Texts from the Airport

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Have you ever had one of those needy friends who only contacts you when things are going wrong? They’ll be silent for months and then all of a sudden you’ll get a flurry of texts about this issue or that problem. I have a friend kind-of like that. It’s called the airport. The texts are actually part of an employee notification system designed to keep us up-to-date on matters that could impact us.  A friend who only texts when there are problems is somewhat annoying.  The airport’s texts, however, are both informative and interesting.

Weather Warnings

The first time the airport ever texted me it was to send me a tornado warning. This would have been useful had I not already taken refuge in one of the airport hotels. (I sat a bit too long in the parking lot watching airplanes dodge the storm clouds and nearly got blown off the road when I tried to leave.)

More recently I got this:

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Fortunately for passengers it came in the wee hours of the morning when there weren’t any flights scheduled anyway. Unfortunately for me, I was awake to receive this text because I was due in for deice pad training in just a couple of hours. Ultimately the training ended up being canceled.

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While I’m Away

Have you ever noticed that things tend to happen whenever you’re out of town? That happens to me a lot.  The airport is no exception.  While I was in Oshkosh last summer I got this text during one of the afternoon airshows:

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Well a blown tire is certainly inconvenient, especially considering the airport only had one runway at that time. However, since I was at Osh I had more important things to attend to. I hoped that would be the end of the texts, but in the middle of the night I got yet another message:

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A fire alarm in the ATC tower? That’s definitely a bummer, but its 01:40 and I’m nowhere near the tower. I’m going back to sleep!

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K9 on Patrol

Its no secret that I’m a big fan of the airport K9s. As a result, this text definitely caught my attention.

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I received several other texts after this one with updates on the situation. It took more than two hours to finally get the all-clear. Fortunately the cargo facility isn’t attached to the terminal so the passengers were unaffected and no flights were disrupted.

Oops!

One day I was busily working away at my desk when the fire alarm went off. There had been no announcement ahead of time to tell us this was a drill so we took it seriously and evacuated the building. We stood out on the ramp and watched as ARFF came zipping up in fire trucks and entered Concourse A in full gear. We all wondered what on earth was going on. Finally we got the all-clear to go back inside. Later the airport texted this explanation:

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DOH! I have to imagine the poor chef at Chili’s was just a wee bit embarrassed!

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Good To Know

As luck would have it I had not one but two pilot friends at the airport the day this text came through:

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Since both fly out of the concourse that is serviced by the South Matrix I was able to give them a heads up about the potential for delays with baggage. Fortunately the problem was quickly resolved and neither were affected.

OK, I admit it – I like getting texts from the airport. It gives me an interesting glimpse into some of the things going on behind the scenes. Plus it’s a good reminder about all the people (and K9s) who are working hard around the clock to monitor operations and make sure everything is going smoothly. But just once it would be nice to get a text message that’s a little more upbeat.  Something like: “Hey Jenn, how are you? Just wanted you to know we’re using runways 10L and 10R this morning. Have a nice day!” Is that really so much to ask?

Note: I finished the rough draft of this post on a Sunday with the intent to publish the next day.  I suppose it should come as no surprise that I woke in the wee hours of Monday morning to discover I had a text.  You’ll never guess who it was from!

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The Two (ATC) Towers

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For as long as I can remember I have always dreamed of going up into an ATC tower. I park in the shadow of one every day and I often find myself gazing up at it and thinking about all the activity going on up there, not to mention the amazing view! So you can imagine my surprise and giddy delight when I got to visit not one but TWO ATC towers (at two different airports) in the last month.

Snow Tower

The passenger airport where I work has a lovely tower that was built just a few years ago. Wisely, they don’t allow me anywhere near it. Fortunately, the old tower still exists and is currently used in the winter for snow ops. As part of the deice pad control training I’m currently undergoing, I was given the opportunity to visit the tower to get a better view of the deicing area. Getting into the tower involves either riding up in the world’s tiniest elevator, or walking up roughly a million stairs.  I chose the elevator. When the doors opened, the view that awaited me was worth every claustrophobic moment.

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Old tower at the pax airport, now the snow tower.

