Sky Journalist experiences RAF airbridge

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by armchair_jihad, Nov 19, 2006.

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  1. Sky Journalist experiences RAF 'airbridge'

    The RAF's fleet of ageing TriStar passenger jets - 30-year-old technology, bought second-hand from airlines - has become a byword for delay and disruption. Understandably, service people who've completed six months or more in the two most hazardous postings get intensely cheesed off when they have to wait days, or even more than a week, for a flight home.Having tasted some of that frustration, sitting here, wondering when I'll leave Afghanistan, I can understand.

    Day One:

    Arrived by transport aircraft from the southern city of Kandahar. Allocated a bed in a ten-man tent in the sprawling transit zone and told to check in for UK flight at O630 tomorrow.

    Day Two:

    One hundred and six of us queue through luggage X-ray and registration. They're destined for leave at the end of duty, or heading for bases in Britain and Germany for the priceless two weeks' R and R (rest and recuperation) awarded each tour. After two hours, we're told by the RAF movements officer that bad weather has diverted the inbound aircraft from RAF Brize Norton to Muscat and it may not be able to land in Kabul.

    Yet, low cloud and occasional rain flurries have not grounded German and Canadian military aircraft, nor the airlines flying in and out of the neighbouring civil terminal. They fume about the delay. This is their own precious time being wasted. Hours they should be spending with loved ones.

    At one o' clock, we troop back to the departure lounge - to be told the good news that the flight may actually arrive; the bad is that there's no certainty it will leave today. Then, just before four, we hear the three jet engines bringing the TriStar into land. More cheering. The mood lightens further as the crew disgorge their passengers and turn the aircraft round in record time. In under an hour we're filing through the dusk and into our seats. But dreams of home were premature. It's the cruellest twist: strapped in, safety briefed, and scenting meals warming in the galleys, the captain announces that while the engines were running up, the wind's changed direction. A fully-loaded aircraft needs to take off into the breeze. Taxiing to the other end of the runway would take until nightfall.

    In this thin air, a mile above sea level, the flight deck needs to see a fifteen hundred-foot mountain ridge at the end of the take off. Night vision goggles are not compatible with the TriStar, so after-dark take-offs and landings are banned. In short, we're going nowhere. More than twelve hours after we checked in, an armoured convoy takes us the mile or so to the nearest British base of Camp Souter where we squeeze in among the host unit, Number Seven Signals Regiment.

    Day Three

    Better luck this morning, although the forecast is for worse rain. We board up again for the high-security convoy back to the airport. At least the jet's waiting for us. Finally we're airborne, stripping off our body armour as we climb beyond missile range. Four hours on comes our first refuelling stoop at RAF Akrotiri, in Cyprus. Within an hour, another setback. Engineers have found a piece of metal embedded deep into one of the aircraft's ten tyres. It's unsafe to continue with that wheel, and there is not another on the base. A sardonic round of applause greets Flight Lieutenant Becky Screech's announcement that the island's being scoured for a spare.

    The RAF among us look sheepish. The soldiers were incandescent.

    "They're like the last of the nationalised industries," grumbled one Major. "And behave with all that that entails. Sure the Army get things wrong from time to time. But this is rank incompetence." The aircraft's captain could only agree. Spare tyres used to be held at Akrotiri, but were withdrawn to Britain to save costs. "It's ridiculous," he told me. "Aircraft have punctures just like cars. We simply can't continue. Remember, it was a burst that caused Concorde to crash. There should be replacements kept here and in Kabul for just this happening." Seven Signals' boss, Maj John Fradley is among the more anxious. Today he turns forty-five. He should be celebrating with his family in Germany. That depends on whether the RAF - furiously criticised for troubles not all of their own making - can deliver the best birthday present- and get him home before midnight. Or another Major, whose wife has gone into labour. He spends anxious hours on the phone getting updates from the maternity ward. Nearby, a young woman soldier sits lost in thought. She has to be in time for a family funeral.

    Day Four

    Another early start at quarter to six. Then another delay. We will be getting back today, but won't take off for four hours yet! The RAF's glory is based on the Battle of Britain's achievements of outnumbered fighter squadrons. Sixty-six years on 'The Few' now means the scandalous shortage of transport on which the effectiveness and morale of forces depends. Whatever the circumstances, going home is, after combat, the most emotionally-charged experienced. Messing it up risks even more problems in keeping and motivating those of who so much is already being asked.

    Recently, senior officers and politicians have taken to referring to the "Covenant" between the nation and its military. Not much sign of the services' efforts being honoured in their endless wait to get home.

