Traveling amid a pandemic from Rijeka to Split


Written by Bowden Granville

Date: 20.09.20
Route: Rijeka  - Split
Flight number: C3821
Airline: Trade Air
Registration: OK-VAA
STD: 14:00
ATD: 13:55
STA: 14:55
ATD: 14:44

As every summer, I had a long trip planned to Croatia. Usually this involves me moving around the country to see old friends but due to the Covid-19 restrictions I changed plans several times as to the routing for the trip. I’d initially flown over from London with Ryanair on board one of their twice weekly flights to Rijeka. I was very pleased to see that they had kept the route considering Ryanair pulled out from flights from London to Zadar at the start of the Covid crisis. The 06:40am flight was around 70% full and completely uneventful other than it was extremely fast. We made it over the Alps and landed in one hour and forty minutes which I presume would reflect the low volume of traffic that morning.

After a wonderful week on Krk and in Rijeka it was time to head south to Dalmatia. I have taken the bus countless times and although beautiful it is tediously long. My initial plan had been to visit Slavonia and Osijek and I had a reservation for Croatia Airlines routing Osijek-Split. However, a few days before leaving for Croatia, my plans changed I wanted to amend the ticket for Rijeka - Split. I rang Croatia Airlines in Zagreb via Skype (they no longer seem to have a UK call centre) and I have to say the customer service was outstanding. The woman who answered was so professional and polite I even wrote to the company to thank them and received a nice email from her thanking me for the feedback. She was able to change my ticket onto the Thursday afternoon Rijeka-Split and I only had to pay £14 difference in fare which meant the ticket cost £55 one-way including 23KG of luggage.

On the day of the flight I spent the morning in Omišalj with friends drinking coffee. Omišalj is a beautiful town located around 5 minutes drive from the airport and is a great place to have a coffee before flying.

I arrived at Krk airport at 12:30 and said farewell to my friends. Anybody who knows Krk airport will tell you that it is one of the quietest in the former Yugoslavia at the best of times. There were a few staff members sitting in the café bar outside the terminal and nobody inside except at the information desk. The screens in the pleasantly old-fashioned terminal showed the flight I was to take to Dalmatia at 14:00 plus the return leg at 20:05 to Osijek.

Like all domestic routes in the country, the Trade Air operated flight is a public obligation flights meaning they are subsided by the state. This routing of the flight is Osijek - Rijeka - Split - Dubrovnik and return. Without subsidies the route wouldn’t operate and the economics behind the route is highly dubious. It’s possible to easily find the breakdown of the monies given to support the route which works out at 204.72 euros per passenger who takes this route. This compares to the routing Zagreb - Dubrovnik which is subsidised to the tune of 12.59 euro per passenger but pales in significance to the 599.17 euro subsidy required from the routing Osijek - Zagreb.

Irrespective of the financial and environmental cost of the flight I must admit that I was very grateful that it exists as it allows for a very way to get to Split, the chance to try a new aircraft type and quite probably the most beautiful views its possible to have.

I asked at the information desk when the check-in would open and was told it would open at 13:00. This gave me time for a last beer outside in the warm summer sun.

At 13:00 the check-in desk opened, and I was the first of around 10 people to check-in. The check-in agent instructed me to wait in the seated area and everybody would be called to board together at around 13:30. The waiting area is spacious and there are views of the apron. I’ve been to Rijeka Airport many times over the years and it does get very crowded when a full load of 737 passengers are waiting to go through security or passport control. However today it couldn’t have felt more relaxed or empty.

At 13:30 the same lady who did the check-in called everyone for Split and Dubrovnik to follow her down some stairs. All my previous flights from Rijeka have been international and I was used to going upstairs towards passport and security. For a domestic flight there is no passport check just a security check carried out underground in what I can only assume is the staff and pilot’s entrance to the apron. We were led into a small room where a scanner and metal detector were located. Two members of staff were present and operated the machines. A second or two later our boarding cards had been re-check by the same lady who did the check-in and were all told to wait outside whilst the aircraft was readied.

