Airline Fees that THEY Have to Pay

11114433-E059-45DA-B2E7-CA0539E98464If you’ve flown commercially recently then you know that airlines LOVE to charge fees. It seems like there’s an extra cost for pretty much everything these days. All those fees can get pretty annoying, so I thought it might be fun to turn the tables and talk about fees that airlines have to PAY. Specifically, airport fees.

Before I jump in, however, there are a few disclaimers. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all airport fees. Additionally, every airport is different so the types of fees vary, as do the rates.

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Hahaha! Look who I finally caught! Nice to see ya, Miami Air! Your invoice is in the mail.

How does my airport decide how much to charge? The rates are set based on how much it costs to operate the airport. We track our expenses and use a formula to translate those amounts into rates. Signatory airlines (passenger airlines who have signed a lease agreement or cargo airlines who have committed to a specific number of weekly flights) get a discount on most fees. We actually sit down with representatives from our signatory airlines every fall to go over our budget and the rates for the next year.

Rent

Rent is charged per square foot for ticket counters, gate space, hold rooms, baggage areas, the apron, etc. The typical lease is for a term of three years. Rates vary depending on the area. Ticketing counter space is the most expensive at $103/sq ft. Baggage claim is less at $82/sq fr. A big airline with many gates and lots of space can expect to pay $400,000/month in rent. A small airline with a single gate could pay closer to $90,000/month.

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One signatory, one not.

Gate Use Fees

Hey wait… didn’t I just just say that airlines rent gate space? Yes, I did. However, they don’t always rent enough space. Things like additional flights, new destinations or even diversions could mean that there are times when an extra gate or two are needed. In that case airlines will use unleased gates and we will charge them for it. Of course, non-signatory airlines don’t rent space so they will always have to pay gate use fees. We charge signatory arlines around $350/turn  for an extra gate. Non signatory airlines pay closer to $600/turn.

Terminal Use Fees

The cost of maintaining the terminal is already wrapped up into the lease fees for signatory airlines. Non-signatory airlines, however, have to pay terminal use fees. These are calculated per enplaned passenger. We are currently charging just over $7 so a departing flight with 150 passengers will pay around $1050.00.

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Um… yeah, no fees for you.

Landing Fees (my favorite!)

Landing fees are charged per 1000 lbs of max gross landing weight (MGLW). We see A LOT of E175s at my airport, each of which which has an approximate MGLW of 75,000 lbs. That’s $237.75 per landing for a signatory airline and $356.25 non-signatory. It will cost you $462.82 to land your Boeing 738 ($693.50 non-sig). And a Boeing 757 costs around $627.66 ($940.50 non-sig).

CPE

Add up all the fees charged by an airport and divide that amount by the number of enplaned passengers and you get a figure called the Cost Per Enplaned Passenger, or CPE. This is essentially what it costs an airline to do business at that airport. In 2016 the CPE at JFK was $25.45. For the same year the CPE at SEA was $10.10. For my airport it was around $7.20. CPE doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story about the cost of operating at a particular airport, but it can be a useful point of comparison.

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FBO Charges

At most airports the FBOs are run separately by independant companies. However, at our cargo airport the FBO is run by the airport itself. That means I get to send out FBO invoices in addition to all those landing fees. Cargo airlines can expect to pay around $3200 for ground handling. A passenger flight would pay around $1700. Need an air start? That’ll be $150. Want to use our belt loader? That’s $70/hour. Need your lav serviced? It’s a bargain at $125/hook-up.

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Deice

Deice costs $15/gallon for type I fluid and $21/gallon for type IV fluid (which includes application). The amount of deicing fluid needed varies a lot depending on the weather conditions and the size of the airplane. Knocking light frost off a Mad Dog can take around 50 gallons and cost $750. On a snowy day deicing an Airbus A320 could require 150 gallons of type I ($2,250) and another 60 of type IV ($1,260). (Want to know more about deicing? Check out this great piece by AeroSavvy!)

Hooray for GA!

What about GA aircraft? Well there are FBO fees, of course, but the airport itself charges a grand total of… nothing! No gate fees, no terminal fees, no landing fees. But if you’d like to get an invoice from me, we’ve got some lovely hangars available for rent. Just let me know and I’ll be happy to set you up!

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Here We Snow Again!

