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!!!

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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…

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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.

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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:

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

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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.

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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!

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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.