Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Flight to Remember: AME4542

Fuerza Aerea Española

Weeks ago, we received a note coming from the Spanish Government. The Foreign Minister of Spain along with his cohorts will be visiting Tacloban City for one day, utilizing the Spanish Airforce's Airbus A310. That note didn't really catch my attention until the day of its arrival. Heck, I did not expect that I'd be the one who would handle this aircraft - from giving initial instructions during its initial descend up to its landing clearance.

It was such an honor to handle this VIP flight. Indeed, it was a first in my career as an Air Traffic Controller. And with that, my experience got even featured here! Thanks Darryl for the feature! Great write-up!

Now here's the article, lifted from the blog of Philippine Flight Network:

It started out as a routine shift for Philippine Air Traffic Controller Renz Bulseco at the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport in Tacloban City. What Bulseco did not expect is that he would leave his shift "aviation star struck" having added an important milestone to his exciting career.

Raised in Davao City, Bulseco followed in the footsteps of his uncle, a Davao Air Traffic Controller, and landed himself a job in Tacloban City after he finished college. Although his original dream was to become a commercial pilot, he found the role of Air Traffic Controller to be an interesting and more affordable alternative.

"Ever since I was young, I was obsessed with airplanes," said Bulseco. "Maybe it was because we used to live near the airport. Since then, airplanes have never failed to fascinate me." If you can imagine just how much a regular aircraft fascinates him, you can imagine how much his interest peaked when he learned that a VIP flight would be arriving during his shift.

"I wasn't really expecting a VIP flight to arrive. It was a routine shift until my shift supervisor informed me about the arriving VIP aircraft," said Bulseco. "I read a written request weeks before from the Spanish Air Force but I never expected that I would actually be the one to control their flight. I had never handled a special operation flight until that day. I was a bit anxious yet excited at the same time since VIP flights have different air traffic procedures."

The in-bound VIP aircraft was a Spanish Air Force Airbus A310-304 carrying Spain's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo y Marfil was in the Philippines for a trade mission and to explore possible business opportunities between the two countries. Several Spanish companies are keen on investing in Public Private Partnership infrastructure projects in the Philippines including railways, roads, and airports. Thirty-seven percent of the entire world's transport infrastructure has been undertaken by Spanish companies.

Spain believes that its former colony is the ideal place for Spanish companies to establish their product hubs for the Asian region. "The Philippines is the best hub we can think of to introduce our companies in Asia to strengthen our trade relations. I hope that we can start very soon," said the Spanish Foreign Minister. "I have to admit that Spain is too late, but we are here to recover the time we have lost." The Minister was accompanied by a 50-person delegation representing Spain's top twelve to fifteen companies from a range of sectors to explore business opportunities with Filipino counterparts.

The Airbus A310 carrying the Spanish Foreign Minister arrived in Tacloban City where he met with some of the victims of last year's super typhoon. The Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation has been a generous donor assisting many Typhoon Haiyan victims in the province of Leyte.

The aircraft is one of two specially customized Airbus A310 VIP aircraft that are operated by the Spanish Air Force for the transportation of the King, President of Spain, high-ranking government officials, and other members of the Spanish Royal Family. King Juan Carlos of Spain always uses the military aircraft while other members of his family use scheduled airlines. Queen Sofia is even rumoured to have used Ryanair when she visited her brother, an exiled King of Greece, when he was recovering from heart surgery in London.

View from the Tower

Airbus A310, taxiing its way to the active runway.

Bulseco did not expect that the day could get any better until he received a call from Captain Alberto Rodriguez Gonzalez, the aircraft's pilot. "The captain called us from the control tower and offered a  quick tour inside the Airbus A310," said Bulseco. "That was a nice gesture from the captain. He is such a nice person!"

According to Bulseco, part of the interior of the aircraft was much like what people would expect of a standard Airbus A320 aircraft that is currently operated all over the Philippines. However, the Airbus A310 is much bigger than its smaller yet modern counterpart and this particular aircraft was configured for VIP travel. 

"The interior was like a hotel, filled with intricately designed rooms with lush bedrooms and conference halls. It also had some seats at the back portion and had spacious leg room," said Bulseco. "It truly exceeded my expectations. The interior was stunning!"

The Spanish VIP air fleet has been plagued by mechanical failures in recent months. Earlier this month, one of the Airbus A310 aircraft suffered a massive malfunction in the Dominican Republic stranding Queen Sofia when the braking system malfunctioned during take off. It is the fourth in a series of incidents involving Spain's VIP air fleet in the first few months of this year. Earlier this year, an Airbus A310 suffered an electrical fault in-flight while carrying Prince Felipe from Santo Domingo to Honduras. The fault caused the aircraft to return to the airport.

The Spanish VIP air fleet is operated by the 45th Group of the Air Force based at Torrejon Air Base just 24 kilometres outside of Madrid. The purchase of a newer Airbus A330 aircraft to serve as the official plane of the King and the President of Spain is currently pending the approval of the Council of Ministers of Spain.

The Airbus A310 aircraft that travelled to the Philippines was originally delivered to Air France in 1990 before being purchased by the Spanish Government in 2002. The aircraft is currently 23.5 years old. After arriving from Manila, the airplane remained in Tacloban for approximately five hours. It later headed to Clark before departing for Hanoi, Vietnam.

As for Renz Bulseco, the special visit to Tacloban was a special memory that he will never forget. "It was such an honour to handle a VIP flight. It felt great to be honest," said Bulseco. "It was an important milestone in my career as a Philippine Air Traffic Controller."

1 comment:

  1. So cool especially that BED!! I wouldn't mind sleeping for hours in that bed!


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