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

Battleships, Blackbirds and Tough Times at the Airport

C7A82B02-1E14-4212-88E2-1DC5FB1C1808Before the stay-at-home orders for the Covid-19 pandemic started, I was able sneak out to Pensacola Beach, Florida for a quick vacation. I had hoped to make a return visit to the Naval Air Museum while I was in the area, but it was not open to the public. Instead I drove over to Mobile, AL to visit Battleship Memorial Park.

Tough Ship (and Planes)

C851E28E-A66C-47A2-8098-EDDAD82E98F1As the name suggests, the main attraction is the USS Alabama, a World War II-era battleship. Parked right next door is the USS Drum, a Gato-class submarine. Both were open for self-guided tours. I have never been on any kind of military vessel before… oh my goodness the crazy steep stairs! I cannot imagine what it must have been like to climb up and down them while out at sea. Needless to say I have an even greater appreciation for our Navy and Marine service members .

Of course, what I was most excited to see were the airplanes. There were a number of them scattered around the park grounds, including a B-52, an F-15, an F-16, and a C-47. However there was also an aircraft pavillion where the REALLY cool planes are stashed. First to catch my eye when I walked through the door was a Blackbird – more specifically, an A-12. They look virtually the same , but the A-12 could fly a little faster and a little higher, and was used by the CIA for spy missions.BC68A85C-ABE6-4FBE-9C81-A3891C485F77

On the opposite side of the pavillion was an F-14 Tomcat. Oh how I love that plane! It looks fast and mean just sitting on the ground. There are several other fascinating airplanes and helicopters on display including a P-51 Mustang and an F-18 Hornet. Over-all I found Battlefield Memorial Park to be well worth the visit. If you are ever in the area I strongly recommend you stop by and give it a look.

Meanwhile at the Airport…

As I mentioned in my last post, I am working from home these days. However, I had to stop by the office recently to pick up a few items. I thought I was prepared for what I was going to see. I wasn’t. Empty parking lots. No shuttles or buses or ubers. No traffic at all, really. And, except for a few bored agents at the ticket counter, no people. The restaurants are closed. The stores are closed too. And yet, upbeat music played over the PA system, along with routine announcements – as if nothing at all was amiss. But then there were also recorded reminders about social distancing and quarantines. Actually it was quite eerie.FE9B9EE7-B639-4F06-9C1D-AB34B85949D3

It was equally disturbing to see all the empty airplanes sitting around. A regional airline has parked nearly three dozen ERJs on the south cargo ramp. Each unused airplane represents dozens of people in the aviation and travel industries who aren’t working right now. For the airport, those idle airplanes mean no passenger parking  income, no concession income, and very little in the way of landing fees or PFCs. Things are tough all over.905AFDC8-5B18-48EC-B32A-D4E2E3DD5A55

But there is a little bit of good news in the midst of the gloom. Although the passenger airport is unbearably quiet, the cargo airport has managed to stay busy. There has been a reduction in flights by some carriers, but there’s been steady traffic from others like Cargolux and Cathay Pacific. Chartered cargo flights have actually increased. Many of those flights have been delivering medical supplies and other items that are critically needed.2DA3F260-D25E-422E-9940-A72A0B9FDF09

From a financial standpoint, the activity at the one airport cannot begin to make up for the lack of activity at the other. But right now we’ll take whatever we can get. And having those cargo planes overhead helps calm my aviation withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, my serious case of stairs truck deficiency continues.
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In Sickness and in Health

B840FCF8-EF57-4FE3-A150-E3D37EC8AA15There’a an ancient curse (of unclear origins) that says: May you live in interesting times. Sadly, times are very “interesting” right now. The impact of Covid-19 has hit the world like a steam roller.

This potentially fatal illness has shuttered businesses from beauty salons to the DMV. It has closed schools and restaurants. People have been forced into quarantine. Sports have been put on hold. Gatherings and events have been canceled. Airlines and airports (and all the businesses that support them) have been decimated. It’s awful. It’s ugly. And then things REALLY took a turn for the worse. Why? Because I’m WORKING FROM HOME. What??? Nooooooooooooo!

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I miss this sooo much!

Yes, I know – there are many people who would love to work from home right now but they can’t. I get it. But… being stuck in the spare bedroom, far away from my beloved airport is breaking my heart. It’s been a grand total of one week so far and things are NOT going well.

First of all, my new coworkers suck. They constantly want to be let outside. And back in again. And then back out. And in. They start screaming for a lunch break at 9:00am. And one of them ripped my potted plant out by the roots for the FOURTH time. Even worse, they know NOTHING about airplanes. They couldn’t care less.

