Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Formula 1, Day 1

I got to work the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 last week. It is not nearly as glamorous as you might imagine, but despite that, fun was had. I'm going to bore you to death over the next few days with a behind the scenes overview of my week at the Abu Dhabi Formula One.

Day One:

My Flight for AUH leaves at 11:00, so I need to aim for a 09:30 arrival at Seeb airport. A leisurely morning becomes an outright panic when I realize my phone died overnight, and I need to get one sorted before I get on the plane, as my Joining instructions for this event are "Call us when you get there and we'll tell you where to go because it's extremely complicated and you will never find us unless you are actually on the phone while in the taxi."

After consulting with Twitter, a plan is hatched, which went to absolute shambles in short order because nobody here ever opens a shop on time. Much Panic, gnashing of teeth, 1 Failed Attempt to purchase a Blackberry at the Nawras head office, and just in time to make my flight, I purchased a 20 Rial Nokia from Airport Duty free. Thanks a million to whomever it was who suggested that!

On arrival in Abu Dhabi, I got the only taxi driver in the entire UAE who does not know how to speak English or Arabic or Farsi or Hindi or Urdu. The communication issue was further compounded by his lack of any knowledge whatsoever of Abu Dhabi, or Yas Island.

What I Said: "Yas Island, East Exit, Aldar Offices, I'll direct you from there."

What he heard: "I would very much like to circumnavigate the entirety of Abu Dhabi Airport, checking in at each an every gate surrounding the periphery, and eventually getting menaced by some rather intimidating chaps with automatic weapons"

Eventually, I took over driving the taxi, and trusty phone to ear, found my way to the Operations Village.

The Operations Village, which was to be my home for the next week, was a sort of gourmet Labor camp, comprised of 200+ portable trailers, with 4 beds in each, a recreation area which had been pressed into service as event offices. Surrounded by Razorwire, with security controlling access to the facility, it was a little like being in a minimum security prison.

In the office, the Staff Welfare team are counting room keys, radios, marshals tabbards, overalls, t shirts, access passes, and a million other things. It looks hellish, tedious, and thankless. I'm suddenly thrilled that I'll be strictly administrative on this one.

Due to the hasty eviction of the laborers who used to live there, and the subsequent short notice handover to the F1 Organizers, the carefully planned room allocation system went out the window, and when I arrived my room had been taken over by some other women. Thankfully, I packed a sleeping bag, so I can always crash out on a floor somewhere.

The Chief Medical Officer pops in and offers me a lift to the Circuit, where my office awaits. Nearly hyperventilating from the excitement, I pile in, and we're off. On arrival at Race Control, I am freaking speechless.

The track, the hotel, the paddock, Media canter, and marina must have set AD back Billions and Billions of dollars. Whereas Bahrain built a (wonderful) plain, simple trick on an empty area of sand, AD built a city, a mega mall, a Marina, hotels, grandstands for 50,000, and a gigantic amusement park. In two years. Unfuckinbeliveable.

I set up my office, meet a few of the early arrived key figures, and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening cutting little laminated phone lists into pocket sized squares. Professional motorsport is usually doing hideously boring stuff in an interesting environment.

Discussing sleeping arrangements over beers later that night, it emerges that Chris, Christopher, and Richard have one bed spare in thier cabin, so I'll bunk in with them for the week. This is Excellent news, because they are men. Male roommates means I will get all the wardrobe space to myself, I will not have to put up with lengthy beauty routines, and because men take fast showers, there will be plenty of hot water left for me. Win!

I toddle off to bed at about 1:00 am, for a 7:00 am start the next day.

Later in the week: Day 2.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Air Traffic Control Issues

Just a Quick one,

Last Week, while drinking beer with a number of (off duty) Pilots in Abu Dhabi, I was asked about the systems failure in MCT air traffic control. And I was all like Wha?? Huh??? And then they said yeah, everybody up here is talking about it, because it was like, really bad. And I was all, No way! Because we have a great ATC training college here and I think we take our air safety rather more seriously than that, so why don't you stuck up pilots just suck it? And they were like, go home and ask your ATC buddies.

Jump to a couple of days ago when I arrive home and get caught up on the blogs. Lo and behold, two blogs are talking about the system going down, chaos, and Airprox events. Whaaa??? Before we continue, Have any of you read Muscat Confidential's posts on the issue? If not go read them now.

There are not a lot of comments, but one worth highlighting is in the first post, written buy someone who claims to be a Controller in Muscat. I have thoughtfully put the interesting part in bold. See Below.

Muscat ATC SSK said...

