Dean Harman, widely known by his social media name @aerophotographs is a Turnaround Coordinator (TCO) at London Gatwick Airport. He works for a ground handling company that provides this service to easyJet. As a TCO – sometimes known as a dispatcher – it’s Dean’s responsibility to supervise everything that happens to an aircraft while it’s on the ground, overseeing the safety of the aircraft and everyone working around it.
Dean takes us inside his fascinating job, and gives us a glimpse of life in his TCO shoes.
When did you know aviation was for you?
For as long as I can remember! My father works for British Airways and ever since I was young we took advantage of his staff travel perks to go on family holidays. I was lucky enough to travel all over the world, and even got to fly business class from time to time. I had a taste for how incredible life In the air was, and the adventures it could lead to.
What was your route into aviation?
Prior to working in aviation I was a Police officer. After some time, I felt the aviation environment was better suited to me personally. I already had a social media presence due to sharing my aviation photography hobby, and a follower who was a Turnaround Coordinator (know as a TCO) encouraged me to apply!
When did you become a TCO?
I have been a TCO for three years, now approaching my third summer!
What was the most challenging part of becoming a TCO?
It depends what, as an individual, you find hard. Maths isn’t my strong point, and as a TCO you have to work with weight and balance of an aircraft. I nailed that pretty quickly but it took a bit more effort at the start. For some people dealing with the public can sometimes be challenging, but that was the easy part for me having dealt with the public day in, day out while in the police force.
Take us through a day working in your shoes?
I arrive at the crew room, collect my radio, PDA (a tablet which you are assigned your flights on) and a vehicle if required. I then head out onto the airfield.
During an aircraft arrival I attach the jetty (airbridge) to the aircraft, open the aeroplane door, and liaise with the airline’s cabin manager to ensure safe disembarkation of passengers. I oversee the entire disembarking process which includes passengers, baggage and cargo.
When an aircraft lands and parks on stand (where passengers exit and enter the airport terminal), the time between that aircraft unloading and getting ready for its next flight is called the turnaround.
On a turnaround I will complete the disembarkation, collect all the paperwork.
As the crew prepare for the next flight, I provide the crew and loading team with the crew manifest, and loading instruction. I then complete a loadsheet for the flight crew to tell them the expected baggage and passenger figures and where in the aircraft’s cargo hold I anticipate loading the bags. I liaise with the gate staff, cabin crew and loading team to begin boarding and loading. Once any tagged bags, and items like buggies and wheel chairs have been collected from passengers at the gate, I sign a hold check form, sign off the loading instruction form to confirm where and how many bags have been loaded.
I make the cabin crew aware of any missing or standby passengers. Additional baggage and passenger changes are then given to the pilots as “last minute changes”. As the TCO I then give the pilots the weight we have gained or lost, and sign the load sheet. The weight change is calculated for performance purposes by the pilots. They record the change and sign the loadsheet with me.
We are then safe to go!
Throughout the turnaround time, I liaise with our cleaning team, water and waste services, as well as catering and fuellers to ensure all services are promptly completed.
As part of my role I have the discretion to deal with disruptive or late passengers as necessary. My policing experience comes in handy here! If you’ve ever seen the TV show “Airline” from many years ago, it is us dispatchers who make the call to accept you or not if you are late! So be on time!
Anything you would like to share about life as a TCO?
It’s the best job on the airfield.
Having a positive reputation as an efficient and competent TCO is extremely important to me and I am honoured to feel like a part of the airline I support, in addition to the the ground handler I am employed by.
I have gained so many friends through my job including pilots, crew and ground staff. The airport is a huge family, and the flights won’t go with out everyone playing their part.
As the TCO you are ultimately responsible for the safety of your friends and colleagues. It’s a big ask, but extremely rewarding.
What are your career goals for the future?
Right now things are uncertain in the aviation industry due to COVID-19, so right now I’d like to come back to full flights, busy summers and another amazing year with my orange family. That’s all I aspire to have. There’s plenty of opportunities in the airfield for growth and when the time is right I’ll consider the jump!
What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to become a TCO?
Safety always come first. Sometimes on time performance (known as OTP – the on time departure of aircraft) has to take a back seat. Never be afraid to ask for help either. Being a good TCO is sometimes coordinating your own response to an issue, and knowing when to step back and reassess.
What makes a good TCO?
I do believe having a law enforcement background helped me gain the communication skills and time management skills required to do this job. You have to be used to managing a workload. Having experience of dealing with dynamic and fast-moving situations helps.
I like to think that I am approachable and have an excellent relationship with my flight crew.
Being able to resolve issues by yourself as the “flight supervisor” is important and you have to be confident about decisions you are making. You have to be assertive and make sure every member of your turnaround team plays their part.
I believe all of those qualities make a competent TCO.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Dispatching your friends and then seeing them arrive back safely later that afternoon, Knocking on the aircraft door, opening it and giving them a hug. I miss this so much during this time of social distancing.
I love spending my days out on the airfield in the sun (well, sometimes – this is the UK afterall!) meeting crews and passengers from all over the world, and making sure they go home safely.
It honestly doesn’t get any better!
Quick turnaround questions
Take-off or landing? Take off!
Favourite place for a holiday? Singapore.
Favourite aircraft of all-time? G-EZDH has my initials on it! But aircraft type I’d say 747, the queen.
What would you be if you weren’t a TCO? Maybe still in the Police, and if I could afford it, I’d love to train as a pilot of course!
Dean has a job that many aviation geeks would love. It’s certainly a role that I would love to have a go at! Thank you for sharing your story Dean. You can follow Dean’s airfield adventures on Instagram @aerophotographs.