Now, according to my sources who were present during the Bundestag committee hearing two days ago, initially sceptical members of parliament from several parties were amazed at the weight of evidence showing that cabin air contamination is a serious threat to passenger and crew health, and also at the fact that the industry has no counter-arguments at all: just denials.
Mind you, denials are clearly quite enough for the European Aviation Safety Agency. When presented with the scientific evidence that neurotoxic organosphosphates from engine oil are frequently released into aircraft cabins via bleed air fed to the air conditioning and pressurisation systems, EASA turned to the manufacturers and airlines and manufacturers and said "Is this true?" The industry, of course, said "No!", and that was enough for EASA.
Reassuring, isn't it, that our ultimate aviation safety watchdog is taking care of our safety so assiduously? And the airlines too?
As German member of parliament Markus Tressel said to the committee, the airlines' protestations that passenger safety is their top priority can no longer be taken seriously.
Have a look at the picture. The taxiway is the same size as the runway. In fact it used to be the runway. But the factor that probably tips the psychological balance for the pilots is that the taxiway is not in the logical place.
At Paphos, the runway is the strip closest to the terminal and to the parking apron. The apron is on the south side of the runway between it and the sea.
Somewhat unusual! On departure from the apron for take-off, you have to cross the active runway to get to the taxiway.
On approach to 29 (from the right of the picture), if you weren't paying too much attention, it would be easy to line up visually on the more northerly strip.
But it does require you not to be paying much attention to detail.
This kind of event happens sufficiently often that it has a name: runway confusion.
Of course it also quite often happens that pilots are talking to the tower at one airport while landing at another one nearby.
That's easier to do than you think if two airfields are close, especially if their active runways are similarly orientated.
You call up the tower of your destination airport before the airfield is in sight, get an acknowlegement, and then you see an aerodrome and assume it's your destination, so you line up to land, and even get clearance to do so, with the controller who's talking to you wondering why he can't see you yet, and the guy who can see you on final approach wondering who you are and what you think you're doing.
Bertrand de Courville, a senior Air France captain and good friend, reacted so lyrically to my previous blog about G-ILDA that I asked if I could post his letter here. He agreed, so here it is:
I just read your article about your flight on the Spitfire Mk IX G-ILDA. Really geat to heard about a new airworthy Spit in the air.
This reminds me how lucky I was to fly another MK IX "some" years ago in 1987.
This was the ML407 freshly restored in 1985. Nick Grace, the owner had flown her for a first time to Falaise in Normandy, the location of a key battle of the Normandy campain in August 1944. I met him on the little airfield of Mont d'Eraines a few kilometers from Falaise where I was born.
I told him the stories I heard from my grand parents and my father who were living very close during the battle.
After take off, Nick Grace let me fly the Spit over my grand parents property. In August 1944, the Germans, surrounded by the allies, had hidden away ammunition and equipment there.
During the hottest period of the battle, nothing could move on the ground (military or civil) without being attacked by air with an incredible accuracy.
My grand parent's house was overflown daily by fighters and bombers, part of them were probably Spitfires.
I had all these stories in mind, old typical children's dreams, while I was flying the ML407 on the same flight path (a bit higher !) as other similar planes did in August 1944. Other ? Who knows. The ML407 should have been engaged in Normandy with the 485 squadron at that time ...
From an aviation and pilot perspective, I was then a first officer on the Boeing 747, and the only propeller aircraft with a little power and speed I had flown before were the Beechcraft Baron, Cessna Centurion and Mooney. I had never flown warbirds. When airbone, the feeling of power was such that my immediate perception was that we were just flying a huge four bladed propeller. The engine and the rest of the aircraft were simply attached to it. Then quickly, normal pilot's perceptions came back with the feeling of a wonderful airplane smooth, incredibly fast with perfect roll responses to the controls.
I am just forgetting something: the music of the Merlin ! Quel souvenir !
Thank you David for your story, you encouraged me to share this very personal souvenir that Nick Grace offered me.
But about an hour after I had taken this shot, I had flown her from here (Oxford Kidlington) to Farnborough with a couple of visits on the way to show her off to deserving people. You've got to share something as beautiful as this, haven't you?
Back into the hangar for a moment. We haven't even pushed her out onto the pan yet.
In the far left of the picture (above), with his back to camera, is the aircraft commander for the flight, Al Pinner. He's pretty well qualified for this job. He'll be talking to camera at the end of this piece, answering my questions about what it's like flying - not just G-ILDA - but other Spitfire marques.
Meanwhile (below), that's me, proudly sporting my military flying kit for the first time since my last working sortie at RAF Linton on Ouse in 1978.
In his present incarnation as v-p operations at TAG Aviation Europe, Al's task that day was to ferry G-ILDA to TAG UK's Farnborough base to to operate a display sortie from there the same evening. The display was to be overhead nearby Tylney Hall, where a large bunch of TAG senior pilots were gathered for their annual briefing. What a way to fire them up. More of that later.