My first thought was that I am moving my desk to the tower ASAP, crazy tiny elevator be damned! Being able to see pretty much the entire airport was simply spectacular. But then it was pointed out to me that there is no longer any AC in the tower which makes it unbearable in the summer. Neither is there any heat. The snow team uses portable heaters to stay warm during snow events.

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New tower at the pax airport.

Once I was able to tear myself away from the amazing view out the window I was struck by size of the cab. It wasn’t tiny but it didn’t feel as big as I had thought it would. I tried to visualize all the ATC equipment that would have been in there. I suspect it was a bit crowded. The snow team’s equipment consists of some hand-held radios and a couple of laptops. There’s more than enough room for that as well as every single item currently crammed into my cubicle.

The Cargo Tower

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Old tower at the cargo airport, now gone.

As excited as I was about visiting the snow tower, I was completely beside myself when I found out my department would be getting a tour of the brand-new ATC tower at the cargo airport. Construction was completed this past spring.  The old tower had been built in the 50s when the cargo airport was still an Air Force Base. There was no elevator. To get to the top controllers had to climb stairs most of the way, and then climb ladders the final two floors. Once the new tower was ready it took 6 hours of cautious and steady work to transition over.

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New tower at the cargo airport.

We began our tour on the 5th floor in the snow ops room. In the same way that Ops uses the Snow Tower at the pax airport, they will use this room to coordinate activities during snow events. The view is pretty spectacular but not nearly as awesome as our next stop – the top!

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We were greeted by the two controllers on duty. They are both contractors – one a retired Marine, the other retired FAA. They explained the basics about what they do and showed us some of the equipment – the radar, the AWOS display, the flight strips, etc. They talked about what it was like working in the old tower and how they assisted in the set-up of the new tower.

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KC-135s for the Air National Guard parked behind a UPS cargo plane.

Then they answered questions. I asked about approach control – I suspected that it is located at the pax airport and I was right. I asked about the airspace – the pax airport is Class C. The cargo airport, however, is Class D (as are the other two airports in the area, including our GA airport). I asked about what kind of traffic they typically handle. Obviously there are lots of cargo planes flying in, but I found out that on nice days they see a lot of GA planes as well. Apparently the two 12,000 foot runways are great places to practice touch-and-goes.

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After answering questions the controllers asked if we’d like to go out on the catwalk that surrounds the cab. Would I? Oh hell YES! Coolest walk-around EVER! Thanks to low cloud cover and the fact that most cargo activity happens at night, there were no planes in the pattern while I was out there. That’s probably a good thing. If there had been they’d have had one heck of a hard time getting me back inside.

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Eventually I did (reluctantly) go back in. We spent a few more minutes chatting with the controllers. It turns out the one who is retired from the FAA used to work at the pax airport. He started in the old tower (the snow tower) then moved to the new one. This means he has worked at all four towers at both airports. To my surprise, he spoke quite fondly of the snow tower. He said that the new tower is nice, but it’s somewhat sterile. The old tower felt more comfortable. I completely agree. And I’m still thinking about relocating my desk in there. Or maybe I’ll move to this cute little room at the cargo airport. The view is still great, the HVAC is better and the elevator is substantially less terrifying.

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A bit cramped and a bit lower to the ground, but who cares.  Still a great view!

This Airport Has Gone to the Dogs

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By Martin Greeson via Wikimedia Commons

Ever have a co-worker who slobbered all over the place and was always poking their nose into things? Well I have. No, I’m not talking about my fellow accountants. (Thank goodness!) I’m talking about the airport K9s. My airport has several of them and they’re awesome.

Awww – Doggies!

Currently on staff we have three German Shepherds, two German Shorthaired Pointers and one Belgian Malinois. Four of them are trained for explosive detection and the other two handle narcotic detection. Two of them are new and just joined the airport police this year. These breeds are fairly common in law enforcement because they are intelligent, strong and have a very good sense of smell. Other popular breeds include Labrador Retrievers and Beagles. (The airport used to have a Lab but he retired a few years ago.)

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Not a police dog but he gave me this sad face until I agreed to include him. How could I say no?

