OSH20 – the Week That (sort-of) Wasn’t

It’s my favorite week of the whole year! I spend 365 days looking forward to it. It’s better than Christmas. It’s Airventure Oshkosh! Except… not this year. Thanks to the current pandemic, Osh20 was canceled. There are not enough words to express how devastated I’ve been.

I tried to distract myself by taking a (socially-distanced) day-trip across the lake to a cheerful little island. But I just spent my time lurking around the airport there, looking for airplanes. I went through old photos and shared them online with the other Osh faithful. It was somewhat helpful to know that I was not alone in my grief.

In the absence of our beloved fly-in, the good folks at EAA put together the Spirit of Aviation Week. It consisted of a collection of online events and forums covering a wide-range of topics. I’ll admit I was skeptical about it at first – no virtual event can ever take the place of the real deal. But then I looked over the list of offerings and saw a few that looked interesting. So I decided to check them out. And I’m so glad I did! I carried my ipad outside, plugged in my headphones and as I listened I could almost imagine I was sitting in one of the forum buildings on the Airventure grounds.

The first event I “attended” was a panel discussion with members of the US Air Force Demo teams. Participating in the event were an F-16 pilot, an F-22 pilot, an F-35 pilot and an A-10 pilot. They discussed the challenges of keeping their skills sharp during a season when most shows have been canceled. They also talked about flying at Osh, how it is different from some of the other places they fly and how much they look forward to performing there. I was interested to learn that as a recruiting tool, the demo teams are primarily trying to reach kids ages 8-12. That seems young to me, but they say it is the best age to capture and maintain an interest in becoming military aviators.

The next event I attended was the Airline Pilot Career Outlook, hosted by United Airlines. I am not interested in becoming an airline pilot, but I was curious to get United’s take on the pandemic and the impact it is having on the industry. They reiterated what we already know – this has been the worst year for the airlines, ever. They believe it will likely be two years before they are ready to start hiring again. However, they are very cognizant of the fact that 50% of their workforce will retire in 10 years and 90% will retire in 20 years. Pandemic or not, that is a lot of pilots that will be needed. They are trying to connect with future pilots early on – a fact they emphasized by announcing their sponsorship of EAA’s Young Eagles programs.

I wrapped up the week by attending an FAA seminar entitled “Don’t Let that Airport Fool You!” With a title like that, of course I had to attend! I was curious to know just exactly how airports go around fooling people. The seminar was really about how to avoid wrong surface/wrong airport events. I learned that certain types of airport geometry (parallel and offset parallel runways, complicated layouts, etc.) can contribute to these types of events. It made me wonder how many airport planners are also pilots. Seems like it would be helpful to have hands-on experience when making decisions about taxiway placements, etc.

I really enjoyed attending these sessions and I appreciate everything EAA did to provide a taste of Airventure in the midst of a difficult year. That said, I’m really glad Osh week is over. I’m ready to stop feeling sad about what didn’t happen, and look ahead to better days. Hope to be able to see you all at Airventure 2021!

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Aviation Appreciation

DE18EC16-532D-42AA-A67A-4BFB4068CAB2This 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.

70F3550F-086E-4E78-8740-F6CE7B1D61F3If 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.

4DB6968B-0768-4B23-ACC9-DBD3DF689890So 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.

5271AFF1-74D5-4702-A462-63A676D2EEDFThe 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.

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A spotter and his dad.

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. 0004CA7E-79F8-40CD-972A-F03B3C120F0E

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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What in the World?!

I’m not a big fan of surprises. Surprise party? No, thanks. Surprise audit? Yikes! What about surprise airplanes? Ah! That’s the one kind of surprise I actually DO like! Over the last few years I’ve gotten to see some pretty unusual and unlikely airplanes lurking outside the office.38045232_unknown Tracking down these rare and different visitors takes a lot of practice, skill and a keen eye for… OK, fine – mostly it just takes luck. And a knack for being in the right place at the right time. However, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances.

If commercial aviation is your thing, I recommend JetTip.net. For a long time I resisted the urge to add yet another tracking service to my already large collection. But after a friend gave it a try and got a lot of useful alerts about unusual liveries and charter aircraft, I gave in. Now my problem is trying to schedule my lunch break to catch the planes I most want to see and hoping I’m not in a meeting when they arrive.

