Osh Returns

As I write this we are less than two weeks away from Airventure Oshkosh 2021. With covid still a factor, Osh is going to look a little different this year. Even so, I’m super excited to get back to what is always THE aviation event of the summer.

Travel Plans

If all goes well I intend to head out on the 23rd. I’ll spend the night somewhere along the way and should arrive on the Airventure grounds in the early afternoon of the 24th. My first stop is always the Quonset Hut to grab my media credentials. From there I’ll drop my gear off at my room and then head out to begin the adventure.

Osh Plans

I have compiled a tight schedule packed with specific events I plan to attend… JUST KIDDING! I have tried to stick to a schedule in the past and tossed my plans out the window ten seconds after arrival. Why? For me the magic of Osh is in all those unexpected moments that I never thought I’d get to experience. Like the time I interviewed one of the Blue Angels. And the time I visited the tower. And the time I got to be a passenger as a friend flew the Fisk Arrival. I’ve learned to keep my plans to a minimum and allow myself the freedom to jump into whatever opportunities come my way.

The Activity

That said, there are some things I’m hoping to do while I’m there. (But no promises!) I’ve been wanting to try volunteering on the flight line. Perhaps this will be the year I make that happen. There is a presentation about the Space Shuttle that I’m hoping to attend. I’m looking forward to seeing some of this year’s featured airplanes including the Orbis Flying Eye MD-10 and the Samaritan’s Purse DC-8. I know one of the pilots of the C-17 that is flying in on Saturday. I hope I can be there to watch his landing! And, of course, I’m especially excited to see the A-10 demonstration team.

The People

What really makes Osh special, however, are the people. It’s the one place where I can totally geek out and be surrounded by people who feel the same way. I have friends who I only see once a year at Airventure and I’m really looking forward to seeing them again. It truly is an aviation family reunion.

That said, there are a number of international friends who won’t be able to attend this year. It won’t be the same without them – they will be missed! So will Launchpad Marzari, who hosted the annual Podapalooza event at the Pipistrel booth. Launchpad passed away recently in a plane crash. Aviation is a small community and he was such a big part of it. His passing leaves a hole that will be hard to fill.

The Shoes

Oshkosh involves a lot of walking. I mean A LOT. Even when I take shuttles and trams as much as possible, I still find myself walking many, many miles. So even though I’m not one of those people who starts packing weeks (or days, or even too many hours) in advance, I HAVE been thinking a bit about my shoes. I’m breaking in some new pairs and I’m seeking out some new insoles. Hopefully when Osh week arrives, I’ll be ready.

The Question

So what about you? Will you be attending Airventure this year? If so, I hope to see you there! If you can’t make it this year, keep an eye on the many camera feeds that EAA puts up. I know it’s not the same as being there, but it will at least allow you to see some of the action. Also, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram for lots of pics and videos. And stairs trucks. Of course!

Spotter Sins and Fly-Ins

A few weeks ago a friend and I watched airplanes together during our lunch break. We chatted while we snapped photos. During a pause in the conversation we looked up and saw something unusual approaching the other runway. By the time we realized what it was (a KC-135 doing a practice approach) it was too late for us to get to the other side of the garage. We managed to grab a couple of quick pics, but what could have been a great opportunity passed us by.

We looked at each other with dismay as we realized that we both had scanners, but neither of us was listening! Ooops! We had committed a major spotting sin and we paid the price. Make the most of your spotting moments by making sure you’re ready. Here are some classic errors that can cost you the chance to catch that special airplane.

Not Having/Not Listening to a Scanner

Since we’re already talking about it, let’s start here. I didn’t use a scanner for a long time. I just didn’t realize what a valuable tool it can be, especially for catching military flights or private jets which might not show up on flight trackers. Once I started using one my spotting game got a lot better. LiveATC feeds aren’t always available and don’t always capture the most useful channels. For example, at my airport LiveATC covers the approach and tower frequencies, but it doesn’t have the ground frequency which means you can’t hear taxi instructions. A scanner lets you program whatever channels you want and the reception is a lot clearer. If you don’t have a scanner, get one! And if you do have a scanner, don’t make my mistake and leave it in your car!