Outside it was around 30C so I made use of the shade. There were several seats outside which I believe are used by staff members for their coffee breaks. Several people had joined us, arriving on the inbound flight from Osijek and headed south towards Dalmatia. It felt rather surreal to be standing outside the terminal building waiting with the staff. Several of the passengers smoked cigarettes (there was an ashtray on a table) and there was a general jolly atmosphere. After 10 minutes or so waiting were called forward and I got my first glimpse of the thirty year old L410. The aircraft is magnificent although small doesn’t appear fragile or pathetic. It was interesting to see the luggage being stowed including in a compartment towards the front of the aircraft.

Boarding took seconds and we were told to choose any seat. I was eager to get a window seat and managed to get the 4th row to the left. The seats resemble a soviet bus, which is essentially the era this aircraft dates from. The leg room was totally fine and the springy seats more comfortable than on most jet aircraft. There was only one free seat which I think is impressive given the travelling climate this summer. Everybody wore masks as far as I can recall.

Minutes after boarding the first officer who was not Croatian, passed through the aisle greeting us all in a very friendly way. There is no extra door for the pilots and curtains separate passengers from the two pilots.

The L410 has one cabin member. The male crew member was extremely polite and did a safety demonstration in Croatian. One passenger towards the front didn’t speak the language and he gave this gentleman a demonstration of the safety features in English.

The Avia V510 propellers were started and quickly got up to speed. The sound was nice and loud and there was an instant feeling of being on a relatively rare classic in the world of European aviation.

We taxed to the end of runway 32 past a helicopter from the Croatian Airforce that was having engineering work done to it. The Engineers stopping to look at this little piece of aviation history. There are many types of Let-410 and the model used has distinctive fuel tank bulges located at the end of each wing.

Take off was smooth and steady and had the slow feeling one associates with very small aircraft.

Outside the afternoon couldn’t have been more perfect for flying. Cloudless sky as far as the eye could see and the full drama of the Croatia coast below. This surely is one of the greatest flights that it is possible to do in Europe and made all the most dramatic by the very low altitude. I probably shouldn’t admit it, but the altitude was low enough to receive an internet connection on my phone and to send the odd real-time photo to friends as I flew over Zadar.

The routing of the flight was due south over the island of Krk giving stunning views of the towns of Baška and Krk, the islands of Goli otok and Rab before flying down the coast of Pag. Novalja and Pag town were clearly visable before crossing directly over the Zadar.

The cabin attendant offered every passenger a glass of water and almost everybody was transfixed to the window watching the view.

I would assume the views from the right side of the Kornati archipelago would have been equally stunning.

The journey progressed very fast and felt like sightseeing trip. It was possible to see the mountains of Lika and as far as Dinara far in the distance towards Bosnia. I estinmated that the decent towards Split was started somewhere around Šibenik. No announcements were made during the flight, but none were needed! It was pure aviation beauty.

Either approach into Split airport offers some stunning views of the island and the mountains. I have always enjoyed the more challenging approach into runway 23. This requires aircraft to loop around the gulf of Kaštela and the city center of Split whilst descending towards Kozjak mountain. At what appears the last minute the aircraft needs to sharply turn over Kaštela to line up with the runway. The approach over Trogir is equally beautiful if lacking the dramatic twist at the end.

Today runway 23 was the direction aircraft were landing and I could tell this as the aircraft past the island of Drvenik Mali. We overflew the island of Šolta as the altitude continued to decrease. Finally the houses that surround Split airport came into view and the with the final turn to line up the nose we landed at 14:44 or 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

The entire flight from Rijeka to Split took 51 minutes.

We parked in front of the now expanded terminal at Split. Everybody was asked to disembark, including those passengers who were continuing to Dubrovnik. I would suggest that anybody who loves aviation and the Croatian landscape should pencil in the Rijeka - Split - Dubrovnik as an experience to try.

The same pilots came out of the aircraft to do his inspection whilst we were disembarking, he was again very friendly, talking with passengers and thanking them for flying with Trade Air.

