Confessions of a Road Warrior II / Happy Landings

Marketing Team - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

It was a cool, moonless night in the middle of Fall and I was scheduled to depart from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei Taiwan and make the short 1 hour+ hope/flight from Taipei to Hong Kong.  Not a problem I thought – easy jump and a good way to end up the week, after a long travel week to Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, working with and training clients on the finer nuances of ECM technologies, and now back home to the security of one’s own bed, home cooking, wife, kid, and amah (housekeeper), plus a visit to friends over the weekend.

I boarded the Cathay Pacific 747-400, the biggest plane in the sky at the time and settled in next to two Australians.    Before I left, I noted on the TV screens in the terminal that a typhoon was advancing on Taiwan and Southern China, but really didn’t think much about it, because we seemed well outside of harm’s way, and not even particularly sure what risk a typhoon presented, I settled into my seat for the short 1hr+ flight to Hong Kong.

About half way through the flight, I woke up and I noticed that the plane was really rocking.   It would then pitch up and then pitch down.  Yaw, twisting motion side to side. Control problems!    What the heck is going on?   I looked out the window and I noticed the biggest meanest darkest clouds around us at 30K+ feet and I thought, oh oh, this cannot be good.    Lights flickered in the cabin and then people started to gasp and shriek with each sudden, violent jerk of the plane.

This can’t  be, I said to myself – this 747-400 is the biggest commercial plane in the sky and it’s getting swatted around like it’s a bug, given the awesome power of the elements outside us, the winds, the updrafts, and turbulence.   In these circumstances, I noticed that cabins get very still and quiet, ie. conversation ceases and the assumption that we’re going to survive is no longer taken for granted.   People contemplate their mortality and their trust/faith and reliance in air travel.  

We forged on to Hong Kong.   Now landing in Hong Kong in the 1990’s, before the opening of the new airport, entailed coming in from the south, advancing across the Hong Kong Harbor, then taking a radical right hand turn before the impacting the hills of Kowloon, and then descending base to final from the West to East, just over the apartment buildings of southern Kowloon, where the population density is roughly 75,000 people per square mile and the apartment buildings present a pretty decent challenge to any flight crew.   There was a single landing strip at the old Kai Tak airport, for take offs and landings, which of course simplified the choices for incoming and departing pilots.

Just before landing, more turbulence, more buffeting and the lights of the apartments are looking dangerously close, that I could almost reach out and touch.    This is a wild landing I thought!    At that moment, the pilot aborted the landing, pulled up the nose, and the biggest commercial plane in the sky was returning to the airspace over the South China Sea, to sort out what to do next.

You could cut the tension in the cabin with a knife.   It dawned on everyone that we in fact were riding on air and tonight the air was not cooperating, nor did it ever really have to.  From my flight experience, I knew that the pilot was making a decision to do a go-around or to divert to another airport such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen, where more than likely the conditions would be the same, and fuel management could then become a challenge.

I felt the pilot make a 180 degree turn back to Hong Kong and I thought, OK here we go, he’s going back in for a second try from the opposite direction and he is going to land ‘hot’.   Sure enough we were descending at a rapid rate of speed and thrust and sink rate, somewhat like a fighter onto an aircraft carrier, and he was using speed to create extra lift and offset windshear and turbulence.   

Bang!   The wheels landed hard on the runway and I felt the Captain throw on maximum reverse thrust and apply full brakes as we hurtled down the runway, slowly decelerating.    We’re going to make it I thought as I was watching sheets of water cascading down the runway outside of the window.

The Captain came in on the intercom and thanked us for our patience (very British of you) and also indicated that this was the worst flying weather in his 20+ years of flying.   I said to one of my Australian seat mates, “Thank God for this aircraft, God, and that pilot”.     To which, in typical Aussie wry spirit, he said “Right Mate!   And not necessarily in that order.”  

There was unbelievable overall relief in the cabin and with our flight down, the authorities closed the airport.

The lesson learned here folks that every flight and everyday actually introduces risks and 1) every landing that you can walk away from is a good landing and 2) every new healthy day is a Gift from God and a new opportunity to help customers and business partners -- it should be appreciated as such.

More on the trials and trepidations of flying and some much needed levity in the next blog and your feedback is of course welcome.

 Al Ramsay / Marketing Manager / Western Integrated Systems

Asia Pacific Typhoons



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