Work Hard, Play Hard

As you might expect K9s go through A LOT of training before they start working. In addition to learning to detect specific substances, they are also taught obedience and to be comfortable in busy, crowded, noisy environments. Once matched with a handler the two go through roughly ten weeks of training together. Then the dogs spend another 30 days becoming acclimated to the airport. During this time they are exposed to all the areas where they will be working, including baggage handling areas and cargo buildings.  Once that is completed the K9s and their handlers go through final certification and then they are ready to work. And by “work” what I actually mean is play. For a K9 work is fun. If they aren’t having fun then they won’t work as hard, so handlers make sure that every day at work is exciting and interesting for their canine partners.

Retired MWD comes home

By Sgt. Barry St. Clair via Wikimedia Commons

Pampered Pooches

Well… I guess you wouldn’t exactly call them pampered, but K9s are a huge investment and a huge asset for the airport, so we want to take good care of them. Since they burn a lot of calories every day, they get special food to make sure they get the right nutrition. They get regular visits to the vet for everything from routine vaccinations to grooming and nail clipping. We also make sure they have good quality toys to play with. (K9s love their Kong toys as much as any dog!) Even their transportation is special – they ride in SUVs which have K9 inserts with window guards, door panels and even heat sensors to make sure they stay safe when they travel.

img_1941K9s in the Crowd

These days K9s are becoming more and more valuable for their ability to detect explosive materials in crowds of people. Over the last few months I have participated in several big events at the airport which have been attended by city and state officials. The K9s were there as well, mingling with the crowd and keeping their eyes… well, OK, their NOSES on the event. I also see them in and around security lines.

The Nose Knows

How sensitive is the K9 nose? I recently read about an incident at an airport in which a K9 detected an explosive substance in a briefcase. When the briefcase was opened they discovered a business card that had belonged to someone who worked with fertilizers and other hazardous substances. The K9 was able to smell those substances on the card INSIDE the briefcase – their noses are THAT sensitive! Last weekend a K9 working in a cargo facility at my airport detected an explosive substance. The facility was evacuated and the bomb squad was brought in. It turned out to be a similar situation – the K9 had hit on very small traces of potentially explosive elements that at some point had come into contact with non-hazardous cargo. Even though there was no threat this time, I feel safer knowing that super-sensitive K9 noses are on the job!

MOD Police Search Dog

By Harland Quarrington via Wikimedia Commons

Ambassadors

Although it’s not an official part of their responsibilities, in many ways the K9s also serve as good-will ambassadors. There’s just something about seeing dogs at work that never fails to make me smile.  Even though their role at the airport is an incredibly important and serious one, they make the place seem a bit more friendly somehow.  And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.  As I was leaving work the other day I saw a female passenger sitting in one of the pre-security waiting areas.  Normally passengers look bored or maybe a little anxious, but she caught my attention because she had the biggest smile on her face. Then I saw what she was looking at – one of the K9s was nearby.  Awww – who’s a good doggie!

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Aviation Items I Should NOT Be Allowed To Buy

One of the benefits of being the only aviation enthusiast in the office is that when the department admin goes through the mail and finds aviation magazines or catalogues, she very kindly passes them on to me. I, of course, take them home where I go through them cover to cover.  And then recently I happened to come across an advertisement to buy this:

Follow Me

Wait wait wait… Hold on a moment… I can just BUY “Follow Me” stickers and a flag? Are you KIDDING me??? Do you have any idea the amount of trouble I could get into with those? I mean I could walk out the door, “borrow” the nearest ops vehicle and spend the rest of my day merrily leading large aircraft around in circles.

First Officer: Tower, we’re declaring a fuel emergency.
Tower: But… you landed an hour ago!
First Officer: Yes, but the Follow Me truck has taken us three times around the airport to six different gates!
Tower: This airport doesn’t have a Follow Me truck!

Naturally I began to wonder, what other reasonably priced aviation items are out there that I should not under any circumstances ever be permitted to purchase? Imagine my shock to discover quite a few things!

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Runway/Taxiway Lights: OK, so these aren’t exactly cheap. However, if I budget very carefully (and if I win the lottery) I could conceivably purchase quite a few of these.  I’m convinced that EVERYTHING goes better with runway lighting!  I’d be setting up runway lights everywhere I go.  People would always know where I am at any given time.  At home? Yep, runway lights up the driveway and in the back yard.  Camping? Runway lights around the tent. In fact, I’m pretty certain I would put runway lights EVERYWHERE.  You can see where this could become a problem:

Captain: We have the airport in sight.  No, wait… actually that’s Jenn’s house.

