Mirande 28 February 2009

I had to make a trip to Barcelona and thought you might be interested to see a few photos I took on the way.  (For heavens sake tell me if you don't want to receive these mails!)

First though is a picture taken from my front door step early January.  Even in the South of France we do sometimes have snow. It didn't last long, and it didn't settle on the roads, but it was pretty while it lasted.

We had a tempest a few weeks ago and were without power for four days and without phone or Internet for 6 days.  Richard - an English neighbour - had a generator so we shuffled that around our few local houses and all managed to keep our freezer contents intact.  I have a 12v to mains converter that I use while travelling and used that to power a single bulb and charge up my laptop.  Mirande itself still had power and phone so I could catch up on emails with a quick 10 mile round trip. Since my main heating is a log fire, heating was no big problem, and I cook with bottle gas.  So, overall, quite inconvenient, but no big deal.

While we were without power I went out and took a photo.  This was taken about 2 miles from home, the mountains are about 40 miles away.  The church around the centre of the picture is the next village to us.  Click on the image for a bigger picture.

Now we get onto animals.  Pica has decided she likes to sleep in my van so I prop the door open.  Usually she lies on some blankets in the middle but this time I caught her resting in full view.

A tiny little frog.  He was inside the house, I don't know how he got in.

Now I've started on the way to Barcelona.  It's about 300 miles, I crossed over the Pyrenees.  Most of the photos are not even up to my regular standard  but they give an idea of the scenery.

Looking to the east.  Click on the picture for a bigger image.

Next is dropping down into Barcelona.

The covered market has recently been rebuilt and this is the rather snazzy roof.  Unfortunately almost no one can see it.  I was staying with Nicolas Schwartz who has an office overlooking the market and his is one of the few vantage points to see the roof.  Nicolas is current French balloon champion, I knew his Dad years ago, he is a pilot too and runs a balloon business in Rio de Janeiro.

I hadn't realised that there were so many narrow alleys in the centre of Barcelona. It's over 40 years since I was last in Barcelona!    Nicolas lives in the centre, it took me over an hour to cover the last mile to find his apartment, so tucked away is it in the narrow streets, lucky also that I have a tiny car or I would never have made it.  We made a super local bar for dinner, in the morning I had a wander around the centre.

My reason for being here was a meeting at Igualada 70 miles outside Barcelona so I left Barcelona late morning for the meeting.  The EEC in their wisdom have decided that there should be a common system of balloon certification throughout Europe.  A thoroughly laudable idea, in principle, but the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) bureaucrats have totally screwed it up.  In the UK for 30 years we have been running a very simple, safe, and practical control system for balloon safety.  Actually I myself set up the annual inspection part of the system 30 years ago but that's by the by.  In that 30 years we have not had one single technical problem that was in any way connected to our annual check of balloons.  The cost of running it was almost nothing, and the inspectors often gave their time to the cause of safety, so the cost to the balloon owner was also almost nothing, zero.  As inspector though you might get the gift of a bottle of wine from the owner!   We had one half page piece of paper in which we filled in a few details to record that the check had been correctly made. The annual check took maybe an hour and a half, almost all of the time being spent checking around the balloon to make sure all was safe.  The owners liked this since an expert, and friendly, second pair of eyes, was looking over their system to search out possible danger. We were running the best, the safest, the simplest and the cheapest annual check of any country in the world, it was generally acknowledged as such.

Now we have a a 92 page exposition detailing procedures, some 12 complicated A4 pages requiring completion, and an 11 page guide to completing these pages. Each of these 12 or so pages needs to be produced in 3 copies. It is unbelievably stupid, and costly.  There is absolutely no possibility of any improvement in safety, in fact the exact opposite, since the emphasis now is on the paperwork, which must be right or it will be rejected by the bean counters at CAA.  All this paperwork is very time consuming, so there is less emphasis on the real safety check.  Plus, due to the high cost, there is bound to be some people now who will not have their balloon checked and just go off and fly illegally.  We didn't have that problem before.  You can't get less expensive than free.

Overnight we have gone from the very best system in the world to the worst.  Luckily balloon pilots tend to be very responsible people, with a extreme concern for safety so the safety reduction will not be so apparent as otherwise it might have been.

The whole thing is so complex to run, for an inspector, that in addition to the 11 page guide, we have to have a one to one meeting to check through the paperwork to ensure that we understand it.  That would normally involve me in a trip to the UK but luckily an inspector to give me the check was available at Barcelona.  Prior to the visit I filled in a set of forms as a dry run.  It took me more than 8 hours but I still had about a dozen mistakes where I had for example filled in the incorrect 12 digit approval reference.

After I got back home I sorted out the papers we had been discussing.  The jaggled line of papers down the middle of the photo are papers that are required to be completed for each balloon this year.  Sitting forlornly, all on it's own, at the left front, is the single small piece of paper that we used to fill in after each physical control...........

What a waste of time.

I came back from Barcelona without problem, but it was a bit muggy, so no more photos.  Sorry!

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