BRR, The beach airport

Since Gibraltar, I’ve been on the lookout for locations with particularly appealing or unusual approaches – this is one of my favourite parts of flying, and it’s always a shame when an airport is effectively an industrial park miles from anywhere. By returning to Scotland, I put myself within easy reach of one of the most notable flight-geek destinations: Barra. This small outer-Hebridean island just about has an airport – but what it seems to lack is a runway! In place of tarmac, they make use of the wide expanse of the beach – tide permitting, of course… This is the only beach airport with regularly scheduled flights, although since the demise of the inter-island route to Benbecula there’s only one destination now, Glasgow (operating twice a day Monday-Saturday).

Naturally you’ll never get a heavy jet to wade successfully through what water remains, so you also get the experience of a very small plane – the DeHaviland DHC-6 ‘Twin Otter’. This 20-seater propeller plane should basically be thought of as a flying minibus (less charitable authors suggest ‘shed’). You can forget such luxuries as cabin crew, a bathroom, overhead storage, in-flight entertainment, armrests or anywhere roomy enough to stand upright… but given the low-flying views of Scotland during the hour or so trip you’ll realise that none of that matters. I have to admit it’s not a particularly smooth ride, even on a calm summer day; with getting off the ground at Glasgow proving particularly turbulent. The landings, both sand and the more conventional runway, were however much more pleasant than in a heavier craft.

Our flight in made good time, so the pilots treated us to an indirect approach to BRR, looping around the south and west coasts of Barra first. Through a somewhat murky window, I was able to capture this scenic route, giving my first glimpse of the main settlement (Castlebay) along with a taster of the white sand beaches and rolling green hills that make up the landscape:

The photos above are of our inbound plane departing for the afternoon service back to GLA; a few days later I also got to watch the morning flight. Both of those adopted an approach to flying which, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, could be described as “aim at the sea and miss”. However, for the flight I took we instead spent a few minutes taxiing around the beach before taking off with a westerly heading, over the airport. So the video gives some idea of the conditions these planes are capable of dealing with:

(Apologies for the lower resolution; by this point I’d burnt through the entire battery on my main camera and was reduced to a point-and-shoot backup!)