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A week in Marrakech and the desert

It had been almost two decades since I acquired some VFR charts for Morocco and wanted to explore a bit of Africa without all the adventure hassle associated with venturing further South.
Somehow the opportunity never materialized until last year a friend who owns an apartment in Marrakech offered to host us at Easter but some last minute problems led us elsewhere. This year the offer repeated itself and the opportunity comingled with the kids school holidays and the need for a proper Easter celebration, so we just “had” to go. Sometimes life can be tough and things do not go as planned but rather better!

So I armed myself with a good read of the latest forum posts (big thank you!) and started planning a couple of weeks ahead.

We had agreed to share the trip with my cousins and their teenage boy which, together with our two kids would make it three adults and three teenagers (a total of 777lbs of people)…a bit of a challenge, since we had to pick-up and drop-off my cousins at Murcia LEMI, where there is no 100LL available.
For the outbound trip it was not that bad as we planned about 3hrs LEMI-GMMX so 4.5hrs fuel plus 6 POB + luggage left some room till MTOW.
The return however would be tight since we had to carry enough fuel to return to LEMI, drop-off the cousins then fly on home at LESB for an extra 1.5 hrs, which put us at MTOW with restricted luggage on departure from Morocco.
Packing luggage for one week for 6 POB within 45 kgs total was a bit of a challenge but a gladly taken one since the alternative was to leave our little cousin behind!

Additionally I had always wanted to experience “the desert” so I wanted to plan at least one day and night in the dunes. Apparently the Erg Chebbi ones near Merzouga are the biggest ones in the area without venturing into Algeria, and Errachidia airport GMFK was shown to have AVGAS and only a 2-hr drive from Merzouga. Initially the AIOP misled us as AVGAS was not mentioned but some pireps and a quick call to ATC at GMFK (see details on EuroGA airport DB) confirmed fuelling from barrels was available at decent prices.

A low-level VFR flight south from MArrakech across the Atlas onto Ourzazate , then across the desert to Zagora, then E- to Merzouga and Erg Chebbi and N to Errachidia would be a bit over 2 hrs and seemed an attractive proposition….way better than the usual alternative of a 9-hr drive from Marrakech (plus return) or settling for the smaller ergs nearer to Ourzazate or Zagora. This also had the advantage that since GMFK is an international airport we could return direct to Spain from there.

So the plan was set for LESB-LEMI-GMMX-GMFK-LEMI-LESB immediately after Easter Sunday.

This gave us a total of 1500NM direct but we ended up flying 1700NM .

All of the legs would be flown IFR except the low-level desertic flight.

All international VFR flights to/from Morocco need DGAC approval, for which you need to register here then list your details and wait 5-10 days for approval.

If you file IFR that is not required, so IFR just seemed way easier (plus higher, hence faster and cheaper).
The question remained on whether we needed DGAC approval for our VFR bimble over the desert but the C-office (bureau the piste) at GMMX assured us if we filed at least 6 hrs ahead of our flight it would be OK. I nonetheless filed a request for approval which, to this day, I am waiting an answer to. Some forums posts say this is required but I found it unnecessary in practice for a domestic flight.

Then the harsh reality of handling at GMMX hit us with two very expensive quotes from Swissport and JETEX. The latter was cheaper (contrary to other reports) but regardless you have to be prepared to spend between 500-1000EUR solely on handling…and that is for a SEP<2tons… There are ways to lower that figure somewhat but none are straightforward nor will I explain them in an open forum. Granted, it is a very posh GA terminal, but we just did not need or want it…all in all not your “pay and get exactly what you are quoted” experience but then barely anything in Morocco is: it is all part of the adventure!

On the day of departure, wx was perfect at airfield opening time despite some threat of fog, and with excess fuel vs required (basically full 118USG tanks to lower fuel risk and perhaps cost at Morocco) we set off with 3POB for Murcia. After a short 1.4 hrs flight and some confusion in our approach planning we flew a mostly straight ILS to RWY 23. There was a lot of military and some civilian traffic in the area and the military ATC struggled to place us all in line, first directing us to the holding point then realizing we were not that slow, managed to get us lined up just before the RYR still 50 NM out. We ended up landing at least 3 mins ahead of them.

We landed, cleared immigration and customs, boarded our cousins and with 6POB and close to MTOW we took-off 60 minutes exactly after landing, which gave us about 40 mins S/D to S/U courtesy of Swissport mandatory handling at LEMI and a somewhat lengthy pax briefing about lifevests, raft and so on for the overwater crossing.

