Our last port of call on Orkney was the island of Westray that is located only 18 miles to north from Rousay.
Just as we was making our lines fast in the Pierowall marina a friendly harbour master arrived to chat with us. There is no marina office, instead he visits the harbour regularly by car. He got us acquainted with the offerings in Westray. There is a bakery close to the marina where he recommended to go in the early morning because already after eight the breads are delivered to shops for selling. Also it was possible to buy the famous Westray crabs from the crab factory just next to the harbour.
Our original plan was to fly the world’s shortest scheduled flight between the islands of Westray and Papa Westray that lasts only two minutes. Unfortunately we were on Westray at the weekend and there was a big wedding on the island. The 8 seat Islander BN-2 aircraft was fully booked. Harbourmaster suggested that the best way to experience the flight is first to take a morning ferry to Papa Westray. There would be a few hours time to walk around the island and talk into the north where the airport is located and then take an afternoon flight back to Westray.
We were very interested in the world’s shortest flight so much that we went for a afternoon walk to the Westray airport. There is about a five kilometre walk from the harbour to the airport. When we arrived about half an hour before the flight the place was completely deserted. Only a couple of cars were waiting for return passengers.
The Loganair flight LOG377 departs from Papa Westray airport (PPW) at 15:51 and it arrives to Westray (WRY) with the scheduled arrival time at 15:53. The two minute flight is flown by a Britten-Norman’s BN-2 Islander aircraft. There are eight seats for passengers and two for pilots. The short flights are usually flown with one pilot and this makes up an extra seat for one lucky passenger next to him totalling nine seats for passengers. The distance between these airports is 2.5 kilometres and that is one kilometre less than the length of the runway’s at Heathrow airport in London.
The flight actually does not go back and forth between Westray and Papa Westray. The airplane leaves from the Kirkwall airport (KOI) that is located on the Mainland of Orkney Islands, flies to Papa Westray, continues to Westray and finally returns to Kirkwall. It is even possible to buy a round tour ticket from Kirkwall to Kirkwall that includes a certificate of participation in the world’s shortest scheduled commercial flight.
Soon a three person ground crew arrived and passengers started to show up as well waiting for the flight in their cars. The whole personnel put on fireproof overalls and started to make preparations. Each of them had their own task. One of the crew was a nurse and she also checked the runway by driving it by car from one end to another. She also kept a safety car running during the landing and takeoff. The second lady maintained the airport’s radio station and monitored the traffic. Andrus asked for the frequency of the tower so he could listen to the radio traffic with his scanner. He got the frequency but at the same time he was notified that most probably there would be no traffic. If all is well then the pilot says nothing. This felt a little weird because even in small airstrips the planes usually notify others of their intended landings and takeoffs. The third person checked for tickets and he maintained a separate luggage trolley as well.
The weather was good and clear so Andrus followed closely as Islander arrived to Papa Westray from the Mainland Orkney. A moment later the plane was back in the air. The flight was today quicker than the scheduled flight time of two minutes and soon the plane was taxing on the runway of Westray. It passed the small airport building and the passengers were quickly exchanged. The plane was so full today that one lucky passenger travelled back to Kirkwall on a seat next to the pilot – wow!
The flight from Papa Westray to Westray was so short that all that I could do was wondering that, “is it already here?”
One of the ground crew members gave us a lift back to the village. He told that many people in island have multiple jobs like he is for example in a fire brigade, in the mornings at the bakery, a few times a day at the airport and addionally he also has his own farm. Their active lifestyle and energy really can be seen in their attitude.
On Monday morning we wanted to buy some Westray crabs but they were still in cooking and would be ready only at noon. We wanted to arrive on Fair Isle before the dinner time so we only remembered the delicious crab feast from Rousay and cast off the lines.