The Examiners’ Guide to famous airports - Cuneo Airport, Italy.
Being a highly privileged examiner and inspector type chappie I am lucky enough, from time to time, to get to go out to strange places and carry out inspections and PPL check flights. I have been out to Mondovi a few times now and have to say that I do like Italy and usually try and get a flight from Luton Airport to Nice, then by train to Ventimiglia (stopping off at Monte Carlo to check the yacht, Yah Yah, Don’t you know) and thence to Savona (30 Euros return for a two and a half hour ‘Dawlish Warren’ type journey!) where I get picked up and treated to a wicked wild mouse of a motorway trip to Ceva, the carriageways criss-crossing each other, sometimes getting a mile or two apart! Occasionally I fly to Turin and get collected, or hire a car (they drive like me in Italy so I feel very safe). A couple of years ago, as a result having been stuck on the runway at Luton for two hours because the French ATC suddenly went on strike, and then being rescued from a very nice restaurant in Ventimiglia after the last train had gone, by Paolo ‘Slowfly’ Ogglioni I discovered a train ran from Cuneo to Ventimiglia through the mountains. Job done I caught it from Cuneo and after the most splendid 96 km train ride that incorporates an amazing 26% gradient that drops you over 3000 feet to the Med largely through fantastic ‘windowed’ tunnels including the famous double spiral “Col de Tende” tunnel I decided it was the best eight Euros I’d ever spent. Why are UK trains so expensive? Don’t get me started. Back to the subject..
The last time I went out it was to inspect some balloons in Turin and then down to Mondovi to do a check flight. So it was inbound to Turin from Luton courtesy Easyjet and, as a special treat, the return flight had been booked with Ryanair from Cuneo Airport to Stanstead. Now I hadn’t realized Cuneo Airport was so big but with a couple of flights a week and costing threepence halfpenny to London Stanstead it was worth a go.
Inspections and check flight completed I was duly delivered to Cuneo Airport. It is in the fields. A rather tatty hangar is the first thing you see and, slumped sadly alongside, of all things, a derelict Albatross flying boat (don’t ask, or rather, ask the famous senior balloon examiner Brain Smith who owns one in the States). All is not lost though as suddenly there is a nearly finished newish terminal building and carpark. You have arrived at Cuneo International Airport.
Cuneo Airport was a complete laugh, in the best possible genuine way. Great little airport exuding charm and chaos. I would describe it as an enthusiasts’ airport but with real aircraft! Bit like a preserved railway but trying to operate a regular high speed rail service. Check in was generally around a large pillar with a couple of girls who were pretty swamped by the passenger numbers. It didn’t help that the only two flights that use the place, Wizzair and Ryanair, were scheduled to depart at the same time. So there were therefore two check-in gates arranged each side of the large pillar. I just got undressed until the beeper stopped beeping! Through ‘security’ the other side was split with the cafe/bar cut off from Ryanair passengers by a chain. Once boarding started you understood why. The Wizzjet was already there when we arrived. In the concourse mayhem was well underway with staff trying to get the right passengers into the correct bit of the departure lounge through the correct gate. Bloody fantastic. Finally they seemed happy that they had most of the people in the correct places so they released the Wizzo passengers onto the tarmac. With the departure gate open they immediately started wandering off in all directions some trying to board the Ryanair flight which had literally just pulled up at a jaunty angle in front of the terminal alongside the Wizzjet scattering a few Wizz passengers in the process. I couldn’t stop laughing. It soon became apparent that Cuneo International Airport only has three sets of steps. The Ryanair hostess opened the front door and looked rather alarmingly down. Pronto-like she clattered back inside reappearing with Captain Flashb’stard who coolly slipped his shades off and, looked down in an amused not surprised way, nursed his shades back into place and went back inside to lower the on-board steps.
There was now this amazing scene off a bunch of Wizzo passengers looking expectantly upwards as the Ryanair steps descended from the fuselage while a couple of very nicely dressed shepherdesses, heels clicking on the tarmac, tried to coax them towards the Wizzo plane. Eventually the ground staff (all in very Italian smart casual dress) finally managed to get all (or most) the Wizz passengers onto the right plane with the help of a sheep dog. The luggage handlers finally loaded the dozen cases onto it and it appeared ready to go but half an hour later there were still random passengers wandering onto it. In the meantime...............
The baggage handlers dropped one of the two trolleys off and set about unloading the six bags from the Ryanair flight while the arriving passengers wandered around the tarmac but eventually gathered round the arrivals door. Probably would have been quicker to let the passengers reclaim their luggage from the hold, anyway eventually they drove across and dropped the trailer off and waited until the other bags due to go onto the Wizz jet were unloaded into the arrivals corridor!! Meanwhile Captain Flashb’stard (now in swept Raybans) wandered around the aircraft and greeted and hugged all the groundcrew occasionally doffing his cap and smoothing his perfectly styled barnet. Without any announcement we found our escape door opened. Must be time to board then so out we sauntered? We waited outside for a moment while the luggage trolley for our flight passed going towards the Wizzjet, somewhat to the concern of some passengers, who pointed uselessly towards the Ryanair plane and the driver smiled and waved. A suitcase fell off. He then performed a fine loop round the Wizzo Airbus stopped and picked up the errant case and headed for the flying club. As I climbed the rear steps (proper ones) I turned to watch a small single-engined plane rush down the runway in the opposite direction to that the Ryanair 737 landed then suddenly veer off in a cloud of dust and flying foliage finally settling into the long grass. The crash siren sounded and nothing happened except the luggage trolley tractor now headed for the runway. The pilot climbed out onto the wing, looked around, scratched his head and lit a fag. Totally amazing.
Now, bearing in mind that our plane was well under half full, the cabin crew now tried to get everyone to sit in the middle. That wasn’t going to happen and ten minutes later people were still trying to find a seat. Eventually the announcer pleaded with the passengers to “please sit down....NOW.” Didn’t make much difference really. Then we found there were three passengers missing who had been in the departure lounge (holding area). The luggage trolley drove off to find them. Five minutes later they came aboard and tried to decide where to sit. By now most were laughing hysterically. As they couldn’t get to the bar in departure holding pen they had gone out through check-in, in through the Whizz check-in, collected beers and gone back outside into carpark for a fag and natter not realising the plane had even arrived. The chief steward now gaily demanded that they “SIT DOWN NOW”. More laughter.
Alongside, the Wizzyjet throttled up and turned out. (no tractor). In our little world the only passenger sitting in the middle, a Wizzo passenger, was ushered off and the doors were shut but it wasn’t over yet. The cabin crew now discovered that another passenger who was on the plane had now gone. Turned out she was locked in the toilet. With everyone happily seated, mainly anywhere but in the middle, and the Wizzjet now a distant shape zooming down the runway, we turned out, the jet blast taking out the luggage trolley and its remaining suitcases. We taxied down the runway did a three point turn by the last exit and, as Captain Flashb’stard got the thing straight throttles opened wide, we made a dash for freedom shooting past the sad little aeroplane on the grass, now being tied to the luggage tractor and Air Traffic Controller's Discovery.
We waved a fond farewell to the Wizz passenger left on the apron re-stuffing a suitcase whilst heading for a twin-engined executive jet with “Jaguar” painted on the tail, as we climbed away. So long dear Cuneo. Love you, miss you.
Check it out, worth a giggle on its own. Somehow they have made the terminal look huge but the inside view is the inside!!! Under parking ‘Kiss and Fly’ is free for 30 minutes!!! Blinding.