Al briefs me: on the way to Farnborough, we are going to salute a friend a few miles to the south west of Oxford with a victory roll or two, call overhead Tylney Hall to locate it and do a couple of passes to work out a display line for the evening, and head for our destination which is expected to be active on runway 06. To get there we'd have to pass by RAF Odiham and, as I am about to find out, when Al's flying G-ILDA he offers any base he communicates with at least a low pass.
With help from the ground crew, who handle G-ILDA with a reverential deftness, Al and I push the aircraft out of the hangar into an afternoon of dappled skies, light breezes and gin-clear visibility.
I climb into the rear cockpit and Al leans over the side, pointing out all the controls and answering my questions about what I should expect to see on the engine instruments. Actually the picture below is the forward cockpit, slightly roomier than mine.
The cockpit's a very close fit. The instrument panel was invented before ergonomics were: dials are inserted wherever there's a space. All black-and-white, no "proper" compass, just one of those directional gyros that operates in the horizontal. Al warns me not to snag the un-guarded gear lever by mistake because the undercarriage would retract on the ground if I did. When I want to open or close the canopy I have to lower my seat one click because the vertical adjustment lever snags the canopy handle; then raise it again when the canopy is where I want it.
The engine start
Having checked I was strapped snugly into my 'chute harness and seat, Al climbs into the front cockpit. Controls full and free, electrics on, clear prop, and the big Merlin roars into life, blasting an exhaust-charged slipstream past my open canopy. The Spitfire rocks gently with the torque. I've never felt more alive.
There's an intercom, but it's intermittent and totally outvoiced by Messrs Rolls and Royce. Al can see me in his mirror, I can see his face in it, and hand signals can substitute.
I follow through on the controls while Al taxies out to runway 19. She's a beast on the ground, you can't see ahead, and steering's the weirdest form of differential braking you could possibly conceive. I look right and left and see rapt faces on the pan, in the tower, in ops room windows. G-ILDA's a star: life's on hold for everyone she passes, which she does with her nose in the air.
We hold short for power checks. Brakes on, power up, rpm set, let the big machine's oil warm up. Mag drop's a bit dramatic, so give her a bit more running time to clean the plugs.
Then clear to line up and we're away like a greyhound out of the traps, the huge Merlin singing loudly but much more sweetly now she's been given her head. Likewise, the beast on the ground becomes a bird, light as a feather once she's slipped the surly bonds of earth.
We head south west at about 3,000ft to salute Al's friend. When close, Al increases the boost and rpm, sets a gentle descent before pulling up firmly and, with nose high, into a victory roll. I watch, knowing it's my turn next.
When I ask Al how much nose-up before starting to roll, he doesn't give it to me in degrees: "Put your feet on the horizon." And, he adds, keep the g positive all the way over. So I do that, imagining I had just made a kill and was performing a celebratory roll above the runway back at base before being hauled into the Flight Commander's office and told to behave.
I get a word from Al on the way over the top because I relaxed the back-pressure, allowing the g to drop away. With a soul in the back seat, the tandem Spit's centre of gravity is pretty far aft which makes it twitchy in pitch, so a relaxation feels more like a reversal. So he makes me do it again, the bastard.
I should have cocked up a second time so I'd get a third!
Anyway, off to Tylney Hall for Al's dry run. There it is, a beautiful manse surrounded by lawns and woodland. And more of those rapt faces, alerted by the sound of the thrumming Merlin, gazing up as we steep-turn to show off the Spit's glorious wing profile.
We wing away, and Al calls Odiham. They take Al's offer of a pass above the runway, and as we pull up they hand us over to Farnborough.
This is the only disappointment of the flight. We want to run in for a victory roll, or at least a run-and-break to downwind, but Farnborough says traffic is holding for us so we have to go for a straight-in to 06.
Have they no soul?
Straight-in for a Spitfire is no joke. From a curved final approach you can see the runway. I can't see it at all over the high nose until we are flaring and the edges enter my peripheral vision.
But we have both rolled back our canopies for a wind-in-your-hair final approach, so at least we get that.
Rapt faces everywhere as we taxi in. They clearly all expected us.
I climb out and Al clears the rear cockpit, removing 'chute and harness in preparation for his solo display over Tylney this evening.
The evening display
Off to the hotel for me. Out of the TAG car at Tylney, still in my flying kit. The guests' awed glances say they think I'm the guy that did the mini-display overhead an hour or so earlier. Sorry Al, but I enjoyed that moment!
Change for dinner and out onto the evening terrace to await G-ILDA's arrival.
The rising Merlin growl signals an imminent appearance, and Al roars over, then swings into exquisite aerial ballet above the darkening tree-line.
I am one of the rapt faces. But this time I'm different. Now I know why we won the Battle of Britain.