Cardiff Airport welcomed its largest ever aircraft yesterday – a formidable British Airways A380 on its first visit.
This incredible aircraft landed just after 9 am and spent time taxiing around the runway and taxiways to test various on-board and on the ground systems and procedures, before making a stop at the terminal and then heading across to the engineering hangar. It left later in the afternoon.
The flight was designed to test the airport’s capability as a diversion airfield, but what did this all mean for the NATS team at Cardiff’s control tower?
Well, as the double-decker A380 is the largest commercial aircraft in the world, it meant the NATS team had to spend many hours changing and adapting normal procedures at Cardiff Airport in order to successfully oversee its approach, arrival and departure.
For example, the airport had to increase its rescue and fire fighting capability from category 7 to category 9, with restrictions put on taxiway routings and spacing to allow for the increased taxi time that the A380 required.
Bespoke procedures were also agreed in the event of low visibility but thankfully the weather was good!
After close co-ordination with colleagues at Area Control in Swanwick and Bristol Airport throughout the morning, all aircraft flying to and from Cardiff Airport were arranged so that minimal disruption was caused to normal operations.
Negotiation with Flow Control meant that morning departures had left the airfield before the A380 arrived and some tactical management of the inbound schedule meant no airborne holding was required following its arrival.
We had already planned for a 15 minute hold on any arrivals following its landing, to allow time for the airport to inspect the runway in addition to the routine requirement, to ensure that the paved surface maintained its integrity after the movements of such a large aircraft. And it did.
An operation such as this really demonstrates the joined up approach that is needed between airports, airlines and air traffic control. The A380 is one of a new breed of aircraft and as more and more come into operation, and are utilised in regional as well as larger hub airports, the role of air traffic control becomes even more important, enabling airports to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible.
It also gives controllers a great opportunity to re-look at how we do things and adapt our procedures to suit specific aircraft as needed.
All in all, it was a good day for the airport, and for the control tower, as we all enjoyed one of the best views in the house!
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