ARFF To The Rescue

IMG_0140I have mentioned in previous posts that it’s common to see ARFF (Airplane Rescue and Fire Fighting) out on the airfield. In fact, there are days when it seems like ARFF is EVERYWHERE.  And no, it isn’t because they are protecting the mobile stairs from me.  (The airport police handle that.)  Although I’ve seen ARFF providing medical assistance inside the terminal, I’d never seen them assisting an airplane in trouble until recently.  And then it happened twice in 24 hours!

Emergency #1 (Maybe?)

IMG_0142About a month ago I was enjoying my lunch break as I often do – plane spotting on top of the parking garage. I happened to see an airplane on approach to runway 28L.  I looked down to fiddle with my camera when suddenly something didn’t sound right.  I looked back up in time to see that the plane on approach had decided to abort and go around – right over my head!

IMG_0133Much to my disappointment, my airport is not on LiveATC, nor do I have a functioning scanner so I am not able to listen to communications with the tower.  Otherwise I would have had a better idea about what was going on.  I decided to hang around a bit and wait for the plane to come back in and land.  By now I had lost sight of it, but I figured it would likely try again on 28L so I walked over to that side of the garage and I waited.  And waited.  And waited. I’ve been watching airplanes come and go long enough now that I have a pretty good idea of how long it should take to get back on final. This seemed to be taking quite a bit longer than usual.

image1 (1)Just as I was thinking I would have to give up because my lunch break was almost over, several ARFF vehicles came blasting out of their facility on the eastern edge of the airfield and took up positions along 28L. One fire truck was near the start of the runway, one was along taxiway C1 and another was along taxiway C3.  Then there was an ambulance and a smaller ARFF vehicle waiting on the ramp.

IMG_0137At long last the plane appeared once again on approach to 28L. It seemed to take forever before it finally got its wheels on the ground and then it made the shortest stop I have ever seen an airplane that size make. As soon as it got stopped the ARFF vehicles quickly surrounded it. I couldn’t tell from my vantage point exactly what they were doing, but the airplane sat on the runway for several minutes.  Then finally it began to taxi down the runway, with the ARFF vehicles following behind.  I IMG_0145expected it to turn towards the terminal and head to a gate to let the passengers off.  Instead it went directly to a maintenance hangar.  I realized then that the plane had been able to stop so quickly because it didn’t have any passengers or luggage on board.  I never did find out what exactly happened with this airplane, or even whether it officially declared an emergency. However, given the ARFF response it seems likely that it did.

Emergency #2 (Here We Go Again!)

IMG_0144The next morning I was chatting with a coworker when we heard sirens which grew louder and louder. Sure enough ARFF went blasting down the ramp and took up the EXACT same positions as they had the day before. My coworker is one of those lucky souls whose cubicle is along the windows, so she has a clear view of 10R-28L from her desk. Several of us crowded around to watch out the window. About that time the department manager appeared.  He gets text messages whenever there are emergencies at the airport.  He told us that the plane coming in had reported brake problems and a possible flat tire.  He noted that if the landing went horribly wrong the plane could easily careen into our office.  Then he wished us a nice day and left.  (Have I mentioned that he has an incredibly dry sense of humor?)

IMG_0147Undeterred we continued to watch out the window. As before, the plane landed and managed to stop very quickly.  Not quite as fast as the plane from the previous afternoon, but still much more quickly than usual.  Once again the plane was immediately surrounded by ARFF vehicles. Once again it sat on the runway for several minutes.  This time, however, when it finally started to taxi it turned towards the terminal and headed for a gate with all the ARFF vehicles in tow.

Closing The North Runway

IMG_0018During both of these events planes continued to land as usual on the north runway, which allowed airport operations to continue without too much disruption. However, all that will change next spring when the north runway will be closed for 6 months for resurfacing. During that time we’ll be operating as a one-runway airport.

As you can imagine, this involves a LOT of extra planning.  If there is an emergency that forces the closure of the south runway, flights will have to be diverted.  We are extremely lucky to have the cargo airport nearby.  It has parallel runways and can easily handle whatever passenger traffic needs to be sent there. IMG_0662Even something as basic as airfield mowing has to be carefully scheduled.  You can’t mow near an active runway, and if there is only one runway you can’t shut it down for mowing.  So all mowing and regular maintenance activities will have to happen in the wee hours of the morning when there aren’t any regularly scheduled flights. Since it’s


The view from Concourse C! At last!

not exactly very sunny here in the middle of the night, the airport is going to have to bring in special lights so the maintenance crews can see what they are doing. Airlines that operate out of gates near the closed runway will have longer taxi times, which will impact the amount of fuel they’ll use.  For all these reasons, the decision to close a runway is not made lightly. But in this case the resurfacing is needed and in the end it will be worth the hassle.


I, of course, am unreasonably excited about the closure because it means the south runway will be very busy.  I happen to be a  I park next to it.  My department windows look out on it. There should be lots of good plane spotting opportunities next summer. And when ARFF gets called to the rescue again, I’ll have a front row seat!  I promise to keep you posted.