1)if you are talking about human error i am with you but Omani technicians aren't exempted (most important thing they've to learn through) Similar problem happen in Melbourne and Ireland according to our radar sys manufacture company.

2)if you talking about covering up ,every country has own policies( I've never came across of air miss happen in States or N. Zealand ! and as a passenger you have no right to question the country of what happen that day ,you can only ask the airline you have traveled with . Sure they'll have an answer if they have filled a report.

Ummm... the above strikes me as the writings of an extremely defensive individual who feels that multiple Airprox events and a system crash are not a big deal. Because, who are you to question us or expect reasonable answers and transparency? Ladies and Gentlemen, your lives may be in that guy's hands.

ATC systems do go down occasionally, the US had a huge issue with the digital flight plans system abut ten years ago, which caused massive delays but not much in the way of safety issues. More interestingly, about this time last year, Sanwick which controls (I think) Area, Approach, and Departure traffic for all of London, as well as Area traffic for most of Northern Europe, had a major failure.

They, like our local contemporaries, were working with little basic radar blips, charts, landlines, and radios. Unlike our local associates, as far as I'm aware, there were no Airprox events on this one, despite it occuring in some of the most congested airspace in the world. The failure was reported in the papers, and a transparent answer for the problem was eventually provided by the concerned authorities. If you are a dork, like me, here is an excellent explanation of how it worked when Sanwick went down Here: http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/general_aviation/read.main/4157056/1/#45

(Jet Driver if you are reading, could you Fact Check for the last paragraphs regarding Sanwick please? )

However, the thing I find most surprising is the generalized silence that greeted the revelations. like, few comments on the blogs, nothing that I am aware of in the papers, and an apparent embargo on any one affiliated with DGCAM or Oman Air speaking about it. I rang a few friends who would know what happened, and they wouldn't tell me Anything that has not already been published because they are afraid for their jobs. The words Witchhunt, Scapegoat, and Cover-up featured heavily in our conversations.

I think this is the biggest story broken by a blogger in Oman, but nobody in the print media seems to want to touch it. WTF? We're talking about the ENTIRE ATC (and for a short time RADAR) system being brought down, Airprox events that followed, a near miss on a plane carrying ministers, all due due to what appears to be staggering incompetency by a senior systems guy. Add that to the widespread allegations of nepotism, nationalism and bad management in the tower and DGCAM and you have, I think, a story and a problem that people would like to know about.

That's all for today. I promise to write about the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 starting tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Play Dough Nazis

Quick one today, as I am operating on a eight-day build up of Hangovers and Sleep Deprivation. Abu Dhabi Was waaaay more wonderful than I had imagined, and I have about seventeen posts worth of material to share. It was an outrageous time.

When I picked the kid up from school today, I was testily greeted by the head teacher for her year, informing me that the week I was gone was my week for the Play Dough Rota. My Failure to deliver two giant batches of Homemade Play dough while Simultaneously being in another country running the biggest Motorsport event the region has ever seen, clearly reflects that I am not interested in my child's education, and am a disorganised fuckwit to boot.
Our Conversation this morning went something like this:

Bossy Teacher: I sent a note home with Pebbles this week. It was your week to make the Play dough.
Me: Sorry, I've been up in Abu Dhabi all week.
Bossy Teacher: Well, you didn't tell me.
Me: Yeah, I didn't think I had to clear my work travel with you.
Bossy Teacher: Well, we had to get someone else to make the playdough, and it's really important that the kids have playdough.
Me: I'm sorry but Stone was too busy to make it, I was out of town, and frankly, I have better things to do with my time than make play Dough. I'll buy some from the shop and bring it in tomorrow.
Bossy Teacher: No. The stuff from the shop isn't as good.
Me: Riiiight.

The play Dough Rota, for those of you who have yet to discover the joys of sending your kid to an overpriced nursery, is rota decreed by the gods of education, and designed specifically to annoy the hell out of working mothers who have better shit to do with their time than trying to impress Bossy Nursery teachers.

I do Did not have the time to shop for, make, and clean up the mess from Play Dough. Given that we're paying a goddamn king's ransom for a 3 year old kid to attend what is, effectively, a playgroup, I would not think that it would kill them to possibly outsource the Play dough making to a local catering company or maybe just march their shit down to Sultan center and Buy some freaking playdough.

Additionally, I suppose I am extra prickly because at this time 48 hours ago I was staring at famous people and helping to manage the racing worlds most important series, and today, I am being harangued by a nursery teacher about Play Dough. It would seem I am suffering from a case of work whiplash.

More tomorrow.