Marshalling Wands

Marshalling Wands: I’ve discussed in other posts about the trouble I could get into with marshalling wands. There would be airplanes awkwardly positioned random distances from gates all around the airport.  However, the mayhem wouldn’t stop there. I’ve discovered a host of other places where marshalling wands could be useful (and by “useful” I mean totally not useful at all) including:

– marshalling runners across the finish line at the local marathon.

– marshalling equipment at the nearest construction site.

– marshalling fashion models up and down the runway. (I wouldn’t want them to knock over any of the runway lights. Put there by me, of course.)

– marshalling cats. Hahahaha!  Just kidding!  Everyone knows cats cannot be marshalled.

magnetic FOD sweeper

Magnetic FOD sweeper: Thank you so much aviation supply website! I had never heard of this piece of equipment before, but now that I have I am convinced I can’t live without it. I mean look at it!  Can’t you just see me wheeling that sucker around the ramp, sweeping up all those metal bolts and screws that I scattered around earlier in the day for the sole purpose of using the FOD sweeper? Three words: Oh. Hell. Yes.

Plane Skate

Plane Skate: I have no idea what the heck this is, but it just looks really cool, doesn’t it? Apparently it is used to move disabled aircraft.  I’m betting I could use this on parked aircraft as well.  Oooh! Just imagine the fun I would have rearranging the ramp parking area! No, not for functionality – for asthetics! We can’t have clashing aircraft parked together! “Let’s move the Cessna over there and park it next to the Bell helicopter. Hmmm… no, that just doesn’t look right.  Those colors do NOT work together.  Move the Cessna over there and let’s put the Piper next to the Bell. Oh yes, much better.  Now let’s put the Gulfstream on the other side…”

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Windsock: OK, so most airports have far more sophisticated methods of measuring wind speed and direction. But that would not stop me from stringing unorthodox windsocks all around the airport. Because let’s be honest, where would you rather get your wind information from  – ATIS or the flying pig?

STOP THE PRESSES!!!

In my quest for aviation equipment I shouldn’t be allowed to have I came across the convention I shouldn’t be allowed to attend!

THE INTERNATIONAL GROUND SUPPORT EXPO!!!

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Let me get this straight… they have an entire convention dedicated to ground support equipment? Are you freaking serious? And they are having it in Las Vegas! Have I died and gone to heaven??? Why the heck wasn’t I told of this sooner??? Probably because the organizers of the event have been desperately trying to keep it on the down-low in the hope that I wouldn’t find out about it. And also because they know I would have to point out a rather glaring deficiency in their otherwise excellent promotional photo. Can you find it?  That’s right! WHERE IS THE STAIRS TRUCK? How can you promote what must surely be the most excellent expo of all expos and fail to include the most excellent vehicle of all ground support vehicles?  If ever there was an event I absolutely should not be allowed to attend, it’s this!  Paradoxically, if ever there was an event that truly NEEDS me, it’s this.  And on that note, I’m off to set up a Go Fund Me account to help cover travel expenses! Your donations are appreciated. See you in Las Vegas!

viva las vegas

By PeterDandy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

So You Want to Work in Aviation

take offOn the count of three I want you to name an aviation job. Ready? One… Two… Three!  OK, hands up all of you who came up with one of the following: pilot, flight attendant, gate/ramp agent, airplane mechanic, air traffic controller. How many of you are thinking to yourselves that you’d really like to work in aviation, but those jobs just aren’t a good fit for you?  Well I have some good news. You don’t have to be a pilot or a flight attendant or an air traffic controller to work in aviation.  Want proof?  Read on!

IMG_0694My Journey

If you’ve read my prior posts then you know a little bit about how my interest in aviation developed. However, working in the aviation industry was not something I really considered. Life took me off in other directions and family obligations left me little time to think a whole lot about airplanes. Oh, I attended air shows when I could, and I used LiveATC and flight tracking apps on my phone, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I was able to truly reconnect with my passion for aviation.

