The US Air Force have a song that starts "Off we go in to the wild blue yonder.” However, in Arnhem Land there are times when it is not blue but it is definitely wild! Like many tropical regions, Arnhem Land has a defined rainy season and when it comes, it comes. The weather can go from dry to instant deluge and then back again all within the space of a few hours. Then at other times you get up with the rain, sleep with the rain on your roof, and then it is there waiting for you when you get up again! And don’t think light rain either- this is the instant flood variety where the gutters are swamped!
Times like these are a real challenge to flying both from a logistical point of view and also of course for those who are actually braving the elements. For the MAF ground staff things can get hectic quite quickly. First of all there is the call from the base to tell you that though it may be fine & sunny where you are, where they are they can’t see the end of the runway! That’s always frustrating as the passenger waiting to fly is looking at a sunny sky and can’t understand why you don’t want to take off!
Add to that the cancellations as the weather takes a hold, and then the re-scheduling as everything shuffles backwards an hour or more as the flights get delayed. It’s all a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle at times but very rewarding when it all comes together. In the meantime the weather radar becomes the most watched screen of all, closely followed by the flight tracker to see whether the plane has got through or is right now heading back where it came from!
On top of all that the pilot has to allow for TEMPOS. A TEMPO is a kind of weather alert which means that you are legally required to carry an extra hour’s fuel because of conditions. This will affect the amount of weight you can carry and even whether a flight can take place or not. And it may well be that the weather over the destination has changed and so an alternative destination
has to be thought of as well! All that takes even more fuel and some days, in theory,
you may need to carry more than your tanks will hold! As one MAF pilot put it “probably a good sign you shouldn’t be flying that day!” And yet fly they do, and with impressive regularity. In terms of medical, education and social support, it is the planes of organisations such as MAF that keep Arnhem Land going. Long after the roads become impassable, the planes are still flying and the impossible is only taking a little bit longer!
The rainy season – there’s nothing quite like it!
(To download a pdf version of this article produced by MAF Arnhem Land Communications click here.)