In praise of ATNS

(Dapper Dan)

My name is Dapper Dan and I fly aeroplanes… like a boss. I’m known to regularly recall the time I landed a 19 seater in 53… wait for it: STEPS!!! “If you think that’s impossible, you should have seen the chap from the UN!”

Even Dapper Dan can make a mistake in single pilot IFR ops.

I am a man at the height of his professional prowess, and you know I know it! So I recently find myself merrily chucking along over Botswana. Homeward bound, song in heart and with high opinions of myself and the mighty little steed that I am ferrying home for a client.  

Harare Info gave me the cold shoulder, but the lady at Gabs was super friendly and bade me “bon voyage” and calls her at ETMIT.  At ETMIT I bring my particular brand of “la vie est belle” to the chaps at INFO north: Boet, do I suddenly realize that these peeps ain’t ’bouts the party, they bee all ’bout the J.O.B.  

Short, curt commands are issued at a pace that would make an LSD imbued auctioneer jealous. My little steed and I are cleared direct AVAGO for the 2A arrival.  

Now let it not be said that Dapper Dan is easily shaken from his high horse. It will take more than a highly competent and professional lady to shake my self-belief. One has to keep appearances up and all that. One has to believe in oneself, otherwise who else will believe in you? 

So, with the tiniest crack in my voice, I read back my clearance and then; well then lads, I made a mistake!  

“A what?” you say.  

I say: “Well, yes, erhm, I made a mistake.”  

You say: “A mistake? A cauliflower inspired finger painted interpretation of secularism in society?”  

No lads, Dapper Dan read back the clearance and then promptly made like a Nationwide MEL item and descended. (Just between us, I have never seen an engine on the 737’s MEL but seeing as items not listed, must be present and working for all flights, I take the an engine is crucial for flight… just saying). 

Well, a rather flustered INFO NORTH called me about a minute later and asked: “Dan old boy, confirm that in your infinite and well know wisdom, you are descending?”  

Now here I must admit to maybe just a little self-doubt starting to creep up the old spine.  I answered in the affirmative, I was indeed descending. At this point I knew with a spectacular clarity that my life would positively end if the lady at INFO asked why I was descending. You see, what had happened, is that thing that happens to other people, never to Dapper Dan. I made a mistake. My autopilot was off due to heavy turbulence (on those little steeds the magic that makes the autopilot work, ironically does not like to be worked like a cart horse) and I had been so busy trying to figure out how in the name of all that is good you make it from WKV Radial 218 to 03R that I… well, I think you get the idea.  

Flying IFR single pilot ops can be very rewarding when it goes all right.

But bless that angel of the airwaves. All the lady said was… “Change frequency to INFO NORTHWEST.” No snide remark, no -albeit, well deserved- chastising, just a simple and efficient: “Change frequency.”

I was descending out of her airspace and into lower airspace which is governed by a different frequency. 

A Dutchman whose accent, like my own, can cut wood  

Promptly I change and am greeted by one of my own kin. A Dutchman whose accent, like my own, can cut wood at a standard mile. Immediately, I feel infinitely safer in the arms of familiarity. In between explaining to a student pilot that Polokwane is actually not to the southeast of Pretoria and that he advises a left turn onto heading 350, he clears me to level 080.  

A little later, I ask the good man if I am still cleared for the AVAGO 2A… he just laughs at me and says: “Dan, mate, those lovely people up there in INFO NORTH know that you can fly the bum of a mosquito, but they can also hear when a chap might need a little help, so they have cleared you direct JSV for radar vectors onto 03R.” 

Now, I do not need to regale you with the story of my landing or the chat with APRON and GROUND. What I do want to say is this: 

I do not regularly fly in such highly controlled airspace, nor in places where there are two runways or so many procedures. All of this is daunting, even to Dapper Dan types. The smooth, efficient and professional way in which I was handled by the people from ORT ATNS was comforting and reassuring.  

To the people of ORT ATNS, I salute and thank you guys for a brilliant effort and wish you all many happy hours of bringing us home.  

DD. 

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