Hanover Airport, 7:25 pm. TUI fly X3 2375 from Malta touches down punctually. While the passengers and crew set off home, overnight maintenance awaits the Boeing 737. Another hive of activity after sunset is the Operations Centre, where flights are charted for all TUI airlines and contact with German crews is managed. We visit the night shift at the airport that is also home base for Germany’s TUI fly.

TUI fly Maintenance Hangar

10:00 pm The hangar where the nocturnal technical check takes place is 25 metres high with a surface area of 8,500 square metres. Enough room for a football arena – or up to three Boeing 737–800s. But tonight the plane from Malta will be on its own. It is already in its dock and ready for action. The flexible rig makes it easier for the TUI fly mechanics to perform maintenance work on the back and tail. At twelve metres up they need a head for heights.

10:00 pm The night shift assembles to discuss the P Check scheduled for tonight. This major inspection is due every 600 flight hours and is much more comprehensive than the daily and weekly checks performed out on the apron while the aircraft is operating. Marcus Oberheide, one of two shift supervisors, divides the men into teams. Engines, cabin, cargo hold, wings, fuselage: clearly defined tasks are allocated to each, old hands and trainees work side by side. Within minutes the teams are fitted out with the tools they need and have taken up their positions along the plane. The cleaners have arrived too and set about getting the cabin shipshape.

TUI fly HQ, Operations Centre

11:40 pm A few metres away up on the 4th floor of TUI fly headquarters. The lights are dimmed, the sprawling office is mainly lit by the glow from many computer screens. Scattered across work islands, the flight dispatchers at TUI Group Operations Centre (GOC) sit alongside their colleagues from Crew Contact. Both teams work in three shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Tonight Peter Machts is in charge of the GOC. With the aid of four screens, he not only has an overview of TUI’s entire airline fleet but can simultaneously check on anything that might potentially hamper flight operations. At the moment, everything is going to plan, but things can change at any moment. Crisis management is part of the job profile: “In bad weather, strikes or when planes are grounded for repairs, a relaxed shift can turn stressful within seconds,” he knows from experience. Then a Plan B must kick in straight away. Usually it means making a lot of little cogs turn in sync, and so the GOC team spend many an hour in nocturnal video conferences with other units. The overriding aim is to minimise the impact on passengers – while also keeping an eye on environmental impacts and costs.

11:40 pm Hanover Airport is busy all around the clock.While the paperwork proceeds in an office container inside the maintenance hangar, aircraft mechanic Lukas Bohnhorst devotes his attention to the Boeing’s winglets. The upward cant at the tip of the wing is designed to cut fuel consumption. Thanks to his torch, he doesn’t miss the tiniest scratch.

00:56 am Tonight, for short hauls to the Mediterranean and the Canaries alone, the GOC team will plot around 250 flights. While the Boeing from Malta in the hangar gets a new oil filter, Christopher Nagel calculates its next flight path to Ibiza. The dispatcher studies the data: where is the cloud ceiling, how strong are the winds, what approach procedures does the manufacturer specify? Are there are any bans on night flying, restrictions on air space, stipulations about take-off and landing runways? “It all looks good for Hanover – Ibiza right now,” he concludes. Based on his input, a computer then charts the route with the lowest fuel consumption for the pilots, including alternative airports should the need arise.

02:50 am One office further on sit Claudia Wachsmann and Torsten Bayer from the Crew Contact team, the extended arm of mobile staff at the German company TUI fly. Tonight they are making sure the crew will have their prescribed rest periods, locating replacements for staff who have reported in sick at short notice and passing on any roster changes to the cockpit and cabin crew. Part of their job is to organise rail and air tickets, taxis and hotel rooms. They often have to drag people out of bed with a phone call. “We sometimes run roughshod over the private life of our crew members,” admits Claudia Wachsmann, reaching stoutly for the phone to summon a co-pilot on standby at her home in Düsseldorf.

TUI fly Maintenance Hangar

04:05 am The P Check is entering the home straight. A few mechanics are replacing a cabin window where condensation has built up. It needs a new seal. Not a safety issue, but important for passenger comfort. The paperwork is part and parcel of the pro­cedure. Even minor things like changing 
a faulty light bulb in the cargo hold are 
recorded, every scratch mapped. TUI fly pursues a preventive maintenance policy, especially for parts exposed to a lot of stress like brakes and tyres. In other words, the airline often applies more stringent thresholds for replacing significant parts than those specified by the manufacturer. “Safety first. Besides, scheduled replacement here in the hangar is better than out of doors during operations,” observes aircraft mechanic Lukas Bohnhorst.

05:15 am Outside the rising sun heralds the approaching end of the shift. Inside Marcus Oberheide signs off the P Check documents. As duty supervisor he is accountable for the proper completion of all the work and for the flightworthiness of the aircraft. When he gives the green light, his team tow the 40-tonne plane out onto the apron.

Airport Terminal B, Gate 6

06:00 am The catering service begin loading up the plane. Five whole trolleys with 60 different items of food and drink are brought on board. Of course the full range from the on-board shop and café menu must be available on every flight. The details are always geared to the flight time: early in the morning most passengers ask for bread rolls. 

06:10 am The caterer brings food and drink on board – always tailored to the specific flight.

Airport Terminal C, Crew Room

06:30 am Crew briefing for Flight X3 2944 to Ibiza. Friendly greetings all round, people know each other in Hanover. The purser allocates positions and briefs her team on the upcoming flight. 147 passengers will be on board, including children and wheelchair users. These and other data are digitally stored on her tablet – as they are for Captain Miguel Cervantes. He provides a quick forecast: “Flight time will be 2 hours 20 minutes; we may meet some minor storms over the Alps.” There are still a few minutes for questions, then everyone heads for staff security.

06:45 am Preparations for boarding are still underway at Hanover Airport. The aircraft will next touch down on the Spanish holiday island of Ibiza.

Terminal B, Gate 6

07:00 am On board X3 2944 the cabin crew run through the routine check lists: life jackets, fire extinguishers, microphone, kitchen, toilets – all in order. In the cockpit the Captain and First Officer are studying their electronic flight bag. TUI fly has gone paperless, all relevant data are saved on the tablet, including navigation charts, manuals and the flight plan compiled a few hours ago. After final calculations Captain Miguel Cervantes carries out a last external check, then they are ready to go.

07:22 am The last passenger enters the cabin: Boarding completed. For the holidaymakers, the best time of the year has just begun; for Hanover Airport it has been a perfectly normal night.

»We want to meet the growing desire for mobility of our guests and, at the same time, set the standards in climate protection.«

David Burling, Member of the Executive Board, CEO Markets & Airlines

»TUI Aviation is a value driver, guarantees independence and provides flexibility for our tour operators and delivers an outstanding customer experience.«

Kenton Jarvis, Member of the Group Executive Committee, CEO Aviation