Private pilot Mark Keech has flown in and out of Sydney Airport as a passenger many times, but he never thought one day he would do it from the cockpit.
That changed recently when he flew a Piper Cherokee 140 four-seater aircraft onto one of Sydney’s main runways, which stretches nearly four kilometres.
“I can land this thing in about 250 metres and they told me to get off the first taxiway as quickly as I could [because another plane was coming],” he said.
“The first taxiway is one kilometre away, and I said to my daughter we’d have to take off again just to get to it.”
Mr Keech is one of many small aircraft pilots taking advantage of Sydney’s eerily-quiet airport during COVID-19.
Ordinarily, Australia’s largest airport sees at least 800 plane movements per day.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, that number has been reduced to about 60 movements, mainly of freight jets.
Planes that ‘don’t make a lot of noise’
Sydney Airport airfield supervisor Nigel Coghlan has watched the airport recover from the events of September 11 and the global financial crisis.
Neither had an impact like that of coronavirus.
“Normally the airspace isn’t available, so [for hobby pilots] to be able to tick Sydney Airport off in their logbook is a special thing,” he said.
“We’re used to dealing with the larger aircraft, but we’re now seeing something small that doesn’t make a lot of noise, so it’s something we have to keep on our toes with.
“Apart from that, we’re happy to give them a helping hand on the layout and guide them around if need be.”
Touched down with no issues
Mark Keech said to be permitted fly into Sydney Airport he needed to submit a flight plan and book a landing slot.
During usual operations, every landing spot is booked by commercial airlines, but the current climate offers surprising flexibility.
“They asked me what time I wanted and I said ‘1500 local’, and they said ‘that will be fine’, no question of it,” he said.
“It’s a bit comical, actually, but they’re really keen to do some work and have someone come in.”
Despite having to negotiate a strong crosswind while approaching the runway, he touched down without issue alongside his daughter in the passenger seat.
Mr Keech said he had to try and manage the excitement of the occasion with making sure he followed all the necessary protocols.
“It became surreal because on one hand it was the same as landing at any other airport, but then I thought ‘this is serious, it’s an international airport and I’ve got a 777 up my arse’,” he said.
“I’m really glad I did it.”