IMG_1716At the time I was working for a large Fortune 500 company and I although I liked my employer and didn’t mind my job, I really had no enthusiasm for the industry. I kept wishing I could work at something that actually interested me. Unsurprisingly, aviation kept coming to mind.  At first I dismissed it – after all, I’m definitely NOT flight attendant or ATC material and I’m pretty sure I’m not cut out to be a pilot, or at least not a commercial one.

I knew that my employer had two or three company jets so I did some investigating and discovered they had a small aviation department. Some of the positions in that department were what you would expect – pilots, mechanics, etc.  To my surprise, however, there was also an admin/accounting position.  Transferring to the aviation department really wasn’t an option for me since it would have required a move to Chicago, but it gave me hope that getting a job in aviation might actually be possible.

IMG_1713The Search

My next step was to take stock of my background and skills to see where they could fit into the aviation picture. Prior to my stint with the Fortune 500 company I had spent several years in education, during which time I not only worked with college-bound students and their families, but I also developed my accounting, administrative and clerical skills.  I determined that the university (which has an aviation program), the FBOs, a private charter company and the airport would be the most likely employers to need my particular skillset.  So I started watching for job openings at all of those places.  I had to be patient – many of the openings I saw weren’t a good fit. It took over a year before an accounting position at the airport opened up.  I applied right away and after several interviews, I got the job… and the stairs trucks of the world got their biggest fan!

IMG_1719It Takes All Kinds

The truth is that it takes a whole lot of people doing a whole lot of different things to make the aviation industry run. There are a plenty of jobs out there that would allow you to play an important role in the world of airplanes that you probably haven’t considered.  For example:

Technology – people with technology skills are in HUGE demand in the aviation sector, just as they are pretty much everywhere else.

Wildlife Management – it’s more than just firing off the bird cannon (although that is a really cool part of the job). This position requires an understanding of the entire airport ecosystem.

IMG_1587Pavement Specialist – In case you haven’t noticed, airports have a LOT of pavement. Someone has to know the best way to maintain it, how and when to replace it, etc.

Administrative Support – there are at least 8 administrative specialists at my airport who support departments and members of management by doing things like scheduling meetings, putting together presentations, ordering office supplies, etc. Heck, the administrative associate at the FBO not only does many of those things but she also drives tugs, helps load/unload cargo and checks passenger tickets!

FullSizeRender (27)Airplane Watcher – Yes, you read that correctly! In the ops department at the passenger airport there is someone (or possibly several someones) who watch airplanes, sometimes live and sometimes on video. Large airports subscribe to tracking systems to monitor flights and eventually we probably will too.  But for now, we use a more basic tracking system (think flightaware) and we like to confirm visually if we can. I am going to lobby to have that responsibility transferred to me ASAP! In the meantime, I console myself by remembering that those lucky airplane watchers almost certainly also have other, far less awesome tasks that they are also required to perform.

IMG_0678So, Do You Want To Work In Aviation?

If the answer is yes, then seriously, what’s stopping you? Trust me, if I can do it so can almost anyone.  My only advice is to make sure that whatever aviation job you pursue is one that you will enjoy doing.  Sure, it’s awesome to see airplanes whenever you look out the window, but it cannot make up for a job that makes you miserable.  You might find yourself not loving aviation any more – and we definitely don’t want that!  But if you can find a place for yourself in the aviation industry doing something you like, then every day can be plane spotting heaven!

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Airport Tales: Aerosavvy

 

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

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 Background:

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

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

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

Airport Stuff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strangest airport-related incident:

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

Best airport-related moment:

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

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

Worst airport-related moment:

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

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Clearly I was not the person handling deicing that day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provide unlimited coffee for all crew members and airport personnel.

436th CES holds snow parade

Yay plows! (Photo by Roland Balik)

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

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

Anything else you’d like to share?

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

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

One Year Bloggiversary!

IMG_0365Can you believe it has been one whole year since I started this blog? Wow! I wasn’t sure whether I’d last one month, let alone 12 of them… in a row! But 30 posts and 1,564,456,489 words later (I just made that number up – I’m too lazy to go back and count) the blog is still going strong!

My First Year Of Blogging – Top Five

IMG_02791. The Airport!

