Hello readers! You might be wondering why I’ve only done one blog post so far at Airventure 2022. Don’t worry – there’s more coming! In the meantime, however, I am posting a TON of content over on twitter. No twitter account? No problem! Just click here to check out all the action.
As everyone knows by now, there is a war going on in Ukraine. It’s a war that affects us all to one degree or another. But I didn’t really expect it to impact me at work very much. After all, our traffic is mostly domestic, with a few flights to Canada and Mexico mixed in. At least that’s the case at the passenger airport where my office is. Just down the road, however, is our cargo airport. It accepts flights from all over the world – including Ukraine and Russia.
When it comes to airplanes, I do not discriminate – I love them all! I marvel at the engineering and their capabilities. Flying is magic! I love seeing the different liveries and configurations and people who fly them. This is why I love the cargo airport so much. And why I need to get down there more often.
The most challenging aspect of my job typically involves invoicing – figuring out who to bill and how to get the invoice to them. In this regard I’ve run into issues with Ukraine and Russia before. There used to be an airline called Ruslan which was run jointly by the two countries. It ceased to exist in late 2016 leaving me scrambling to figure out who to bill for their final charges.
Since then both Antonov (Ukraine) and Volga Dnepr (Russia) have been fairly regular visitors. I love to see them come in because they both fly the AN-124, which is an incredibly impressive airplane. I’ve gotten up close and personal with a couple of them and have been awe-struck every time.
During the pandemic, however, their visits stopped. Perhaps they didn’t have any cargo for our area. Or maybe covid restrictions kept them away. Whatever the cause, the plane spotting community missed them. So you can imagine the excitement in mid-February when Volga Dnepr returned.
Then Russia attacked Ukraine. And sanctions were imposed upon Russia. Suddenly things got complicated. And in the midst of it all I had to send an invoice for FBO services to a Russian airline. Um… awkward!
At most airports the FBOs are independent operators. At our cargo airport, however, the airport authority runs the FBO. How does the billing work? Well the FBO keeps track of all the flights and the services provided. This includes things like turn fees (the cost of unloading cargo and then loading the outbound freight), lavatory services, de-icing, GPU usage, pushback services and fueling. The FBO also arranges catering for outbound flights and transportation to and from hotels for the crews. The details are compiled into a spreadsheet and sent to me at the end of the month. I then create invoices and send them to the responsible parties.
In the case of Volga Dnepr, we bill them directly for FBO services, but their fuel billing goes through another provider. We received an email from the fuel provider last week reminding us that they are required to abide by all laws and sanctions that have been imposed as a result of the conflict.
So what does all this mean? Well… I’m not holding my breath on receiving payment from either Volga or the third party fueling company any time soon. Perhaps not ever. I put a poll up on twitter about this situation. The results suggest most people agree with my assessment. I’ll have to send another invoice to Volga later this month for landing fees. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for peace.
It has been almost a year since I moved to my desk by the window. As expected, it has been AMAZING. Even though I’m no stranger to the activity on the airfield, there are still some things I’ve learned from this new perspective.
Yes, I CAN Get My Work Done
Let’s get this out of the way first. It has been suggested that I might be so fascinated by the airfield activity that I won’t get anything done. Nope. I’m actually a good multitasker – I can work and keep an eye outside at the same time. Plus I’ve perfected my camera grabbing technique so I can go from tedious spreadsheet to amazing airplane pics in just a couple seconds.
Airbuses and RJs and Boeings… Oh My!
My desk is right behind gate 21 and I can also see gate 19, both of which are leased by American Airlines. They mostly park A319s and E175s out there. However every now and then a CRJ shows up. The CRJ200 is probably my favorite because compared to the others it looks like a little toy plane. To connect to the jetbridge they have to lower the steps, which makes it look even more like a toy. As passenger numbers have increased American has started to bring back the 737s. It makes for a nice mix of planes through-out the day.
I Hope It’s Worth the NOISE!
It’s no secret that the airfield is a noisy place, but I have a whole new appreciation of what that means. Let’s start with the jetbridges. Every time they move, alarms go off that sound just like old fire alarms or school bells. Then there are the APUs. Most aren’t noticeable, but every now and then a plane shows up with a loud, whiny APU. Of all the airfield noises, this one makes me the most crazy. Ground support vehicles aren’t exactly quiet either. The Air Start Cart can make quite a racket. And did you know tugs have horns? Oh yes. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeeep!
