Planning to travel? Don't miss the flight!

If you load an aircraft such that the centre of gravity exceeds the forward limit, the plane will be nose heavy. Jimmy Wanjala It is not a must that you love travelling to be in the aviation industry, but being an aviator helps quench your travelling thirst. In my case, I love travelling as much as I love flying. In fact, whenever I plan to travel, flying is always the first option that comes to mind. Then if left with no other option, I drive. But away with why I prefer flying to other means of transportation. It was my love for travelling that led me to forming a friends’ WhatsApp group with about 10 people, and later my company. It was a small getaway. We were flying down to the Coast with, meaning that being the month when the season dips and the travelling bug in many people starts to fade, we would get the best rates. The plan was to stay there for three days, then return just in time to prepare for my recurrence check that was done every six months. This is how pilots are kept in check to make sure they are reading and are flying in compliance with the laid down Standard Operating Procedure. As Murphy’s law goes, ‘anything that can go wrong will go wrong’. The email came from my company. There had been changes with regards to the dates of my travel to Ethiopia, where the recurrence check was to be done. My check had been scheduled to end of February but due to some cancellation of the previous airlines, an opening had come up and I was to travel a month earlier. This meant I was not going to attend the trip I had sweated blood to plan. Hotel rooms had been booked and so were the air tickets. It would cost more to postpone the trip for the whole group compared to just me missing the fun. All I could hope for was that everything would go as per the itinerary. And it did until the last day when the group was meant to return to Nairobi. It was the events that followed that day that have inspired me to write this article . The phone call come at about 3pm from one of my friends in the group. At first, a thought crossed my mind that they could already have landed in Nairobi, but knowing my friends, I could not help but think otherwise. One of them explained what the problem was. They had been late and the boarding gates had been closed. They needed my help lest they would miss the flight back to Nairobi. My initial response was to ask what time they had arrived at the airport since they insisted that they were not late at all - which I doubted. Normally, passengers are required to check in early for good reason. Primarily, it helps with weight calculation to determine if the aircraft is in balance for flight or not. You see, unlike a car, a plane exhibits different characteristics while in flight that are hugely determined by how heavy it is, and how the weight is distributed across the aircraft. When it comes to loading the aircraft, there are two main scenarios that could result into a catastrophic ending; overloading and, or, exceeding the forward or aft centre of gravity limits. If overloaded, the lift required to keep the aircraft in the air might not be enough, which could lead to it crashing immediately after takeoff or simply failing to take off at all. However, you could load the aircraft with the correct weight but in the wrong position with relation to the centre of gravity limits. Every time weight is added to an aircraft, the centre of gravity moves its position. And this is what determines how an aircraft behaves in flight. EXCEED LIMITS If you load an aircraft such that the centre of gravity exceeds the forward limit, the aircraft will be what we call in aviation ‘nose heavy’. This will make is difficult to pull the nose up and the aircraft will constantly want to dive towards the ground. Similarly, if the aft limit is exceeded the aircraft will be tail heavy and it will want to fly with the nose pointing upwards. This increases drag, which could slow down the aircraft to a point where it can no longer fly and eventually falls from the sky in either a stall or a flat spin. To prevent all these from happening, limits are set to make sure weight is distributed within the safe operational margins. And these margins are calculated prior to every flight. That is why an airline would request you to show up earlier than the departure time to be able to compute your weight plus your luggage. Having explained all these to my friend, he understood why showing up 10 minutes to departure time was too late and why most airlines are strict on this. Next time you plan to travel by plane, keep this in mind and show up early according to the time given on the ticket or risk missing the flight. Who misses a flight, anyway?