39382640_unknownIf you are interested in non-commercial planes then you really MUST listen to a scanner. There have been several instances where I’ve been watching traffic on one runway when an exchange with ATC alerted me to something interesting on approach to the other. Also, make sure you really look around carefully. I pull out my camera and zoom in on the hard-to-see places at the far end of the airfield. More than once what I thought at first glance to be just another plane turned out to be something special when I took a closer look.

So, what kind of unusual and unlikely airplanes have I spotted hiding out on the airfield? Well, my favorite catches lean towards the military, but there are some good GA aircraft on the list as well.

CT-155 Hawk

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I know I’ve found something fun when I have to stop what I’m doing and research the plane to figure out what the heck it is. Such was the case with the Hawk. Google tells me it is an advanced jet trainer – this particular one belongs to Canada. What was it doing flying around the Midwest? No clue but I’m so glad I got to see it!

Widgeon

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I had heard from one of my friends that there is a Widgeon hangared at my airport. Wait… a what? I looked it up and discovered tbat it’s a type of amphibious aircraft first built in the 1940s. I was skeptical that such a special airplane would make its home here. Then one day I spotted it parked on the ramp. I really hoped I would get to see it take off, but it was eventually towed back into the hangar. Glad I got a glimpse of it at least.

NASA T-38

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The T-38 is a fairly regular visitor to my airport, so I don’t consider them to be rare or unusual… unless it happens to have the NASA livery! Not sure how many Talons NASA has these days, but I had only seen one previously and it was at an air show. I definitely didn’t expect to see one at work!

Beechcraft Starship

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I was scanning the area around the FBO one afternoon when I noticed an unusual shape being towed across the ramp. As it gradually emerged from behind the other airplanes I became and more and more perplexed. What in the heck is that? It was the most crazy and the most excellent general aviation airplane I’ve ever seen parked outside of the office. My friends on twitter informed me that it was a Starship, one of very few still flying. Definitely one of my most favorite catches!

Navy T-6 Trainer

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As I mentioned, it isn’t unusual to see T-38 and other Air Force trainers around. But when a Navy trainer shows up you bet it caught my attention. A quick check of the map confirmed that there are no oceans in the area. No Navy bases either. That made this T-6 a special catch.

P-8 Poseidon

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I was listening to the scanner one evening when I heard ATC clear someone for a practice approach. Curious, I headed over to the runway in question just in time to see a Poseidon doing a touch and go. Um… wait… a Poseidon? Here??? I’m really starting to wonder if the Navy has a secret ocean stashed nearby.

E-9A Widget

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I almost didn’t notice this plane hanging out across the airfield until I zoomed in with my camera and saw the unusual markings. I did some digging online and discovered that this is one of only two Widgets owned by the USAF. Guess what they’re used for? That’s right – ocean surveillance!

OK, that does it. Clearly there’s an ocean hiding here in the Midwest. Thank goodness I love looking for unusual airplanes or I might never have known! Now I just need to find the hidden seaplane base – maybe then I’ll finally get to see the Widgeon fly!

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Five years!

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December 1, 2019 marked five years since I started working for the airport. That’s right – I’ve been running around like a kid in a candy store for five whole years now. How is that even possible?  I knew I was going to love working in aviation, but I didn’t anticipate how much I was going to fall in love with the airport itself. And I never dreamed that I would get to see and do as much as I have.

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I have always wanted to sneak my way into an ATC tower. This probably explains why the FAA added another set of “No Trespassing” signs around the tower fence right after I started my job. To my surprise, however, in the last five years I’ve visited all four towers at the three airports where I work plus the tower at Oshkosh. ATC towers are every bit as cool as I thought they would be.  The only thing cooler than the towers?  The TRACON! I’m still shocked that they not only let me in, but showed me around and explained what they were doing.

Being the avgeek that I am, I bring my scanner to work every day so I can listen when I’m plane spotting during my breaks. I sometimes listen to Live ATC at my desk too –  I just really like knowing what is going on. At this point I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of ATC communications dealing with all kinds of scenarios in all kinds of weather. Some of the most memorable conversations have also been the most amusing, like the pilot who threatened to do donuts on the uncontrolled ramp and another who was afraid of his 666 squawk code and requested a new one.