33651840_UnknownI hate this time of year. I work long hours and it’s a struggle to get away from my desk.  When I do get a moment free it is either too wet, too cold or too dark to go outside. Just the other day an Osprey flew in and all I could do was watch sadly through the office window. This is so not OK!  Maybe the lack of airfield action is why I’m a little obsessed with winter operations.  OK, actually, I’m a lot obsessed. But let’s face it – no other season allows me to get my fix of airplanes and big, awesome ground support vehicles all at the same time!

img_6528If you have been reading this blog for awhile then you know that last year I got the opportunity to help the Ops department manage the flow of traffic into and out of the deice pad. There was a lot to learn and it was kind-of stressful, but it was also incredibly cool.  Unfortunately I’ve been unable to help out this year and I miss it SO MUCH!  Wait… did I just admit that I miss being at the airport at 5am in freezing weather? Yes, I did. I know it sounds crazy, but I really enjoyed making a hands-on contribution to keeping the airport up and running.

33651488_UnknownPreparation for the winter season actually begins in August. That’s when the airport starts stocking up on the chemicals and other supplies needed to aid in snow removal. In early fall we start hiring winter seasonal employees and the Airfield department recruits for additional snow warriors from among the other departments. I know what you’re thinking.  If they allow other airport employees to help out in the winter, why on earth have I not jumped all over this opportunity? Please refer back to paragraph number one.  Sadly, winter is the busiest time of year in accounting and it just isn’t possible to take on anything else.

IMG_2504This year we added serious muscle to our snow removal capabilities with the purchase of six multi-function machines. These ginormous vehicles have a plow on one end and a broom on the other. They are capable of moving huge amounts of snow in a fairly short amount of time. When it comes to ground support vehicles, these are the biggest and baddest of the bunch. Only the full-time airfield employees are allowed to drive them – no seasonals or helpers from other departments. Not surprising when you consider they cost three quarters of a million dollars each!

33651984_unknown.jpgOnce the snow starts falling, keeping the airport open is a collaborative effort between Operations, Airfield Maintenance and ATC. One of these days I hope to score a ride along so I can get a first-hand look at the process. But for now I do what so many other avgeeks do – I bring up Flight Radar 24 and tune in to the tower on Live ATC. Listening in on winter operations at any airport can be fascinating. However, when it’s my airport it becomes quite personal.  I know the people who are out there working, and when the weather conditions are bad I know what they are up against.

33651568_Unknown (1)Our most recent big storm was quite a challenge. It started with temps well above freezing and torrential rain. These conditions can make it hard to pre-treat the runways to get ahead of the frozen participation to come. The temps fell through-out the day hovering at the freezing mark for a few hours and coating everything in ice. As the temps continued to plummet the ice turned to snow and the winds began to pick up.

Our runways have an east-west orientation.  During this storm the wind was from the north gusting up to 32kts. Keeping the runways and taxiways plowed in these conditions is incredibly difficult to say the least. The crosswinds, in combination with snowy runways (rated at 3/3/3 on the RCAM scale), proved to be too much for most flights. For a good two hours I watched as every single plane had to divert. Ouch!  This is never what any airport or airline wants. However, sometimes there’s just no winning against Mother Nature.

IMG_3338I was surprised at first to hear the deice pad frequency up and running so late at night. Under normal winter conditions – a frosty day or light snow – Ops will run the deice pad only during busy departure times. Otherwise the ramp remains uncontrolled and pilots work directly with the ground crews to get positioned for deicing. However, I found out that any time the airport is in snow operations, the Ops Department will take charge of the deice pad. This way they can keep the parking lines clear of snow, improve traffic flow and minimize the risk of collisions. Plus it allows them to relieve some of the burden on ATC since Ops will take over issuing some of the taxi instructions.

During a storm the snow removal teams focus on the runways and the main taxiways.  It can take several days after the snow stops falling to clear the rest of the paved surfaces. (Airports have A LOT of paved surfaces!) Fortunately we’re in the midst of a mid-January thaw so the temps have warmed up, the snow has melted and the snow warriors are getting a much-needed rest.  However, I have a feeling winter isn’t done with us yet.  The snow will return, and when it does you know I’ll be watching!

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A350 and the FBO

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Photo by Andrew Stricker

I recently had one of those weeks that reminds me just how lucky I am to be able to work where I do. Any time I get out onto the airfield is exciting, but getting onto the airfield twice in one week at two different airports? That’s nothing short of total awesomeness!

YAY 350!

A friend at Delta gave me a heads-up that one of their brand-new A350s would be doing some training flights into my airport. Sweet! We rarely see airplanes that large or that new, so this was definitely a big deal. Naturally I planned to go upstairs and watch it come in. Then I got an email from the Operations Manager asking if I’d like to ride out onto the airfield to see the arrival. Would I? Are you kidding me? Hell yes I would!

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We hopped into one of the Ops vehicles about 15 minutes or so before the A350 was due to arrive. With a little help from our friends in the ATC tower we confirmed which runway would be used and got permission to position ourselves on a taxiway not too far from the anticipated touch-down point. We had to wait another few minutes before the A350 finally appeared in the distance. It got closer and closer and before we knew it the plane was roaring by us in all its glory. Best plane spotting moment EVER!

