Materialisation: (n., U.) an occasion when someone or something appears, often suddenly.

Hello dear readers, and welcome back to our weekly blog.

This week, we are going to talk about neighbours. Well of course, most of us do have neighbours, and there is usually hardly anything to say about them, unless they are being either very good or very bad neighbours. The nice gentleman from down the street who always says hello rarely makes the headlines.

As you are now used to, I am taking this story from my time as an air traffic controller. I was on duty one Sunday morning at the airport where I spent most my career, and we had a little bit of commercial traffic, nothing intense, but enough to keep the team busy. A series of departing aircraft were taxing down to the holding point with my colleague doing the ground sector, and I was vectoring one single arrival. The plan was to let departures go until the arrival reached about 4 NM for touchdown, let the inbound aircraft land, and then carry on with the outbounds.

When the first departure called me, the landing aircraft was still about 10 miles out, so it was still more than comfortable, so I issued the take-off clearance immediately. The following, somewhat bizarre conversation followed:

TWR: “BigJet123, wind 260 degrees, 7 knots, runway 32, cleared for take-off”

BIG123: “Cleared for take-off runway 32, BigJets123”

Nothing could be more standard. But then, it happened:

BIG123: “Errmmm, tower, this is BigJets123, we are unable to take-off, there is a pedestrian on the runway…”

TWR: “BigJets 123, huh, say that again?? Confirm a pedestrian???”

BIG123: “Affirm sir, there is a pedestrian crossing the runway in front of us, we are unable to depart at the moment”

Okay. This is not something you hear every day. Fortunately. My first reaction was to cancel the take-off clearance, inform the arrival to expect a missed approach, as the runway appeared to be blocked and that we are “looking into it”…

By the time I finished informing the aircraft that we had to hold off on all movements as we were uncertain of the runway status, one of my colleagues was already on the phone with the airport security, asking them to scramble all available vehicles to the runway threshold, whilst another was watching with binoculars, frantically yelling “I see him! I see him!”

With the aircraft operations stopped, an airport is pretty much of a useless thing, and everybody is in a tizzy to restart as soon as possible, but up in the tower, things were relatively calm, since we had nothing to do but wait for the airport security to declare the runway clear and usable again. So it quickly turned into a watch party where we a small fleet of 4×4 cars were paying hide and seek with a “hiker” who apparently had understood he had done something wrong and was trying to make a run for it and hide in the bushes on the airport compound. To be honest, it was quite entertaining to watch.

Well, finally, the chase show came to an end and the pedestrian was caught and brought back by car to the office, and we could eventually restart our flow of air traffic, much to the relief of everybody.

But then, the best part of the story was still to come. The intruder, when interviewed by the security officer who “caught” him, explained ingratiatingly that he was walking from his home to his cousin’s, who lives on the other side of the airport. Now, of course, he is used to taking the long way around the airfield, but on that very day, he saw a hole in the fence, so he thought something to the tunes of “Oh, what the hell, I’ll try”, and smuggled himself into the airport.

Of course, the security officer asked him if he realized how dangerous it was, and if he saw the airplanes, why he continued. To which his brilliant reply was: “Oh, the aircraft saw me, we waved at each other with the pilot, and anyway I would cross in the lines.”

Ah yes, the lines. That big pedestrian crossing at the beginning of the runway…

Now, dear friends, as you can see, even in the most controlled and secure environments, many improbable things can still happen. So be on the lookout! Even if you think you are in a completely secure place, you will see that no system is completely airtight, or “foolproof”. There’s always a gap in a fence, a loophole in a procedure, a banana peel on the floor.

Keep a good look out, fly safe and see you next week!

Pedestrian crossing. Or is it?

P.S: What I still do not understand as of today, is how did he expect to get back out of the airport. One hole in a fence is already very unlikely, let alone two. But we will never know ?