One Year Bloggiversary!

IMG_0365Can you believe it has been one whole year since I started this blog? Wow! I wasn’t sure whether I’d last one month, let alone 12 of them… in a row! But 30 posts and 1,564,456,489 words later (I just made that number up – I’m too lazy to go back and count) the blog is still going strong!

My First Year Of Blogging – Top Five

IMG_02791. The Airport!

Not coincidentally, this week also marks my one year anniversary working for the airport. I can hardly believe it!  One year of daily plane spotting! One year of resisting the temptation to ride the baggage carousel! One year of being taunted by the motorized stairs parked right outside my department! Seems like just yesterday I was getting lost in random staircases and trying to figure out how to get to Concourse A.  Although my job can sometimes be stressful, I LOVE every moment of being at the airport.  I get to see airplanes taking off and landing EVERY DAY. How freaking cool is that? I love being a part of the aviation industry, and I hope I get to continue for many years to come.

Emirates 12. Emirates 777

Let’s see… I got to stand out on the apron and watch the first official flight of an Emirates 777 into the cargo airport, complete with a water cannon salute AND a stairs truck. Heck yes this is one of my very favorite moments from the last year!

3. Tour of the Airfield

Driving around the airfield, riding in a broom truck and, best of all, zipping up the runway in a shuttle bus! Yep, this was an AWESOME experience! I hope I get the chance to do something similar at the cargo airport.

IMG_61824. Oshkosh 2015

Osh was awesome in so many ways… I got up close and personal with a stairs truck, sat in the cockpit of a FedEx A300F4 sat in the cockpit of a Sequoia Falco, saw more cool airplanes than I could begin to count and got to meet some really awesome people. Osh is, without a doubt, my happy place!

5. All of YOU!!!

I am so humbled and thankful for everyone who has taken the time to not only read my silly ramblings, but to share them with others! Thank you all so very much! I do want to take a moment to send a special thanks to a few people. I’m including their twitter handles because if you aren’t following them you are really missing out.IMG_8157


Eric Auxier (@Capnaux) and Dan Pimentel (@Av8rdan) who are not only excellent authors/bloggers, but who were brave enough to allow me to guest post!

Ken Hoke (@aerosavvy), Ron Rapp (@RonRapp1), Lew W (@atclew58), Jeff Kanarish (@atc_jeff), David (@davidvlynn) and Jeffrey Roehr (@JR_justJR) who have given me a tremendous amount of support, and whose blogs have been wonderful sources of information and inspiration.

IMG_0281Blog Trivia and Give-Away!

OK all you long-suffering readers – how much do you remember from the last year? Here’s a chance to put your knowledge to the test! Check out the questions below and email your answers to or DM them to me on twitter, and I’ll enter your name into a drawing to get a pack of airport trading cards. (There are three cards in each pack – one for each airport.) I’ll pick two winners.  You don’t even have to get the answers right – I’ll still put you in the drawing. Heck, you don’t actually even have to answer at all – just tell me you want in the drawing and I’ll put you in.  You have until December 9, 2015.  Seriously, it doesn’t get any easier!

IMG_0033 (1)1. Who lives in the house next to the north runway?
a) CFO
b) Head of Airfield
c) CEO
d) Me!

2. What event led me out onto the apron for the very first time?
a) Fire Alarm
b) Stairs Truck sighting!
c) Airfield tour
d) Going to a different concourse

unnamed3. How many escalators are in the airport?
a) 17
b) 23
c) 32
d) 41

4. Which of the following is NOT one of my favorite plane spotting locations?
a) Employee Lot
b) Top of the parking garage
c) Concourse C
d) Concourse B

800px-Airport_mobile_stairs_and_vehicles_1Airport Vehicle Personality Quiz!

You all know how much I love airport ground support vehicles.  And by now you know which one is my favorite.  But what about you?  What ground support vehicle is your spirit animal? Take my airport vehicle personality quiz and find out! It is completely non-scientific and totally silly but then again, so are pretty much all the other personality quizzes out there.  I took the quiz myself and, of course, I got STAIRS TRUCK! (Duh – what else would I get?) Check it out and let me know what you get!

IMG_9754Airport Revenue Poll – The Answer Revealed

If you follow me on twitter then you might have seen my poll in which I asked followers whether they think my airport makes the most revenue from airline fees, concessions, hangar/tenant rent or parking.  You may be surprised to learn that the answer is NOT airline fees. The process of determining what to charge airlines for landing fees, etc. is complex and involves a lot of different factors.  The fees need to be acceptable to the airlines or guess what?  They’ll simply fly somewhere else!  As for the other poll choices, my airport does make some money from concessions as well as from rent paid by the various tenants and from hangar and tie-down rental.  However the largest percentage of revenue comes from… parking! Well done to everyone who got it right!

So, What’s Next?

What will year 2 at the airport hold? Only time will tell! However, I’m fairly certain it will include more silliness, more airport vehicles, more airplanes and, of course, MORE STAIRS TRUCKS! Stay tuned!