Forgetting to Check Equipment

How many times have you been set up to capture a long-sought-after livery only to have your camera’s low-battery light come on at the worst possible moment? I’ve had this happen many times! I usually continue with the shot while silently urging the battery to last just a few more moments. Sometimes I get lucky. Sometimes I don’t. The same thing happens with scanner batteries. We can save ourselves a lot of grief by taking a moment to check these things before we head out. And always carry spare batteries and extra memory cards.

Not Connecting with Other Spotters

Belonging to a spotter network is important. It can help you with everything from finding good spotting locations to choosing the right camera settings. Many spotters also work in the aviation industry and they often have really great insider information about rare airplanes or unusual liveries that are scheduled to visit. Plus plane spotting is just more fun with others!

Not Being Respectful

When chasing that perfect pic it can be hard to resist the temptation to sneak onto private property, or stand along the fence outside of the designated spotting area. You tell yourself it’s just this once for that one special airplane. The problem is, it only takes one person breaking the rules one time to potentially shut down spotting for everyone. Don’t be that person! Stick to designated locations. If airport security asks you to relocate, apologize and move right away.

Fly-In Season!

Warm weather and covid vaccinations mean that fly-ins are possible once again. After more than a year of being stuck at home with only virtual events to attend, the aviation world is ready to get back out there. On a recent Sunday I headed to the other side of the state to attend a fly-in that was held by a local EAA chapter. I was excited to be surrounded by airplanes and ready for a great day of photography.

I’ll admit I was a teeny bit apprehensive about crowds (or lack thereof), but I needn’t have worried. There was a wonderful mix of different types of planes and altbough attendance was strong, it never felt too crowded. I grabbed my camera and set off to capture the day. The field is bordered on one side by a raised levy. Not only did it offer a great view of the airfield below, but planes flew right over top as they departed. The perfect spotting location! Seeing an opportunity for some amazing video, I positioned myself carefully, lined up the shot and clicked the record button on my camera. And then the low battery light came on. And I realized I left my spare batteries back in the car.

DOH!!!

A New Perspective

I interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post (OK, semi-regularly – but I do have a new post in the works, I swear) to bring you BREAKING NEWS!

As many of you know, the view from my desk leaves a lot to be desired. When I look up I see a wall. And I can look over into the copy room where the photocopier and supply cabinet are. Except for the occasional sound of airplanes taxiing up to nearby gates, you’d never know I worked at an airport. I could be sitting in any office anywhere.

The view from my desk.

I’ve tried not to complain too much. After all, a desk with a wall view at an airport beats a desk with a wall view anywhere else. However, there has been an open desk by the windows for over four years now. It looks out past one of the jetbridges to the south airfield beyond. It is brighter than my current cube, has more desk space than my cube and I’ve wanted to move into it sooooo badly.

I started my quest by dropping subtle hints. (“That desk over there has been open a long time now…”) When that didn’t work I became a little more obvious. (“Sure, I’ll take on that additional task. What are the chances I can move to that desk?”) Evenutally I resorted to straight-up stating my desire on my annual review. (Question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Me: “Sitting at a desk by the windows.”) It has become something of a joke. “Oh, we can’t give Jennifer a window desk – she’d never get anything done!” I’ve tried to argue that I’d actually get more done because I wouldn’t have to get up and run to the window every time something interesting taxies by. Sadly, I got nowhere. I hadn’t given up all hope, but I was close.

In the meantime, several rounds of reorganization have occurred. The department that shared part our space moved upstairs. We downsized. More and more offices and desks went unusued. Then in a recent meeting my new boss announced that since there are so many open offices, they decided to allow people to move into them. She went on to say that unfortunately there aren’t quite enough offices for everyone. Would I be willing to take a desk by the windows instead?

Me: Squeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Her: Are you OK?

Me: *dances*

Her: *looks confused*

Once I calmed down enough to be coherent I assured my boss that I have ZERO desire to have an office (most of which don’t have windows) and that I am not only willing to take a desk by the windows, but that it’s pretty much the only work-related thing I’ve wanted for the past six years.

Eeeeeeeeeee!

And so, after years of patiently (or maybe not-so patiently) waiting, I HAVE A DESK BY THE WINDOWS! Yes, my view is somewhat obscured by the jetbridge, and even more obscured when a plane is there, but I do not care! This is the beginning of a whole new era! I’m not saying I’m going to post a million pics of what I see out my window… but then again, I might.

