By João Machado
Trip Report: Catania to Olbia with DAT Volidisicilia
Editor’s Note: Tickets were provided by DAT Volidisicilia to AirlineGeeks.
Beautiful Sicilia, not-so-beautiful Catania Airport during Summer season. The terminal is big and modern as well, but it really gets crowded during this time of the year, and it showed.
At least the airport management showed some commitment to avoid crowding as much as possible, as only passengers with a ticket (or a reason to get in) were admitted inside the terminal. I’ve waited some 10 minutes in line before I could get in.
As I said, the terminal is actually very nice – it’s just that there is so many flights coming and going during Summer that it’s tough for the terminal to handle capacity properly. I guess during winter it’s way better.
Anyway, I had arrived from Pisa by Ryanair with hours to spare, so there was no rush. Nevertheless, I accessed the airside to see the flights arriving and departing. Check-in would only start two hours before the flight, and there was plenty of time.
Though I didn’t have any luggage to dispatch, I like to keep the boarding passes for my collection. So, two hours before my flight, I went to the line. In some 10 minutes, I had the boarding pass.
During Summer season, Catania sees an unmatched number of flights from all parts of Europe and with all sorts of airlines, from the oldest network carriers to newest low-cost airlines.
DAT Volidisicilia, however, is a special case: it was granted the continuità territoriale (territorial continuity) contract by the Sicily regional government in 2018 – with the service extended until 2022. This way, it connects Lampedusa and Pantelleria, two insular cities south of Sicily which are part of the region, to major cities in the region itself.
The operation, according to Travel Quotidiano, involves four aircraft based in Italy by the Danish airline and more than six thousand flights a year.
While the airline is contractually obligated to operate these flights, it can use its assets as it wants as long as it operates the contracted flights. As such, during summer, the airline adventures itself into connections to the mainland – this Summer it flew to Brindisi and Napoli – and even into the other insular Region of Italy, Sardinia, with flights to Olbia competing toe-to-toe with much larger low-cost carrier Volotea.
Anyway: soon the gate for my flight was announced. I expected us to board in the lower levels of the terminal since DAT Volidisicilia only operates ATRs, which don’t use jet bridges.
Instead, we didn’t.
Well, we got in the jetway, but got downstairs instead, where a bus awaited us.
Thankfully the flight was quite empty, so we all fit in a single bus, which was not packed in the end.
I was really looking forward for this flight; I’m a fan of the ATR because of the connectivity it provided back in my country, but I had never flown the old -200 version. This is exactly the one DAT uses in its Sicily operations, so I had a shot at comparing it to the -500 and -600 versions, which is the one I had flown multiple times in Brazil.
There were two DAT flights leaving at the same time, so it was only arriving at the plane that I discovered which bird I’d fly that day. The answer: OY-LHB.
According to Planespotters.net, Hotel-Bravo was originally delivered to KLM’s botched “KLM uk” project in June 1998, being returned to the lessor in June 2003 and then being incorporated by Denmark’s Cimber Air (later renamed to Cimber Sterling) in November 2004 until the airline went bust in May 2012. DAT then incorporated the frame in March 2013, to which it has been flying ever since. The earliest picture of the airline with the “Volidisicilia” titles on JetPhotos is from January 2019.
The inclement sun prompted everyone to rush to inside the aircraft. I’d been allocated in row 12 and asked the flight attendant to move forward. They said row 1 was blocked for “balancing reasons” but that I could take row 2, which I did.
The fact OY-LHB was more than 20 years old didn’t mean it had to be in an awful state. DAT really took care of this ATR, and it showed. In fact, the leather seats were way more comfortable than the ones I was used to see in Azul’s ATR 72-600s.
Of course the frame did show its age, though, as the lighting was not as modern as the -600s, but there was nothing that could harm the flight experience.
Seat pitch was quite good, too, in the standard 68-seat configuration of the ATR 72.
In fact, load factor was quite poor, with only 34 passengers, making for a 50% load factor. This, though, meant that boarding was finished as soon as everyone was seated.
