George Pick Aerotours
in association with
George Pick Aerotours was recently proud to run a trip on behalf of BAES to Syria and here is a report from one of our happy customers - Gordon Stretch. Photos were provided by Gordon and tour leader Steve Kinder...
When you have been chasing photographs of aircraft round the world for as many years as I have it becomes increasingly difficult to do a "new" country so the opportunity to join an organised aviation tour to Syria was one that could not be missed.....
... and the advent of digital photography means that those of us who do not log everything now have an instant record of most aircraft seen on a trip and therefore no excuse for not doing a proper report! - which for the sake of completeness includes a few military aircraft as well.
SUNDAY 2 APRIL 2006
RB 410 LHR-DAM on Syrian 747SP YK-AHB in 4 hrs 1 min
We arrived at Damascus in the gathering evening gloom and as the 747SP turned off the runway our first view was of the Syrian Air Force ramp at the western end of the airfield. Aircraft parked in this area - which we did not visit later - included 3 Ilyushin 76's - one derelict - and a significant number of Antonov 26's and Yak 40's - all aircraft being in full Syrian Air colour schemes.
On the otherside of the runway - among some disused hardened aircraft shelters - were two stored Syrian Air Tupolev 134's.
We then taxied past the Caravelle and the Syrian maintenance base - see later - outside which the other 747SP YK-AHA was also parked. This had disappeared by the following morning not to be seen again during the tour.
Next it was past the terminal remote parking ramp on which the following were parked -
9Q-CWK 707 All white with blue tail - no titles
9L-LEQ L10 Air Rum - white c/s - "Maymoona"
9L-LEU L10 Air Rum - basic Orient Thai colours - "Lubaba"
- none of which moved while we where in Syria! The main ramp in front of the terminal included -
YK-AYE TU3 Syrian - in service and in new colours
YK-AQE YK4 Syrian - in service
HZ-SKI (?) 722 cream colour scheme with winglets
A6-??? 332 Etihad A7-ADT 321 Qatar
+ YK-AGA Syrian 72S, YK-AKC and YK-AKE Syrian 320's and our 747SP YK-AHB.
Damascus has a modern terminal with airbridges - and a viewing area on the roof which needless to say was closed! - and with the help of our waiting guide and a Group Visa we made a rapid entry into the country.
In additional to its international services Syrian Air clearly operate to a number of domestic destinations (not in "OAG") using the active Tupolev 134 and at least two Yak 40's.
MONDAY 3 APRIL 2006
First thing the following morning it was back to Damascus Airport for a ramp tour - inevitably with this sort of visit this was proceeded by a long wait but eventually we were escorted to the Syrian Air maintenance base where two of their Tupolev 154's (YK-AIA/YK-AIC) are stored together with three Boeing 727's (YK-AGC/YK-AGE/YK-AGF) all of which looked if they had not flown recently.
Also on the same ramp were a Boeing 727-200 - 9L-LDM (all white with a blue tail) and a Syrian 320 - YK-AKC - while another Syrian 320 and 727 were on checks in the hangar.
Sitting rather sadly on its tail just outside the maintenance area was one of the highlights of the trip - Syrian Air Caravelle YK-AFB with Syrian Air Tupolev 154 YK-AIC on the maintenance ramp as well as a view of the rest of the ramp.
Unfortunately at this point someone from Security arrived to tell us that was it for the ramp tour!
Only other highlight seen during the morning wait had been -
J2-KCM 732 Iraqi Airways - operating scheduled service from Baghdad
+ most of the stored parked aircraft seen the previous day.
The visit to the Airport over it was time to explore the other aviation "highlights" of Damascus. First stop was the Military Museum which had various Migs/military aircraft on display round a small courtyard.
Next stop was the "Plane" restaurant - a former Alyemda (7O-ACJ) - and one time Aer Lingus (EI-AMW)! - Boeing 707
According to www.aviation-safety.net this aircraft made an emergency landing at Damascus on 26 January 1982 after it was attacked by an Iraqi fighter while on a flight from Libya.
It now serves as a restaurant with the large "dome" in the middle being a bar area and small dance floor.