Airport Love Connection

Have you ever gazed across a crowded concourse and suddenly found yourself totally smitten? Well I have. More than once. Smitten by AIRPLANES, of course! Sure, I’ve always had a list of favorite planes, but since I started working at the airport I’ve fallen in love with a number of other airplanes that I might never have met otherwise.

T-38 Talon (The movie star.)

Oooh – look! It’s that plane who played the MiG-28 in Top Gun! OK, fine – so the T-38 wasn’t actually in Top Gun (the MiG-28 was played by F-5s), but it is strikingly similar. It isn’t unusual to see several Talons at the airport over the course of the summer. Like any fan-girl I love to take pics of them, but it isn’t easy. They are nimble little jets that can easily evade the paparazzi if they want to.

C-130 (The hypnotist.)

These planes also stop by my office regularly. It is not unusual to see them practicing approaches or doing touch and goes. I had seen C-130s on static display at air shows before, but it wasn’t until I got the chance to see them flying that I really fell in love. Let’s just say I have a thing for big… propellors. There’s something about them that is completely mesmerizing. And the sound they make… music to my ears!

Mooney (That tail!)

I did my discovery flight in a Mooney so I’ll admit I’m partial to them. With a tail that looks like someone accidentally installed it backwards, what’s not to love? It gives them a distinctive appearance that makes them easy to spot on the airfield.

Antonov 124 (Bigger is better!)

As you may already know, I LOVE big airplanes. (Yes, size matters!) The An-124 is the largest commercial airplane to regularly visit our cargo airport. Every time I’ve had the opportunity to get close to one I’m reminded of just how ridiculously huge it is. Even the tires seem abnormally large.

Gulfstream (Bond. James Bond.)

If Gulfstreams drank martinis they’d prefer them shaken and not stirred. Suave, smooth, flashy… they are sure to steal any avgeek’s heart! There’s just something about the sweep of their wings that makes me go all a-flutter.

Starship (Out of this world!)

I remember the first time I saw a Starship. It was being towed out from behind some other planes and as it slowly came into view, my jaw nearly hit the floor. I had absolutely no idea what it was, but I was hooked. It is one of the most unique airplanes I’ve ever had the pleasure to see at work and I do hope it comes back to visit some day.

Your Turn!

So what about you? Have you made any love connections lately? If not, then get yourself to the nearest airport ASAP. You never know what you might find hiding out amongst the hangars. Just be prepared to have your heart stolen!

Aviation Inspiration in an Unlikely Location

So much of my aviation inspiration comes from being immersed in it – at the office during the week and at air shows and fly-ins on weekends. This year, however, the pandemic has taken a lot of that away. I’ve found myself in a bit of a funk and searching for ways to keep the passion for aviation going. Recently I found a bit of inspiration in a highly unlikely location… the dentist office.

Many years ago when I was a brand-new mom I had a really bad tooth. I’d put off going to the dentist for… well, longer than I should have. I didn’t even have a dentist in town. So I picked one and went. I was told that I needed a root canal. They’d be happy to schedule one for me at the earliest possible availability, which turned out to be a month away. A month!

If you’ve ever had a bad tooth you know waiting a month is NOT an option. So I called another dentist and was impressed when they told me to go back to the first dentist, grab the x-rays and come to the office – no appointment needed! I appeared on their doorstep with x-rays in hand and awaited their verdict. The dentist looked them over and told me that the problem was a wisdom tooth. A root canal would be expensive and unnecessary – let’s just pull it! OK… how long was I going to have to wait for that? The dentist looked at me and smiled. “What are you doing tomorrow?”

Thus began my most long-standing health provider relationship. I’ve gotten to know several of the dentists in the practice over the years and they’re all great. Plus they give you coupons for free ice cream. No, I’m not kidding! But I haven’t even told you the best part. The best part is… the airplanes! You see, the man who founded the practice was a pilot. You could tell by the model planes and photos around the office that he was passionate about flying. Seeing airplanes everywhere made going to the dentist a little less awful.

