Airport Tales: Aerosavvy


ups_worldportAs regular readers know, I love working at the airport. Aside from all the amazing airplanes I get to see every day, I’ve had the chance to learn about (and participate in) some of the fascinating operations that go on behind the scenes. However, my experience is primarily with the airport where I work. I rarely get the chance to travel and check out the goings-on at other airports. For a change in perspective I thought it would be fun to bring in some guest posters to share their experiences.  First up is Ken Hoke, aka Aerosavvy. Ken is currently a captain with a major cargo airline. Over his career he has had plenty of interesting airport adventures and he was gracious enough to share some of them!



IMG_1115Tell us a little about your background as a pilot, how you got started, what you do now and where your travels typically take you.

I started flying in 1983 as a civilian. After earning my ratings, I was a flight instructor and a pilot for the Tennessee Department of Forestry where I relentlessly hunted down pine beetle infestations and the occasional forest fire. My most interesting mission for the Forestry Department was airborne surveillance of a suspected arsonist (we caught him). I also flew a variety of charter flights hauling car parts, people, and freshly harvested human organs (eyes, hearts, and heaven knows what else). My next stop was flying live humans for a regional airline.

I currently fly international routes on the 757 and 767 for a package express company. Most of my flying these days is in Asia.

Airport Stuff:


Penang Airport, Malaysia (Photo by M. Radzi Desa, Creative Commons License)

Favorite airport to fly into/out of (in terms of approach/departure) and why:

One of the prettiest arrivals that I fly is to the island of Penang in Malaysia. Gorgeous. I also like Hong Kong. The controllers are some of the best in the world and the approach/departure scenery is stunning.

Most challenging airport you have flown into/out of and why:

Shanghai is my number one. It’s supremely busy, and to make matters worse, the controllers speak Mandarin to Chinese pilots and English to everyone else. I usually have a headache by the time I get to the hotel. (China ATC will be changing to all English by 2017 – I’m glad they didn’t go the all Mandarin route!)


Changi Airport.  Wait… an airport with a pool? Are you kidding me??? (Photo by Robert S, Creative Commons License)

Favorite airport to visit (in terms of facilities) and why:

Hands down, Singapore. Changi is one of the most pilot and passenger friendly airports in the world. They have a complex grid of taxiways made super easy to navigate with a computer controlled taxi light guidance system. Following the green centerline lights will guide you to the correct runway or parking bay. And the terminal… a passenger can spend hours wondering Changi; plenty of shopping and activities (including Singapore’s tallest sliding board!).

In your opinion, what qualities make for a good airport (as a pilot and as a traveler)?

Clear signage to gates, baggage claim, and ground transportation. More importantly, a variety of restaurant and coffee choices!


Kansai International Airport.  (Photo by Jpatokal, Creative Commons License)

Airport/FBO you’ve been to with the best coffee? food? Other amenities?

It’s not very exotic, but I’ll take any airport terminal with a Starbucks open at odd hours. The staff at the KIX Starbucks (International Gates, Terminal 1) is awesome.

Strangest airport-related incident:

While flying a Metroliner (twin engine turboprop) for a regional carrier we hit a dog (maybe fox or coyote?) while taking off from a small airport. The animal ran onto the runway as we rotated. We heard and felt a thump as it struck the bottom-rear of the fuselage. Tower confirmed the mishap after takeoff. A ground crew was dispatched to remove the deceased victim from the runway. No damage to the aircraft. My first (and only) dog-strike.coyote pic

Best airport-related moment:

We’ll file this under “Most Interesting” instead of “Best.”

I’m a brand spanking new first officer on a Metroliner loaded with 19 passengers. These smaller planes don’t have flight attendants so the first officer does the safety briefing over the PA from the cockpit. As I begin the briefing (“Welcome aboard XYZ Express with non-stop service to Nashville…”) the gate agent hands the captain his paperwork, pulls the cockpit curtain closed, and places her tongue inside my left ear, swirling it in a counter-clockwise fashion. As would be expected of any professional pilot, I finished the briefing without missing a beat. The captain said my face was red for the entire flight. Ah, the good ole days!

Worst airport-related moment:

I was a young J-31 Jetstream Captain (I looked about 16, and really wasn’t much older). It was the first flight of the morning in Tri-Cities, Tennessee (TRI). The airport had been hit with an ice storm, leaving our aircraft encased in ice. Even after deicing, the maintenance technician was unable to get the aircraft door open. The flight was cancelled and I was rescheduled to fly later in the afternoon. Now the fun part…


Clearly I was not the person handling deicing that day!

After the announcement was made that the flight cancelled, I made my first mistake by venturing to the gate to talk to the agent. I was met by a well dressed man with a briefcase. He asked me if I was the pilot for the Nashville flight. My second mistake of the day was answering “yes.” He was the only passenger scheduled on the flight and had convinced himself that we cancelled to avoid flying only one person. Explaining the problem didn’t help. He proceeded to throw the mother-of-all tantrums for the benefit of the gate agent, myself, and the custodial staff. If I had an iPhone, the video would have been internet gold. If it had been post 9/11, he would have been hauled off in handcuffs.

I should mention that he was an exception; most of our passengers were awesome.


TWA Flight Center at JFK (Photo by Acroterion, Creative Commons License)

Prettiest airport and what criteria did you use to make that decision?

As far as terminals, I love the old TWA Flight Center at JFK. Designed by Eero Saarinen, the building was the future in 1962. Saarinen also designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch – he was a genius.