 

The plane wasn’t scheduled to stay long but thanks to that magic radio connection to ATC we were able to recommend a good parking spot on the east pad… which we immediately drove to so we could take more pics. There were several other vehicles circling the plane like sharks. Plus there were observers in the old snow tower and there was even someone from Ops on the terminal roof!

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After about ten minutes the A350 was ready to leave. We decided that just off the end of the runway would be the ideal location for viewing the departure.  We hopped out of the truck and watched as the plane came straight at us. Then it lifted into the air and flew directly over our heads.  There’s only one word to properly describe the entire experience: Wow!

FB-OH!

FullSizeRender (87)So how do you top off a week that had such a stunning beginning? Why with a visit to the FBO, of course! At the cargo airport the FBO is run by the Authority so we are very involved with paying their bills and invoicing the airlines for their services. Getting to spend a few hours there was an important learning experience. And, of course, the avgeek in me was a kid in a candy store.

The original plan had been to help work a flight. Sadly the plane was delayed so that didn’t happen. But you know me – I wasn’t about to let that stop me from enjoying every moment I was there. We spent some time reviewing spreadsheets and other administrative items. Then we spent time chatting about life at the FBO. I learned that some airlines require four star hotels for their crews. Others have extensive catering requirements. Still others want flexible transportation options. And who makes all of this happen? Yep – your friendly FBO staff. It can definitely be a challenging job at times.

 

Then we headed out for a tour of the facilities and (at my request) the ground equipment. We got to see the large loaders they use for big cargo pallets and the tail stands they use to protect planes from tipping backwards during unloading. We got to examine tugs and fuel trucks. We even got to look inside the containers used for shipping horses. But then we got up close and personal with two of my favorite support vehicles…

Deice Trucks

 

We have two deice vehicles – one open bucket and one enclosed. I thought for sure that the enclosed one would be preferred. However, the FBO staff informed me that operating the enclosed deicer can be challenging. It’s hard to see out the windshield so they often have to open the side window, which means they get just as wet as they would in the open bucket. Plus they claim that using the hose is easier than using two joysticks. Since none of them were crazy enough to let me give the deicers a try I guess I’ll have to take their word for it.

STAIRS TRUCK!!!

 

Then came the moment of all moments: I got to open the door of the stairs truck and sit inside! I got to take pics! I got to touch the controls! I GOT TO SIT IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT! Sadly, I didn’t get to drive it. Doh! That’s OK though – I am one giant step closer to achieving that dream.

Do I have an awesome job or what? I may not love every aspect of what I do, but I sure love the heck out of where I work and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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Three Times the Love

IMG_2908Can you believe I’ve been working at the airport three years now? Three years! Three years of stalking airplanes. Three years of fighting the urge to ride around on the baggage carousel. And three years of being taunted by several sets of mobile stairs which have been parked outside the department window the ENTIRE time!

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In looking back on this past year there have been some pretty darn awesome moments. I got to see A-10s fly into my airport. Never in a million years did I ever think I’d see that! And a few weeks later I got to see Osprey fly in. Crazy, right? I went to Wings Over Pittsburgh and had an amazing time with some amazing friends. I got to hang out with more amazing friends at Oshkosh and I interviewed the Blue Angels. That’s right – someone was crazy enough to let me near the Blue Angels! I had a fantastic visit behind the scenes with American Airlines at CLT on Aviation Day. I helped out with a couple of podcasts. And I introduced a group of girls to the joys of flying. Yep, it has been quite a year!

IMG_2936But work has become a bit challenging in recent months. There have been some changes which have resulted in an increased workload, just as we head into the busiest time of year. Change isn’t a bad thing, but it can be stressful.  And as the amount of work increases, the stress does too.

The first casualty of all this was deice. I had been so excited to help out on the deice pad again this year. I really love being out there with the airplanes and seeing those amazing sunrises on the ramp! But the more stressed I became trying to do my regular job, the more I realized I couldn’t take on anything else, especially not something that can mean 12 hour days and additional stress. (Let’s face it – directing traffic on a busy morning on the deice pad is not always easy.) Having to say no to deice absolutely broke my heart.

IMG_2842Then my plane spotting began to suffer. I found myself unable to get away from my desk, even skipping lunch sometimes. After work I was tired and just wanted to get home. It came to a head one day when a plane spotter friend texted me that there were two C-130s on the airfield. Two C-130s! Sweet! I really wanted to go see them, but my task list was a mile long and felt like I just didn’t have the time.

