Most of us think we have difficult and important jobs. While trying to please everyone we walk around with cellphones glued to our heads and, attempting to ensure each day runs on track, we tend to feel a little bombarded and stressed. Then you meet Mike Christoph, operations manager at Lanseria International airport, north of Johannesburg.
Christoph is essentially Lanseria’s “watch”. The man who makes sure it ticks and that every single thing that’s attempted – whether landing and unloading aircraft or cleaning the airport’s toilet facilities – is done correctly and safely. Christoph finds his work challenging due to the varied scope of his responsibilities. But as he says: “Obviously, the scope of this airport is so different: you have low-cost airlines and you have VIP operations and then you have small charter companies – and you have to satisfy all those diverse needs according to what the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) tells you you have to do.”
And Christoph can justify that as he’s been in the aviation industry since he left school, initially as an air traffic controller in Polokwane. That he found a little boring. “I got interested in airport operations because I wanted more challenges – running an airport is a tremendous task,” he says. He has worked in many different air traffic control roles over the years. Christoph has been at Lanseria for about 10 years, from the days when the airport was less busy and didn’t have much going on.
“But we knew what the potential was,” he says. “Here, the mix is amazing – and that’s what keeps you on your toes and keeps it exciting. This airport has something like 300 movements a day and at any given time there’s probably more than 800 aircraft on the ground, so it’s hectic.”
To help Christoph manage that mammoth task he has staff complement ranging from operational controllers, apron staff, to baggage handlers and many others. Plus a team of managers all well versed in their specific jobs. Daily tasks include making sure all infrastructure, equipment and machinery is serviceable and can be used cost effectively – that’s obviously a continuous requirement.
Security controls and knowing people’s movements is another major aspect and comes with its own challenges. “How do you tell somebody who owns his own aircraft and has a hanger at the airport that he has to go through a process if he wants to take his son for a flight on a Saturday afternoon?”
VIP operations are no easier. “VIPs have demands and aren’t people who will stand in a queue – so you need to get them around that queue and through the system legally, safely and properly, often at funny times of day,” says Christoph.
But ultimately every aspect of Christoph’s job comes down to safety. “Safety in the aviation industry is priority number one – anything anybody does has to be done safely. So the first aspect of my job is to ensure everything is in a condition that doesn’t compromise safety. You have to think quick, think on your feet, make decisions then and there and hope they work out.”
Sounds difficult and important, as if Christoph could possibly become a little stressed from time to time? “Personally, I get up every morning and say: ‘Today is going to be the best day of my life.’ I enter the day like that – and it works. It’s a passion.”