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  • Dyfrig Gibbs

Levelling up.

Time has seemingly warped. Somehow quite a few weeks have passed since I posted an update. Time flies when you’re having fun… and also when you’re working your butt off.

As usual, the moment I’m catching to write this post is just after having departed Bristol airport. I’m currently coasting in over Normandy. Le Trenche and northern France are bathed in clear autumn sunshine. From 39000’ the details of the land and its stories are being told: the 80 year old gun turrets as clear as the rippled sand stretching out on long deserted beaches. Crossing this water in an aircraft is always evocative and a joy in equal measure. The first time I did, as a pilot, was with a friend from ATPL study at Bristol Groundschool. I was around the 100 hours total flight time mark, and figured it was time to stretch my legs and cross some water in my trustee - but ancient - Piper Warrior. Ben and I figured if we were going to go to France we should probably make it Le Touquet: it is a right of passage for any UK qualified pilot. Situated south west of Calais the crossing is not long, but long enough to make you prepare properly. The airfield itself is a Mecca of General Aviation. Enthusiasts from all over the UK and Northern Europe congress there. If you’re planning your hour building, I recommend it.

Our plan for that day was that I’d depart Kemble as early as possible, fly up to Gamston in north east England, pick up Ben and fly directly south, over the UK’s military hotbed in Lincolnshire, through London’s VFR corridor to the east and on to the south coast for our crossing from Lydd. We’d have lunch in France then fly it back in reverse. We planned and executed it all using traditional navigation methods. No Sky Demon on either of us. It was a great trip, definitely a milestone and a moment of progression in my development as a pilot. I’ve since made that crossing and a longer one to Holland in single engine piston aircraft numerous times, but what I can clearly remember from that very first one was a quiet that fell over me and, Ben as we coasted out away from England. We cruised at 5000’ and silently, without knowing it at the time, both became full of thought and wonder at the dog fights that took place in our very spot 80 years previously. I am still amazed and inspired by the skill and bravery of the men that took on that challenge.

This crossing I’m not at the controls, I’m in my company owned biz jet… with 160 other poor sods who’ve managed to navigate the ‘airport obstacle course’ that is trying to board a plane from the UK in 2021. It really is an absolute mess of paperwork, QR codes, stressed out and officious ground staff. The rigmarole of it makes my eyes water and stomach twist every time I witness the long queues of folk with bits of paper exploding out of the 14 plastic wallets each couple seems to carry. Honestly, even as someone who knows my way around an airport, the thought of doing this in plain clothes with Bella and the kids to go on holiday is not a peaceful one. I think we’ll stick with camping in the UK until it all blows over… and I’ve gone up a pay scale or five.

Anyway, on a positive note, I’m currently doing the Bristol - Palma - Vienna commute for the penultimate time. This is my second to last block operating out of Vienna before we have a well earned 2 weeks off, after which I’ll officially be based in Stansted!

Stansted is going to offer another chance for professional development I’m sure as it’ll mean flying with a whole new bunch of crews with really varied experiences so I can’t wait to get know them and, no doubt, learn from them. The most wonderful thing about the transfer though, is that it’s going to mean I get to spend almost twice as much time per week at home compared to what I have been since the end of June this year. We all desperately need this adjustment in the balance of life.

The missing few weeks between posts have been consumed with a decent amount of work. I’ve had some really great days flying. I’m rapidly approaching 500 hours on the Airbus now and I can see why it’s deemed a milestone: my capacity bucket is growing daily allowing a far better oversight of the whole operation, greater confidence in my own skill and thus an extra level achieved in terms of leadership skills and situational awareness. It also means that a four sector day, complete with twenty five minute turn arounds and tech issues, doesn’t leave me, essentially, lobotomised.

When I leave home each week, as I am now, I feel strongly that I’m starting a 6 day obstacle course: embarking on a week long mission - a super Mario level - out collecting coins but really with the sole objective of crossing safely back through the threshold of home and hugging my family. Last weeks mission was compiled thus way…

Pre day 1: Land in Vienna at 2300 local. This means in bed prepared for day 1 at 0100.

Day 1: Alarm at 0400… yes, three hours later. I was tired. Planned for the day was Ciampino first and Palma after. When we have four sectors we normally split the Pilot flying duties as sectors 1&4 and 2&3. This means you get one trip out and one trip back each. Captains always take the Ciampino as the approach can be tricky to plan and it’s quite short in terms of available tarmac. For once I thought, that’s good, I’ll do sectors 2&3, It’ll give me a chance to wake up/acclimatise/drink coffee. I met the Captain - nice guy - ‘morning’ I said ‘How are you?’

‘Tired’ he replied, ‘do you mind taking 1&4?’

‘Of course not’ came my faux chipper reply.

Actually it was great, I was chuffed to finally PF the Ciampino and it went really well. As did the trip back from Palma later in the day. I could of done with being tucked into bed about 4 minutes after landing though.

Day 2: Standby. Studying for my upcoming ‘Safety and emergency procedures’ retraining day and a 5k blast in the park to recover from all the sitting.

Day 3: Sofia and Brussels. Nice captain, two new destinations and great weather. Straight forward day.

Day 4: Standby. Camper hunting, home admin, flight home searching and another run in Prater park. It is the only part of the city that I’ve bonded with. The search for my route home revealed that I could, potentially, get home by 0815 on my first day off, If, that is, I could catch the flight to Palma which was scheduled to leave 35 minutes after I was scheduled to land back in Vienna. Mission on.

Day 5: So we’ve gotta fly Bucharest - Vienna - Sicily - Vienna and land on time at the very latest. With 25 minutes planned on the ground each time, this is a challenge - especially when you throw in dodgy weather in southern Italy and pretty decent passenger numbers. I let the captain know of my hopes and he agreed we’d do our best and that when we landed, if it was still on, I could leave the plane with the passengers and run through the airport.

Long story short: we landed on time. I left with the passengers, ran through the length of Vienna international and just made it to the flight to Palma on time.

Going home! Just a small matter of 11 hours to kill in Palma airport over night: the connecting flight home was scheduled to leave at 0650 the following day.

I have watched ‘the Terminal’ with Tom Hanks - It clearly inspired me. If you haven’t, you should, but in summary: Hanks plays a Russian trapped in an airport. He makes it his home. I’m a thrifty inventive sort of chap, and, whilst I didn’t build a fountain in a closed part of the airport, I did find a quiet dark room in an international airport in which I could sleep a few hours.

Day 6: Home! My Angels in my arms! Happiness is this moment!

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