And then there was one! Our second-to-last Avro RJ100, HB-IYU, was ferried to Cranfield in the UK on 3 July. In the cockpit were Avro Fleet Chief Michael “Mick” Weisser and Deputy Fleet Chief Peter Huber. And back in the cabin M/Cs Barbara Golderer and Sven Lucek were on hand to attend to the group of journalists that we had invited along, together with representatives from our Social Media and Communications teams. All four crew members have enjoyed years of service on the RJ, about which they each had their own stories to tell. And all four look back on their “Avro years” with both a smile and – now in the final phase – a tear.
“It is a bit weird when your whole fleet of a particular type consists of just one aircraft,” Mick Weisser muses. “When we started handing back our Avros, I was actually a lot more emotional. I think we all felt the same way – the mechanics, too. So many people would turn out to see the first ones off.”
Mick Weisser has grown a lot more used to the farewells since. He’s been on the RJ100 for the past nine years, while Peter can look back on eleven. “We’ve put so much of ourselves into this fleet,” says the latter. “And now we’re kind of getting rid of ourselves, too. But,” he adds, as rather rationally thinking people, what pilots are, they knew exactly, “that’s just the way it is.”
Peter and Mick will continue to fly with us, of course. They’ll undergo their conversion training onto the new Bombardier C Series as soon as the Avro phase-out is complete. Right now, though, they’re still in total Avro mode. And rather than feeling blue as they ferry our second-to-last RJ100 to Cranfield in the UK, they’re determined to enjoy the experience. The final SWISS flight for HB-IYU consists of two legs: first to Rotterdam, to formally import the aircraft into the EU; and then on to Cranfield, home of Falko, the aircraft’s owner (Yankee Uniform was ours on lease). “It’s an interesting operation in preparation and realization,” says Peter Huber, “and we’ve been looking forward to it.”
Tractor, submarine, rabbit…
Flying the Avro RJ is still a special experience for the four crew members. “It’s like a tractor,” Peter Huber maintains. “It really calls for some manual craft!” M/C Sven Lucek has another equally original comparison. “With its doors and their levers, it always reminds me of a submarine,” he laughs. The U-boat doors nearly did Sven serious damage on one of his Avro flights. “I had dropped the inflight announcement book,” he recalls. “And when I got up, I banged my head on the lever and almost unlocked the door. Luckily, though, that didn’t quite happen.” Sven Lucek also talks about other special features of the RJ: its built-in passenger stairs for example. No need to wait for the airstairs or the jetty, which brings a lot of flexibility to its ground operations. Everything’s mechanical, too, making it easier to fix if necessary than the electronic alternative. “Its only real drawback is the lack of air conditioning,” Sven concedes. “That’s always made the Avro really hot to work on in summer, and pretty cold in winter!”
Both Sven Lucek, who has been on the RJ since 2003 and Barbara Golderer, who had her first flight on it in 2006, asked specifically to train for service on the type. It’s the small crew size and the close, almost family feeling that they’ve appreciated most in their hundreds of Avro flight hours. “I just love the RJ,” Barbara enthuses. “It’s an oldtimer in the nicest possible sense. And it makes its own unmistakable noises, too. In fact,” she ventures, “I don’t really see it as an aircraft at all. For me it’s always been a rabbit: the wings are the floppy ears. And I’ll really miss it when it’s gone.” Barbara also has an animal Avro story to tell. “There was no special zone in the cargo hold for transporting animals,” she explains. “So when we had to bring a lemur from Prague to Zurich recently, it travelled in the cabin. It was in a cage, of course. But it did get a few looks from the passengers. That’s the Avro, though: anything’s possible!”
We still have some 50 pilots and 330 cabin crew members who are qualified for Avro service. The final flights of our last RJ100, HB-IYZ, will be in mid-August. The Avro fans among our crews will be sad to see it go. Mick, Peter, Sven and Barbara are already getting nostalgic. “We all have to move on, of course,” Mick Weisser concedes. “But the first type you fly will always have a special place in your memories.” “I never had a favourite RJ in our fleet,” Peter Huber remarks. “But HB-IYS with its ‘Alpaufzug’ livery was always a little bit special. And when I see the condition we’re handing these aircraft back in, I do wonder if we could have kept flying them for a little longer.” Sven Lucek has a further (tongue-in-cheek) take on the RJ farewell. “It’s like breaking up with a girlfriend,” he says. “It’s a bit easier to cope with if there’s someone else on the horizon!” “I’m a bit more emotional than you are there,” counters Barbara Golderer. “I don’t think there’ll ever be another aircraft that’s as cute as our little Avros!”
For those shedding a tear at our RJs’ departure, it may be some comfort to know that some of them will be flying on under new colours. Including HB-IYU, which will be heading for South America and a new working life in Peru.
Bild/Text: Silvia Exer-Kuhn