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Help planning a VFR route in France

Hi all,

A few months ago, some of us jumped into a Zoom Call (thanks Peter for organizing it) to discuss flying into France.

I’ve learnt so much during that call. I’ve now done a couple of flights to France, and I’m feeling braver :)

Today, I was dreaming of a flight to North Spain and found myself trying to plot a route from Le Touquet to San Sebastian via La Rochelle and I hit a wall – an airspace wall.

Now, most likely, this is just me not thinking out of the box, but could I ask the most experienced members for some help? How would you route this flight?

First Leg – LFAT DCT to La Rochelle at FL75 (mix of Class E and G)
Second Leg – here’s the problem – is there any direct way between La Rochelle and San Sebastian? Or would you navigate around the section highlighted in the image?

Many many thanks in advance.

EGSU, United Kingdom

IIRC you have two options:

  • Fly along the coast, and I heard this is possible at 500ft or some such; a local might know more. Also that big mil area (R31A1?) may not be active on weekends. IIRC, a phone call to Cazaux may work (they used to control that area)
  • Go a bit inland from LR and then head to San Seb along the obvious VOR-VOR route, overhead LFBZ

I’ve done both of the above but not in recent years.

The beach route at 500ft is scenic

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

That route is very scenic, it can be flown very low level, just talk to Aquitaine Info (when Cazeux restricted area is active, rarely by NOTAMS, you can still call them for permission, they ask to fly in 500ft-2000ft band)

The other alternative is SAU-BTZ at +FL65 which is Echo corridor

Last Edited by Ibra at 22 May 11:29
Paris/Essex, France/UK, United Kingdom

Peter wrote:

The beach route at 500ft is scenic

I might need to heavily drug my wife for that one!

Thanks, Peter, it makes perfect sense. I’ll take the second option for now! :)

EGSU, United Kingdom

Ibra wrote:

That route is very scenic, it can be flown very low level (when Cazeux restricted area is active, rarely by NOTAMS, you can still call them for permission, they ask to fly in 500ft-2000ft band)

I confess it is very tempting :) Thank you for sharing your log. Very useful!

EGSU, United Kingdom

I might need to heavily drug my wife for that one!

Just say you are going to see Dunes de Pilates near Pilat you have to open your eyes for traffic for traffic from Arcachon and Biscarrosse, they come in all shapes and forms !

Paris/Essex, France/UK, United Kingdom

It’s a real challenge to ‘unlearn’ the way we do things in the UK.
Generally my approach was to look at it in the same way you are. But not so much now.
So now I plan the route reasonably direct.
Plan a route around the worst bits.
Plan an alternative destination if all goes wrong with clearances.
When I say plan,plan,plan I do mean 2 mins on Skydemon checking some stuff, not a whole evening getting stressed. Obviously avoid prohibited airspace and check the military low level route activations.
Then you fly.
As early as possible you ask the controller for what you want, including clarification on a couple of bit’s you’re sure you won’t get.
Then sit there enjoying the flight mostly direct, and in awe of how well it’s all going.
In the rare event you’ve hit a ‘wall’ and the controller can’t get you through, you go around or back to your pre determined alternate to take another look. I can assure you if you’ve not planned something silly there won’t be an issue.
Im my experience asically if it’s restricted airspace with less than an airshow you’ll be likely to get a clearance.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been asked why I appear to be avoiding airspace because they assumed I was going to go direct and I hadn’t.
Just don’t assume it all, to a level where a rare refusal throws you into turmoil. Remember you can always turn back. Inconvenient but safe and fine.

United Kingdom

@ Fernando it is not as difficult as it may at first appear, especially if you are doing it on a weekend although you might encounter heavy traffic on a sunny weekend around some airfields. Most of the route from around Rouen area to La Rochelle can be flown VFR at around 2500’ to 3000’ and from LFAT to south Rouen there are a couple of routes. It is also possible to stay OCAS at around 1700ft to San Seb. This means you can do all this without talking to anyone but it is not direct and might be subject to some altitude changes. On weekends many ‘R’ zones are not operational and become OCAS.
However, transiting CAS is usually no problem and eg climbing to 5500’ to cross Nantes or Rennes CAS is just a call up on the radio. To cross the centre of large cities you need to be at a minimum of 5500 although its easy to skirt the centre of town and fly lower. Getting transit through ‘R’ areas is usually pretty easy unless you choose some of their busy times.
You also have the choice of flying airways which at +/-500 semi circular ruler are usually class E and no problem. Make sure you know the parameters of ‘P’ zones and stay clear unless you know for sure that they are not in operation.
Depending how I feel if flying VFR for long distances I might fly the airways.
Otherwise I draw a straight line between rhe departure airport and the destination airport and then make a contingency plan for areas where I might see difficulties or where it is just as easy to go around a zone or change altitude rather than negotiating a transit. It really is not a problem but if you want to cross CAS or “R” zones its worth noting all the frequencies and opening hours in advance.


I know the area around Cazaux fairly well. It looks scary, like a lot of French airspace. It’s a good illustration of why flying VFR in France requires local knowledge.

You can go inland, flying east of Bordeaux at 2000. With care you can wriggle between all the R zones.

If you go close to the coast, Cazaux will (in my experience) always let you through at 1000, and if you ask you can sometimes get 3000.You will have to fly the transition around the west side of Cazuaz, O1-O2-OS, at 1000. And as Ibra said, watch out very carefully for traffic to/from Arcachon and Biscarosse which will be doing the same thing.

The coast flight at 500 or 1000 (if they let you) is gorgeous, but you have to wiggle round R259 which is often active – it’s a rocket launch site, best not messed with. I think that when I did it I stayed at 3000 until south of R259 then got permission to drop to 500. It’s a bit far from the coast to be comfortable going round R259 at 500.

Cazaux sends fast jets up and down the coast at low altitudes, so you really want to do what they tell you.

It’s all different at weekends. Cazaux may be active but there isn’t much going on, and for sure Dax (R40A/B)will be inactive.

French airspace looks scary. It’s why I decided that IFR is a better idea, even in perfect VMC.

LFMD, France

@gallois @GA_Pete, many thanks for your advice. Really valuable!

GA_Pete wrote:

So now I plan the route reasonably direct.

I do that in the UK, but I still feel anxious about flying abroad, probably out of inexperience. it’s only for now :)

EGSU, United Kingdom
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