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Flying the President

October 24 ’08

Everyone prepares his airplane for his flight but did you ever wonder of how one prepares for the president’s flight. I’m sure that several people in the group have watched the Discovery channel feature on Air Force One aircraft and flight preparation. Well, unfortunately our dear country is not able to afford our own presidential aircraft at this time. But being poor does not necessarily mean not having to do the same work and preparation. Our president (GMA) made the right choice of having BGen. Ramon Ragasa as commander of the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing. I must say that he did everything in the book necessary to protect the interests of the president and her staff on the chartered aircraft. Since the pilots were not Philippine Air Force staff, all the background checks were done even before they landed in Manila. Upon arrival of the aircraft, we immediately prepared the Gulfstream 200 for a flight check to be conducted by Gen. Ragasa and his staff. It was a good excuse for me to get a ride in the G200 as well. It was a quick but thorough flight check. Performances and procedures were discussed even before departure. Gen. Ragasa was strict but very polite and diplomatic with his dealings with the crew. Questions were asked in a very subtle manner that does not offend anyone. He will be a good candidate for ambassador to a hostile country after he retires.

Fuel was tested and samples were taken for examination at the PAF. Since the aircraft came from Hong Kong, airport quarantine people and Malacanang doctors were waiting in my hangar an hour before the airplane’s arrival. The cabin was disinfected and all the crew were given thorough medical check ups. After we have refueled, cleaned, and prepared the aircraft at Air Ads, we had to taxi to the Presidential Hangar that evening to quarantine and secure the whole aircraft for the president’s flight the next day. Upon arrival at the presidential hangar, the dogs were sniffing the whole airplane. I enjoyed sniffing the new leather interior of this nice airplane as well but I didn’t qualify for the job. The PSG preferred their Pinoy-size skinny looking German shepherds.

We have planned and discussed the menu for the in flight meals even before the plane arrived in Manila. I recommended my personal preference and hope everybody enjoyed it. Choice of newspapers and flower arrangement were just as important. The red wine was special and was brought in from overseas. Schedule and procedure for the next day was discussed even before we separated that evening. The evening was busy with phone calls from PSG wanting to have more information all the time.

Every aspect of the flight had to be coordinated and timed properly. Hotel pick up of the crew, delivery of food, weather briefing, filing of flight plans, preparation of the band, rolling of the red carpet, towing and positioning of the aircraft, seating arrangement in the aircraft, positioning of bags, radio communication checks including internet access in the aircraft, arrival ceremonies, customs baggage inspection, immigration officers stamping the official’s passport, were a few items that we were a part of planning. The food taster of the president had to be brought to the catering contractor. As expected, she was chubby and I am sure she was enjoying her job. I’d like to volunteer for that job too except that I’m more than chubby already.

Alternative plans were important too since the weather was unstable. Security checks at the base were stricter than usual and my driver and mechanics were always questioned and given a doubtful look. Very few people were allowed to go near the aircraft. I was the only civilian wondering around and I had to look serious and hardworking. I enjoyed teasing the crew that we were waiting for all the Senators, Generals, Congressmen, Governors, Mayors, Cabinet Secretaries, and many others before they can depart. But the waiting was just before starting because having a “Kalayaan One” call sign makes a lot of difference. From requesting ATC clearance to taxi and up to take off. Their next biggest problem was how to pronounce “Kalayaan”. The crews were New Zealanders and they cannot even speak “regular” English and now I had to teach them Filipino! I was hoping I could charge double for that.

Always nice to be around airplanes and feels good if people entrust their expensive machines and valuable life to you. We never make a lot of money in aviation but we all enjoy being a part of the community. Now, if you’d like to feel like a president, and would like to fly in style, give Air Ads a call.