IMG_3142Airport Vehicles

Airport ground vehicles for the win! Who knew they were so cool?  From belt loaders to tugs to baggage trolleys and deice trucks – I’m a fan. The really crazy thing is how many I’ve been allowed to examine up close.  I’ve been able to sit in a snow plow and a fire truck, gotten to take a close look at a deicing rig and I’ve ridden around in broom truck.  I haven’t driven a stairs truck yet (the coolest of all airport vehicles), but I’ve sat behind the wheel and that’s a start!

Airplanes!

I’m not going to lie – being around airplanes every day is awesome. It doesn’t matter how many take-offs and landings I’ve seen – flying is still magic. I knew I’d see a lot of RJs and 737s around, but I had no idea I’d also get to see the occasional B767 and A330 as well.  Plus I’ve seen an incredible assortment of military airplanes including T-38s,  A10s, F18s, KC135s,  and C130s.  I’ve even seen Airforce One on multiple occasions. I also didn’t anticipate how much I was going to fall in love with business aviation.  Gulfstreams, Globals, Falcons… they stop me in my tracks every time I see them because they are just so darn gorgeous.

IMG_5307Really BIG Airplanes!

When I accepted the job with the airport authority I was excited to be working at a passenger airport, however I was even more excited to be affiliated with a cargo airport.  Why?  Because 747s!  And 777s!  And Antonovs!  There is ALWAYS something interesting to see.  On my very first visit I got to stand on the ramp and watch an Emirates 777 land and then taxi over to be unloaded. I’ve gotten up close and personal with an An124 more than once now.  Oh yes, I LOVE big planes!

Missed Approaches and other “Emergencies”

The first time I saw an airplane go around it was fascinating.  Five years later I’ve seen dozens of missed approaches I have to say… they are STILL really fascinating. They happen for all kinds of reasons, most of them entirely mundane.  Same with aborted take-offs.  I’ve seen several and they were far less dramatic than I expected.  I have also witnessed several emergency landings over the years.  They’re a bit more intense, but thanks to the efforts of ATC, ARFF, Airport Ops and the pilots, they all ended smoothly and uneventfully.

XLBSE1167Favorite Experience

It is hard for me to single out a favorite moment from the past five years because there have been so many.  As a general rule, the coolest experiences happen out on the airfield.  That’s where all the action is.  It’s also where the ground support vehicles hang out.  And it’s where the airplanes are!  If I absolutely HAD to pick a favorite, it would be the winter I trained to assist Ops with managing the flow of traffic into the deice pad.  I got to drive around on the ramp in an ops vehicle and talk to airplanes and ATC on the radio. I mean seriously –  it doesn’t get much cooler than that!  It was a mild winter so I never got signed off to manage the pad by myself but who knows – maybe one of these days I’ll get another chance.

IMG_5310 (2)On the Wish List

What would I like to do that I haven’t done yet?  Well I still haven’t driven a snow plow or gone out with the airfield team during a snow event. I’d really love to go up in the bucket of a deice rig just once.  Of course driving a stairs truck remains a goal. And I still really, really want to ride around on the baggage belt. However, I’ve recently added a new item to my wish list: making an airport-wide page. If you ever find yourself wandering through the terminal and you hear someone paging Captain Oveur to the white courtesy phone… let’s just say I’ll deny all knowledge.

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One Hundred (and then some)!

one hundredWoah! 100 posts? Have I really written that many? Actually… now that I’ve added them up it turns out I’ve written 103 altogether! Apparently I sailed right by the big 100 milestone without even realizing it. Oops!

So how did I get here? Well I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it wasn’t until I landed my current job at the airport that I found something I really wanted to write about on a consistent basis. And I quickly discovered that there is so much more to life at an airport than just airplanes. There are snowplows and water canon salutes and sunrises on the airfield. I’ve helped on the deice pad, visited ATC towers, and stood on a taxiway to watch an A350 land. I’ve ridden in a broom truck, sat in a stairs truck and driven an ops truck. I truly am a kid in a candy store every day.