I see a lot of American and Southwest airplanes from my desk because both have gates on the south side of the airfield. By happy coincidence, both airlines also have a number of special liveries. Southwest has the most flights so it isn’t surprising that I see multiple special liveries a week. They have a new one called Freedom One that I’m quite fond of. My favorite thing, however, is when American’s PSA livery parks at gate 21. It’s hard not to smile back when there’s an airplane smiling in the window at you.
The South Side is the Best Side
My desk looks out at the south runway, which is the longer of the two and both FBOs are on this side of the airfield. This makes for a wide variety of airplanes for me to enjoy. Even when the south runway is closed, if 28 Right is in use then most planes will have to taxi by my desk to get to it. Win-win! This dramatically increases my ability to catch the resident P-51. Nothing makes a work day better than a warbird!
When I combine a desk view with Flight Radar 24 or ADSB Exchange plus Live ATC, then not even the military can sneak by me. A few months ago I managed to catch a C-130 and a KC-135 doing practice approaches, followed by a C-17 and TWO C-5s which landed at the airport to pick up cargo. All this in ONE DAY!
If you’ve looked at my older posts then you know I’m fascinated by winter operations. Now I have a front row seat to watch the snow warriors get it done. From plows on the runways to deice trucks to mini snow pushers on the ramp, I get to see all the action.
If you ask my coworkers what they don’t like about being by the windows they’ll tell you two things – it can get very cold on cloudy winter days and every now and then it smells like jet fuel. They have a point about the cold. I keep a stack of extra sweaters, jackets and even gloves to wear at my desk. As for the jet fuel… well you know me – I love the smell of Jet A in the morning!
A few weeks ago a friend and I watched airplanes together during our lunch break. We chatted while we snapped photos. During a pause in the conversation we looked up and saw something unusual approaching the other runway. By the time we realized what it was (a KC-135 doing a practice approach) it was too late for us to get to the other side of the garage. We managed to grab a couple of quick pics, but what could have been a great opportunity passed us by.
We looked at each other with dismay as we realized that we both had scanners, but neither of us was listening! Ooops! We had committed a major spotting sin and we paid the price. Make the most of your spotting moments by making sure you’re ready. Here are some classic errors that can cost you the chance to catch that special airplane.
Not Having/Not Listening to a Scanner
Since we’re already talking about it, let’s start here. I didn’t use a scanner for a long time. I just didn’t realize what a valuable tool it can be, especially for catching military flights or private jets which might not show up on flight trackers. Once I started using one my spotting game got a lot better. LiveATC feeds aren’t always available and don’t always capture the most useful channels. For example, at my airport LiveATC covers the approach and tower frequencies, but it doesn’t have the ground frequency which means you can’t hear taxi instructions. A scanner lets you program whatever channels you want and the reception is a lot clearer. If you don’t have a scanner, get one! And if you do have a scanner, don’t make my mistake and leave it in your car!
Forgetting to Check Equipment
How many times have you been set up to capture a long-sought-after livery only to have your camera’s low-battery light come on at the worst possible moment? I’ve had this happen many times! I usually continue with the shot while silently urging the battery to last just a few more moments. Sometimes I get lucky. Sometimes I don’t. The same thing happens with scanner batteries. We can save ourselves a lot of grief by taking a moment to check these things before we head out. And always carry spare batteries and extra memory cards.
Not Connecting with Other Spotters
Belonging to a spotter network is important. It can help you with everything from finding good spotting locations to choosing the right camera settings. Many spotters also work in the aviation industry and they often have really great insider information about rare airplanes or unusual liveries that are scheduled to visit. Plus plane spotting is just more fun with others!
Not Being Respectful
When chasing that perfect pic it can be hard to resist the temptation to sneak onto private property, or stand along the fence outside of the designated spotting area. You tell yourself it’s just this once for that one special airplane. The problem is, it only takes one person breaking the rules one time to potentially shut down spotting for everyone. Don’t be that person! Stick to designated locations. If airport security asks you to relocate, apologize and move right away.
