My last day of 2016 ended with a twenty four hour long tour of duty flying from Melbourne to Dubai International Airport on board my favorite Airbus A380 named “Nancy-Bird Walton“.
Dubai International Airport became choked when visibility at three of the five available airports reduced to just 100 metres. Scores of aircraft arriving from around the world filled a vertical “air park” holding pattern in the sky awaiting their approach.
Technical Alert: Dubai Airport makes “Low Visibility Procedures (LVP)” effective when the visibility or Runway Visual Range (RVR) reduces below 600 metres or the lower cloud ceiling falls below 300 feet.
The RVR was 100 meters and the vertical visibility was 100 feet (ceiling = zero) in fog at the time of our arrival.
Modern Category 3B equipped aircraft with trained crews are certified to conduct automatic landings in conditions with visibility down to just 50 metres (road traffic stops in this poor visibility). However, LVP introduces extra separations and precautions that reduces aircraft movements at Dubai from an average of about 46 down to 30 aircraft per hour. This reduced rate is the cause for the extensive holding and delays.
Short flights from the UAE were cancelled to give priority to the larger aircraft to depart and thus make their parking bays available for arriving aircraft.
Diversions were inevitable. We diverted to the “newer” Dubai Al Maktoum International Airport. This airport has five runways on 55,000 acres under construction that when fully operational in 2027, will handle 160 million passengers a year. This airport is situated just 20 miles to the west of the “older” Dubai International Airport (the World’s busiest airport (passenger count) comprising two runways that support 78m passengers/year).
Within an hour of landing we were refuelled and ready to depart and fly twenty miles to the Dubai International Airport. Unfortunately we again joined a lengthy queue to depart from our gate. We had to stand ourselves down and call for a replacement crew when our forecast tour of duty reached the (Australian Civil Aviation Order #48) limit of 20 hours.
The co-pilots and cabin crew performed with excellence. The 450 passengers remained calm. A competition (with the prize of a bottle of champagne) to write the best limerick about our diversion inspired about one hundred submissions.
Thirty children submitted A380 drawings in response to their competition.
We must all be empathetic and caring for our customers, because we never know the full circumstances of those who entrust their lives to us. Two separate passengers were informed during the delay the family members they were travelling to farewell had passed away during our flight. One woman told me the delay would cause her to miss her own wedding. One man would miss the proposal he had planned for New Year’s Eve.
The spirit in my airline is the foundation for our great culture. We turn up to work with the right attitude, present ourselves to the customers and plan to make their day.
Everyone clapped when the replacement crew arrived in a bus at the base of the aircraft stairs. The recovery flight from the Al Maktoum International Airport 20 nm to the Dubai International Airport was probably the shortest A380 flight.
We finally arrived at the Dubai terminal twenty three hours after leaving Melbourne.
No one enjoys being involved in a weather diversion, however in our case the passengers appreciated our efforts to provide full and open disclosure and my personal guarantee to ease their stress. They smiled as they disembarked Nancy-Bird Walton.
Four days after the event I have only received one request for assistance (that I will honour) from the 450 passengers.
113th year of powered flight
It is an honour to be an aircraft commander in the twenty first century. We have the privilege to operate the most advanced technologies operating over varied engineering, atmospheric, political and geographical landscapes. We work in companies that espouse the best corporate and human safety management systems and cultures. We work with knowledgeable, highly trained and experienced crews, teams and professionals.
The best pilots make flying look easy – but it’s not. Great pilots like Sully and Captain Aux have a chronic unease for the status quo and know their limits. They know the idea that you can study and then have a career in one area of technology is out of date. They commit to a lifetime of learning and strive for excellence and resilience. They have an internal motivation from which they derive satisfaction, purpose and meaning while sharing the same aim – to keep their passengers and crews safe.
I extend my thanks to all aviation organisations, airlines, their pilots and crews who build, audit and maintain safety. Aviation is a High Reliability industry that pivots on the values of Gene Kranz, “failure is not an option”.
Despite aviation industry doubling in size every fifteen years, 2016 was the second safest year ever to fly. Your chance of being in a fatal airline accident is now about one in 3,200,000 (or one flight per 913 years of continuous flying*).
It is an earned privilege to fly. Pilots and crews will continue their lifetime of study, learning and practice to hone and develop their skills. I will be checked and recertified seven times in 2017.
Happy New Year!
With 2016 behind us, 2017 opens with more challenges and opportunities.
Coral and I think 2017 will be a great year. What we get out of live is commensurate with the effort we put in. Seize every day.
Coral and I extend our best wishes to everyone for a loving, safe and productive 2017.
- based on 2.5 hr average flight time. ie. 1 / 2.5 (hr) x 3.2m (flt/yr) / (24 x 365) (hr/day) (day/yr)
Diversions for a Diversion