Sunday, November 06, 2016

The friendly giant

There was quite a bit of chatter just recently around my homebase about some friendly giant from Russia. For the first time in a while (almost three years in all) we got to see one of those Antonov An-124 planes, very useful for hauling around big and heavy stuff, but also the kind of aircraft that makes people go absolutely bonkers.

Face it, it is just another aircraft. It has about the same size and weight of a Boeing 747. Its shape and specifiations allow the transport of bulkier and heavier cargo and the fuselage can be lowered in order for the aircraft to be loaded by trucks from ground level. While a cargo 747 is just an adaption of the passenger model, the An-124 obviously had been designed for heavy loads from the beginning.

The 100 metric tonnes of cargo that were supposed to be loaded into our Antonov were not an issue at all. The plane could take another 50 tonnes on board, albeit with a range penalty for every bit of weight added. Flying from Basel to Korea with stops en-route sounds slightly old-school, but for our giant with 100t of cargo on board, it looked a fair deal. So much for all the technical aspects.

RA-82078 of Volga-Dnepr Airlines, Basel-Mulhouse, November 2005

As for the photo romantics out there, as soon as rumours start to spread about "the Antonov" (fyi, there are many other kinds of Antonovs and dozens of most variants out there!), patience is a word that gets deleted from peoples' minds and dictionaries. One question comes after another, as if there were different rules, regulations or conditions for "the Antonov". Any question that is answered by "no" or "I don't know" gets repeated a thousand times. Try to be one of those people in the know in these situations and your life will get utterly painful.

Those asking for things about "the Antonov" will most likely be people who only just recently shot out of the ground. They might be tourists (i.e. traveling from other airports or regions), newbies or a bit of both. Basic knowledge about air operations (and cargo ops in particular) may not be something you should count upon with such people, but even the slightest glimpse of common sense usually seems to be missing. All that results in yours truly having to answer questions about timings, runway use (even if there are hardly more than two proper options), sun position, parking position, the pilots' shoe sizes, their girlfriends' phone numbers as well as the exact vodka preferences of the loading crew.

"Mir wei luege" ("We'll see as we go") is a sentence often used where I come from and implies a relaxed attitude towards just about anything you can encounter in life. Air cargo operations are no different to that. For all the attempted persuasion to make our tourists and newbies believe that the information I gave them was purely indicative and that I still don't have any power in that, of course things had to go wrong on the final straight. The Friday afternoon arrival turned into a Thursday evening arrival. People had taken time off (from work, school or even their boyfriends or wives) to see "the Antonov" and in some cases to no avail. Maybe it teaches them not to get carried away to easily.

Do not get me wrong, I am not against people having fun or their dreams fulfilled (unless those dreams involve the wrong football teams, but that's an entirely different matter). But once more I am glad that the frenzy is over. At least until the next visit of a friendly giant … ;)

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