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This is what should be outside my window.

Then there’s the view out the window. BORING!!! There’s not one airplane outside. Parking a large jet out front would probably not go over so well with the neighbors. However, at this point I’m seriously considering ways to sneak a bizjet or two out there. A Gulfstream would fit in my driveway, wouldn’t it?

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This is what is actually outside my window. So not OK!

And then there’s the lack of plane spotting. The only planes I can see from my garden are the ones that fly over when the 28s are in use. But it has been really cloudy so the airplane count has been an appaling 0. You read that correctly – Z.E.R.O! Even on the quietest days there is usually some activity on the airfield to watch, but now I’m deprived of even that.

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Yes, I do have a large aerial photo of an airport in my home office. Doesn’t everyone?

So what is a poor avgeek going through aviation withdrawal supposed to do? Well I’ll tell ya – it isn’t pretty. I’ve got model planes lined up by the window to try to make myself feel a little better. I staged a toy stairs truck race during my coffee break this morning. I’m monitoring Live ATC and listening to aviation podcasts. Sadly, nothing helps.

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Not as good as the real thing. Totally better than nothing

I guess all I can do is what millions of other people are doing – wait it out. One way or another Covid-19 will eventually be defeated. People will be ready to fly and the airlines will be back strong again. Until that time you can find me flipping through my absurdly-huge collection of airplane photos and dreaming of stairs trucks and jetbridges.

Author’s note: I want to give a special shout-out to the many, many people in the aviation industry who are showing up each day and putting in the hours to make sure air travel remains safe. I want you to know how very much you are appreciated. Hang in there, stay strong and be well. We will get through this.

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Osh Love for a Lifetime

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My birthday is in September. However, for as long as I’ve been coming to Airventure, my mom sent my birthday check early.  She knew I’d like to have a little extra money to spend on my trip to Osh. My mom passed away a couple months ago, so there was no birthday check this year. However, she did leave me enough money to do something I’ve been wanting to do for some time now: become a Lifetime Member of  EAA.

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I’m not a pilot and I’ve never built a plane, so you might be wondering why on earth I’d want lifetime membership. At Airventure 2016 I got to see an A-10 fly for the first time. They are one of my most favorite planes and although I’d seen them on static display, I had never seen one in the air. I was so excited I was nearly in tears over it. I expected ridicule or funny looks from the people around me. What I got instead was complete understanding. I knew right then that I wanted to be a member forever.

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So, what are the perks of lifetime membership? Well I got a patch and a pin and a flashlight. I’ll be getting a plaque and a jacket with my name embroidered on it. I also get to have a new membership card with the photo of my choosing on it. Yikes!  How will I ever decide which one to use? Being a lifetime member also enabled me to get a couple of days of access to the lifetime pavilion. It’s a great place to sit in the shade, relax and watch the airshow.

 

Speaking of which, there have been some great airplanes at Osh so far this year. I got my first look at the KC-46 Pegasus. I also watched a UPS Boeing 747-8 taxi into Boeing Plaza. The wingtip went right over my head! I got to take a look at a prototype flying car. I have to admit that I am a bit skeptical about whether it can actually fly, but the company says they are close to the first test flight. It will be interesting to see what happens.

 

Of course, Osh isn’t just about planes – it is about the people as well. I’ve gotten to see so many old friends! It truly is an aviation family reunion. I especially enjoy watching new attendees take in Osh for the first time and fall in love with it just as I did. Who knows – maybe some of them will end up becoming lifetime members too.

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Aviation Therapy

38311024_UnknownI set a goal for this year of at least two blog posts per month and I was doing pretty well… but then life events forced me to put writing on hold for a while. You see, my mother passed away somewhat unexpectedly at the end of May. Those of you who know me or who have followed this blog for a few years will remember that my father passed away back in 2016. Losing my mom means that both my parents are gone now, which means my brother and I face the added stress of dealing with my mom’s estate. Definitely not fun.

38312176_UnknownEveryone copes with grief in their own way. For some people the idea of returning to work after a loss might be unbearable. For me, however, going back to work was a lifeline. It allowed me to get back into a routine, but more importantly, it provided me with a much-needed daily dose of aviation therapy. And oh my goodness what excellent therapy it has been!