FullSizeRender (85)At that moment it hit me. The whole reason I work for an airport is because there are airplanes outside the window. Am I really going to turn down the chance to go see a couple of C-130? Oh. Hell. NO! So I threw on a jacket and up top I went. I saw the Hercs and they were every bit as fantastic as I knew they would be. I thought about all the other amazing planes I have seen this year and I vowed right then and there not to let the work ruin the love. No matter how stressed or busy I am, I will ALWAYS make time for the airplanes. And you know what?  Spending my 30 minute lunch break away from my desk doing something I enjoy makes me so much happier and more productive when I get back. The truth is, being stressed at work at an airport is a THOUSAND times better than being stressed at any other job.

IMG_2781So what’s ahead for the next year? Well, I have an FBO visit coming up. And I’m hearing rumors that we might be visiting the ATC tower in the spring. Plus I’m already dreaming about a return trip to Oshkosh. Who knows what other adventures will come my way. If there is one thing I’ve learned in the last three years, it’s that sometimes the best moments happen totally unexpectedly, and sometimes the ordinary things are the most special.

Author’s Note: Guess what else is celebrating its three year anniversary?  This blog!  THANK YOU SO MUCH to all my readers.  You guys are the best!

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The Teams Behind the Scenes

IMG_2671For people living in the United States, late November kicks off one of the busiest travel seasons of the year. Over 28 million people are expected to take to the skies over the Thanksgiving holiday alone.  Travelers are counting on the airlines to get them safely to their destinations. What they may not know, however, is that there are a whole host of airport personnel working behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly.

Custodians

Yes, the custodial teams are responsible for keeping the airport clean, but they actually do so much more. Custodians spend a lot of time out and about in the terminal and often find themselves on the front lines of customer care. We’ve had custodians buy food for stranded passengers, search for (and find) lost jewelry, and one quick-thinking custodian even provided a pair of uniform pants to an unfortunate traveler who spilled a drink all over himself.  Our custodians have also been trained to watch for suspected victims of human trafficking and to report suspicious activity to the airport police.  Never underestimate the impact that a solid, compassionate custodial team can make.

IMG_2709Building Maintenance

Like any other building, airport terminals require plenty of upkeep. When a pipe bursts in the bathroom, or when there’s a power outage, or when the baggage system stops working, who are you going to call? Yep – building maintenance. If they can’t fix it, they’ll bring in someone who can. Next time you find yourself walking through an airport terminal in the middle of the night, remember that folks from the Building Maintenace department are there too, keeping an eye on things.

Operations

The Operations Department is charged with making sure airport operations go smoothly at all hours. This includes things like issuing NOTAMs, chasing off flocks of birds and coordinating snow operations. A few years ago an airline that is not based at my airport had to divert in the middle of the night due to mechanical issues. Since the airline had no staff on site it was the Ops team that arranged a gate, greeted passengers and ordered pizza for them while a maintenance crew was being summoned.

IMG_2504Airfield Maintenance

The airfield teams are charged with making sure the runways and taxiways remain clean and clear. Too wet? They’ll suck up the excess water. Too snowy? They’ll get the plows going. Too much rubber build-up? Summon the brooms! If a big winter storm is forecast the teams will sometimes stay at one of the airport hotels so that they won’t get stranded at home.

Communications Center

The Communication Center personnel act as the eyes and ears of the airport. They monitor the fire and security systems, dispatch police and ARFF as needed and just generally watch over things. Ever gone out to your car in an airport parking lot only to find it won’t start? I have. Calling AAA is useless since they don’t have access to gated parking areas, so guess who I called for help? Yep – the Communications Center. They dispatched a service truck to help get me on my way.

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Airlines and ATC

Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a big shout-out to the airlines and ATC as well. Pilots, flight attendants, gate agents, rampers, ticket agents, station masters, mechanics, dispatchers and air traffic controllers will all be giving up time with their families to make sure passengers get home to theirs. So if you’ll be traveling by air this holiday season, give your flight crews a smile and spare a thought for all the teams working behind the scenes to get you safely on your way.

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Going Where?

July to Oct 2015 iphone pics 2703It may come as a surprise to learn that I haven’t flown commercially in nearly a decade. However, many years ago I worked for a company that required me to travel several times each year. During that time I had a couple of wacky adventures that I look back on with amusement.

Brown Paper Package

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Photo by Marcella, Creative Commons License

One trip involved a flight with a coworker I’ll call Jay. We weren’t scheduled to depart until later in the day, so we worked in the office that morning and planned to head to the airport in the afternoon. As we were preparing to walk out the door another coworker, Mary, appeared and handed us each a package. “Here! I made you guys care packages for the flight!”

I found myself holding a package that had been crudely wrapped in plain brown paper with the words: “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL PLANE IS IN THE AIR!” written on the top in bold, black marker. Um… What the hell? Mary was standing there, smiling from ear to ear. Not sure what else to do, Jay and I thanked her and hurried to catch our ride.

suspicious_mail_or_packages_posterOnce in the car I looked at Jay.