Sadly, about 8 years after my first visit the founder died. He was killed in a plane crash in North Carolina. The accident happened in his plane but a friend of his was at the controls. The cause of the accident was fuel exhaustion. NTSB determined that there was fuel in two of the tanks, but for some reason the selector switch was on a tank that was empty.

I can only imagine how devastated his family must have been. But to her credit, his wife decided to keep the practice going. There aren’t as many model planes around as there used to be, but there are some. And it is still a great place filled with great people.

I was a bit hesitant to schedule my regular dentist appointment in the middle of a pandemic, but eventually I decided I ought to go ahead. The dentist who handled my cleaning was not one I had met before. He asked where I work and I told him I work for the airport authority. A few minutes later he surprised me asking about my job again. “I don’t want to make you talk about work if you don’t want to, but I’m really interested in aviation…” That was all I needed to hear. I LOVE to talk about work!

For the rest of the appointment we talked about airports and airplanes and flying. (Or at least we talked as much as it is possible to during a dentist appointment.) He’s never been to Airventure so I told him he MUST go. He’d like to learn to fly but he’s a little unsure about it. I recommended a discovery flight. He’s fascinated by military planes. I suggested several nearby museums.

I left the appointment with clean teeth and a renewed sense of enthusiasm. I was the happiest I’ve been in a while. Amazing what a little bit of avgeek conversation will do! And it just goes to show that you never know where or when that passion for aviation will pop up.

Wacko for Waco

It has been a rough year for avgeeks. Pretty much every major air show and aviation event has been canceled or posponed until 2021. Aside from a few isolated fly-overs, aviation enthusiasts have had to make due with whatever airplanes happened to stop by the local airport.

In recent weeks, however, a few small events have popped up. I shrugged most of them off – we’re in a pandemic, after all. Who is going to show up? The chance of any event being worth attending seemed pretty low. Then last month I found out about a Waco fly-in being held a couple hours away at Waco Field. The day was gorgeous – blue skies, perfect temps. I had nothing better to do so I decided to take a chance and make the trip.

During the drive I mentally prepared myself to be disappointed. However, when I arrived at the destination and saw row after row of bi-planes and other vintage airplanes I nearly burst into tears for sheer joy. Finally! After more than a year I was once again surrounded by airplanes and avgeeks and it felt wonderful!

I started the afternoon by working my way along the rows of planes. Since this was a Waco fly-in, I was not surprised to see several of them in attendance. However, there were plenty of other types of planes on hand as well. One that caught my eye was the Grasshopper. It is actually a Piper J-3 Cub which was adapted for service in WWII. Another plane that grabbed my attention was a Great Lakes bi-plane. I just love the stance, the big round tail and splashy colors.

Next I visited the small museum located on the field. Inside were a number of exhibits dedicated to the history of Waco airplanes. Originally the Weaver Aircraft Company, the name changed to Waco around 1929. They developed a number of different airplanes including both open and closed cockpit bi-planes. During WWII they manufactured gliders which were used by the US Army Air Force as well as the RAF. The company folded after the war when the demand for civil aircraft didn’t increase as hoped.

I headed back outside in time to watch the RC air show. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from RC planes. Turns out it was pretty darn cool. They started with an aerobatic helicopter which did some pretty fancy flying that made me a little dizzy. This was followed by an aerobatic plane which performed the same loops and spins that one would expect from the full-sized version. Last was an RC plane built almost entirely for speed. It had a jet engine and they weren’t kidding when they said it was fast!

Once the RC show was over, the families moved off to the other side of the field for the candy drop. This was accomplished with another RC helicopter. I had never seen a candy drop before. It sure did look like fun! I opted not to get too close – in part to maintain social distance, but mostly because the Wacos and several other planes were taking off in preparation for the parade of planes.

The parade consisted of a series of fly-bys. An announcer provided details about each type of Waco as it made a low pass up the grass strip. Once the parade was over, the two bi-planes that had been giving rides all afternoon took back to the air. I’ve always been a bit hesitant about flying in an open cockpit, but I have to admit it looked like a lot of fun.

I headed home at the end of the day exhausted and sunburned but very happy. It was wonderful to be around airplanes again! Plus I found the perfect souvenir to remind me of all the fun. Perhaps best of all, I was able to support a small aviation museum and hopefully help keep it up and running for years to come.

The Bad, the Ugly and… the Good?