37778512_UnknownOf course when I hit publish on that first post I had no idea whether anyone would actually read it. 100 posts later, I’m a bit shocked to discover I have readers from over 120 different countries. (Seriously? Wow!) As you might imagine, many come from places like the US, UK, Canada, Australia and France. However there are some readers from countries I didn’t expect, like Aruba (reading about stairs trucks on the beach, no doubt) and Nepal (probably learning about deicing whilst hiking the Himalayas).

People have stumbled onto my blog in a variety of different ways. Most find it through social media, however I’ve also gotten views from readers who have shared it with their friends or posted links to it online. (It’s a really great feeling when that happens!) I get traffic from search engines too. It amuses me to see the search phrases that have somehow led people to my blog. Here are a few of my favorites:37778416_Unknown

“Mobile stairs airfield” Yeah, this one is a no-brainer.

“Useless airport trivia” Yep, I’ve got lots of that!

“Fun jobs with finance degree” Actually, I don’t have a finance degree. Shhhh! Don’t tell!

“Beer Emergency Vehicle” Where the heck is that when I need it?

“How to drive airport stairs” Stay tuned! I hope to be able to give a first-hand report on this one of these days!

37778240_UnknownMy most viewed post so far is: Airline Fees That THEY Have to Pay. I really didn’t expect that a post about something I do every day (invoicing airlines) would be very popular.  In fact, I actually put off writing it for over a year because I wasn’t sure anyone would find it interesting. Doh!

One of my most defining moments as a blogger (so far) came in 2017.  That was the year I first got media credentials for Airventure. The Blue Angels were there and I got to interview one of the pilots. The experience went something like this: OMG I have media credentials! OMG the Blue Angels! OMG I have absolutely no idea what to ask! Thank goodness Lt. Benson was a class act who not only answered my questions (once I managed to think of some), but also posed for a photo with me. If you had told me when I started writing this blog that I would be interviewing the Blue Angels at Oshkosh I never would have believed it!IMG_0429

So what’s next? Well I’ve been toying with the idea of incorporating more videos into my posts. And you never know when I might pop up on a podcast (or two). But mostly I plan to continue having adventures at the airport and writing about them.  I hope you’ll continue to follow along!

THANK YOU so much for reading and for all your support!

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Airfield Envy

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Who can see a pic like this and not be envious? I know I can’t! Photo by @41satmanDan

I know it’s not good to be envious of others, but sometimes I can’t help it. It’s not that I don’t love where I work and what I do – because I truly do! It’s just that there are so many other amazing airports and interesting jobs out there… I can’t help wanting to be a part of it all.

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Not an RJ.  Not landing at the passenger airport.

The passenger airport where my office is located is officially categorized as “medium sized” in terms of the amount and type of commercial traffic that we have. That translates into lots and lots of ERJs, CRJs, B737s and A319/20s, along with some Mad Dogs. Other than Air Canada, we have no regular service from international carriers. It’s a little hard to look at the variety of planes flying into places like O’Hare or Atlanta or JFK and not be a bit jealous.

And before you all point it out, yes I KNOW we actually get an interesting variety of airplanes at the cargo airport. The problem is, my office isn’t down there so I rarely get to see them. Plus they have an annoying habit of sneaking in and out in the middle of the night. Supposedly that’s just what cargo planes do, but I’m pretty sure they do it on purpose to taunt me!

kbosThen there’s the runways. At the passenger airport we have a very respectable set of parallel runways. Same at the cargo airport. They suit our needs quite adequately. But… well… they’re not very imaginative. Other airports have really upped their runway game. Take O’Hare for example.  It has a variety of runway sizes and orientations. Or what about Boston Logan whose runways all seem to intersect with each other.  I can only imagine how that went down:

Airport Management: “We need to add another runway.”

Planner: “OK. How about… here.” *draws a random line across the diagram*

Airport Management: “But… that cuts across other runways!”

Planner: “No worries – ATC will take care of it.”

Airport Management: “Oh, right!”