Not coincidentally, this week also marks my one year anniversary working for the airport. I can hardly believe it!  One year of daily plane spotting! One year of resisting the temptation to ride the baggage carousel! One year of being taunted by the motorized stairs parked right outside my department! Seems like just yesterday I was getting lost in random staircases and trying to figure out how to get to Concourse A.  Although my job can sometimes be stressful, I LOVE every moment of being at the airport.  I get to see airplanes taking off and landing EVERY DAY. How freaking cool is that? I love being a part of the aviation industry, and I hope I get to continue for many years to come.

Emirates 12. Emirates 777

Let’s see… I got to stand out on the apron and watch the first official flight of an Emirates 777 into the cargo airport, complete with a water cannon salute AND a stairs truck. Heck yes this is one of my very favorite moments from the last year!

3. Tour of the Airfield

Driving around the airfield, riding in a broom truck and, best of all, zipping up the runway in a shuttle bus! Yep, this was an AWESOME experience! I hope I get the chance to do something similar at the cargo airport.

IMG_61824. Oshkosh 2015

Osh was awesome in so many ways… I got up close and personal with a stairs truck, sat in the cockpit of a FedEx A300F4 sat in the cockpit of a Sequoia Falco, saw more cool airplanes than I could begin to count and got to meet some really awesome people. Osh is, without a doubt, my happy place!

5. All of YOU!!!

I am so humbled and thankful for everyone who has taken the time to not only read my silly ramblings, but to share them with others! Thank you all so very much! I do want to take a moment to send a special thanks to a few people. I’m including their twitter handles because if you aren’t following them you are really missing out.IMG_8157

 

Eric Auxier (@Capnaux) and Dan Pimentel (@Av8rdan) who are not only excellent authors/bloggers, but who were brave enough to allow me to guest post!

Ken Hoke (@aerosavvy), Ron Rapp (@RonRapp1), Lew W (@atclew58), Jeff Kanarish (@atc_jeff), David (@davidvlynn) and Jeffrey Roehr (@JR_justJR) who have given me a tremendous amount of support, and whose blogs have been wonderful sources of information and inspiration.

IMG_0281Blog Trivia and Give-Away!

OK all you long-suffering readers – how much do you remember from the last year? Here’s a chance to put your knowledge to the test! Check out the questions below and email your answers to talesfromtheterminal@gmail.com or DM them to me on twitter, and I’ll enter your name into a drawing to get a pack of airport trading cards. (There are three cards in each pack – one for each airport.) I’ll pick two winners.  You don’t even have to get the answers right – I’ll still put you in the drawing. Heck, you don’t actually even have to answer at all – just tell me you want in the drawing and I’ll put you in.  You have until December 9, 2015.  Seriously, it doesn’t get any easier!

IMG_0033 (1)1. Who lives in the house next to the north runway?
a) CFO
b) Head of Airfield
c) CEO
d) Me!

2. What event led me out onto the apron for the very first time?
a) Fire Alarm
b) Stairs Truck sighting!
c) Airfield tour
d) Going to a different concourse

unnamed3. How many escalators are in the airport?
a) 17
b) 23
c) 32
d) 41

4. Which of the following is NOT one of my favorite plane spotting locations?
a) Employee Lot
b) Top of the parking garage
c) Concourse C
d) Concourse B

800px-Airport_mobile_stairs_and_vehicles_1Airport Vehicle Personality Quiz!

You all know how much I love airport ground support vehicles.  And by now you know which one is my favorite.  But what about you?  What ground support vehicle is your spirit animal? Take my airport vehicle personality quiz and find out! It is completely non-scientific and totally silly but then again, so are pretty much all the other personality quizzes out there.  I took the quiz myself and, of course, I got STAIRS TRUCK! (Duh – what else would I get?) Check it out and let me know what you get!

IMG_9754Airport Revenue Poll – The Answer Revealed

If you follow me on twitter then you might have seen my poll in which I asked followers whether they think my airport makes the most revenue from airline fees, concessions, hangar/tenant rent or parking.  You may be surprised to learn that the answer is NOT airline fees. The process of determining what to charge airlines for landing fees, etc. is complex and involves a lot of different factors.  The fees need to be acceptable to the airlines or guess what?  They’ll simply fly somewhere else!  As for the other poll choices, my airport does make some money from concessions as well as from rent paid by the various tenants and from hangar and tie-down rental.  However the largest percentage of revenue comes from… parking! Well done to everyone who got it right!

