February 2014 Nightmare Ride

The month started with a fairly straightforward aerospace audit near Cambridge at a company I have been going to for nearly eight years—it’s always great to see companies burgeoning and producing robust high tech products. This was followed by some consultancy at a small engineering machine shop in delightful Stevenage and their first stage audit has just been satisfactorily completed.

I was fortunate enough to take a week’s break in Malta after this, an island I know well from my Royal Air Force days. A visit to an aviation museum showed the history of Malta during World War II and the reason why the Maltese are so friendly to the British nation. They are very proud of the George Cross, which can be seen in a museum in Valetta. The month then livened up further with a visit to the Middle East and a ‘cattle class’ flight to Dubai on an A380—the largest airliner in the world. Its size does have a knock-on effect when it comes to immigration queues (very long) but the organisation was good and an hour later I was in the city trying to find my Holiday Inn hotel. The first day was straightforward in that it took just 20 minutes to be driven there to a tax free port but problems set in on the second day. An accident had blocked the main arterial motorway and the whole area was gridlocked. When I say gridlocked, I mean we were stationary! We eventually came to the arrangement that I would go over the motorway and eight lanes of traffic to a new overground railway system where I could see a railway station. My driver phoned through to the company to get someone to meet me at the end of the line and I joined the rest of the local populace in travelling in an almost new railway carriage with a VIP carriage and a ladies only carriage. I was dressed as a true English businessman in jacket and tie which rather clashed with the local Arab style dress.

For the second audit I had to travel to Jeddah where the immigration queues are chaotic, with some queues going down quickly and others (namely mine) hardly moving at all. However, after nearly two hours I finally got to the hotel. At 5am the next morning I was taken from Jeddah to Taif—which translates to ‘up the hill’ in the local language—a steady two-hour climb into the mountains of Saudi Arabia, along the way passing farmers trying to eke out an existence in the rocky desert. If you think your life is rough, try being a desert farmer! The audit was at a military air base and everything went well. However, the return trip was ‘down the hill’ and the driver took full advantage of the gradient with speeds I have only previously seen in an F1 car camera system. I did not say anything for fear of distracting the driver, the last thing he needed given that some of the driving skills exhibited by the locals left plenty to be desired! You can guess that as I am writing this I survived the journey.

After a final audit in Jeddah itself, the return trip was again on an A380, though this time in business class and I enjoyed every second of it. This aircraft really is marvellous and I am sure it will be just as popular as the old Boeing 747 for decades to come.