By João Machado
Trip Report: Flying to Elba in Silver Air’s Let 410
This is Part One of a two-part series about Silver Air and its flights to Elba. Check back on AirlineGeeks for Part Two.
More than a year after COVID-19 devastated its health system, apparently Italy is finally awaking after very difficult times with all the restrictions caused by the pandemic.
This is a country that breathes tourism. From bucolic landscapes to breathtaking beaches and historic buildings, every city has a secret buried in enormous beauty. That was one of the things I was looking forward the most when I arrived in Siena to study last September, but right when things looked normal, the second wave raged through the country, closing everything down again.
That’s why the entire country was looking for the reopening as vaccination picked up. And by early May, almost all regions were considered “yellow” zones, which, by the decrees released by the government, allowed free movement between same-region comunes (the Italian equivalent of cities) and to other yellow zones.
So when the opportunity knocked and Tuscany went to yellow zone, I was looking forward to take one of the only intra-region regular flights in Italy, an operation that connects Elba Island to mainland Italy.
Starting in early 2020, Tuscany Region provided a three-year contract to the Czech Republic’s Silver Air to connect the Island’s airport, in Marina di Campo, to Firenze and Pisa Airports in Tuscany and to Milano/Linate Airport in Lombardy as continuità territoriale (territorial continuity) essential flights. Weeks after the operations were started, COVID-19 brought the flights to a halt. As Italy reopened by Summer, Silver Air restarted the connections.
My flight was one of the three weekly runs from Firenze (capital and largest city of the Tuscany Region) to Marina di Campo, Elba’s single airport.
The trip came to a false start as, On the morning of my original flight, I was informed via WhatsApp that the day’s run to Elba was cancelled due to bad weather conditions in the Island. Thankfully I still hadn’t taken the train to Firenze, so the day was not lost and I had a shot for the next day.
After a very smooth train trip from Siena to Firenze’s central station, I stayed in downtown for a couple of hours seeing the buildings and the beauty of the city’s architecture, but shortly afterwards I went to the tram stop – the city counts with two lines, one of which ends up at the airport. The line stops at the train station, which I think was great connectivity.
The tram trip took some 20 minutes and was very comfortable, albeit I was the only remaining passenger when I arrived at the airport.
Later I would find out why: after a temperature screening and disinfection at the airport door (as well as a check to see if I would actually fly that day), the terminal was completely empty. There were only two flights for the rest of the day, including mine.
Frankly, it’s not like my flight was not particularly full, either. Although I arrived to the airport at the time the airline said check-in would be open, it was closed; only minutes later an airport employee appeared at the counter, and he said I should stick around until some time before the flight so he would call me and the other two passengers. Three passengers would make for a 20% load factor, since the airline sells 15 of the 17 seats of the Let 410. Two seats are blocked for the flight attendant and the mechanic.
Anyway, the process was quite fast, and in one minute I had the boarding pass with me. Then I got a chair near the counters until the time the check-in agent had ask me to appear at the counter; then, he handed me a travel health form that I should fill.
After the three passengers had returned the filled forms, the agent guided us outside the airport. Because the airside screening area was closed, we had to pass through the safety screening area for employees outside the terminal. It was a three-minute walk. Thankfully, the day was not excessively hot.
Shortly we were cleared to go, so an airport bus was waiting at the other side of the small building. The aircraft was parked in a remote area of the terminal.
Flight would be operated by OK-SLD; of Silver Air’s two Let 410, this is the one stationed in Italy. According to PlaneLogger, the aircraft was produced in 1990 and originally delivered to Aeroflot. It later served several operators: Eniseiskii Meridian, Solinair, DHL, Adria, ElbaFly, Heli Air Services and the United Nations; it was then transferred to Silver Air in November 2010.
In a few minutes we had arrived at our aircraft. Boarding was obviously very quick, and the three passengers spread through the seats.
Before the doors were closed, the assistant handed water and candies. That’s a nice treat because I had not seen a flight attendant in such a small airplane before, but I guess this is something only a monopolistic, subsidized operation can provide, because the relative costs of running this type of operation are incredibly high.
As the doors were closed, Matteo, the flight attendant, made the safety briefing in Italian to us; he also asked if I had understood and I needed assistance in English, but everything was fine.
At 16:52, the pair of turboprop Walter M601 engines was started, producing a loud noise, but average and expected for an project of this age — the engines were developed in the 60s. Taxi was started at 16:57, three minutes before schedule.
At 17:01, the Let lined up at Firenze’s runway 23 and stormed it up, rotating and climbing effortlessly with the light payload of the aircraft. Turbulence was minimal and, shortly after the take-off, the aircraft slightly turned left, bowing into Elba.
I took the time – not much at that – to appreciate the small details of the Let 410. Flying the Czech turboprop was one of my childhood dreams as, in my home state in Brazil, there was a regional airline, NHT, flying five of these. As they folded in 2014, I never had the chance to do so, so I was glad to fly it so many years later.
The cabin was quite comfortable. It felt wide – the seats are in a 1-2 configuration, much better than other 19-seaters, like the Beech 1900 – and it was in a good temperature. The large windows also allow the entry of plenty of natural light.
Seat pitch was also quite decent, and the seats were relatively comfortable for a small regional turboprop.
In the seat pocket, there was the Let’s safety instructions card in English and Italian, a small advertisement of local Elba products and also a sheet with Silver Air’s Elba schedules.
Despite the 31 years of age of OK-SLD, the airplane was in a great state.
However, some details showed OK-SLD’s long past. Some of the warnings at the seat’s tray tables were in Czech, but others were in Russian.
The flight rolled as a breeze, and at 17:13 we were in our cruise altitude. Soon enough, we were crossing the Italian mainland shores over the region of Piombino.