It’s not just the other airports I’m a bit jealous of. It’s also the people who get to be out on the airfield every day. I’m sure right now my Ops and Airfield friends are rolling their eyes and thinking, “Right. YOU come out here and work when it’s 100 degrees. Or in the pouring rain. Or during a blizzard. See how jealous you are THEN!” OK, OK – I get it. Every job has aspects that are substantially less than enjoyable. No, I don’t think it would be fun to have to scoop bird pieces off the runway or be on call or work nights. But you have to admit, the perks are pretty damn awesome!

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That whole working during a blizzard thing actually looks really cool! I am so totally jealous! Photo by Francis Colacino

The ops and airfield teams get to see sunrises and sunsets from out on the airfield, which, as everyone knows, is the best place to see them. They get to work in all kinds of really cool equipment, like plows and brooms (and maybe even stairs trucks). They get up-close and personal with all types of airplanes. They get to drive all over the airport property including up and down the runways! (Don’t underestimate how awesome that is.)

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Love this tail! Jealous on so many levels here… Photo by Tom Rainey @traineyjr

Plus they have the satisfaction of knowing that all those happy reunions taking place in the terminal are happening because of their hard work. If the ops and airfield teams stop showing up, everything would shut down pretty fast. Whereas if the finance and accounting department was to suddenly get sucked into another dimension, it would probably be a week or two before anyone noticed.

Employee One: “Hey – didn’t we used to have an accounting department?”

Employee Two: “Oh yeah! I wonder what ever happened to those guys?”

Employee One: “Dunno. Good thing the payroll department is still here.”

Lest you think I’m being a total whiner, I’m not. I may be envious, but I haven’t forgotten how lucky I am to be able to work where I do. I have had some amazing experiences that I couldn’t have had anywhere else. Besides, it doesn’t matter that I’ve seen thousands of RJ departures – every time one takes off I still stop to watch. Because flying is magic and aviation is fascinating and I’m so glad to be a part of it.

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Brooms in action with a gorgeous sky. Wow! Photo by Jeremy R (Special thanks to Jason C)

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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A350 and the FBO

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Photo by Andrew Stricker

I recently had one of those weeks that reminds me just how lucky I am to be able to work where I do. Any time I get out onto the airfield is exciting, but getting onto the airfield twice in one week at two different airports? That’s nothing short of total awesomeness!

YAY 350!

A friend at Delta gave me a heads-up that one of their brand-new A350s would be doing some training flights into my airport. Sweet! We rarely see airplanes that large or that new, so this was definitely a big deal. Naturally I planned to go upstairs and watch it come in. Then I got an email from the Operations Manager asking if I’d like to ride out onto the airfield to see the arrival. Would I? Are you kidding me? Hell yes I would!

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We hopped into one of the Ops vehicles about 15 minutes or so before the A350 was due to arrive. With a little help from our friends in the ATC tower we confirmed which runway would be used and got permission to position ourselves on a taxiway not too far from the anticipated touch-down point. We had to wait another few minutes before the A350 finally appeared in the distance. It got closer and closer and before we knew it the plane was roaring by us in all its glory. Best plane spotting moment EVER!

 

The plane wasn’t scheduled to stay long but thanks to that magic radio connection to ATC we were able to recommend a good parking spot on the east pad… which we immediately drove to so we could take more pics. There were several other vehicles circling the plane like sharks. Plus there were observers in the old snow tower and there was even someone from Ops on the terminal roof!

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After about ten minutes the A350 was ready to leave. We decided that just off the end of the runway would be the ideal location for viewing the departure.  We hopped out of the truck and watched as the plane came straight at us. Then it lifted into the air and flew directly over our heads.  There’s only one word to properly describe the entire experience: Wow!

FB-OH!

FullSizeRender (87)So how do you top off a week that had such a stunning beginning? Why with a visit to the FBO, of course! At the cargo airport the FBO is run by the Authority so we are very involved with paying their bills and invoicing the airlines for their services. Getting to spend a few hours there was an important learning experience. And, of course, the avgeek in me was a kid in a candy store.

The original plan had been to help work a flight. Sadly the plane was delayed so that didn’t happen. But you know me – I wasn’t about to let that stop me from enjoying every moment I was there. We spent some time reviewing spreadsheets and other administrative items. Then we spent time chatting about life at the FBO. I learned that some airlines require four star hotels for their crews. Others have extensive catering requirements. Still others want flexible transportation options. And who makes all of this happen? Yep – your friendly FBO staff. It can definitely be a challenging job at times.