Me: Well, either she’s very sweet or she’s trying to get us arrested.

Jay: Did she just give us bombs?

Me: I don’t know, but I’m sure as hell not taking this to the airport, let alone onto the plane!

Jay: Me either!

Me: I suppose we should open them…

Jay: You first!

I cautiously opened my package to discover snacks, playing cards and other small trinkets. Apparently Mary had good intentions. Then again, maybe she figured the fastest way to a promotion was to get her coworkers indefinitely detained!

The Unknown Destination

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Photo by Adrian Arpingstone, Creative Commons License

In the days before 9/11 when air travel was a wee bit more relaxed, I flew to Jamaica to attend the annual company conference. In those days you could fly to most Caribbean destinations using a driver’s license for ID. However, HR insisted every attendee have a passport, which was collected from us immediately upon arrival at the conference. I figured they were using them to cross-check attendance or something.

Normally at these events we attended meetings during the day, and social events in the evening. However, as I reviewed the schedule I noticed that we had meetings Friday morning and then nothing until Saturday afternoon. This was definitely unusual.

Jamaica

Photo by RickPilot, Creative Commons License

At the conclusion of the Friday morning meetings we were gathered together, handed plane tickets and placed onto buses. An examination of the ticket revealed something strange – there was no destination! When we arrived at the airport we ran to the monitors to check our flight information. The destination for our flight listed as Dominica. But a second later the destination changed to the Turks and Caicos. Then it changed again to Cuba. It continued to display various destinations while we waited.

Finally we were called to board. The gate agents smiled knowingly and played along saying, “Have fun in Havana!” “Enjoy St. Lucia!” We walked out onto the ramp to find two Boeing 737s waiting for us. After we were seated and the cabin crew had completed the safety briefing, the Captain got on the PA. I thought we would FINALLY learn our destination. Wrong! The Captain welcomed us aboard and noted that we had great weather for our flight. He went on to say that he had no clue where we were going so he figured we’d just cruise around at 34,000 feet for a while. Doh!

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Photo by Torsten Maiwald, Creative Commons License

I have to imagine this situation must have been pretty amusing for the crew. I mean how often do commercial pilots get to pretend like they have no idea where they are going? (Actually, don’t answer that!) The flight attendants certainly thought the whole situation was funny! Soon after the Captain’s announcement we took off and a few minutes later found ourselves cruising above the Caribbean with NO IDEA where we were going. So, where do you think we ended up? Go ahead, take a guess!

 

 


 

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Photo by BeanZull, Creative Commons License

If you guessed Panama then congratulations – you’re a winner! As we taxied to the gate it dawned on me that I didn’t have my passport. In fact, none of us had our passports. Uh-oh! Fortunately somebody  must have done some creative “negotiating” because we exited the airplanes and marched right through the terminal – no customs, no immigration, nothing.

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Photo by Stan Shebs, Creative Commons License

We made our way out front where we got into open-air buses, each with a mariachi band in the back. They took us down to the canal where we boarded a party boat. We were wined and dined for several hours as we cruised up and down the canal. We returned to Jamaica in the wee hours of the morning with serious hangovers and one heck of a story to tell.

So, when will I fly commercially again? I don’t know, although I have a couple potential trips in mind. However, I’m pretty sure I will never get to jet off into the unknown again, which is why I cherish the Panama stamp in my passport. (Nope – I have no clue how it got there!)

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Hooray for GA!

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For me, one of the biggest perks of working for an airport is getting to learn about what goes on behind the scenes. I got another opportunity recently when my department went on a tour at our GA airport. Surprise! I bet most of you didn’t know we ran a GA airport. Well we do! And guess what? It’s awesome!

The tour began with lunch at the BBQ restaurant. Every GA airport needs a good restaurant and this one fills the bill. The food wasn’t fancy, but it was tasty and filling. Plus the service was excellent.

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After we finished eating we headed over to visit the local community college.  The classrooms for their A&P Mechanic program are located right on the airfield.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect – I figured we’d see some white boards and books and maybe an airplane or two. It turned out to be so much more amazing than that!

 

The classrooms were just like any other classroom… except they were full of airplane parts!  We got to see the  avionics workshop and the sheet metal and composite materials fabrication lab. And we saw engines.  Lots and lots of them, from piston engines to turbo props to jet engines. They were in all stages of assembly so you could get a really good look at the inner workings.  There were big engines and small ones and engines for helicopters.  I’m pretty sure I could have spent all day just looking at the engines! Fortunately the school had something even better out back… a hangar!

