Mark Sandford has held the position of duty manager airside (DMA) at Heathrow Airport for two years. Previously he spent two years working as a movement area officer and two years as a movement area assistant. He spent four years at Southampton Airport, prior to joining the Heathrow team, as an airfield operations controller. He took some time out from managing his 120-130-man team to tell Future Airport about an average day.

Future Airport: What does your job entail?

Mark Sandford: I’m one of six duty managers airside (DMA), looking after the daily operations; the runway, the taxiway and the stands. I specifically look after the apron area team and the manoeuvring team that facilitate runway inspections, bird-hazard management, marshalling, taxiway inspections, stand inspections and airside road inspections. I also operate procedures in case of emergencies and ensure normal service is resumed as soon as possible.

FA: What’s your daily routine?

MS: DMAs are here 24 hours a day and we do 12-hour shifts, days and nights. If you’re on a day shift, the first thing you do is the handover from the night shift at 7am. The departures start at 6am and arrivals have been coming in since 4.30am, so by the time we get to 7am everything is flowing as it should be.

“Mark Sandford is one of six duty managers airside (DMA), looking after the daily operations at Heathrow.”

All the maintenance on the runways, taxiways and stands is done at night, so if there are any issues or late hand-backs, then we pick that up and update the senior management team on the status of the airfield, whether there are any delays inbound and outbound, any flow restrictions and the weather for the day ahead.

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It’s a snapshot of the operations of the start of the day, including any predictions or events that we know could effect the operation for the rest of the day.

Then, it’s a case of checking to see if there are any other operations we might need to get involved with. We have a diary where we log new areas of taxiways or stands that are being handed over. For example, with Terminal 5 there were always new stands opening on a regular basis.

Before any area comes into live operation, we have to inspect it and make sure that it’s compliant with all the rules and regulations, and that it’s up to spec before we can sign it off to go live. We then check the diary to see if we have any events on for the day. Next, we check emails to make sure there’s nothing else that needs to be seen to immediately. Other than that, we monitor what the inspection team is doing, so we’re just ensuring that the routine inspections are done on time and as they should be. The rest of the day could involve attending meetings with various companies regarding operational issues.

On a night shift our role changes somewhat to enable the airfield to become a large building site to ensure Heathrow’s vast development projects run successfully. For every area of work there’s a permit for who’s working there, their working hours and what they intend to do. We work through those permits, sign them off and tick various boxes for the requirements that the contractors have to meet.

“You have to think on your feet and cross-reference all the criteria. I thoroughly enjoy it.”

We draw a map that shows the areas we’re closing off at night, and in the afternoon we take them all to the ATC tower to make sure they fit in with their evening and night-time operations so they can hand them over to the night-shift staff. The next task starts at about 9 o’clock.

We are responsible for enforcing the Department for Transport (DfT) noise rules, so any aircraft that needs to manoeuvre in the night quota period, from 11pm to 6am, needs our approval to arrive or depart. We manage the scheme under the instruction of the DfT. If an airline’s running late because it’s had to divert or the weather’s bad, we check a database with every aircraft registration and its noise value. We have a set quota for the amount of flights we can allow if they fit certain criteria.

FA: What’s your favourite part of the day?

MS: I really like the noise management element. There’s a new challenge every day and there’s no leeway; the rules and regulations are very clear. There’s also a lot of interaction with the airlines and no two situations are the same. One airline can say they have a problem with an engine, another with a passenger, and another has been diverted. You have to think on your feet and cross-reference all the criteria. I thoroughly enjoy it.

FA: And what’s your least favourite part?

MS: I don’t think I have one. There’s quite a lot of admin’ sometimes, but that’s where the art of delegation comes in. I can delegate it down the team, get them to do it on my behalf and report back to me. There isn’t anything I don’t like about it.