Its been a struggle lately to find something encouraging to write about. Things are quiet. Too quiet. Every aviation event I planned to attend has been canceled. Many shops at the airport remain closed, parking lots are empty and there are few passengers wandering the concourses.

The Bad

The outlook for the travel industry continues to be pretty bleak. The number of enplanements at my airport increased over the summer from the shocking low numbers we saw in the spring, but they haven’t rebounded as strongly as everyone hoped. Total passengers are down 65% from 2019. Unfortunately, now that the summer travel season has ended, enplanements appear to be sliding backwards again. In response, the airlines have trimmed flights and we currently expect to see around 60 flights per day in September – down from 70 per day in July and August. (That’s compared to around 140 flights per day in 2019.)

The Ugly

The CARES Act funding ends at the end of September. Unless additional funding is provided, the airlines will begin downsizing. Thousands of people will lose their jobs. Whole fleets will be parked. Once this happens the airlines will be much smaller. Even if the demand for travel suddenly comes roaring back, it is unlikely they’ll be able to scale up quickly enough to meet it. Sadly, it seems that there won’t be any real recovery any time soon. And the longer this drags on, the slower it will be. Current predictions are for a possible recovery in 2024. Ouch!

The Good?

In the midst of all the bad news and discouragement I got to wondering: is there anything good going in aviation right now? It can’t be ALL bad, can it? So I set out to find if there are any silver linings hidden in the gloom.

1. Cargo

In June our cargo-dedicated airport managed to have one of the best months it has EVER had. The airport handled 31 million lbs of freight compared to around 19 million lbs in June 2019. Some international carriers haven’t returned since the pandemic began, but others have increased flights. We even picked up a new carrier – Korean air announced that they will be starting regular flights this month. Domestic charters have increased as well. It is encouraging to see that at least one sector of the industry is doing OK.

2. General Aviation

General aviation flights are down a bit from 2019, but not nearly as much as I expected. In June and July commercial carrier operations were down about 6,000 flights/month, which is a drop of around 63% from the same period in 2019. However, general aviation operations were only down about 300 flights/month, which is a drop of only 28% from the prior year. As a plane spotter, I think it is great that general aviation planes are getting more time in the spotlight. I’ve enjoyed seeing more Bonanzas, Mooneys and Cessnas around.

3. Airport Life

Regardless of what may be happening in the industry, life at the airport goes on. Airfield inspections still have to happen, the winter season has to be prepared for and unusual visitors still drop in. Last week the airport held its tri-annual emergency preparedness exercise. This year it involved a simulated aircraft fire using a replica fuselage with actual flames. I was able to leave my desk for a few minutes to go upstairs and watch. I often see ARFF practicing on the airfield, but it was cool to be able to see them in action in a more realistic situation.

Times may be stressful and the outlook rather gloomy, but airplanes are still cool and flying is still magic. It will take more than a pandemic to change that! As long as there are C-17s on the ramp and a Maules in camo, there is never a dull day at the airport. And that’s very good indeed!

OSH20 – the Week That (sort-of) Wasn’t

It’s my favorite week of the whole year! I spend 365 days looking forward to it. It’s better than Christmas. It’s Airventure Oshkosh! Except… not this year. Thanks to the current pandemic, Osh20 was canceled. There are not enough words to express how devastated I’ve been.

I tried to distract myself by taking a (socially-distanced) day-trip across the lake to a cheerful little island. But I just spent my time lurking around the airport there, looking for airplanes. I went through old photos and shared them online with the other Osh faithful. It was somewhat helpful to know that I was not alone in my grief.

In the absence of our beloved fly-in, the good folks at EAA put together the Spirit of Aviation Week. It consisted of a collection of online events and forums covering a wide-range of topics. I’ll admit I was skeptical about it at first – no virtual event can ever take the place of the real deal. But then I looked over the list of offerings and saw a few that looked interesting. So I decided to check them out. And I’m so glad I did! I carried my ipad outside, plugged in my headphones and as I listened I could almost imagine I was sitting in one of the forum buildings on the Airventure grounds.