 

The college hangar is stuffed full of planes ranging from your basic Cessna all the way up to a Lear 25. They even have a helicopter. They all have working engines for the students to practice on, however none of the planes are airworthy. Most were donated to the school by their former owners who wanted their planes to continue to have useful lives even though they couldn’t fly any more.

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Our tour guide opened the hangar and out on the ramp were even MORE planes, including a Boeing 727 that had once been owned by FedEx. It must have been a sight to see that big plane land at that little airport. I have to admit it made me a little melancholy to see so many gorgeous planes that will never again lift off into the sky. Then I remembered that these planes play an important role in training future mechanics who, in turn, will keep other planes flying.

 

After our visit to the college we headed over to the FBO and spent time checking out the various amenities including the pilot lounge, flight planning facility and conference rooms. We also visited the hangar and talked with the FBO manager. He told us about what it is like to run an FBO and about some of the challenges they face.  The GA airport is one of 5 airports within the greater metropolitan area so they are always working on ways to attract pilots. It sounds like they have some fun events planned. They are also considering opening a flight school.

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Of course the highlight of any airport tour has got to be visiting the ATC tower. This one is open 12 hours each day. It is a contract tower which means it is privately run (as opposed to being staffed by FAA controllers). It did not appear to have radar, although it did have weather data and an excellent view of the airfield. The controller said that most traffic is VFR so sunny days are the busiest and rainy days are pretty quiet.

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Our last stop was the Airfield Maintenance Facility. It is very similar to other facilities that I have visited, only much smaller. I saw a plow and a broom truck but sadly no stairs trucks. I also got to sneak into the sand barn where the deicing materials are kept. (This involved climbing up and then back down a set of very steep, very sandy wooden steps. Yikes! Glad I don’t have to do that on a regular basis!)

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The most important thing I learned from our day on the airfield is that small GA airports are every bit as fun and fascinating as large airports. Plus they are a lot more visitor-friendly! You can stop by almost any time – no badge needed! If you haven’t checked out the GA airport near you, what are you waiting for? These airports want and need local support so trust me – they’ll be thrilled to see you. And I promise you’ll be glad you went.

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Double Trouble

IMG_1661I realized something wasn’t right when I saw the Southwest Boeing 737 flying low and slow over my neighborhood. It was much lower than it should have been. Plus it was coming from the wrong direction, completely outside the normal approach and departure patterns.

Being the dedicated (OK, obsessed might be a better word) avgeek that I am, I quickly looked up my airport on FlightAware. I could see from the flight tracker data that the airplane in question had taken off from the south runway and immediately circled back around. It proceeded to do two low approaches, first over one runway and then the other. Then it turned sharply to the northwest, which is what had brought it over my house.

IMG_0831Hoping to pick up some information from ATC communications, I listened intently to LiveATC while my brain went over a list of potential scenarios. Bird strike? Flap issue? Gear or tire problem? Then I heard one of the Southwest pilots come on the radio and use a word that caught my immediate attention: emergency. I have listened to a lot of ATC communications over the years, but this was the first time I have ever heard that word used concerning a flight from my airport.

Over the course of the next few minutes I learned that the plane had apparently blown one of the nose gear tires on take-off. They needed to hold for awhile, so ATC directed them into a holding pattern to the east of me. A friend who is a captain on the 737 explained that the pilots needed to burn off fuel to get the plane as light as possible to lessen the load on the remaining tire for landing.

FullSizeRender (83)At this point I had a decision to make. Should I drive the 15 miles to the airport to watch the flight come back in? I was tempted.  But I was afraid that while I was driving I might miss out on important communications or other developments. I consoled myself with the fact that when the plane made the western arc of its holding pattern I could see it from my back yard. Granted, I had to stand on the patio table. On my tiptoes. Doesn’t everyone watch airplanes that way? Actually… don’t answer that.

Anyway, it’s just as well I decided to stay put because right at this time I heard the pilot of a Cirrus call up ATC. He announced that they were losing oil pressure and needed to land right away. Suddenly the controllers were handling not one, but two emergency aircraft. Emergencies happen – ATC and airports are well trained to deal with them.  But two emergencies at once?  Definitely less common, especially for an airport the size of mine.

IMG_1361During the time that the Southwest flight was holding, ATC had allowed other planes to take off and land. However, when the pilot of the Cirrus called in, the Southwest flight had just left the hold and was preparing to do a final low approach before landing. As a result, ATC had stopped departures and was clearing traffic from the area around the airport. This presented something of a problem for the emergency Cirrus, who had requested immediate clearance to land.

IMG_1360Fortunately, we have a large cargo airport located just a few miles to the south of the passenger airport.  ATC recommended landing there and the Cirrus pilot agreed. ATC then proceeded to give him vectors to the airport. The Cirrus landed without incident.  Shortly afterwards, the Southwest flight completed its final low approach and circled around to a safe landing. They were even able to taxi to the gate with no issues.

