Princess Diana’s former chief of staff keeps scanning the sky for aircraft
Patrick Jephson spent years with one eye constantly scanning the skies for interesting aircraft. But the pandemic has silenced the sound of aircraft engines, leading him to question - is it worth living next to the airport?
All my life I’ve wanted to live near an airport. Who wouldn’t want to wake and sleep to the sound of aircraft engines? Of course, I know the answer – lots of people (especially those trying to persuade young children to go to sleep!). But for me, it has been a constant ambition to live as close to a runway centerline as possible.
Years ago, in England, I managed to live under the final approach to Plymouth and, although traffic wasn’t exactly heavy, I grew to love the noise of Brymon Dash 7’s and Twin Otters wafting through the Devon drizzle.
Patrick Jephson with Princess Diana
Next, living in Central London provided a constant airshow of parading airliners, trooping down the ILS to Heathrow’s westerly runways, and I seemed to spend my years in that city with one eye constantly scanning the skies for an interesting visitor. None were more interesting, of course than the incomparable Concorde in which I was privileged to make several Atlantic crossings.
Then I moved to the USA - and if you thought that airport proximity was a major factor in my house choice, you’d be dead right. And not just for the convenience of getting to check-in on time. Three years living close to Washington Reagan was a daily treat as aircraft queued up for the entertaining experience of operating in and out of what must be one of the world’s most scenic downtown airports. Pilot friends have spoken lyrically of flying the challenging twisty-turny river approach to runway 19 as the great landmarks of downtown Washington slide past the port wingtip.
When we left Washington for northern Virginia, I was sad to leave DCA behind. But now there’s a new pageant in the sky for me to enjoy every day, and often at odd hours of the night too. I mean of course Washington Dulles, that aristocrat of airports with its timelessly futuristic Saarinen terminal, unique mobile lounges, and adjacent Udvar-Hazy aviation museum.
Lucky me. Now I live directly under the centerline for 19R – a dream fulfilled, you might say. Now I can sit on my deck with my morning coffee and watch the early commuters ride into the northern sky in a succession of Embraers and Canadairs. In the evening, as I grill steaks and sip a cocktail, I can count the heavy metal contingent thundering off to Europe and beyond. And sometimes, when you least expect it, a jet will come whistling low overhead, as ATC allows a rare curving visual join. Bliss.
Except… the year is 2021. My deck is too cold for coffee or cocktails. Worse, thanks to Covid, the sky is almost dead. Dulles soldiers on but movements are a comparative trickle. I haven’t flown anywhere since last March (OK, that was to Dubai upstairs in an Emirates A380, so I don’t expect too much sympathy!)
I know everything will turn out all right: vaccinations will set the world back on its feet and the wonderful people who work in aviation (whom I envy every day) will once again prove that real genius shines in that great industry as it recovers its former optimism and confidence.
And yet… my joy will be incomplete. The four-engine jets will be gone. This summer I’ll look up from my barbecue and stifle a slight yawn as the identikit twins make their apologetically hushed comings and goings. Where’s the majesty and swagger of the legendary giants of the air, the wings of each adorned with pairs of sculpted nacelles and thrusting pylons? Where is that unmistakable deep rumble that signals a true queen of the skies is about to make her stately progress across my patch of sky?
Gone, all gone. At this rate, it’ll hardly be worth living near an airport at all. I may as well move to a new house…
Patrick Jephson is a branding and reputation consultant who has worked with aviation operators, manufacturers and support services for more than twenty years. Previously he served in the Royal Navy and then spent eight years as Princess Diana's chief of staff. He holds a PPL and loves all things flying. Go to jephsonbeaman.com for details.
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