There’s no such thing as a typical workday for the Hughes UK Field Services Management (FSM) Team. In November 2005, the group embarked on an engineering marathon of 102 visits to 52 countries over nine months in support of Hughes’ contract with the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). (See Channels CTBTO story in Winter 2004 issue.)
The CTBTO was established in 1996 to monitor the earth for signs of test nuclear weapons explosions, for which it has deployed an International Monitoring System (IMS), including 321 seismic research stations and 16 radionuclide laboratories. In 1998, Hughes was awarded a 10-year contract to design, install, monitor, and maintain a global VSAT network to transmit IMS data to CTBTO scientists for processing, analysis, and reporting. Recently, the FSM team was tasked to upgrade, reconfigure, and install new equipment at sites across the globe. This story recounts a few of the team’s adventures.
The Super Travel Agent
CTBTO sites are located in almost every time zone worldwide and in remote and hard-to-reach regions. In fact, with no conventional addresses, some sites can only be located by longitude and latitude. But Eddie Openshaw of the Hughes team, who was responsible for organizing travel, visas, and connections, provided the team with unflagging logistical support—even managing work-arounds when two airlines went out of business and long-term power outages on air traffic control towers meant 24-hour stays in airports.
Snow and Horses Can’t Keep a Good Man Down
What should have been a four-hour drive by car turned into an 11-hour journey through heavy snow for Hughes team member Gaz Williams during a trip to Sweden. Then, after completing his work, Williams discovered a snow plow had deposited a huge snowdrift at the exit. Undaunted, Williams dug his way out and moved on to his next CTBTO site.
Snow also made vehicular access to one site impossible for Stuart Barton, another member of the Hughes team, prompting his CTBTO client to arrange travel by horseback. But Barton, who has a fear of horses, opted to trek the distance on foot through the deep snow.
Persistence and Patience Pay Off
One of Barton’s most interesting adventures took place on a trip from Bishkek to Almaty in Kazakhstan. With no direct flights available, Barton travelled via China. But because his visa for Kazakhstan was not valid until six hours after the plane was scheduled to land, he was unable to board. Nor was he allowed to wait for the next flight, since this would have exceeded his allowed transit time in China, making him an illegal immigrant. Helpful officials offered to accommodate Barton in a police hostel until the next available flight.
Barton decided instead to book a flight to Almaty, by way of Moscow and Istanbul. To physically make the arrangements, however, he had to leave the departure area, making him an illegal immigrant after all. His troubles did not end there. The Moscow flight was delayed, making Barton miss the connection to Istanbul. There too, he had to leave the transit area and enter another country illegally. He was eventually allowed to adjust his flight plans, departing 11 hours later before finally reaching Kazakhstan to do his work on behalf of Hughes and the CTBTO.
Taking every challenge in stride, the FSM Team members showed unwavering commitment to the project and performed their work in a stalwart manner. And along the way, their experiences created the opportunity to meet a host of interesting people, learn about cultures all over the world, and rack up some rich memories.