Climb was good in the morning air despite being heavy and RWY 23 also led us in the right direction for departure so 39 mins after take-off we were level at FL190 in a low cruise of about 185KTAS@15GPH at -12C. Usually we get 5 more ktas at that setting but this seemed more than adequate given our high weight. We briefly tried a higher cruise but we were in fuel saving mode since we did not know what we would find…every gallon of Avgas could prove essential. We had to climb FL210 for 15 mins before arrival due to military activity which gave us a cabin alt of 10200ft for a few mins (190KTAS at 15.5GPH -17C but we were lighter by then) before starting our descent for vectors to the ILS RWY 10 at Marrakech.

Some 6 happy campers enroute to Marrakech

Landscape N of Fes



An uneventful landing led us to the GA apron (555NM, 3.3 hrs), where the marshaller gave us some rough guidance to park at the edge of the apron: they were not very worried about yellow stripes or distance to twy centerline…

When we requested avgas, despite having earlier checked on the phone, they said not possible since bowser was broken…come back tomorrow they said.
So off we went to clear immigration where earlier advise to complete several of these


proved very valuable since every official at the GA terminal seemed to want one… They seem to like this one better than RR or FAA GENDEC forms…

After clearing in about 30 mins, we went off to our waiting shuttle to settle at our home-to-be for one week and some immersion in Moroccan culture.

All prices have to be negotiated there as you will almost never be offered a good price, especially if you look like a tourist. Although there are rich poeple around and this is a relatively rich place in Morocco, there are a lot of poor people and they have to work hard to make a living. The same taxi ride can cost you 100MAD or 20 MAD depending on how you negotiate it…100 MAD seems to be the tourist rate. After getting in the negotiating mood, I found myself negotiating for effectively €50cents but since most of them could really use those 50 cents I usually ended up tipping instead…

Marrakech was a beautiful gorgeous surprise for all of us

One day we took a small hike up the Ourika valley in the Atlas mountains, which rise up to 12000ft, not that we went that high…

One day, while the rest of the group toured, I called the airport and , upon receving news that AVGAS was at last available, took a taxi there to find out, after getting to the airplane, that the bowser was still broken. They said " you did not ask about the bowser, only if fuel was available, and it is, only we cannot take it to your airplane…" I started thinking it wasnt such as bad idea to have brought excess fuel since worst case I could fly to Fes or Essaouira to get fuel. Eventually I decided to get to the bottom of the problem and eventually and somehow the failed battery was replaced and the bowser managed to show up a couple of hours later…good thing the fuel depot is next to the GA apron…

I am sure had I not been there, the matter could have been resolved on the day of departure perhaps with thrice the cost…getting in the mood of the culture yet?

Filing VFR FPL’s is not that easy in Morocco, unless you are willing to let your very expensive handling agent at GMMX do it for you. VFR routes must be detailed using VRP’s and Autorouter will not do. Garmin Pilot and Foreflight work but even with a current subscription I found a lot of the VRP’s are missing. So I ended up inserting waypoints as LAT-LON coordinates, which was not accepted either. Upon knowing from GMMX OPS my domestic VFR FPL was OK if submitted >6hrs ahead and no DGAC approval was required, I filed it 4 days ahead. Another mistake: it took ages for OPS to find my FPL message in the queue of several days back only to tell me LAT-LON was not OK. VRP names rq’d, luckily I had put them on the remarks field and they volunteered to copy them on a proper FPL message. I did confirm all OK with GMMX and GMFK OPS and ATC . Morale: make sure your FPL APP can insert proper VRP names in the routing field and make sure it is transmitted more than 6 hrs and less than 24 hrs ahead…

Again the flight across the high Atlas and onto the desert did not dissapoint, after almost two decades in waiting! The mountains are impressive but in a different way than European mountains, in that N of the mountains all seesm to be green, but south it is just desertic as…desert can be.

We overflew Ait BenHaddou of Gladiator (and others) movie fame , and the solar powerplant near Ouarzazate then went all the way to Zagora on the Southern border then NEwards to the Erg Chebbi dunes at Merzouga then N to Errachidia . What a barren and impressive piece of land!

The empty ramp at Errachidia about 2.2 hrs after DEP from Marrakech

Upon landing we immediately set off to refuel from these

And after paying with what seemed like a lot of cash which was carefully checked for proof of legal currency exchange and armed with a dozen copies of our GENDEC we managed to get groundside where our driver was waiting to take us to our rendevouz point with the camels for a ride through the sands of Erg Chebbi to our “luxury camp” haimas for the night.

