Flight date: 20 July 2012
Flight Number: VN1590
Flight Time: 1hrs 40mins
I have travelled on hundreds of flights on jet aircraft all over the world, Airbuses, Boeings, Embraers, Canadairs and even a few DC”s, but I can count the number of propeller aircraft I have flown on on one hand. In fact, my first ever flight was on a four-seater Piper Cherokee in the late 1980’s. In the mid 90’s, I flew between Townsville and Cairns on a QantasLink Sunstate Airlines Shorts 360 aircraft, an unpressurised ‘box with wings’ seating only 36 passengers in a 2-1 configuration. In 2005, I flew on a QantasLink Dash 8-300, seating 50 passengers, 2-2 config, when they operated a service between Wollongong and Melbourne, my first time in a presurrised Turboprop. Recently, I flew on a Vietnam Airlines ATR72-500 which included a few firsts, my first ATR72 flight and my largest and first turboprop flight in another country.
I was flying with a group from the city of Dong Hoi (VDH) , capital of Quang Binh Province on the Northern Central Coast of Vietnam, after spending a day visiting Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park and Paradise Caves, to Han Noi, Vietnams capital city. Dong Hoi Airport, opened in 2008, is served only by Vietnam Airlines. They operate direct flights between Dong Hoi and Ho Chi Minh City, by Airbus a320’s and a321’s, which I had flown to Dong Hoi on the previous day, and north Ha Noi in the North, served by ATR72-500’s. As the flight we were taking to Ha Noi was the last flight of the day and only half full, with about 35 passengers, the newish terminal seemed empty, thus making it a quick process to check-in and clear security when the flight was called for boarding.
The ATR72-500 was first certified in January 1997. Built by the French – Italian joint Company ATR (Aerei da Trasporto Regionale or Avions de Transport Régional) and assembled in Toulouse, the aircraft manufacturer has sold over 1000 turboprop aircraft. Flying on domestic Vietnamese and Indochina routes, Vietnam Airlines operates a fleet of 16 ATR72-500’s , which are all economy class in a 2-2 configuration of 68 seats. One of the more unusual aspects of the ATR72 is the cargo door is at the front and passengers enter through a door at the rear of the aircraft.
As we made our way out of the terminal, across the apron, we walked right around the nose and down the left hand side to the back of the French built plane. Of course, with my camera in hand, I happily snapped away 🙂
As mentioned, the cargo section is in the front of the aircraft and all passengers enter through a door on the left side at the rear. So when on the ground, a tail stand is used when loading and boarding the aircraft in case of an imbalance and the aircrafts nose lift up off the ground, which is not uncommon without the tail stand.
The boarding stairs are integrated into the door and upon boarding I was greeted with a friendly ‘Xin Chao“, Vietnamese for Hello. I was assigned seat 16D, which was the second last row on the right hand side, but upon inquiring with a flight attendant, she allowed me to move further up the aircraft to seat 6A, which afforded me a great view of the engine cowlings and propeller blades. The aircraft was clean, although a little worn, it was well presented and tidy with mid-blue, cloth coloured seats. There were two flight crew and three flight attendants on this narrow body aircraft and due to the smaller nature of the cabin and overhead lockers the cabin crew assisted passengers in stowing their cabin bags.
As there is no inflight entertainment, the pre-flight safety briefing was performed by two cabin crew members while the third made the announcement both Vietnamese and English. It was a short taxi to the end of the single runway at Dong Hoi Airport and just after the final announcement by the captain for the cabin crew to take their seats, he increased power to the turboprops. The propellers spun faster to the point they were invisible and the plane sped down the runway lifting into the air about half way down it. A few moments after the fasten seat seat bet sign was extinguished, the crew came through with small bottles of water for all passengers. The rest of the flight was uneventful, and I mostly stared out the larger than usual windows at the view of the coast of northern Vietnam, it was quite stunning. After the Captain announced our cruising altitude of 19,00ft had been reached, I realised the reason of the great views were due to the lower altitude the turboprop was flying as opposed to a jet 🙂 As we started our decent into Ha Noi’s Noi Bai Airport, the aircraft banked left from flying parallel to the coast and we descended over the city of Ha Noi into the airport making a smooth, soft landing. We touched down around 20 minutes early and, with the relatively small amount of passengers disembarking, we were in the terminal, with our baggage collected, waiting for our guide, by the time the flight was scheduled to arrive.
Flying Vietnam Airlines has, for me, always been a good experience. Flying on the ATR72-500 was also a good experience as I like to try different aircraft types and the lower altitude and slightly larger windows gave wonderful views of the tropical coast of Vietnam. Being slightly noisier than most modern jets, no entertainment, radio nor tv and virtually no inflight service was the downside to this flight albeit only a short sector.