Is there anything airport staff can do to better support you?

Provide unlimited coffee for all crew members and airport personnel.

436th CES holds snow parade

Yay plows! (Photo by Roland Balik)

If you could operate any piece of airport equipment/vehicle, which would it be?

I would love to drive a monster snow plow; the kind airports like Anchorage or Minneapolis use. They’re awesomely HUGE. A firetruck would be fun, too!

Anything else you’d like to share?

I’ll save the story about two kids barfing in the aisle of a Jetstream for another day. 🙂


Wow! Thanks SO MUCH for taking the time to share with us Ken! Ken has an awesome blog full of interesting and  useful aviation information that you won’t want to miss. Check it out at  You can also follow him on twitter – @Aerosavvy.

Airport News Roundup

IMG_1009Go ahead and admit it – you were just wondering what has been going on lately in the world of airports. Well today is your lucky day! Not only have I gathered up the latest airport news, but I also provide my  (somewhat warped) take on it, free of charge! You’re welcome!

Psst! Wanna Buy an Airport?

Apparently Normal Manley Airport (NMIA) in Jamaica was accepting bids from potential buyers to privatize operations. However, the bidding closed recently… without any bidders! What??? Why in the heck didn’t someone let me know about this?  No, I don’t have the millions of dollars I’d likely need, but hey – think of all the fun I could have had with a Go Fund Me account! And just imagine what an airport owned by me would be like!  Airport shuttles?  Taxis?  Tugs?  Oh heck no! We’re gonna use STAIRS TRUCKS for all of that.  And since airplanes are the only things more awesome than stairs trucks, as owner of the airport I would work hard to get the coolest and widest variety of airplanes to fly in. I suppose I’d also have to take care of mundane stuff like passengers, terminal maintenance, security, yadda yadda yadda.  Did I mention stairs trucks?

Here We Drone Again

A drone was spotted by the crew of a Jet Blue flight near the approach to runway 22 left at Boston Logan Airport on New Year’s Day. Um hello… what about DO NOT FLY DRONES WITHIN FIVE MILES OF AN AIRPORT don’t people understand? Most drone owners are responsible and law-abiding. It’s those few careless/clueless drone owners who are ruining it for all the rest.  The only people who tick me off more than reckless drone operators are people who shine lasers at airplanes.  Speaking of which…

LA Tops the Laser List

According to the FAA, there have been more incidents of people pointing lasers at airplanes in Los Angeles than in any other US city – a total of 197 through November of 2015. 197? Are you kidding me??? What the hell is up with that? Seriously Los Angeles, stop!  Just stop it!

Happy Birthday Heathrow!


Today’s Weather: Partly cloudy.  Wait… partly cloudy in London?  Are you sure?  (Photo by Tony Hisgett cc)

London’s Heathrow (LHR) airport opened for commercial flights 70 years ago. 70? Wow! Happy Birthday! That’s really something! Except… Well actually now that I think on it, my airport opened in 1929 which makes it 87 years old. How on earth did a medium-sized airport in the heart of “flyover country” manage to get started ahead of LHR? That just doesn’t seem right! Well congrats anyway Heathrow.  And what took you so long? Hee hee hee! Speaking of Heathrow…

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Breaking news: I swear I had nothing to do with this!

Heathrow Expansion Delayed. Again.

Apparently some people are pretty upset that Heathrow has once again delayed making a decision about either adding a third runway, or extending an existing runway. Speaking as an employee of an airport that just built a new runway in 2013 and is in the planning stages of building an entirely new terminal, let me just say that expanding an airport is no small task. Before you can even think about making changes of any magnitude, you must first complete a large number of assessments, engineering reviews, environmental impact studies, wetland mitigation plans… the list goes on and on.  Then you have to figure out how to fund the expansion.  You can’t just jack up everyone’s rates or they’ll simply stop using your airport.  I don’t know how long LHR has been dragging its feet on this and I’m certainly not trying to defend them.  However, I do have to say I’m not at all surprised and I wish them the best!


This just in: Eastern Airlines Jet tries unsuccessfully to elude paparazzi by hiding at the FBO

Screening for Fake Bombs?

A recent Air France flight had to make an emergency landing in Kenya after a fake bomb (made of cardboard and sheets of paper) was discovered behind one of the toilets. This is the fourth incident involving fake bombs and Air France in the last few weeks. So wait… hiding fake bombs on airplanes and scaring the heck out of everyone with them is a thing now? What on earth is wrong with people???  Don’t they have anything better to do?  Airport security is already very busy attempting to make sure no one sneaks real bombs onto planes… now they’re being asked to screen for fake bombs too?  You’ve got to be kidding.  I can just see it now: “Sorry little Suzy, but your licorice could be used as a fake fuse on a fake bomb so I’m going to have to confiscate it.”  I’ve got a better idea – how about pax stop constructing fake bombs and taking them on airplanes!  Duh! And lastly…

Airplanes Play Bumper Cars at ORD

There have been a couple of incidents recently involving planes and trucks running into each other at O’Hare airport. The most recent occurrence happened on Sunday, January 3 in which a fuel truck smashed into the wing of a GoJet flight (operating as United Express). I know what you’re thinking and no, I was NOT at ORD last Sunday night!


In a statement released on her blog, Jenn said: “I’m not in that fuel truck.  I did not hit any airplanes. I am not using a stairs truck to make my getaway…”