After a too short one night stay, the time came to go back to the airport. The IFR FPL had been transmitted via Garmin Pilot and all seemed OK this time. The very helpful security , customs and ops people processed us in a record 45 mins

The high wing proved useful for some of the wait in the desert sun at 30C..

After getting a simple departure IFR clearance DCT to a waypoint 100NM NW, we took off at MTOW to the South in severe VMC then turned back Nwards to head to our assigned waypoint but in the 30C air, it took us some time to get the required terrain clearance (6000ft mountains N ot Errachidia) . We had to circle a couple of times overhead the field before venturing NW and settling for FL160 cruise after 25 mins climb. We were only offered FL160 or FL200 which would have taken us too long to reach compounded with a headwind disincentivating further climb. When settled in the cruise, 175KTAS resulted @15GPH . 20 mins later we managed to get a clearance to FL180 which proved OK since headwind was not much stronger and we obtained 180KTAS for same FF. The flight back to Murcia was uneventful if a bit slower than the outbound with the heavier weight, warmer temps and some headwind.

A happy pilot

So we landed at Murcia 2.8 hrs after DEP from GMFK, offloaded 3 pax, cleared customs and immigration. They did not seem too interested on us. We then flew on the further 1.4 hrs back to base where we eventually landed near sunset with almost 1h more fuel than required so could have saved some weight on departure….oh well, you never know how much headwind you will end up having!

5 legs, 1730NM, 777+100 lbs payload, 11.0FH’s and 190USG fuel were the totals.

All in all an unforgettable experience, great learning for the kids who upped their negotiation skills to unimaginable levels, and a time full of thrilling memories for all of us, again showing what GA can do for you!

Last Edited by Antonio at 23 Apr 23:44
LESB, Spain

Looks like a really wonderful as well as an adventurous trip (adventure is well planned adversity as the saying goes). The number of people involved must add to the challenge and it certainly appears that everybody had a good time. That in itself is an accomplishment. Otherwise the pictures speak volumes and I’ve added Marrakech to my list of places to see…

Did you carry water when crossing all that desert? It’s a dilemma for me in a smaller plane because if I carried as much as I’d like to have on board there would be no room for bags.

Last Edited by Silvaire at 23 Apr 23:15

We only carried our standard survival kit which includes water rations for six people two days, but I seem to recall that is only 3l total. Lots of sun cream, space blankets and our sheshs should give us a bit of protection from dehydration. The circuitous route through the desert also took us near the one “road” in the area. Best of all, our 406 ELT and PLB should aid in a prompt rescue. Both Marrakesh and Errachidia had military helicopters on location (in fact the only aircraft on the ramp at GMFK)

LESB, Spain

The circuitous route through the desert also took us near the one “road” in the area.

When I fly over stretches of desert I find the sight of a road very gratifying, that’s for certain. I take a gallon of water per person but survival and comfort are two different things. Obviously the temperature matters a lot, the desert can be very hot and also very cold at night.

Thanks for a really nice report and the view into an interesting place

Last Edited by Silvaire at 23 Apr 23:27

Great report and a great trip!

ESKC (Uppsala/Sundbro), Sweden

Fantastic trip Antonio and an equally great report and pictures. Here’s a trip where the capabilities of your aircraft really shine.

Private field, Mallorca, Spain

What a fantastic trip and fantastic photos

All the correct ingredients present: sand dunes, camels, big tents, and of course avgas in drums

So glad you all so obviously enjoyed it. I’ve never flown GA to Morocco. Many years ago I did something vaguely similar in Jordan but with a lot fewer comforts, and we noticed that at night the crew drove off in their 4×4 trucks to stay in a nearby hotel

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Lovely trip and nice family vacation !

What a beast you are flying thanks for fixing Avgas pump in GMMX ;)

Any Pirep on using Mallorca as Schengen exit/entry and AENA costs?

Last Edited by Ibra at 24 Apr 06:19
Paris/Essex, France/UK, United Kingdom

Peter wrote:

at night the crew drove off in their 4×4 trucks to stay in a nearby hotel

They must have had enough of the exotic desert!

LESB, Spain

We did carry (non-emergency) drinking water onboard on all legs, one .5lt bottle per person. Of course we did the standard flight briefing on drinking and toilet etc. This is additional to emergency rations in our survival kit, amounting to a total 1lt per POB. After landing at Errachidia, we purchased one 1.5 lt bottle per person for regular use, but we did not need that much. The following day I offloaded 3 lts of water remaining in our pax’s luggage just before flight.

Last Edited by Antonio at 24 Apr 08:48
LESB, Spain
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