Warm weather and covid vaccinations mean that fly-ins are possible once again. After more than a year of being stuck at home with only virtual events to attend, the aviation world is ready to get back out there. On a recent Sunday I headed to the other side of the state to attend a fly-in that was held by a local EAA chapter. I was excited to be surrounded by airplanes and ready for a great day of photography.
I’ll admit I was a teeny bit apprehensive about crowds (or lack thereof), but I needn’t have worried. There was a wonderful mix of different types of planes and altbough attendance was strong, it never felt too crowded. I grabbed my camera and set off to capture the day. The field is bordered on one side by a raised levy. Not only did it offer a great view of the airfield below, but planes flew right over top as they departed. The perfect spotting location! Seeing an opportunity for some amazing video, I positioned myself carefully, lined up the shot and clicked the record button on my camera. And then the low battery light came on. And I realized I left my spare batteries back in the car.
I interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post (OK, semi-regularly – but I do have a new post in the works, I swear) to bring you BREAKING NEWS!
As many of you know, the view from my desk leaves a lot to be desired. When I look up I see a wall. And I can look over into the copy room where the photocopier and supply cabinet are. Except for the occasional sound of airplanes taxiing up to nearby gates, you’d never know I worked at an airport. I could be sitting in any office anywhere.
I’ve tried not to complain too much. After all, a desk with a wall view at an airport beats a desk with a wall view anywhere else. However, there has been an open desk by the windows for over four years now. It looks out past one of the jetbridges to the south airfield beyond. It is brighter than my current cube, has more desk space than my cube and I’ve wanted to move into it sooooo badly.
I started my quest by dropping subtle hints. (“That desk over there has been open a long time now…”) When that didn’t work I became a little more obvious. (“Sure, I’ll take on that additional task. What are the chances I can move to that desk?”) Evenutally I resorted to straight-up stating my desire on my annual review. (Question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Me: “Sitting at a desk by the windows.”) It has become something of a joke. “Oh, we can’t give Jennifer a window desk – she’d never get anything done!” I’ve tried to argue that I’d actually get more done because I wouldn’t have to get up and run to the window every time something interesting taxies by. Sadly, I got nowhere. I hadn’t given up all hope, but I was close.
In the meantime, several rounds of reorganization have occurred. The department that shared part our space moved upstairs. We downsized. More and more offices and desks went unusued. Then in a recent meeting my new boss announced that since there are so many open offices, they decided to allow people to move into them. She went on to say that unfortunately there aren’t quite enough offices for everyone. Would I be willing to take a desk by the windows instead?
Her: Are you OK?
Her: *looks confused*
Once I calmed down enough to be coherent I assured my boss that I have ZERO desire to have an office (most of which don’t have windows) and that I am not only willing to take a desk by the windows, but that it’s pretty much the only work-related thing I’ve wanted for the past six years.
And so, after years of patiently (or maybe not-so patiently) waiting, I HAVE A DESK BY THE WINDOWS! Yes, my view is somewhat obscured by the jetbridge, and even more obscured when a plane is there, but I do not care! This is the beginning of a whole new era! I’m not saying I’m going to post a million pics of what I see out my window… but then again, I might.
Have you ever gazed across a crowded concourse and suddenly found yourself totally smitten? Well I have. More than once. Smitten by AIRPLANES, of course! Sure, I’ve always had a list of favorite planes, but since I started working at the airport I’ve fallen in love with a number of other airplanes that I might never have met otherwise.
T-38 Talon (The movie star.)
Oooh – look! It’s that plane who played the MiG-28 in Top Gun! OK, fine – so the T-38 wasn’t actually in Top Gun (the MiG-28 was played by F-5s), but it is strikingly similar. It isn’t unusual to see several Talons at the airport over the course of the summer. Like any fan-girl I love to take pics of them, but it isn’t easy. They are nimble little jets that can easily evade the paparazzi if they want to.
C-130 (The hypnotist.)
These planes also stop by my office regularly. It is not unusual to see them practicing approaches or doing touch and goes. I had seen C-130s on static display at air shows before, but it wasn’t until I got the chance to see them flying that I really fell in love. Let’s just say I have a thing for big… propellors. There’s something about them that is completely mesmerizing. And the sound they make… music to my ears!