I’ll admit – following along while these two events unfolded was quite riveting, but not for the reasons you might think. You may have noticed that my account does not contain any of the following words: panic, terrified, frantic, dire. These are words often used by the media to describe emergency situations in aviation. And occasionally they might be warranted, but not in this case. In fact, not in the majority of cases. More appropriate words would be: calm, professional, efficient, collaborative. It was an excellent example of the training and hard work by pilots, ATC, ARFF and Operations that goes on every day at airports around the world.

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Note: The planes featured in the photos on this post are not the planes that were involved in the incidents described.

© http://www.talesfromtheterminal.com 2017

Stalking Airplanes

IMG_1327Every aviation enthusiast has a list of airplanes that they really want to see. Sometimes it’s a certain type that we’re after. Or it can be a particular airline or livery (or both). Some hard-core spotters seek specific tail numbers. For me, it is a mix of these things.

I would dearly love to see an A380. It’s not going to happen at my airport – I’d have to go elsewhere. I would also love to see a B737-8 up close. They fly into the cargo airport but I just haven’t been able to coordinate my schedule to make it down there to see one. We do get lots of special liveries though. Both Southwest and American have several of them. Even Delta and United have a few.

IMG_1470With all the hours I spend at airports, you’d think that chasing down specific liveries wouldn’t be much of a challenge. Wrong! For one thing, I’ve got pretty strict rules. I have to see the plane where I work – another airport doesn’t count. The plane needs to be taxiing, taking off or landing, and I need to witness it either from the ramp or up on the garage. The bigger issue, however, is that certain airplanes are deliberately hiding from me.

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Photo by Ryan Ewing, who gets to see some really awesome airplanes.

American Airlines TWA & Reno Air Liveries

To my great sadness, American has been retiring the mighty Mad Dog at a rapid pace. If there is any consolation, however, it’s that they are sending B737s (rather than more A319s) to replace them. This means that some special liveries which were previously out of my reach are now within the realm of possibility. Recently I happened to get lucky enough to catch American’s One World livery as it was landing. I figure at some point TWA and Reno Air will make an appearance. Hopefully I’ll be watching when they do!

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Another photo by Ryan Ewing. I’m so jealous.

American Airlines America West Livery

I have seen this airplane a time or two… but always at the gate or hiding behind a fence. For some reason it doesn’t visit my airport very often. A few months ago it was scheduled to fly out just after I finished work for the day.  Perfect!  But then it delayed and delayed and delayed. It wasn’t until I gave up and headed for my car that it finally pushed back. It taunted me by taxiing onto the runway at the exact moment I happened to drive by.

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You get one guess who took this. Yep, Ryan Ewing. I’m way beyond jealous at this point.

Delta SkyTeam livery

If the America West special livery plane is elusive, Delta SkyTeam is worse. I recently discovered that this wily plane has been sneaking in and out of my airport for quite some time. It flies in late at night then hurriedly takes off shortly before I arrive. I had no clue this was going on until a coworker told me about it. Sure, show up for the coworker but hide from me! Totally uncool, Delta SkyTeam!

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Miami Air captured in the open by James Dingell.

Miami Air

This airline has been taunting me relentlessly for years. Like the Delta SkyTeam livery, it conveniently flies in when I’m not around. On the rare occasion that it shows up while I’m at work, it always parks at the one gate I can’t see. Or it parks at the FBO and positions itself in such a way that I can’t get a good look at it, no matter what vantage point I try.

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Photo by Andrew Stricker. Because Miami Air apparently isn’t hiding from him.

A few months ago I noticed Miami Air on the scheduled charter list, and much to my joy it was supposed to arrive right around my lunch time. Hooray! Then the flight was delayed. So I delayed my lunch. But then it was delayed some more. And some more. And wouldn’t you know I had a meeting that afternoon? Clearly Miami Air knew. Not only did it land after the meeting started, but it performed the world’s fastest turn-around and departed before the meeting ended. Did I mention the meeting was only ONE HOUR long? Well played, Miami Air. You may have won this round but I’m not giving up!

IMG_6041Every once in a while I happen to stumble across a cool livery that almost (but not entirely) makes up for all those planes I haven’t been able to see (yet). Such was the case when United’s Star Alliance stopped by. Not only did it park at a gate where it was easy to see, but it taxied out on time and took off right in front of me. Thank you so much, Star Alliance!

As for the planes on my most wanted list, well I’m in meetings all day next Wednesday, so I’m sure they’ll pick that day to fly in. (OK, actually I don’t have any meetings.  Don’t tell them that!)

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© http://www.talesfromtheterminal.com 2017

AAmazing AAviation Day!