When I pulled into the parking lot on my first day back I noticed there was a large airplane sitting across the airfield, but I was too distracted to give it a lot of thought. However, when I got to my department I could clearly see an Atlas 747 sitting on the south ramp. Atlas always flies into the cargo airport – why was it at the passenger airport? Actually, who the heck cares!  I’m just so glad I got to see it.  (For those who are wondering, it was a military charter flight.)

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Photo by Andrew Stricker

That was just the start of several days of really great plane spotting. Some of the planes I got to see included:

A whole bunch of bizjets from Target Inc. (Target has great taste in airplanes!)

 

 

A KC-135 practicing touch-and-goes.

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A beautiful Cessna 195:

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Three big beauties headed to the cargo airport:

 

A sweet little Skylane:

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A Hondajet:

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A National Air 757:

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And perhaps best of all, two A-10s! Sadly I couldn’t get a good picture of them because of how they were parked. But that’s OK. Getting to see them at all was a huge treat that really lifted my spirits.

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However, the ultimate in aviation therapy is just a month away – Airventure Oshkosh.  Once again I plan to be there all week.  As always, I’ll be handing out bacon jerky at Oshbash so if you’ll be at Airventure on Tuesday, July 23, please join us.  No, not even 10,000 airplanes can make up for the loss of my mom.  But I can’t think of a better place to find my smile again.  Hope to see you there!38311936_Unknown

 

(Av)Geeking Out

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Summer is finally here and that means it’s time to use some of those vacation days I’ve been hoarding. Hooray! As you know, I like to spend my vacation from the airport at other airports. This year I’ve added a new airport to my list of vacation destinations!

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center//Dulles International Airport

34982400_UnknownA couple weeks ago I made my first ever trip to the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly VA for their annual Innovations in Flight Family Day. I had the tremendous honor of tagging along with my friends the Airplane Geeks who were there to record some interviews for their podcast. One of the best things about being with the Geeks was getting early access to the center, which means my first look at some of those amazing airplanes came when there was almost no one else around.

34982288_UnknownIf aviation is a religion, then the Udvar-Hazy Center is the holy land. Spending a few quiet moments in the presence of some remarkable airplanes was pretty darn close to a religious experience. I got to see a Concorde for the first time. And a Space Shuttle. And so much more. But the one airplane I most wanted to see was an unassuming little Cessna 180. I located it hanging sedately over the much flashier Concorde. The name of the plane is The Spirit of Columbus. It was piloted by Jerrie Mock – the first woman to fly solo around the world. Such a big journey for such a small airplane!

As is so often the case, two of the most memorable moments I had at Innovations in Flight were completely unplanned. The first was getting a tour of a C-17 by a friend who is a C-17 pilot. There’s nothing like learning about an airplane from someone who flies it! I have a whole new appreciation for the plane and what it can do.

The second memorable moment was taxiing across Dulles in a Cherokee. I know some of you are thinking, “Big deal! You never left the ground!” Yes, that’s true. But hello… we taxied across DULLES!!! In a CHEROKEE!!! An Etihad Dreamliner landed right next to us. We passed a Lufthansa Boeing 747. We got a close look at the international terminal AND the cargo ramp. The airport nerd in me loved every second of the journey!

My day spent at Innovations in Flight was truly wonderful. I am making plans to go back and visit the Udvar-Hazy Center again soon. So how do you follow up such an amazing experience? With an air show, of course!

Vectren Dayton Air Show//Dayton International Airport

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Coming soon: an internet campaign to get me this sign!

I have been to the Dayton airport and air show many times before. However, this was my first visit in several years. I was greeted by my most favorite airport sign in the history of airport signs. I NEED this sign! It would be PERFECT right next to my desk. Or in my front yard. Or my living room. Dear Dayton Airport: if you ever take this sign down PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE give it to me!

Once I entered the static display area I was greeted by some old friends: a C-17, a B-17 from the movie Memphis Belle, an A-10 and so much more! The air show itself was the first live-action test of my snazzy new camera. I still have some learning to do, but I think some of the pics turned out really well!

The Golden Knights were fun to watch, although I can’t imagine jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. The B-17 from the movie Memphis Belle made several passes and was lovely as always.  This was my first time seeing Redline – a two-person aerobatic team who fly RV-8s.  So cool!

 

Sean D Tucker put on a terrific performance. (Has anyone ever been able to refer to him and NOT use his middle initial?  I sure can’t!) The F-22 Raptor is one of the best military demonstrations out there.  I’ve seen it several times before and it always leaves me with my jaw hanging open.

 

Tora Tora Tora is a perennial air show favorite.  So is the Screamin’ Sasquatch jet-powered Waco.