Mooney (That tail!)
I did my discovery flight in a Mooney so I’ll admit I’m partial to them. With a tail that looks like someone accidentally installed it backwards, what’s not to love? It gives them a distinctive appearance that makes them easy to spot on the airfield.
Antonov 124 (Bigger is better!)
As you may already know, I LOVE big airplanes. (Yes, size matters!) The An-124 is the largest commercial airplane to regularly visit our cargo airport. Every time I’ve had the opportunity to get close to one I’m reminded of just how ridiculously huge it is. Even the tires seem abnormally large.
Gulfstream (Bond. James Bond.)
If Gulfstreams drank martinis they’d prefer them shaken and not stirred. Suave, smooth, flashy… they are sure to steal any avgeek’s heart! There’s just something about the sweep of their wings that makes me go all a-flutter.
Starship (Out of this world!)
I remember the first time I saw a Starship. It was being towed out from behind some other planes and as it slowly came into view, my jaw nearly hit the floor. I had absolutely no idea what it was, but I was hooked. It is one of the most unique airplanes I’ve ever had the pleasure to see at work and I do hope it comes back to visit some day.
So what about you? Have you made any love connections lately? If not, then get yourself to the nearest airport ASAP. You never know what you might find hiding out amongst the hangars. Just be prepared to have your heart stolen!
This is not the blog post I intended to write. I originally planned to outline all the things that avgeeks can do to try to cope with Severe Aviation Deficiency (aka S.A.D) brought about by the current pandemic. I may still write that post eventually. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t want aviation subsitutes. I want real airplanes and I want them RIGHT NOW.
I know, I know. I’m being selfish and silly and maybe a bit juevenile. But as I’ve written before, aviation is more than just a passing interest. It’s a passion. It’s therapy. It’s a community. And I’m REALLY missing all of that.
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile then you may recall that my mother passed away last year. I still miss her a lot. Then a few weeks ago my brother’s wife had a massive stroke. She collapsed suddenly and had to be life-flighted to a hospital for brain surgery. She survived – a miracle in itself – but she’s facing a very long road to recovery. I’ve been helping my brother with his blog, which he is using to keep friends and family informed.
So you see, I’ve been in dire need of a little aviation therapy. Unfortunately, I’m not at the office these days so the only planes I see are those that happen to fly over my back yard. Then I got an email with two small words that brightened my whole week: military charters. TWO of them! A B767 AND a B777 – planes we rarely get to see. Better still, they’re being flown by an airline that rarely visits. This, my friends, was just what the doctor ordered!
But would I be able to catch both flights? After all, I’m working from home so I can’t just take a break and go upstairs for a few minutes. I need at least half an hour to drive to the airport, park and get into position. As luck would have it, the B767 arrived on a Friday evening. It was delayed until well after I had finished work for the day, so I had no trouble getting there in time to see it.
The B777 on the other hand, was much more of a challenge. It was originally scheduled for a Saturday arrival, which would have been great. Then they pushed it back to Thursday morning. Noooooo! Not good! But… a B777! In my nearly six years at the airport I’ve never seen a B777 there. I did NOT want to miss it. What’s an avgeek to do?
I did the only thing I could think of: I took time off work so I could spend time at the office. I know – that sounds completely ridiculous. (Thanks pandemic!) But hey, I did what I had to do. And it was soooo worth it – not just for the airplane (which was fantastic) but for the time I got to spend around other spotters. Thankfully, it is easy to watch airplanes and still maintain an appropriate distance from others.
Actually, I was surprised how many people were there, including a number of younger spotters I had never met before. Several parents and siblings had also come along. There were so many faces peering over the wall of the parking garage that it caught the attention of some members of the Airport Operations Department. After the 777 parked, they came upstairs to greet the spotters and talk to them about possible careers in Operations. How cool is that!? I am SO GLAD I work for an airport that appreciates and encourages a passion for aviation!
So, am I feeling better now? Yes! It makes me happy to know that there are still cool airplanes and interesting liveries to see. And if having more free time during the pandemic has encouraged new avgeeks, then that’s a silver lining that makes life’s challenges a little easier to bear.
There’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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.