Saturday 3 December 2016

Video: Behind the scenes with unsung heroes who make Dublin Airport a soaraway success

Published 30/05/2015 | 02:30

Some 85,000 holidaymakers and business people will be in their care as they take to the skies each and every day over the summer months.

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But the staff in the air traffic control tower at Dublin Airport remain unflappable.

It is estimated that a plane will land or take off every 90 seconds at the airport in the capital throughout June, July and August.

Staff from the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) will safely guide as many as 5,000 planes through their journey in Irish skies each week during the coming summer months.

And away from the coffee shops and aisles of duty free, there is a bustling hive of activity in the parts of the airport that are out of view from the thousands of passengers.

As the airport celebrates its 75th year in business, it expects to break records as passenger numbers for the first four months of the year are already up 15pc in comparison to the same period in 2014.

Dave Collopy keeping an eye out for animals on the runway
Dave Collopy keeping an eye out for animals on the runway

"One of the first things to go (during the recession) was unnecessary travel which people just couldn't afford - and now it is coming back around again this year," Siobhan O'Donnell from the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) explained.

Like every establishment, there are dedicated staff members who have served the company for the majority of their working lives.

For Siobhan, this year marked her 31st year working at the airport after starting there as a secretary in 1984.

"In that year, there were 2.5 million passengers going through the airport, so I have seen that grow," she said.

Air passenger numbers in Dublin peaked in 2008 when 23.4 million passengers travelled through the terminal.

"I have been here for so many US presidents, Olympic homecomings and the Irish soccer team returning from Italia 90," she recalled.

"That morning we had Nelson Mandela, people came out to the airport and when Nelson Mandela came in that morning they were shouting 'Ooh ahh, Paul McGrath's da'.

"One of the main events, and it still gives me tingles to this day, was the Special Olympics in 2003.

"We had placards and teams of volunteers meeting the teams as they came off the aircrafts and they were marched through the terminal building. Staff and passengers stood back and cheered them coming in, it was very emotional."

One of the most important squads of workers in the airport is the team in fire station.

As well as providing assistance and regular fire and ambulance duties, they also carry out daily bird scaring operations.

Teams

Teams from the fire department travel around the airfield every morning and evening with equipment to encourage birds to leave the area. Any birds that come into contact with a plane or are found dead on the airfield are actually kept in a fridge. This is to preserve them, as they will be later examined by an ornithologist.

One of the team showed us two gulls and a hare when the Irish Independent went behind the scenes this week.

Watching over all of this are the air traffic controllers who are perched high in a tower on the far side of the airfield, with a bird's eye view of everything.

Darren Pollard explained that between 6am and 9am is their busiest time of the day in Dublin Airport.

"We would have landing or taking off on the runway every 90 seconds," he said.

"In the summer, due to more flights being put on for summer destinations, we will be working at the busiest times up to 5,000 aircrafts in a week here in Dublin Airport," Darren said.

"There are two areas where we work, we have the tower and we have the radar room. In the tower at any one time, we will have four people working up there.

"It is quite a calm environment, we receive a lot of training."

They monitor all surface movements on the runway as well as take-offs, approaches and landings.

"There are two pieces of concrete, but there are four different runways we can use at any one time, but it depends on the wind.

"A radar controller could have up to 20 aircraft on their screen at any one time," he added.

"We provide safe movement for planes that are arriving, departing and flying over Dublin airspace, and that is our priority here."

The air traffic control team has welcomed many jets from all over the world. And in recent years, they guided President Obama's Air Force One on to the tarmac.

The team said all planes were treated the same, but admitted that is a "special" one.

Dublin Airport have facilitated 870,000 extra passengers this year and they expect that number to continue to grow as two million extra seats are available this summer, which is an increase of 11pc on the same period last year.

Ms O'Donnell said that the number of passengers from the North choosing to use Dublin Airport also doubled last year, to 864,000.

Irish Independent

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