The first event I “attended” was a panel discussion with members of the US Air Force Demo teams. Participating in the event were an F-16 pilot, an F-22 pilot, an F-35 pilot and an A-10 pilot. They discussed the challenges of keeping their skills sharp during a season when most shows have been canceled. They also talked about flying at Osh, how it is different from some of the other places they fly and how much they look forward to performing there. I was interested to learn that as a recruiting tool, the demo teams are primarily trying to reach kids ages 8-12. That seems young to me, but they say it is the best age to capture and maintain an interest in becoming military aviators.

The next event I attended was the Airline Pilot Career Outlook, hosted by United Airlines. I am not interested in becoming an airline pilot, but I was curious to get United’s take on the pandemic and the impact it is having on the industry. They reiterated what we already know – this has been the worst year for the airlines, ever. They believe it will likely be two years before they are ready to start hiring again. However, they are very cognizant of the fact that 50% of their workforce will retire in 10 years and 90% will retire in 20 years. Pandemic or not, that is a lot of pilots that will be needed. They are trying to connect with future pilots early on – a fact they emphasized by announcing their sponsorship of EAA’s Young Eagles programs.

I wrapped up the week by attending an FAA seminar entitled “Don’t Let that Airport Fool You!” With a title like that, of course I had to attend! I was curious to know just exactly how airports go around fooling people. The seminar was really about how to avoid wrong surface/wrong airport events. I learned that certain types of airport geometry (parallel and offset parallel runways, complicated layouts, etc.) can contribute to these types of events. It made me wonder how many airport planners are also pilots. Seems like it would be helpful to have hands-on experience when making decisions about taxiway placements, etc.

I really enjoyed attending these sessions and I appreciate everything EAA did to provide a taste of Airventure in the midst of a difficult year. That said, I’m really glad Osh week is over. I’m ready to stop feeling sad about what didn’t happen, and look ahead to better days. Hope to be able to see you all at Airventure 2021!

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Aviation Appreciation

DE18EC16-532D-42AA-A67A-4BFB4068CAB2This is not the blog post I intended to write. I originally planned to outline all the things that avgeeks can do to try to cope with Severe Aviation Deficiency (aka S.A.D) brought about by the current pandemic. I may still write that post eventually. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t want aviation subsitutes. I want real airplanes and I want them RIGHT NOW.

I know, I know. I’m being selfish and silly and maybe a bit juevenile. But as I’ve written before, aviation is more than just a passing interest. It’s a passion. It’s therapy. It’s a community. And I’m REALLY missing all of that.

70F3550F-086E-4E78-8740-F6CE7B1D61F3If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile then you may recall that my mother passed away last year. I still miss her a lot. Then a few weeks ago my brother’s wife had a massive stroke. She collapsed suddenly and had to be life-flighted to a hospital for brain surgery. She survived – a miracle in itself – but she’s facing a very long road to recovery. I’ve been helping my brother with his blog, which he is using to keep friends and family informed.

4DB6968B-0768-4B23-ACC9-DBD3DF689890So you see, I’ve been in dire need of a little aviation therapy. Unfortunately, I’m not at the office these days so the only planes I see are those that happen to fly over my back yard. Then I got an email with two small words that brightened my whole week: military charters. TWO of them! A B767 AND a B777 – planes we rarely get to see. Better still, they’re being flown by an airline that rarely visits. This, my friends, was just what the doctor ordered!

But would I be able to catch both flights? After all, I’m working from home so I can’t just take a break and go upstairs for a few minutes. I need at least half an hour to drive to the airport, park and get into position. As luck would have it, the B767 arrived on a Friday evening. It was delayed until well after I had finished work for the day, so I had no trouble getting there in time to see it.

5271AFF1-74D5-4702-A462-63A676D2EEDFThe B777 on the other hand, was much more of a challenge. It was originally scheduled for a Saturday arrival, which would have been great. Then they pushed it back to Thursday morning. Noooooo! Not good! But… a B777! In my nearly six years at the airport I’ve never seen a B777 there. I did NOT want to miss it. What’s an avgeek to do?

I did the only thing I could think of: I took time off work so I could spend time at the office. I know – that sounds completely ridiculous. (Thanks pandemic!) But hey, I did what I had to do. And it was soooo worth it – not just for the airplane (which was fantastic) but for the time I got to spend around other spotters. Thankfully, it is easy to watch airplanes and still maintain an appropriate distance from others.

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A spotter and his dad.

