You may recall a while back I wrote about some of the exciting first experiences I had when I started my job over a year ago – first time hearing the bird cannon, first time walking out on the ramp, etc. Well it has taken some time but I finally have another collection of firsts to share.
Single Runway Operations
At the beginning of April the airport closed the north runway for resurfacing. This is an involved process that is going to take a good six months to complete. During that time we are a one-runway airport. The closure was timed to coincide with the end of winter and the arrival of spring. So guess what happened the day after the runway closed? You guessed it – we got snow! Snow ops with a single runway can be something of a challenge. Normally we’d land planes on one runway while the other was being plowed and then switch. Obviously that isn’t an option when there is only one runway. Fortunately the snow was light and the only real issue was moving everyone through the deicing pads.
Single Runway Operations… and a Bird Strike
When you only have one runway to work with, even routine things become more of a challenge. Obviously you can’t do maintenance on or mow around an active runway, so all that has to be done in the middle of the night when there aren’t any scheduled landings. The operations department did quite a bit of planning to try to prepare for as many potential problems as possible, including what to do if the remaining runway ever has to be closed. The hope, of course, was that the plans wouldn’t be needed. And those hopes were dashed in the second week when a bird strike forced the runway to be closed for 20 minutes to allow crews to clean up debris. During that time at least four flights had to divert to alternate airports. In a truly extreme situation, however, the airport could land airplanes at the cargo airport instead. It is only a few minutes away and more than big enough to handle the traffic.
First Aborted Take-Off
I have seen quite a few missed approaches in the last 17 months, but it wasn’t until just a couple weeks ago that I got to witness my first aborted take-off. The airplane involved was a small business jet. It came from a hangar located on the northwest side of the airfield, which is about as far away from the south runway as it is possible to be. I was actually checking out the construction on the north runway when I first spotted the airplane taxing along the length of the airfield and I continued to watch as it made the journey all the way to 28L. I remember thinking what a hassle it must be for them to have to taxi such a long distance. At last they were cleared for take-off. I watched them line up, heard the engines spooling up, saw the plane start to go and then… nothing. Instead of accelerating they throttled back. It was incredibly un-dramatic. Of course then they had to taxi all the way back to their hangar again. Ouch!
A Soldier Comes Home
One afternoon in late March my coworker called out that there was a hearse parked on the ramp next to one of the gates. I got up to look and saw that not only was there a hearse, but also a number of soldiers in dress uniform. This could mean only one thing – a fallen service member was coming home. As we waited for the plane carrying the casket to arrive, I saw the ground crews form a line next to the hearse where they waited in silence. In the meantime, pretty much everyone in my department had gathered as well. We stood in a line along the glass hallway looking out at the ramp. Everyone got very quiet when the American MD-88 pulled up.
The pilots and a military representative disembarked the plane and stood together by the ground crews. Then the airplane’s cargo hold was opened and the casket was handed out. During this time, no one got off the plane, none of the ground crew moved and neither did anyone in the hallway. We all stood in silence, watching as the honor guard lifted the casket and placed it into the hearse. I have never, ever heard my department so quiet. Not a single one of us moved a muscle until the hearse pulled away. It was an incredibly somber and powerful thing to witness. Even though none of us had any idea who the soldier was, quite of number of us were in tears. I was proud to see how many people stopped what they were doing and took the time to honor a fallen hero.
First visit to the Communications Center
My first visit to the Communications Center happened totally by chance. I had to deliver some papers to one of the admins in the Public Safety department and I brought along my new coworker who hadn’t been to that department before. The admin gave us a quick tour of the offices, the police lockers, the interrogation room and the holding areas. Then she asked if we would like to see the Comm Center. Would I? Are you kidding me?!?! In my mind I had always envisioned a room filled with monitors that were constantly flickering as they switched from camera to camera… and I was not disappointed because that is exactly what it looked like.
As you know, airports have TONS of cameras everywhere. The Comm Center monitors the cameras for all three of our airports. We recently installed digital cameras at the passenger airport and let me tell you – they are crystal clear. I asked one of the technicians on duty how well they could zoom in. She proceeded to show me by zooming in on a table in the food court. I could see pretty much every drop of moisture on the table and read the words on a discarded food wrapper. Wow!
While we were checking out the monitors I noticed a buzzer kept going off periodically. The tech explained that every time someone attempts to open a secure door without scanning their credentials, it sets off the buzzer. The techs then have to check out the situation and follow up if necessary. The Comm Center fields most of the incoming calls to the airport’s general number so they get stuck answering questions about where to park, how to get to the airport and if flights are delayed. They also field calls from the various emergency phones installed around the airport, as well as handle emergency communications during a crisis. The most common call they get on the emergency phones? People calling from the parking lot to ask when the next shuttle will be there to pick them up. Doh!
My First Flight
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my first flight, which I wrote about in my last post. It was quite an eye-opening experience for me in many ways. It occurred to me that there really aren’t that many people in this world who can say they have flown a plane. For example, neither of my parents have done it, nor any of my grandparents, nor my aunts, uncles, or cousins, or even my brother. I guess that makes me the first one in my family to give it a try. I haven’t scheduled that second lesson yet… but I find myself thinking about it.
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the next round of firsts, which should include the return of an airline that hasn’t flown out of my airport in a couple of years, two new K-9s and potentially (hopefully!) a visit to check out some simulators. Stay tuned!
4 thoughts on “The Next Firsts”
It is all of the simple little things that make airports and aviation special to me too.
Transporting a returning hero is one of the most special things I have ever done.
Thank you so much David. That was a very intense and very special moment – made more so by the fact that it was completely unexpected.
As always, excellent post. Ran the gamut of educational, interesting, and, of course, emotional. I used to read a blog from Captain Dave. Some of the best writing I’ve ever read, (unitl you, of course!), and then he disappeared a few years ago. I managed to keep some of his special posts, and one of them was a story about a fallen soldier. I think you and your readers may enjoy…
Thanks for reading Mike! And thanks so much for the link – what a moving story! It reminded me that there was a Southwest flight that was passing by on its way out to the runway at the time the casket was being transfered. It halted on the ramp and didn’t move until the transfer was complete. I thought that showed a tremendous amount of respect. I will have to add that to my post. Thanks