Bram Fischer pulls out all stops for Boeing 747

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Sabrina Dean

Is it a bird? Is it Superman? No, it’s a Boeing 747 coming in to land at Bram Fischer International Airport (BFIA) in Bloemfontein.
Residents in the city are not used to seeing planes of this size coming in to land, so it was quite an unexpected sight in the Bloemfontein sky when the jumbo arrived around 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

The British Airways flight from London was diverted to BFIA to refuel after it couldn’t land in Cape Town due to heavy fog. British Airways SA spokesperson, Stephen Forbes, said by the time refuelling had been completed, the flight crew had exceeded its permissible flight hours and passengers were therefore disembarked and accommodated and fed in Bloemfontein overnight.
“It was an unusual situation that affected all airlines. Everybody concerned, including ACSA and BFIAl, was able to manage as best as possible given the circumstances,” he said.

BFIA Manager Esmaralda Barnes said it was quite challenging to process the high volumes of travellers, more than 200, disembarking from the boeing. Challenges included baggage handling and immigration and customs processes.
In addition, the fuel pipe is allegedly smaller than those usually used to refuel jumbos and that process also allegedly took much longer than anticipated.

Barnes says the Civil Aviation Authority issued BFIA with an operating licence to handle category 7 aircraft. “However, we are allowed to handle category 8 aircraft types, which is the category the Boeing 747 falls into,” she said.
Barnes says elements such as aviation firefighting and rescue manning levels, air traffic control and hosting of relevant government departments, among others, had to be up to standard for the flight to be diverted to BFIA, which is not actually a nominated international diversion airport.

She says there are no plans to expand on international operations at BFIA. “It’s not really feasible to spend huge amounts on upgrades just because we receive one diversion. It just doesn’t make business sense,” she said. The flight meanwhile took to the skies again on Thursday just after noon. Forbes said British Airways had also flown in a duty manager to help facilitate the check-in process in Bloemfontein.

Barnes said it was very full at BFIA on Thursday morning but they had deployed more staff to facilitate the process. “Information received from stakeholders at the time was that staff were coping, facilitating passengers efficiently and trying their level best to make it a seamless effort,” she said. Forbes told Courant last week no particular issues had been raised about operations at BFIA and he believed everyone had managed as best as possible given the circumstances. “If there were issues, we would sit with ACSA at a later stage and see what potentially could have been done to improve the situation should it happen again, using this as an opportunity to see how we all could do better,” he said.

sabrina@centralmediagroup.co.za