Aviation is a complex, ever-changing business. Crew schedules, route network, customer service or staff management. Every aspect of it is subject to sudden changes and continuous adjustment. Airlines sometimes find it difficult to strive in this ultra-competitive world. Mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies are no strangers to many airlines. We, the people behind this circus, are sometimes caught in the middle of it all.
This is a tale of a pilot’s last flight for an airline.
It hasn’t been an easy summer. Rumours in the office, cockpit talks, hints on the news… We all know something is cooking. Some colleagues are already searching for a way out, others keep the faith and will stay. During this week my schedule has changed several times. The airline is adjusting and re-adjusting the flights, some aircrafts have been impounded by their owner, the lessor. Others are still on maintenance. It looks bad, but we’ll keep on fighting until the end.
I check my roster and my flight has been changed. I will fly to Tirana, stay the night and come back in the morning. As I drive to the airport, I can’t help but think it can be the last time. I’m going to enjoy this flight like it’s the last. I will try to remember every little detail and make the best out of it. When I make it to the office, the captain is nowhere to be seen. Our aircraft is late by more than an hour and he will probably show up right before it lands. I take the flight briefing folder and start to prepare the flight. The office is quiet, nobody dares to speak more than the necessary, everyone suspects we won’t be around much longer. Finally, the captain arrives and, we brief the flight together. It’s looks like a smooth ride over the Balkans on our way to Albania. We check the technical status of the aircraft and decide how much fuel we will take. It looks like the flight is further delayed, so the captain decides we won’t have time to go to the hotel in Tirana. We will stay in the aircraft, as we will have a little longer than two hours until we will have to come back to Ljubljana.
We make our way to the terminal, pass the security control and walk to the aircraft. The apron is quiet, we can see three of our airplanes grounded, sealed. It’s sad we won’t see them flying anymore. We agree he will fly the first leg and I will fly the way back tomorrow morning. Finally, we arrive to our Bombardier CRJ-900. S5-AFA has only been with us for 2 years. It came from Air Nostrum, where it was registered as EC-JNB. We open the doors and I start with the initial checks.
One hour later, we are cruising at FL350. A moonless night brings us wonderful views of the milky way. The purser brings the dinner to the flight deck. I’m not hungry, thoughts race through my mind, I feel uneasy. Nevertheless, this might be the last dinner onboard, so I decide to eat. The flight progresses as usual. We land in Tirana and passengers disembark the plane. It’s 1:30 AM and the captain is powering down the aircraft. Meanwhile, I close the door and set the alarm.
Wake up call. The screen of my phone illuminates the passenger cabin, pitch-black, it’s 4 AM. Swollen face, red eyes, better make some coffee. I pick up the ATIS, prepare the route and calculate the performances, as the passengers start boarding the plane. They probably have no idea of what’s going to happen with the airline and some of them might not be able to come back home after their holidays. Captain asks for the checklist and we start up the engines. “ADRIA727, wind is 020 at 2 knots, runway 35 cleared for take-off”. AFA starts rolling, illuminating the runway as speed increases. “V1, rotate” and I gently pull the yoke to lift up the nose. The aircraft leaves the asphalt slowly and starts climbing into the dark of the night.
It’s 5:30 and the stars are disappearing in favour of a dark blue twilight. The weather is perfect in Ljubljana and we will be the first inbound flight this morning. One of the cabin crew brings coffee. You can’t say no to a cup of coffee with the best views in the world.
As we start our descent, the sun rises over the Balkan skies, calm as ever. We can’t talk to each other, gutted.
“Gear down”, we feel this could be our last landing in Ljubljana.
“Adria 727, Cleared to land runway 30, wind calm”.
“50, 40, 30 – Thrust idle – 20, 10 – Flare…” And we kiss the runway for the last time.
A smooth approach and landing put an end to it. As always, we bring our passengers home, safely, but this time, it feels different. As I step out of the cockpit, I look back and take a last glance at it. Here is where it all started. This airline gave me my first chance, my first job as an airline pilot. I learned how to fly a masterpiece of an aircraft.
Two days after Adria Airways ceased operations temporarily. A week later, on September 30th, the airline filed for bankruptcy. This article is dedicated to the people of Adria Airways (1961-2019).
Edgar Domenech Llinares is an airline pilot rated on Bombardier CRJ700 and 900 series. He has been based in Slovenia flying for Adria until vert recently.
He started his career as a cabin crew. He worked for 6 years based in Palma de Mallorca where he managed to get his pilot licenses and ratings.
His passion for aviation drove him to make his dream to come true, learning a lot in the process, and looking forward to learn more in the future.