Over The Top – an East Timor Adventure

I flew my single engine Cirrus SR22 from Australia across the Timor Sea to the world’s newest country – East Timor. The two-hour flight across the Timor Sea is the longest over-water crossing that I’ve done in this aircraft and represented the first time I took VH-EYZ outside of Australia.

This article will give you an overview of the trip, the logistics behind how we flew from one country to another, and will hopefully help you if you’re planning to do something similar in the future.

The trip

Living in Melbourne in the South-Eastern part of Australia getting to East Timor actually meant a long trip across the continent of Australia before I could even think about leaving the country. My routing took me from Moorabbin Airport to Leigh Creek, Tennant Creek, Katherine (Tindal) where I stayed overnight and finally on to Darwin the next day. This was a total of 1,723nm of flying which took me around 10 hours on the first day and just under an hour to get from Katherine to Darwin the next morning.

Getting up to Darwin meant stopping 3 times and over 10 hours of flying

In Darwin I met my friend Michael who had flown the Darwin – Dili route many times before. He was going to be my guide on this flight across the Timor Sea to help with customs clearances, procedures, and navigating our way across the large stretch of water that lay between the two countries.

Customs and handling were managed at Darwin Airport through Pearl Flight Centre who provided all the forms required for the outbound leg as well as the return trip that I would be doing later in the week. They also gave me the infamous disinsection spray that aircraft landing in Australia are required to spray into the cabin and baggage compartments prior to opening the doors in Australia. More on that later in this article.

Michael and I departed Darwin on a VFR flight plan and flew the 398nm flight to Dili in East Timor. We used the waypoint TODOT as the boundary between Australia and East Timor’s FIRs (Flight Information Regions) which would be the point we would need to contact East Timor radio by before entering their airspace.

Darwin to East Timor – 2+ hours over the Timor Sea

Unfortunately as we approached TODOT, which is just 34nm from the East Timor coastline, we still hadn’t been able to get reception from Dili Approach. So we kept making blind broadcasts every few minutes again and once we were closer to land and the VFR shielding from the East Timor mountains reduced we finally managed to get hold of them. At that point it was simply a case of letting Dili Approach know where we were and what time we estimated arriving at Dili. They told us to route via ATIXI and not long after that the outline of East Timor started to fill our windscreen.

Michael and I over the Timor Sea

We flew in to Dili via the waypoint ATIXI which is actually a huge statue of Jesus on the top of a headland. Nice and easy to spot from the air and a waypoint that gives you a nice long straight in approach to runway 26 which we were cleared to land on.

The waypoint ATIXI is the headland sticking out at the bottom right of this photo – Dili Airport is dead ahead
Short final on a straight in approach to runway 26 at Dili International Airport

On the ground at Dili Michael had organised for a handler to manage our documentation and clearances with customs. We secured the aircraft then were given a ride to the terminal to have our bags inspected and our passports checked with border control.

Unfortunately because we left Darwin a little later than planned and subsequently arrived later into Dili than we were expected, the customs team were all out at lunch as there were no other arrivals due at the airport. But after waiting and apologising for our late arrival, the customs team quickly checked our documentation and approved our entry into the country. My first time in East Timor.

Our handling agent on the ground at Dili

Exploring East Timor

I spent a couple of days exploring East Timor including taking a flight over to the island of Atauro with the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) in a GA-8 Airvan which is one of a few aircraft the MAF use to transport people and supplies around the country. Aviation highlight here was probably having to do a go-around at the local Atauro gravel strip due to a couple of local dogs just chilling on the end of the runway. A second pass saw they’d moved on and we landed without issue.

VH-MAH at the Atauro airstrip

The flight home

I flew the return leg from Dili to Darwin using the same route as I’d flown there but in reverse, and this time without Michael. He had business to attend to in East Timor so waved me off at the airport and watched as I emptied the aircraft disinsection can into the cockpit of EYZ. I was told in Darwin that I only needed to use a small amount for a small aircraft like mine but that didn’t seem to register when I was actually spraying the cockpit and I think I used way too much. Good for preventing insects hitching a ride to Australia but not great for me.

If you ever have to do the same I encourage you to confirm the requirement and only spray as much as you need to. It’s not nice sitting there in the cloud of fumes right before you have to fly a plane across the Timor Sea, alone.

Disinsection spray – I used a bit too much of this

As mentioned Pearl Flight Centre had already given us forms that would need to be filled out and left with Dili prior to departure which I had done. The only remaining form to complete was the crew declaration for customs, similar to the passenger card you fill out on a commercial flight entering Australia. So I completed that on the two and a half hour flight back home.

The return flight across the Timor Sea was again flown VFR and in mostly good conditions. There were some localised buildups to navigate around and some cloud around 10,000 feet which I climbed to get over as the conditions were smoother and the higher I went the better my VHF reception was.

I managed to hear Brisbane Center on the radio around 142nm North West of the coastline and gave a position report and estimate for Darwin. Then the rest was as simple as flying any other VFR flight in Australia. I was handed over to Darwin Approach, then Tower, and then landed back on Australian soil once again.

Showing customs my completed forms before opening the doors

Customs clearance took around 2 minutes as Pearl Flight Centre had organised customs to come and check my forms on the apron meaning I didn’t even have to go into the airport. They refuelled my aircraft and after picking up a few snacks for the long flight home to Melbourne I made my way back through the centre of Australia, this time stopping off in Alice Springs for the night.

This trip was a really important confidence building trip for me and East Timor was a really friendly and fun place to visit. It’s a great option for Australian pilots looking to fly in a new country. They’re very friendly towards General Aviation, AVGAS can be ordered and made available for you (with notice, see ‘resources’ below) at Dili Airport, and there are other airports around East Timor which you can fly into and visit to see more of this neighbouring country.


If you’re keen to do a similar trip here are a few resources you may find useful:

Watch the video series

I made a series of videos documenting the flights to and from East Timor and my time exploring the country which you can watch here:

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