 

Then we headed out for a tour of the facilities and (at my request) the ground equipment. We got to see the large loaders they use for big cargo pallets and the tail stands they use to protect planes from tipping backwards during unloading. We got to examine tugs and fuel trucks. We even got to look inside the containers used for shipping horses. But then we got up close and personal with two of my favorite support vehicles…

Deice Trucks

 

We have two deice vehicles – one open bucket and one enclosed. I thought for sure that the enclosed one would be preferred. However, the FBO staff informed me that operating the enclosed deicer can be challenging. It’s hard to see out the windshield so they often have to open the side window, which means they get just as wet as they would in the open bucket. Plus they claim that using the hose is easier than using two joysticks. Since none of them were crazy enough to let me give the deicers a try I guess I’ll have to take their word for it.

STAIRS TRUCK!!!

 

Then came the moment of all moments: I got to open the door of the stairs truck and sit inside! I got to take pics! I got to touch the controls! I GOT TO SIT IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT! Sadly, I didn’t get to drive it. Doh! That’s OK though – I am one giant step closer to achieving that dream.

Do I have an awesome job or what? I may not love every aspect of what I do, but I sure love the heck out of where I work and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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The Teams Behind the Scenes

IMG_2671For people living in the United States, late November kicks off one of the busiest travel seasons of the year. Over 28 million people are expected to take to the skies over the Thanksgiving holiday alone.  Travelers are counting on the airlines to get them safely to their destinations. What they may not know, however, is that there are a whole host of airport personnel working behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly.

Custodians

Yes, the custodial teams are responsible for keeping the airport clean, but they actually do so much more. Custodians spend a lot of time out and about in the terminal and often find themselves on the front lines of customer care. We’ve had custodians buy food for stranded passengers, search for (and find) lost jewelry, and one quick-thinking custodian even provided a pair of uniform pants to an unfortunate traveler who spilled a drink all over himself.  Our custodians have also been trained to watch for suspected victims of human trafficking and to report suspicious activity to the airport police.  Never underestimate the impact that a solid, compassionate custodial team can make.

IMG_2709Building Maintenance

Like any other building, airport terminals require plenty of upkeep. When a pipe bursts in the bathroom, or when there’s a power outage, or when the baggage system stops working, who are you going to call? Yep – building maintenance. If they can’t fix it, they’ll bring in someone who can. Next time you find yourself walking through an airport terminal in the middle of the night, remember that folks from the Building Maintenace department are there too, keeping an eye on things.

Operations

The Operations Department is charged with making sure airport operations go smoothly at all hours. This includes things like issuing NOTAMs, chasing off flocks of birds and coordinating snow operations. A few years ago an airline that is not based at my airport had to divert in the middle of the night due to mechanical issues. Since the airline had no staff on site it was the Ops team that arranged a gate, greeted passengers and ordered pizza for them while a maintenance crew was being summoned.

IMG_2504Airfield Maintenance

The airfield teams are charged with making sure the runways and taxiways remain clean and clear. Too wet? They’ll suck up the excess water. Too snowy? They’ll get the plows going. Too much rubber build-up? Summon the brooms! If a big winter storm is forecast the teams will sometimes stay at one of the airport hotels so that they won’t get stranded at home.

Communications Center

The Communication Center personnel act as the eyes and ears of the airport. They monitor the fire and security systems, dispatch police and ARFF as needed and just generally watch over things. Ever gone out to your car in an airport parking lot only to find it won’t start? I have. Calling AAA is useless since they don’t have access to gated parking areas, so guess who I called for help? Yep – the Communications Center. They dispatched a service truck to help get me on my way.

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Airlines and ATC

Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a big shout-out to the airlines and ATC as well. Pilots, flight attendants, gate agents, rampers, ticket agents, station masters, mechanics, dispatchers and air traffic controllers will all be giving up time with their families to make sure passengers get home to theirs. So if you’ll be traveling by air this holiday season, give your flight crews a smile and spare a thought for all the teams working behind the scenes to get you safely on your way.

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