Travel

In the Wings

In the Wings

Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) instantly gets you into a chilled Lowveld vibe, but behind-the-scenes, it’s a model of efficiency.

Despite its relaxed atmosphere, it’s all business, as it takes dedicated professionals to keep things ticking over. Meet the team…

Charl du Plessis – Airside operations manager

One of the Lowveld’s most interesting characters, Charl is a minefield of information regarding the aviation industry – and happily shares stories. Fascinated with aviation since childhood, his mini museum of an office is crammed with insignia, caps and model aircraft, lovingly collected over many decades. From here, he has a clear view over his domain and knows what’s cooking, every second of the day.

An airside manager needs to be sharp, as he is responsible for coordination between different airport operations and the smooth running of procedures and security, by helping to enforce the rules and regulations. Although it requires extensive knowledge of the functioning of the airport, much of what’s required for the job cannot be found in books, Charl says. “Did you see Sully?” he asks, referring to a film in which Tom Hanks plays Chesley Sullenberger, an American pilot who becomes a hero after landing a damaged plane on the Hudson River, saving all on board. “That comes from experience,” he says, referring to the real-life Sully’s instinctive knowledge on how to handle the situation.

KMIA has just won the Airports Council International 2017 Safety Award for best airport in Africa within its category, a huge feather in Charl’s cap, although he insists it’s a team effort. “This airport is a massive family affair,” he says. “We know one another by name. It’s also wonderful working under Marius Nel (airport CEO). Running an airport successfully takes people with experience, as things happen. There are schedules and we know what’s coming, but there are always surprises.” These also come in the shape of celebrities, en route to the Kruger National Park. For the most part, they sneak in incognito, but are still spotted by the vigilant Charl. Martin Lawrence, he tells us, was here just the other day, as was Charlize Theron, her mom and kids in tow. “It makes it exciting,” he smiles and then adds, “I love it. No two days are ever guaranteed to be the same.”

Morne Amos – Infrastructure manager

Always on the go, Morne describes himself as KMIA’s problem-solver. He confesses to having a low boredom threshold and says before his current job, he seldom managed to work for a company for more than four years before itching for a new challenge. He’s been at the airport for almost 13 years and still finds it rewarding.

Initially employed as an electronics supervisor, Morne is tasked with everything and anything needing maintenance or repairs, and it’s a major responsibility. Any airport is subject to constant auditing from the Civil Aviation Authority and has to be on its toes. From changing light bulbs to executing complex repair jobs, it all falls under his portfolio.

The recent safety award is a testament to Morne’s ability to get things done, as well as the diversity of his team’s skill set. Being versatile and able to make a plan, often at short notice, gives them the edge. “Everybody is able to do everything,” he says. Constant developments and new projects presents him with new challenges, something he appreciates. “There is always something on the go,” Morne grins. “We never have a day where there’s nothing to do.”

Andre Cloete – Fire and rescue

The safety guys may not have the most glamorous job at the airport, but they’re the first port of call when anything goes wrong. One would also assume they don’t have much to do on a daily basis, given the relatively uneventful nature of their work.

Not so, says Andre, who comes from a military background and has been a firefighter for 31 years, a veteran in his field. He explains how maintenance is ongoing, done in 90-day cycles. This includes the inspection of vehicles and equipment, as well as drills and training. “Everything we work with is regulated and subject to strict codes,” he says. New aircraft are constantly being introduced and the team has to stay on top of changing construction, layout and safety specs.

The technical side too, is constantly developing. It exposes team members to situations they wouldn’t normally encounter as “town firemen” and their training is ongoing, making most of them better qualified than their counterparts. Although Andre has seen many crashes and disasters in his life, he confesses to enjoy working at the airport, even if the work is low-key for the most part.

“I enjoy the planes, as it makes the environment more interesting,” he says before adding, “After all, we’re waiting for something to happen that we don’t want to happen.” At an international airport, this can only be a good thing.

Wendy Dunn – Food and beverage manager

A chef of stratospheric experience, Wendy is well known in the Lowveld for her contribution in many of the area’s finest restaurant kitchens. One doesn’t equate a woman of her skills with commercial catering, but she quickly sets the record straight: she has never been this happy, and thoroughly enjoys the diversity of her working days.

The airport has a number of restaurant options, from a Wimpy to the gorgeous Fever Tree Bar, serving locally brewed craft beers and cocktails. She was initially employed to run a coffee shop, Time Café, located in the downstairs reception area, but now oversees all of these – plus doing outside catering for functions, as well as meals in the VIP departure lounge and on private jets – and loves every moment of it. “It’s very different to what I’m used to,” she says, describing her days as more ordered and calmer than ever before.

She’s been given carte blanche in many aspects of her work and enjoys the freedom. “It’s exciting as I can do my thing,” Wendy says. “I love being in charge of so many different things. There’s always something to do.” She can still play around with menus when catering, allowing an outlet for her creativity. Like her colleagues, she speaks of never having a dull moment. “And the advantage is that no one is a foodie,” she grins. “It’s perfect here, and everything is so appreciated. People go ‘wow!’ when they receive their food. I thrive on that.”

Get in touch

Contact KMIA’s information desk on 013-753-7500 or info.desk@kmiairport.co.za

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