Final stop of the day was at a Military memorial which had a Syrian Air Force Mig 21 and Mil 8 on display on poles - and the remains of two Israeli fighters that had been shot down by the Syrians.
TUESDAY 4 APRIL 2006
An early start to catch our flight from Damascus to Aleppo - Syria's second city in the north of the country. As our minibus was accompanying us for the whole tour after dropping us off at the Airport it set off by road to Aleppo which at least saved us taking any luggage with us!
As a result after a quick check in it was upto the departures level which affords a good view of the terminal ramp while we waited for our flight - highlights -
YK-AGB 72S Syrianair - new colours
7T-VJW 332 Air Algerie
JY-AYB 320 Royal Jordanian
+ most of the aircraft seen the day before - it was then off to Aleppo -
RB 407 DAM-ALP on Syrian 320 YK-AKD in 40 mins
- where we received a VIP welcome - it was just a pity that our Syrian 320 - which was continuing onto Frankfurt - was the only civil aircraft present! - there were also a number of active Air Force Mil 8's at one end of the airfield - and some derelict fighters at the other end.
Our tour of the facilities over our minibus was now waiting outside the terminal proving that the driver had used the opportunity of not having us with him to go really fast for a change! - Aleppo is some 180 miles from Damascus....
We then set off for the drive to Latakia on Syria's Mediterranean coast - as soon as we were out of the airport we saw that the Air Force unithad a old Ilyushin 28 bomber acting as a form of gate guard.
A few miles further on there was a Mig 21 on a pole outside what looked like an army base
Sitting in the middle of the "Magic World" amusement park in the suburbs of Aleppo - and clearly visible from the main highway to Damascus - is former Syrian Arab Airlines Douglas C-54 YK-ADA
Again according to www.aviation-safety.net this aircraft was written off in a landing accident at Damascus Airport on 2 October 1964 - how it got to Aleppo and how long it has been there who knows?
It was then back on the minibus and over the mountains to Latakia which is on the coast and straight on the airport there. While the civil ramp was deserted the airfield doubled as a Syrian Navy base with at least 10 Mil 14's - Mil 8's with floats! - parked around the field.
WEDNESDAY 5 APRIL 2006
The original itinerary had envisaged the group driving back from Latakia to Damascus to catch our flight home. As a "typeflyer" a review of "OAG" had revealed that Syrian Air had a Yak 40 flight that provided a convenient - and interesting - alternative way of getting back to Damascus.
While it had not been possible to arrange this from the UK our local guide followed this up after our arrival in Damascus. Any debate on this proposal soon evaporated when he came back to say - yes no problem - but it will cost you $20....
So it was back to Latakia Airport to check in for our flight to Damascus - while a welcoming party was awaiting us the flight was "delayed" due to the weather (?) so we just sat and waited....
Eventually everything in the terminal came back to life again - the Yak 40 was on its way from Damascus so would we like to go out to the runway to watch its landing....?
... so it was onto the airport bus and out to the runway to see its arrival and then take some photographs of it - Syrian Air Yak 40 YK-AQB -in front of the terminal before boarding it for our flight back to Damascus -
RB 116 LTK-DAM on Syrian Yak 40 YK-AQB in 50 mins
As soon as we had collected our bags it was time to check in for our flight to London and make our way back upto the departures area and its good view of the ramp while we waited for our flight to be called - highlights -
HZ-AKU 772 Saudi Arabian
A40-ED 320 Gulf Air
A7-ADS 321 Qatar
It was then back to London via Manchester -
RB 413 DAM-MAN on Syrian 747SP YK-AHB (again) in 4 hrs 52 mins
- needless to say this took us overhead London - the things we do for the Group leader! - and then after a quick turnaround it was the short hop back to Heathrow to bring a very enjoyable and interesting tour to its conclusion -
RB 413 MAN-LHR on 747SP YK-AHB in 34 mins
Special thanks to our Syrian guide - Mazen Kotob - who quickly grasped the essentials of our hobby and to Steve Kinder for leading our George Pick Aerotours organised group.
While Syria does not always get a good press in the west we found it to be a very friendly country - there was little sign of any security/military presence at the airports we visited.
The number of aircraft in a country of this size is of course limited but that was made up for by the quality and the "discoveries" we made during the visit.