So, What’s Next?

What will year 2 at the airport hold? Only time will tell! However, I’m fairly certain it will include more silliness, more airport vehicles, more airplanes and, of course, MORE STAIRS TRUCKS! Stay tuned!

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Why Airports Need More Avgeeks

IMG_7898In many ways airports are like small cities – they have their own shops, restaurants, transportation systems and police departments. It makes sense that while there are some positions that require aviation expertise, for the most part you don’t need to be an avgeek to be a good airport employee. That said, the airport could definitely use more avgeeks. Here are a few reasons why:

We Love Where We Work – Even on Mondays

How many people do you know (other than pilots) who LOVE their office? I mean really love it to the point where they think about stopping by on their days off, not to work but just because it’s a cool place to be?  How many people do you know who love the PARKING LOT where they work? Bottom line – an avgeek at the airport = a kid in a candy store, even on Mondays.

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We’ll Take On Annoying Tasks… Because Airplanes!

It’s time to help with inventory? Ugh. Wait… it’s time to help with inventory at the FBO where all the cool cargo planes land? Oh hell yes! Sign me up! Wait… There’s stairs trucks and tugs and deicing equipment there too? Sweet! Can we take inventory every week???

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This was today’s mail. Even though it is fastest to go across the apron to take it to my office, I chose to slog the long way around. Why? Because one gust of wind and the mail would have been getting sucked into jet engines and causing all kind of mayhem and I couldn’t let that happen. Because avgeek.

We Take Safety Personally

The company that maintains our navaids discovered recently that it’s not a good idea to forget to send invoices because I WILL call and ask for them! Why? Because if the navaids stop functioning it could be bad.  Very bad. That’s not going to happen on my watch! I may not be allowed to de-ice airplanes or plow runways, but I can make sure the systems that help support a safe landing remain operational.

We Actually Understand Aviation

No, you don’t need to understand aviation to be a great airport employee. But let’s face it – SOMEBODY ought to understand why airplanes are cool and how ATC works and what the heck navaids are. SOMEBODY should represent at Osh and celebrate National Aviation Day.  The fact is, my love of aviation means I’m going to go the extra mile in my job. Of course, it also means I’m going to take pictures all the time, walk the long way around to my desk so I can look out the windows and continue to pester the air field guys to take me out in the plow.

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We Get Excited Over Minor Things

At a non-airport job, recording lockbox payments is necessary and important but not very exciting. At an airport job entering lockbox payments is also not very exciting… unless you’re an avgeek in which case it’s another opportunity to geek out. Look – here’s a payment from FinnAir! And Emirates! And Kuwait Airways!

Flight Crews – We’ve Got Your Back

Avgeeks aren’t necessarily pilots or FAs, but we have a better understanding than most people about what those jobs entail. So flight crews – when you’re anxious to get on the shuttle so you can get home for the first time in five days, we understand. We’ll make room for ya. And we won’t pester you with a million questions, even though we REALLY want to.

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Avgeeks Wanted!

I often hear, “You work at an airport? Wow –  you’re so lucky!  I wish I could do that!” Newsflash – you can! You think I have some kind of special talent that allows me to work at the airport? Ha! If anything I’m a poster child for how a regular person who happens to like airplanes can find a way to work in aviation.  So unless you live far away from an airport, there’s no reason why you can’t work there if you want to.  My airport even has a volunteer program so you can go and act like you work there, just not get paid for it.  This would sound terrible to pretty much anyone… except an avgeek. “You mean if I volunteer I get a parking pass for the employee lot?  Awesome!!!”

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Now there are TWO of them!!!

Moments Like This

777If you are at all familiar with this blog then you know that I work in accounting for a medium-sized airport in the US. There are actually three airports run by the authority – one primarily for passengers (where my office is located), one primarily for cargo and a small GA airport. A couple weeks ago my department manager received an email inviting employees to witness the first scheduled arrival of an Emirates Boeing 777 into the cargo airport. She tracked me down to inquire if I might be interested.  Are you kidding me???  Oh heck yes I was interested!!!

motorized stairs

There was nothing but empty space between me and the stairs. I could have made a run for them, but using all my willpower I managed to behave. Barely.