IMG_1159In the United States, National Aviation Day is held on August 19.  Here’s how I’ve celebrated at work the last couple years:

  • I bring in cookies.
  • Everyone eats them.

Yeah… not very exciting or inspiring. This year, however, I lucked into a very coveted ticket to attend AAviation Day at one of my favorite places – Charlotte Douglas International Airport! No, that’s not a spelling error – the extra “A” in “AAviation” is a nod to American Airlines who, in conjunction with the Airline Geeks, put together an awesome behind-the-scenes tour at the nation’s 5th busiest airport. Can you say avgeek heaven? Oh yeah!

IMG_1013I kicked things off early by parking on the very top level of the garage. No way was I going to pass up the chance to do a little pre-event plane spotting! (And lets face it, if they handed out diplomas for plane spotting from parking garages, I’d have a PhD!) My dedication paid off – I got my very first look at Amazon’s Prime Air 767. Sweet!

From there I made my way to the terminal to meet up with the rest of the group. There were about 12 of us altogether. I expected that most attendees would be from the Charlotte area. Wrong! In fact only one of the group lives near CLT. The rest were from places like New York, Texas, Florida and even California and Washington! Some of us work in aviation and some don’t, but all of us were kids in a candy store the whole day.

IMG_1189The tour began with a visit to the Operations Tower. Wow – what a view! And what a lot of computer equipment! The Operations Tower is responsible for all aircraft movement on the ramp. I wish we had a set-up like that for deice pad control in the winter! But then again, the ramp at CLT is a MUCH busier place with 600+ flights per day. We were allowed to wander around the room, examine the different work stations and ask questions. I honestly could have stayed for hours!

Our next stop was out onto the roof where we had a fabulous view of the ramp. The entire group went camera-happy, snapping pics almost non-stop. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many American airplanes all in one spot! Good thing there wasn’t deck furniture and a cabana (and drinks) up there or they might have had some trouble convincing me to leave!

From the roof we went all the way down to the ground level for a walking tour of the ramp (with ear plugs and high-viz vests, of course). Being around the airplanes and crews and ground equipment was simply spectacular. There was so much going on – it’s much busier than what I am used to! Alas, there was not a single stairs truck in sight! Fortunately there were so many airplanes and so much to see that I didn’t mind.

After the ramp tour, we visited the American Airlines offices and enjoyed lunch in a cool, comfortable conference room. (Did I mention that the temps were a toasty 90F+ outside?) Several executives from American joined us and we were able to chat with them about how the company has grown over the years, as well as some of their future challenges.

FullSizeRender (81)After lunch, the awesomeness continued with a tour of the training facility. We met in a conference room first to learn a little about the training program itself and watch a video about the history of American Airlines. Then we visited the egress training area where Flight Attendants learn how to operate various types of emergency exits. Seeing the cut-away plane interiors was actually quite fascinating. They even had an E145 fuselage (minus the nose, wings and tail).

From there we moved into one of the flight simulator rooms. There were three Airbus A320 sims in this particular room, all of which were in use.  (The facility has approximately 13 sims of various types.) It was fascinating to watch the sims move around and to speculate on the scenarios that the pilots inside might be facing.

Our last stop of the day was the American Airlines maintenance facility. The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door is how big it is. Similar to the Boeing factory in Seattle, employees use bikes to get around. We walked through fabrication areas and past the parts room on our way out to the hangars where there were three planes undergoing maintenance. I can tell you this – I do NOT want to be the person assigned to work on the top of the tail! Then again, climbing up and down all those flights of stairs would definitely be good exercise!

Our last event of the day was a visit inside one of the planes in the hangar (an A320). We examined the cockpit and then lounged in first class for several minutes. I also checked out the seats in the back and found them to be roomier than expected.

All too soon, however, it was time to exit the plane, take our final group photo and catch a shuttle back to the terminal.  I couldn’t believe it was time to say goodbye already! We were so busy the day just flew by.  Fortunately we had new friendships, amazing memories and some cool swag to take away with us.

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Look!  I found the motorized stairs!!!

As a passionate aviation enthusiast who happens to work in the industry, I have had many amazing avgeek experiences. However, I can honestly say that AAviation Day ranks right up at the top. A HUGE thank you goes out to Ryan Ewing and the Airline Geeks for all they did to plan and organize the event, as well as the wonderful staff at American Airlines for making the day so special!

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So what do you think? Are you crazy jealous and wondering how you can experience AAviation Day for yourself? Check out the Airline Geeks website and follow them on twitter. Events were held at all of American’s hubs, as well as two locations overseas. And the ticket cost? Zero. Zip. Nada. Free! But you have to pay attention if you want to score one. If this year was any indication, next year will be even bigger and better. Hope to see you there!