As we reached that region, we already could see Elba Island, which is relatively close to the mainland. The flight is really short, so at 17:26, descent was started.
I expected us to maneuver into the Southern side of the Island to approach into the airport, since the Northern side is surrounded by high hills, but we didn’t. This, at least, provided beautiful views of Procchio, a small comune (municipality) at Elba and its beach.
The approach, therefore was very critical, with a turn left moments before touchdown and a steep descent after we had passed the hills. Later the Captain told me the slope for this approach is twice as large as the normal.
So at 17:35, despite the critical approach, OK-SLD touched down at Marina di Campo’s runway 16. Also, despite the short runway, with a length of around 950 meters, braking was relatively smooth.
Obviously the taxi to the terminal, as well as deboarding, was very fast. I waited for the two other passengers to leave the aircraft to, very briefly, photograph the empty cabin as well as the cockpit, as the crew (as well as the safety team of the airport) was in a rush.
The cockpit, which is not digital at all, was also a great sight. I also managed to briefly speak with Captain Hugo, who seemed very acclimatized to Elba operations, given Silver Air’s experience at the airport. Some years before 2020, the airline served the island with similar flights.
The day was surprisingly beautiful at Elba after my flight the day before was rained out.
I got into the very small terminal and was greeted by a local Carabinieri (one of Italian police forces), who happens to make the safety of the few flights that arrive into the island’s airport. After a quick passport check, I was waved goodbye and they literally closed the airport’s doors just as I left. I can’t help but love this small airport environment; there are always surprises compared to the habitual “big airport” feeling.
If the original plan was to stay just a night at the Island then return to the mainland by morning, now the next flight back to Firenze – and, indeed, the next Silver Air flight anywhere from Elba – was only two days later, so I’d have a day off at paradise to turn off my mind; that came in handy.
The morning after, I took some time to visit Spiaggia di Galenzana, a thirty minute walk away from my hotel. It was a perfect day and the spectacular beach was empty (the Summer season had still not officialy started), so I didn’t complain that my flight got cancelled after all.
Anyway, fast-forward to two days later and I got back to the airport to make my check-in back to real life.
Once again, the load was light. and the plane is small anyway, so the process was quite light and taken very easily by Silver Air’s Elba team, which apparently was composed of two workers, one of which, Michela, would be the flight assistant for the day.
Overall the airport terminal was very, very tiny. And honestly it needn’t much more, as the runway is very small anyway. On JetPhotos you can see the largest planes photographed at Marina di Campo are Dornier 328s and Bombardier Q300s years ago, and I guess it can’t get much larger than that.
The lack of rush was justified, as the Carabinieri that would serve the flight safety inspection was the last to arrive and the waiting area on the airside is nonexistent, so not only nobody could pass through inspection, but waiting outdoors was the best option anyway. Outside the terminal, there was a bar and some tables and chairs where, by the way, some minutes before the flight, the crew arrived and did the flight briefing.
This relaxed atmosphere was echoed by the airline. “Noi siamo Svizzeri!” (we are Swiss), said Silver Air’s agent when asked about boarding by a passenger.
Finally, at 08:11, the police officer arrived with his SUV at the terminal and boarding was started at 08:22, eight minutes before the schedule time of departure, so everything was indeed on schedule.
There was even time for a photo of the crew; I love this atmosphere of such small regional flights. It might lack the comfort of big carriers, but generally it’s just so much fun.
This time load factor was better: eight passengers occupied the 15 seats of the Let (most of which were Island locals). The return leg, later in the day, would be even better: 13 passengers were expected.
At 08:24, therefore six minutes before schedule, doors were closed and safety instructions followed. Today, the flight deck crew was the same as on the first flight two days before: Captain Hugo, First Officer Thomas and Mechanic Tibor, with Flight Assistant Michela being the only new face. In both flights, needless to say, all were very professional and helpful.
Again, before take-off we were offered candies and water.
The pair of turboprops was put to life at 08:28 and OK-SLD taxied to the active runway, again the 16, the one we had landed two days before (although now the take-off, obviously, would not face the Island hills).
After the quick trip to the runway, at 08:35 the Let 410 accelerated out of Marina di Campo.
A steep left turn followed so we bowed into Firenze; the departure trajectory bypassed the Island, so Elba could be seen in its beautiful entirety from the windows of the Let, a memorable sight.
The short cross into mainland followed, and in a few minutes OK-SLD was crossing the Italian shore over, more or less, the comune of San Vincenzo.
An uneventful flight succeeded and, at 08:55, our descent was started into Firenze; it was quite a bumpy one.
After a very shaky approach, at 09:08, OK-SLD touched down at Firenze’s runway 05. The braking run was very smooth as the runway was much longer than needed for the versatile Let 410.
A short taxi into a remote position followed and in no time, all of us were in a bus heading into the terminal. That was it for my regional flight, and I took the tram into the train station. In just a few hours I was back in Siena; I cannot imagine how convenient this flight must be for residents of Elba.
This was a great flight experience in a pretty much unknown route, airline and aircraft. All went great; crew was awesome, the Let 410 was very comfortable for an aircraft of its segment and a segment of this length and Elba was beautiful.
I could observe there is so much potential to be unleashed by Silver Air. Although the flight is a subsidized operation by the State, my gut feeling is that these operations could walk on its own feet at least during the Summer, when Elba flocks with tourists. It’s a very decent service; much more convenient than taking a train to Piombino, then a ferry to Portoferraio, and sold for a fair price (tickets are flat at around EUR160 the roundtrip, although the services to Milan and Lugano are way more expensive).
So I can’t wait to see what the future holds regarding flying to Elba. Plane is a very convenient option to attract tourist from all around the world, and the current service already left a very good impression on me.