So the following Wednesday five of us hopped into a pool vehicle and drove about 20 minutes to the cargo airport. We parked at a nearby hangar and got onto a shuttle which drove us out onto the airfield.  Riding with us in the shuttle were members of the news media as well as officials from Emirates.  This required me to be on my best behavior, which was a pretty tall order anyway given how excited I was, but it became even more of a challenge when we arrived at our viewing location and I was greeted by one of my biggest temptations – the motorized stairs! We had to wait about 15 minutes for the flight to arrive. 15 looooong minutes in which I tried not to think how tantalizingly close the stairs were.  Fortunately I was able to distract myself by tracking the flight, tweeting updates and chatting with the other people who were there.  Finally the Director of Operations announced that the flight was in a left base turn. None of my coworkers had any idea what that meant, but I did! I was practically jumping up and down with excitement. OK, who am I kidding – I WAS jumping up and down with excitement! We looked anxiously to the east and finally we saw a small dot, which got bigger, and bigger until finally…

Touchdown

Nice landing!

While we were waiting for the airplane to exit the runway and taxi back to us, the fire trucks got into position for the water cannon salute. It felt like it took forever but really it was only just a few minutes before the plane returned, giving us a lovely photo op as it taxied by: Emirates 1 Emirates 2 All I could think of at this point was, “Isn’t it gorgeous?!?!” Followed closely by “I cannot believe they are letting me get this close to that airplane!” And then “Hey – where’d the motorized stairs go?” But I quickly forgot the stairs as the airplane swung around and taxied directly at us. And then the water cannons fired up.  This was the first time I have ever witnessed a water cannon salute and I have to say it was quite impressive.  My picture really doesn’t do it justice: Water cannon 1 The plane continued forward until it was pretty much right in front of us.  At this point my favorite piece of airport equipment swung into action.

Action Stairs

Oh no! How will we get the crew out? Never fear – the mobile stairs are here!

We were allowed to take pictures for several minutes while the stairs were getting into position.  Then an airport representative approached us and said that the pilots were going through customs and we were not permitted to take photographs during that time. This seemed a bit odd since the pilots were inside the plane and we could neither see nor hear what they were doing.  After maybe ten minutes or so they exited down the stairs and got onto a shuttle which took them to the terminal to finish the customs process. As an aside I have to say I felt a bit sorry for the crew.  They had just flown from Copenhagen (almost 9 hours), only to land at an airport that is, essentially, in the middle of nowhere.  There are no restaurants at this airport, and no hotels. If you want food or drink or a place to relax, you’ll have to drive to get there.  Oh wait… there aren’t any rental cars or buses either. Oops! Oh well, I guess it’s vending machines and FBO coffee for you! Welcome to America! Once the pilots departed we were free to resume taking pictures. At the same time, the crews raced into action to begin the process of unloading the cargo:

cargo 1

The pallets are on rollers to enable to crews to maneuver them out the door and onto the raised lifts.

Cargo 3

The pallets are lowered until they can be moved onto the carts. We were told there was a super high-dollar sports car on the lower cargo deck but it was continuing on to Chicago.

Cargo 5

As each pallet is secured to the cart, it is pulled forward by the tug and the next pallet is loaded, and so on. The crews work fast!

While the freight was being unloaded the fuel truck arrived and began refueling the plane. refueling As you can imagine, I was in avgeek heaven this whole time.  I simply couldn’t believe I was allowed to be so close to such an amazing airplane. Moments like THIS are exactly why I chose to work at the airport. I REALLY wanted to stay longer, but sadly there were papers to push and meetings to attend so we had to leave. Thankfully I have some pretty good pictures and some fabulous memories to take with me.  And I’m hoping to get down to the cargo airport again soon – this time to visit with one of the gorgeous 747-8s that fly in every week!

Stairs side

I tried to take pictures from a variety of angles.

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Snapped this pic as we were leaving the airfield.

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Our last look at her as we drove away. Told you the airport is in the middle of nowhere!

If you like cargo planes and want to learn more about the life of a cargo pilot I STRONGLY recommend you follow pilots Ken Hoke and Brian Cattle on twitter. In addition, Ken has written an excellent piece on the anatomy of a cargo plane which is a must-read for any avgeek.