Although I must have flown through Split many dozens of times in the past it was my first visit since the expansion. The inside is pleasant and light, however there is lots still to do in regards external landscaping and finish the across roads. The lack of jet bridges probably isn’t a worry considering the extreme seasonality of the airport. The apron had a healthy number of aircraft, I counted several easyJet A320s, an Austrian airlines Embraer and a British Airways flight landed as in entered the terminal.

The wait for the luggage was very short and then it was out to catch the bus to Split to continue my summer holiday on the island of Vis.

Overall, I would rate the flight extremely highly. The Crew were exceptionally friendly (this is not always the case flying domestically within Croatia) although I have never had a bad experience with Croatia Airlines, I have seen very cold service – especially domestically. Flying on what can only be considered an antique 19 seat aircraft gave the flight a real special feeling. But the greatest thing about the entire flight: The view.

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  1. Anonymous09:13

    wow what beautiful views. Thank you for the nice report on this rare bird.

    1. Anonymous13:40

      Croatia is so exceptionally beatuiful- looking forward to visiting nex year :)

  2. Anonymous10:02


  3. Anonymous10:13

    Beautiful Hrvatska, lovely bird and nice report!
    Is Trade Air registered in Czech Republic?

    1. Anonymous11:14

      No, they wet lease this plane from some Czech company for PSO flights.

    2. Anonymous17:03

      Exceptional report indeed. As good as a solid marketing piece.

    3. Anonymous23:06

      Leased from Van Air Europe , based in Brno LKTB.

  4. Thank you very much for thie excellent report!!!

  5. Anonymous23:05

    Stunning report and views! I really enjoy these small birds and scenic flights, too, oh those were the days of ECA in Croatia! I can also highly recommend the flight between Mahé and Praslin on a Twin Otter (equally a 19 seater).

  6. Great report, indeed - I enjoyed reading it.
    I live in Czech Republic some 30km far fom Kunovice where the factory of LET-410 aircraft is based. I visited the tour where they show/explain the production and I was stunned. As this aricraft is not produced masively (just 10-15 pieces per year) there are no automatic links, almost all the work is done manually and with LOVE. It is interesting that some 30 years ago they made a few prototypes of L-610 (they even flew a few times) but during the last phase of testing and fine-tuning, Czechoslovakia collapsed and embarked from Soviet influence. New democracy was not interested in aviation and the project was stoped and factory didn't develop anymore. Later on, some American company bought the factory and pretty much ruined it - they were not producing anything, they were just selling what was produced before. But the story has a happy end, because a few years ago, some Russian company bought the (ruined) factory and a new rebirth happened! Since then, they again produce L-410 and they are quite successful with it as they released New Generation model. Not only a passanger model but many L-410NG are produced for other purposes (geodetic scanning terrain, agriculture, patrol planes...). I hope I will travel by this plane some time in future.

    1. Anonymous02:48

      Very interesting story. Maybe you should visit Croatia and try this leg yourself, no? Not sure if the flights are expensive or not.

    2. Anonymous11:07

      Good new is that they prepare new Let 610, partially based on that old prototype version of Let 610, but will be done in Russia for their market.

  7. Anonymous10:14

    Although the aircraft is 30 years old, it is already after several inspections and has all new components. otherwise, of course, it would not be able to fly in Europe

  8. I enjoyed reading your journey. Great pictures and detailed info.
    Btw, the pilot who took care of you and is also on your picture is Andre and he is one of the nicest, friendly, funniest and humble guy who will always provide VIP Customer service and share his positive attitude and optimisms.

  9. Anonymous20:13

    I really enjoyed reading this report but when the pictures of landscapes started to pop up I was blown away. Truly spectacular flight indeed. Thank you for sharing.

  10. I have done rijeka to dubrovnik several times each year for some years ( including this year). This is real flying and amazing views. The pilots are always really nice. I believe the route stops soin. I hope it starts again next year

  11. Hi! Cool article and great pics! As your first officer that day, I'm happy you enjoyed your flight and hopefully we'll see you soon onboard the pretty Let 410 ;)


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