Actually, I was surprised how many people were there, including a number of younger spotters I had never met before. Several parents and siblings had also come along. There were so many faces peering over the wall of the parking garage that it caught the attention of some members of the Airport Operations Department. After the 777 parked, they came upstairs to greet the spotters and talk to them about possible careers in Operations. How cool is that!? I am SO GLAD I work for an airport that appreciates and encourages a passion for aviation!

So, am I feeling better now? Yes! It makes me happy to know that there are still cool airplanes and interesting liveries to see. And if having more free time during the pandemic has encouraged new avgeeks, then that’s a silver lining that makes life’s challenges a little easier to bear. 0004CA7E-79F8-40CD-972A-F03B3C120F0E

The Pandemic and Airport Life

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There has been a lot of discussion about how the covid-19 pandemic is affecting the airlines, but what about airports? As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, every airport is different so the level of impact will vary depending on the types of traffic an airport has, how their financials are structured, etc. That said, there are some commonalities. I can only speak to what I’m seeing but you can probably draw some parallels to the airports that operate near you.

Like most airports, we get revenue through things like parking fees and concessions. We also get revenue from third parties who pay for the right to do business on airport property (like Uber and Lyft, for example) and through advertising in and around the terminal. We get income from the airlines as well, however those fees are structured to cover the cost of actually operating the airport itself. They pay a portion of terminal costs through renting gate/ticket counter/hold room space, and they cover the costs of airfield and ramp maintenance through landing fees.

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So, just how bad are the numbers right now? On a normal day in April we’d typically have around 13,000 enplanements (passengers boarding flights). This April there were days when we didn’t even have 500 enplanements. Let’s look at one of the major legacy carriers – we’ll call them Airline A. They aren’t the biggest operator for us in terms of flights or passengers, but they still do a fair amount of business at our airport. In April 2019 Airline A and its regional partners had just over 800 landings and around 67,500 enplaned passengers. In April 2020 they had 150 landings and 5,700 enplaned passengers. That’s a decrease of about 82% in landings and 91% in enplanements. When we widen the view to look at total passengers across all airlines, there was a decrease of approximately 95% in April 2020 compared to April 2019.

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Needless to say, those numbers are not enough to support the airport ecosystem. Most of the food vendors and shops have closed. At least one has closed permanently. Some of the parking lots had to be closed as well because there were so few cars it made no sense to continue to staff lot attendants or shuttle drivers. As you can imagine, revenue for the month of April was way down.

To try to mitigate the loss of income we’re doing what many other businesses are doing – cutting expenses where we can, and revising the budget to reduce spending as much as possible. We are also scaling back on capital projects, focusing only on those that are essential to the continued operation of the airport. We will be getting some assistance in the form of funds from the CARES act, which will help keep things moving, for awhile at least.

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Then there is the challenge of trying to meet social distancing and other health mandates while being mindful of expenses. Take parking, for example. Anyone who parks in a lot must ride a shuttle to get to the terminal. In order to meet social distancing guidelines, half the seats will need to be blocked off. This may not be such a big deal while passenger counts are low. However, as people return to flying it will become increasingly difficult to accommodate everyone. Do we buy more shuttles? They aren’t cheap.

With so few flights currently, we’ve considered combining the airlines into two concourses and closing the third. On the surface this sounds like a good idea. It would allow the airport to concentrate the efforts of the custodian teams and perhaps allow for reduced utility usage in the unused concourse. Except it isn’t that simple. Lease agreements take time to work through – how do you reassign the gates? How would this affect the baggage systems? And what would it mean for social distancing if employees and passengers are concentrated into two concourses instead of three?

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Cargo has been a bit of a lifeline for the airlines, and the same is true for us. While traffic at the passenger airport has been anemic, our nearby cargo airport has seen traffic levels hold nearly steady. Interestingly, many of our regular international cargo carriers did not have any landings in April. However we saw an increase in charter flights which made up most of the difference.

So what does the future hold? Given the unprecedented impact the pandemic has had on the travel industry, it’s hard to say. We will need to be patient and thoughtful. And we’ll need to continue to maintain good relationships with the communities we serve as well as our airline partners. We are, after all, in this together.B0C32904-4CFF-4A2D-94F7-847327DF1BAB