135-T10, SAF Helicopteres, F-GMTU (Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind)

Eurocopter EC155 B1 Dauphin, Heli Securité, F-GVGT (Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind)

Eurocopter EC155 B1 Dauphin, Heli Securité, F-GVGT (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

 
   
Eurocopter EC155 B1 Dauphin, Heli Securité, F-GVGT (Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind) Eurocopter EC120B Colibri, Private owned, F-HDRY (Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind) Eurocopter EC120B Colibri, Private owned, F-HDRY (Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind)

Aérospatiale SA 365N2 Dauphin 2, Swift copters, HB-XQW (Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind)

   
 

Eurocopter EC120B Colibri, Private owned, F-HBED (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Eurocopter EC120B Colibri, Private owned, F-HBED (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Aérospatiale AS 350B3 Ecureuil, Mont Blanc Hélicoptères, F-HADE (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

View of the tarmac and hangars at Altiport-Courchevel  (Picture courtesy Stefan Gschwind)

 

Era of scheduled flights

Yes that once existed in Courchevel!
In the mid-eighties to the late nineties, the Austrian airline Tyrolean Airways set up, in cooperation with the French TAT (Transport Aérien Transrégional), in the winter months a regular flight operation to Courchevel, this probably also in view of the then imminent 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville.

Flown was from Innsbruck and Paris Orly to Courchevel. This cooperation, however, was a more than two-year planning phase ahead in the issues of cooperation, security and the training of crews, especially the cockpit crews had to be planned to the last detail. The choice of the suitable aircraft type was up to this time not fully clarified.

Tyrolean Airways DeHavilland DHC-7-102 "DASH 7" was finally the suitable aircraft for these operations. The DHC-7-102 "DASH 7" still remains the largest aircraft that approached Courchevel. How does someone actually get to such a crazy idea to set up a regular service between Innsbruck-Paris Orly and Courchevel? Initiator and probably the driving force was at that time the acting mayor of Courchevel, Mr. Ziegler. He wished at that time a regularly service between Paris, Innsbruck and Courchevel, for the upcoming Winter Olympics. So this flight connection lasted nearly fifteen years. In the late nineties, gradually the elderly DHC-7 of Tyrolean Airways were withdrawn and replaced by more modern aircraft such as the Fokker 70/100. With the larger aircraft it was no longer possible to fly to Courchevel and the scheduled flights were finally stopped.

   

Eurocopter EC130B4, Heli Securité,  F-HDRY Taking-off in a beautiful sunny afternoon, surrounded by the marvelous alpine panorama(Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Eurocopter EC350B2 Ecureuil, Mont Blanc Hélicoptères, F-GKBE (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Aérospatiale AS 350B3 Ecureuil, Blugeon Hélicoptères, F-GXBH (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

Aérospatiale AS 350B3 Ecureuil, Blugeon Hélicoptères, F-GXBH (Picture courtesy Andreas Herzog)

An adventurous journey in a beautiful mountain landscape of the French Alps, combined with great photos, friendly people and one of the most spectacular airports in the world, and with bright sunshine all day long! 

We can recommend to all "aviation enthusiasts" to visit this high alpine Airport in winter time. Great pictures are guaranteed!

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last update 16. March 2013

written 16. March 2013

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