 

And of course, the Blue Angels were amazing, as they ALWAYS are!

 

What makes aviation vacations the best, however, are the people you share them with.

If you’d like to hear more about Innovations in Flight then you MUST check out The Airplane Geeks episode featuring interviews recorded at the event.  Also check out the Flying and Life podcast episode in which Dispatcher Mike and the Airline Pilot Guy recount their adventures flying to Dulles in a 1963 Beechraft Musketeer! Special thanks to David Vanderhoof and the rest of the Geeks for allowing me to tag along with them, and to Hillel for being brave enough to allow me in his Cherokee!

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Airport Terminal of the Future

IMG_0263Think back for a moment to what aviation was like 60 years ago. The DC-3 was a common sight and the Boeing 707 was brand new. Passengers could be accompanied by their families all the way to the gates. TWA, Eastern and Piedmont offered flights at my airport. Things sure have changed a lot since then! Well, except for the terminal. It has had several additions and face-lifts over the years, but at its core it is the same building in the same location as it was in 1958.

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O’Hare International Airport also has a big terminal construction project planned. (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Now let’s imagine 60 years into the future. What will air travel look like in 2078? What kind of airplanes will we fly? What kind of cars will we drive? (Will we even still be driving cars?) What if you had to design and build an airport today that will meet the needs of the flying public (both commercial and GA) for the next 60 years and beyond? What should the terminal look like? How big should it be? Will the security needs be different? Those are just a few of the considerations that airport designers face.  I have a hard time  deciding what to have for breakfast – I couldn’t imagine being tasked with these types of decisions.  Needless to say I’m very glad that I’m not an airport planner!

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Salt Lake City International Airport is in the middle of a large expansion project.  Estimated cost: $3 Billion (Photo by GoMan195531 at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons)

After 60 years, the functional life of our terminal is starting to wind down. We went through a modernization program recently that will extend our ability to use the building another 15 years or so. However, the time is coming when a new building will be needed. But… how do we know when that time is? As it turns out, the answer is rather complicated.

The first, and perhaps most obvious, factor is the number of passengers using the terminal. We know the maximum number that the current facility can reasonably handle. When we reach a certain point in passenger growth we’ll need to start construction so that the new building is ready when we hit max capacity. Another thing to consider involves infrastructure. When key items like boilers, furnaces and AC units begin to wear out, it will probably make more sense to start construction on a new terminal than to spend millions of dollars putting new equipment into an old building. There are other factors as well, but these two are probably the biggest. If we keep going at our current pace, we expect to hit one of these thresholds in the next 8-10 years.

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Indianapolis’ new terminal opened in 2008.  I dig the trippy lighting! (photo by By utahwildflowers  via Wikimedia Commons)

Even though construction won’t start for a while that doesn’t mean we can just sit back and relax. Nope – there are a whole lot of things we’ve been working on in the meantime.  First off we had to figure out where the new terminal should go, as well as the parking garages, lots, rental car facilities, etc.  Then we had to work on all the studies, evaluations, surveys, environmental impact reviews, wetland assessments, etc. that are routinely required as part of any construction project. Then once all of that has been worked out, the basic infrastructure must to be put into place so that when we’re ready to start building, we have what we need. In our case that means putting in all the utility lines, as well as relocating some of the big RTR antennas.

Another thing on the to-do list is figure out how to pay for it all. The full project is slated to cost over a billion dollars. Ouch! Most airports use a combination of methods to finance this type of project including borrowing money, obtaining grants and using Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) funds.

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Concourses B and C at Philadelphia International Airport were also built in the late 50s. (Photo by David Broad via Wikimedia Commons.)

Not familiar with PFCs? Check your next airline ticket. Every time you get onto an airplane you’ll see a charge of $4.50 (capped at $18/trip). The airlines are required to charge these fees and then remit them to the airports. I love recording the PFC charges because they come from airlines all over the world. We routinely receive remittances from  Japan Airlines, Air France, Luftansa and Qantas. No, none of those airlines fly into my airport.  However, if you buy a ticket to Paris via Air France, then Air France will charge you the PFC and remit those funds to us, even though you’ll actually fly out of my airport on one of their partner airlines (or one of their partner’s regional carriers). The FAA has pretty strict rules about how PFCs can be used. Airports can only use them for very specific things like enhancing security, reducing noise or increasing capacity. FAA approval is required in advance – and the airlines are allowed to give their input as well.