    In full,,30000-1241184,00.html
  2. SKY and Journalist both words that should never ever be used in polite society and certainly not together.
    Not once in that piece of garbage did I see any reference to the RAF's point of view, seems like typical Green Army whinging straight into tame journo's ear.
  3. You are probably both right. I have been stranded somewhere in the ME on more than one occasion, and it is very upsetting. He has written the article from the point of view of a passenger. It does not cost much to keep spare tyres in Akrotiri and Kabul. This looks more a question of poor management. For goodness sake there has been enough bad publicity about RAF AT just lately. It does not save any money to send a Herc out on a spec to Cyprus with a Tri Star tyre in the back. If the RAF is so short of money then it is time to take the Govt to task. That is, if the RAF leadership is prepared to do it.

    This is not really about safety. No pilot or air engineer is going to take to the sky with a big piece of metal in the tyre, so please do not get side tracked with this argument. This is about running or not running a military schedule. Spares are required to do this, which is why I question the management. The only thing I thought was odd, was the night take off out of Kabul. I have done it many a time in a Herc, but I did not realise the Tri Star was so restricted. Maybe a Tri Star pilot could explain that bit.
  4. Air Safety is paramount. No point being dead when you get home. Any delay for safety is a good thing. Where we are bad is in COMMUNICATING the issue to the Pax. Where pax are bad is in thinking that the delay is part of some deliberate conspiracy to piss them off.
  5. Not very well written for the RAF is it? Although I can be accused of being incandescant in similar situations, it is not against the people (although they may feel it is). The RAF still do a fine job.

    Their safety record is, compared to some airlines, exempalary, and let's get one thing straight; landing at Kabul or any one of the other sihthole airstrips is not hte same as landing at Heathrow. The fire and rescue facilities are not on the same par either, although they are still top rate, they would struggle with 200 burns victims coming in straight from the air head in a oner. Again a bit different to Heathrow with a multitude of hospitals around it, not to mention multiple strips. It may be nice to take off, but I would rather be late than end up in a smashed up mess at the end of the runway which would cause more delays for days to come as it was cleaned up.

    What should be focused on is that the RAF don't have new and better aircraft for this task and that penny pinchers (not the RAF) have withdrawn spares to UK from places like Cyprus. When we stop running the forces like a civialian company (which it is not, nor is it here to turn a profit) and abandon insane civialian working practices like "just in time" supplies/spares (a concept my civialian friends also rail at in their line of work).

    The "Few" did indeed perform a miracle during the Battle of Britain, let the Blue jobs manage themselves and I feel sure they could pull more miracles out of the bag.
  6. Nigegilb wrote
  7. Nige - I think lehrer is talking about the US army!
  8. I know John Fradley well. I'm pretty sure that he celebrated his other birthdays to the hilt. Seems a shame to namecheck him like that.

    But the RAF really don't do themselves any favours do they? The tales of shift workers at Akrotiri etc and the passage of information to the PAX is in my experience absolutely shocking. The purse strings should be loosened. Was Broon delayed yesterday?
  9. We may get on better if parts of the RAF and navy budgets were not being diverted to the army. And the RAF has been hit hard by lean, just in time logistics, redundancies,pvr's etc
  10. You know he won't have been.
    The real issue is that we can only maintain the service we can afford - and given we have no money that is not going to be good!
  11. Re: Night take off. Most airfields have a standard instrument departure. Military aircraft comply with civil aviation rules most of the time. I only ever did visual departures and arrivals at Kabul, mostly on NVG so I am not sure what the Tri Star is doing. On a normal departure it does not matter if it is day or night, hence my question.

    A further point on aircraft spares. Back in 2002 I broke down in my C130 and belled up for spares. It was the start of a weekend. I was told the spares would not be sent out til the following Monday. I asked why. I was told that the contract had just changed and that from now on ac spares could only be delivered on civ-air Mon to Fri. This is an example of the kind of thinking that is endemic amongst bean counters. I don't know if this has now been changed, but someone had decided to sign up to a weekday contract for a 24/7 organisation. Unbelievable.
  12. msr

    msr LE

    You couldn't make it up, could you?

  13. Well it might be that, although few in the Army have seen any signs of large investment recently. On the other hand, it might be the limited funds available (thanks, Gordon!) have been diverted from AT to Typhoon, thereby leaving us better prepared for fighting the Warsaw Pact than we've ever been. That's mostly the fault of politicians, although I haven't heard the higher echelons of the RAF insisting that AT should be a higher priority. As for the Navy, I hear that the cost growth on Astute alone is greater than the Army's equipment budget this year.

    Ah well, boys must have their toys and, if the price is just a bunch of seriously delayed soldiers then, clearly, so be it.

  14. A_J's link to the story doesn't work. For anyone who wants it, the full story is here.

  15. Interestingly enough, at a recent brief I attended given by the RAF, in a purple environment, even they admitted openly that their 'airbridge' service is 'absolutely dreadful and rightly criticised'.

    Dare I add 'utterly, utterly useless'...? :D