However, we had to wait on the ramp; we were the fourth aircraft waiting to take-off, and others were landing. Engines started at 14h37, and at 14h46 we started taxi to the nearby runway 08.
It was only at 14h59, 34 minutes after schedule, when we took-off from Sicily, the pair of turboprop Pratt & Whitney engines making some loud noise, naturally way louder than the modernized ones in the -600 version of the aircraft.
We had lost time to make up for – even because the flight had a quick turnaround to return to Catania after arrival in Olbia.
The two-hour flight would be quite boring, though, as naturally DAT does not offer any entertainment options in the ATR. And soon we were informed by the PA system that, because of COVID, there would be no (active) catering service either.
But the nature of the flight, a high season connection between two highly touristic destinations, entertained most of the passengers, who were mostly not alone and could chat about their vacations.
The uneventfulness was such that later I discovered what was the “balancing problem” that got me out of row 1: the flight attendant sat there and started to read a book. Well, fair enough.
Soon she returned to the back of the plane and I went there to talk to both of them and learn more about their gig, which sounds fun: operating for a Danish airline in Italy-based operations. I thought they would be native Italians, but I was wrong.
The chief FA, Luciano, was Romanian (but a fluent Italian speaker, which was clear from his PA speeches) and had worked for Wizz Air and Primera Air before getting hired by DAT. The second FA, Gintare, was from Lithuania and had previously worked for Corendon.
Apparently, they are from DAT’s “normal” people of flight crews, the airline paying for their stay in Sicily in what they called “mission” – DAT’s nature as a typical wet-lease operator showed. They’d work for about three weeks in Italy, return home and be replaced, both being quite pleased with this system that’s different from most airlines.
We spent most of the flights talking about aviation, so the time passed like a breeze. While DAT didn’t actively offer catering in the flight, they did bring water and coffee for the passengers who asked. I did benefit from that, for that day was long, so I really needed some coffee.
All in all, OY-LHB did show its age (like in the panel the flight attendants operate, for instance); apart from that, the 20-odd years that ATR was operating passed unnoticed. DAT took such great care of that plane.
The lavatory was quite small and looked like a cave such was the lighting, but it was clean nevertheless.
What I like about the ATR, and about all regional planes, is the 2-2 configuration versus the 3-3 I’d see, for instance, traveling with Volotea in the same segment. The speed difference with respect to flight time really gets higher in these longer segments though, and the ATR -200 was quite loud, which got annoying after some time.
About 45 minutes before landing, I returned to my seat, just in time for the descent, which started at 16h26. The flight was an incredibly smooth sail over the Mediterranean Sea, with no turbulence at all. However, despite the crew trying to minimize the delay by picking up the pace, we would most definitely arrive with some delay, as we were nine minutes before the scheduled arrival.
At 16h43, though, we made a smooth landing in Olbia’s Costa Smeralda Airport runway 23, with a delay of only eight minutes – versus the take-off half an hour after schedule.
OY-LHB stopped in a remote position and the crew rapidly posed for a photo – as the bus was waiting for me to go back to the terminal.
They waved me goodbye and in some minutes everyone was in the fabulous terminal of Olbia – which you can see more about in this report with Volotea.
Well, wasn’t this a cool experience! It’s one of the things only Europe can provide: a Danish airline flying domestically in Italy with a French-made aircraft and a multinational crew. All in all I think DAT delivered a cool experience for what it promised.
The aircraft, albeit not the most modern, was impeccably clean with comfortable seats; entertainment, as I said, was not really needed by most passengers who were out on vacations, and catering lacked – keep in mind other airlines are already offering full onboard service, with most passengers at this point vaccinated against COVID-19. The crew was also very professional and treated all passengers very well, with attention and always a smile in the face.
So, would I fly again with DAT Volidisicilia? In the public service obligation flights, definitely, since they are the single operator there anyway. In the routes where they compete with someone, like Catania-Olbia, where they went toe to toe with Volotea this Summer, I definitely would, though they would have to win me by price. I guess that’s the case for most passengers these days.