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Wouldn’t be a post from me if I didn’t include a pic of the latest cool airplane to fly in!

One thing my airport won’t use to finance the new terminal is local taxes. Since we aren’t owned by the city or county but instead function as an independent agency, we don’t use county or city taxes for construction projects or for our daily operations either.

So, what DOES the airport of the future look like? Well I’ve heard we are going for a modular design that will allow us to start with what we need, and leave room for us to easily add/adapt as passenger and airline needs change. The proposed design itself is… interesting. A lot can change in 10 years, so what the terminal will actually look like remains to be seen. But based on the most recent conceptualization let’s just say that I think the Jetsons would feel right at home.

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I’m not saying Hanna Barbera designed the look for the new terminal… but they totally could have!

The Ups and Downs of Airport Life

There’s never a dull day in aviation. Well… maybe there are some days that are fairly quiet and uneventful, but no two days are ever the same. It is one of the things I really love about working at an airport. Here are a few of the little “mini-adventures” I’ve had recently.

Balloon-attack

34180832_UnknownMy office is tucked away in a secluded part of the terminal. To access it you have to walk down a long, narrow hallway that is barely wide enough for two people to pass each other. After working late one evening I was attempting to go home when I entered that hallway only to find myself faced with what looked like approximately a million helium party balloons headed right for me. I quickly squeezed myself into a corner and waited for the balloons (and the people carrying them) to pass. This took some time because they were headed down one of the concourses which required them to enter a SIDA area (Secure Identification Area). This means each balloon carrier had to scan their badge, enter a code and go through the door one at a time, to be greeted by security on the other side.

 

Why all the balloons? The airport was getting ready for the launch of service by a new airline. This typically involves a lot of hoopla, although how much depends in part on the airline. For passenger airlines we typically make quite a celebration out of it – balloons, banners, catered food. On this particular occasion the airline wanted A LOT of hoopla. Not only did they celebrate at the gate, but there was a party area set up in the ticket lobby with more food and more balloons, plus live music and prizes. My favorite part of the celebration? Why the water cannon salute, of course! I’ve seen several of them at this point and they never get old.

Be Our Guest

33916048_UnknownOne of the best things about where I work is you never know what might fly in. Sure, I see lots of CRJs and ERJs, but it is the unexpected visitors that are the most exciting. A Canadian Alpha Jet certainly fits into that category. A friend found out that one was flying in and gave me a heads up. I was able to dash upstairs just in time to catch it taxiing to the FBO. I had never seen one before. Now that I have I would love the chance to see it up close!

IMG_3867Speaking of guests from another country, the same friend contacted me recently to let me know that a Delta A330 had just landed. Turns out it had come from Amsterdam and was unable to get to its intended destination because of bad weather. I suspected that it might be hiding out on the deice pad so I took a little stroll down concourse B.  Sure enough, there it was. At many airports the sight of an A330 is an ordinary occurrence, but for us this was something unusual. If you think that seeing the plane from the comfort of a warm, dry terminal was enough for me, then you must not be an avgeek! Of course I went out into the windy, snowy night to watch it take off! It was totally worth it, even though I got soaked and nearly blown off the top of the garage.

Strange Pax Moments

IMG_3980As I mentioned earlier, my department is tucked away in a part of the airport that isn’t easy to get to and is kept locked most of the time.  So you can imagine my surprise when I went to head home after working late one evening and I discovered a man with luggage stuck in a locked stairwell. It was not a SIDA area, but it is also not a place where passengers would ever go. I asked how he had gotten back there but he couldn’t tell me. He said he was trying to catch a flight but couldn’t say what airline. A coworker came along and the two of us walked the man out to the ticket lobby.

34180416_UnknownIt was apparent something was very wrong. He kept trying to wander into areas that are off-limits. He seemed disoriented and confused. He assured us he knew where he was going, but instead wandered around aimlessly. I ended up asking a security agent to follow him while I contacted the airport police. I found out later that, as I suspected, the man was very intoxicated.

Any adventure that involves calling the police is not one I’d care to repeat. However, a few weeks later I was on my way out after working late again when I stumbled across an unattended bag in the hallway near an exit. I prayed someone would come get it. I watched and waited, but after 15 minutes I realized the bag had been abandoned. So once again I ended up calling the police.  Two calls to the Public Safety department in just a few weeks? I’m going to blame it on having to work late so much recently… but I may put the police number on speed dial, just in case!

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Come back and visit us again soon, A330! Photo by Andrew Stricker

Airline Fees that THEY Have to Pay

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If 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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