A flying adventure around NSW onboard a Saab 340B with REX Airlines... Sure! Why not?
Destination, Sydney... Yes, Sydney! First we would be travelling an hour and a half to Mildura, then 30 minutes up to Broken Hill and 2 hours back to Sydney.
Departure time was just after 12pm and the weather in Sydney was sunny, 32 degrees with light winds from the south. A forecast cool change was due into the harbour city about 5pm that evening with expected thunderstorms around that time but thankfully we weren't due back till around 6:30pm.
The aircraft for our flight was VH-ZXF (pictured above). A pre-loved aircraft sporting a wonderful hybrid livery that first flew with Mesaba Airlines back in 1997. Configured as most Saab 340's are with 1-2 seating configuration - 34 passengers and 3 crew at maximum capacity. The pilot's were brilliant, keeping the passengers informed all the way, and the sole flight attendant was fantastic, leaving you with no questions that she knew what she was doing.
The flight departed on time and after a couple of decades of flying in large commercial aircraft, the buzz, prop noise, vibration and inflight sensitivity of the Saab 340B brought a huge smile to my dial. "This is Flying" I audibly said to myself as we took off, and I could immediately see why the pilot's love this aircraft.
Weather on route to Mildura was 50/50.. The first 50% of the flight was gorgeous, with a 14,000ft elevation and clear skies. The last 50% of the journey saw us flying smack into the cool change, with low cloud and a 60knt headwind on the nose. The inclement weather brought about several altitude changes as the pilot's looked to find some air that was 'a little less in our faces', but alas, this was not to be and we arrived in Mildura roughly 20 minutes behind schedule.
Service on the flight was a Carmen's muesli bar and water. Spartan, but I heard no complaints.
After a very brief stop at the deserted Mildura Airport, we were in the air again and flying below the cloud base. Granted the sightseeing wasn't the best due to the weather, but flying this short route leaves you with no doubting that you're in Australia!
Before I knew it, the aircraft was descending into Broken Hill and this seemed to be the main destination for the passengers onboard. Only 6 people disembarked in Mildura, and now the remaining 17 people left the aircraft.
Our scheduled time on the ground was a mere 20 minutes as the aircraft re-fuled for the final sector back to Sydney. However the weather back home was playing havoc with the airport and our flight was pushed out by a further 25 minutes. This allowed me the time to speak with the Captain of our flight and take a brief look around the aircraft and airport.
What I never expected to see (and shame on me as i've lived in the outback before) was the flight crew assisting the checking in of the passengers for the return flight! Broken Hill airport had only 2 staff on hand to assist, One with the boarding process, and the other to remove the luggage and refuel the aircraft. But that's life in a small town.. And this was a nice reminder of simpler ways of life.
After the brief delay, our 2 hour flight back home to Sydney was pushed along nicely by the same winds that hindered our initial progress West! The aircraft was carrying only 12 passengers on this leg so it felt less cramped than previously and this time I was cheeky enough to ask for a second muesli bar! To which the flight attendant smiled and returned replied "of course!" - Why hadn't I asked for another on the first flight... Ha!
I recall feeling a little sleepy on this final sector. Perhaps the hum of the Saab 340 and gentle rocking of the turbulence aided my need to check my eyelids for cracks.. I woke up just as we overflew Sydney airport and realised we had made up all the time lost through the day.
I couldn't speak highly enough of the crew, and the experience of my afternoon at altitude. Regional Express operate into distant and remote parts of the country that are unforgiving by nature. Even with the recent spate of events that cast a temproray shadow on the airline, I would have no hesitation is selecting them for my next regional flights because I had so much fun! I saw so much of our beautiful state and I met a professional and extremely friendly crew who made my day even better then expected.