Paul McFarlane: On the ‘miracle of flight’ in the Indian Ocean Territories
Sitting alongside perfectly formed coral reefs and home to a world-famous crab migration, the airports of the Indian Ocean Territories are certainly unique.
It’s not just tourists who rely on the airport to reach the island paradise – it’s also a vital link for the communities that live there.
Indian Oceans Territories Airports Manager Paul McFarlane has overall responsibility for the safe operation of the region’s two international airports.
In addition to his role at the airport, Paul is a keen photographer and combines aviation and island life to create amazing results.
Paul tells us more about his two great passions.
“Aviation excites the child inside of all of us as we continue to marvel at the miracle of flight. Being responsible for the safe and effective management of an airport, a critical component to that miracle, is always an exciting and rewarding experience,” he says.
“You are witness to your passengers’ purest emotions as they say goodbye to loved ones or smile with excitement as they embark on an adventure. It doesn’t get much better than that!
“You need passion to succeed in this industry. If you love aviation, if you love what you do, there is no limit to the success you can have in the airport industry.”
Managing an airport on the ‘Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’ definitely has its highs, but it comes with its challenges too.
“Everything needs to be freighted in by sea or air and this has a cost. Nothing is a simple fix. It is therefore important that you foresee and plan for any operational issues that you anticipate,” Paul says.
Christmas Island has two international destinations, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, and twice-weekly services to Perth with Virgin Australia. Weather can play a pivotal role in the operation of these flights.
“We have had occasions where flights have not been able to land for two weeks due to poor weather,” Paul says.
“Christmas Island Airport is often ‘up in the clouds’ at 916 feet. In fact, in 2016 the airport received more than 5000mm of rain for the year. All these factors can make island life challenging.”
Before stepping into the world of aviation, Paul was a car salesman for 11 years, but he always had a desire to work at an airport.
“After many years being envious of those involved with the industry, I got involved in the Mount Gambier Aero Club. Later an opportunity arose to join the Mount Gambier Airport team and my career grew from there,” he says.
Since his career change, Paul has been particularly focused on the impact of airports on the communities they serve.
“Christmas Island Airport and Cocos (Keeling) Islands airports are a vital lifeline to the communities on these remote islands,” he says.
“It is also the vital link for business and tourism to this region.
“I believe that passenger experience is extremely important no matter how small or how remote an airport may be.”
“It is a philosophy I worked with at Mount Gambier and one I continue to follow here in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
“We have just completed the roll out of mobile phone charge stations, airport websites and flight information display systems at both airports and I absolutely enjoy seeing the positive reactions from passengers and tenants alike.”
In between running the Indian Ocean Territories’ airports and spending time with his family, Paul adores photography and has a popular Instagram page featuring his unique and beautiful surroundings.
“I really enjoy capturing the moment,” he says.
“Whether that is an aircraft or a sunset, it is a rewarding experience. I also like to share these moments with others and put it on social media.
“The aviation photography has gone a long way in educating the communities of the Indian Ocean Territories about how busy their airports actually are and that it is more than just their regular passenger services that use the airport.
“My favourite things to photograph are nature and aviation – neither complain about their photos and they never have a bad hair day!”