Three Times the Love

IMG_2908Can you believe I’ve been working at the airport three years now? Three years! Three years of stalking airplanes. Three years of fighting the urge to ride around on the baggage carousel. And three years of being taunted by several sets of mobile stairs which have been parked outside the department window the ENTIRE time!

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In looking back on this past year there have been some pretty darn awesome moments. I got to see A-10s fly into my airport. Never in a million years did I ever think I’d see that! And a few weeks later I got to see Osprey fly in. Crazy, right? I went to Wings Over Pittsburgh and had an amazing time with some amazing friends. I got to hang out with more amazing friends at Oshkosh and I interviewed the Blue Angels. That’s right – someone was crazy enough to let me near the Blue Angels! I had a fantastic visit behind the scenes with American Airlines at CLT on Aviation Day. I helped out with a couple of podcasts. And I introduced a group of girls to the joys of flying. Yep, it has been quite a year!

IMG_2936But work has become a bit challenging in recent months. There have been some changes which have resulted in an increased workload, just as we head into the busiest time of year. Change isn’t a bad thing, but it can be stressful.  And as the amount of work increases, the stress does too.

The first casualty of all this was deice. I had been so excited to help out on the deice pad again this year. I really love being out there with the airplanes and seeing those amazing sunrises on the ramp! But the more stressed I became trying to do my regular job, the more I realized I couldn’t take on anything else, especially not something that can mean 12 hour days and additional stress. (Let’s face it – directing traffic on a busy morning on the deice pad is not always easy.) Having to say no to deice absolutely broke my heart.

IMG_2842Then my plane spotting began to suffer. I found myself unable to get away from my desk, even skipping lunch sometimes. After work I was tired and just wanted to get home. It came to a head one day when a plane spotter friend texted me that there were two C-130s on the airfield. Two C-130s! Sweet! I really wanted to go see them, but my task list was a mile long and felt like I just didn’t have the time.

FullSizeRender (85)At that moment it hit me. The whole reason I work for an airport is because there are airplanes outside the window. Am I really going to turn down the chance to go see a couple of C-130? Oh. Hell. NO! So I threw on a jacket and up top I went. I saw the Hercs and they were every bit as fantastic as I knew they would be. I thought about all the other amazing planes I have seen this year and I vowed right then and there not to let the work ruin the love. No matter how stressed or busy I am, I will ALWAYS make time for the airplanes. And you know what?  Spending my 30 minute lunch break away from my desk doing something I enjoy makes me so much happier and more productive when I get back. The truth is, being stressed at work at an airport is a THOUSAND times better than being stressed at any other job.

IMG_2781So what’s ahead for the next year? Well, I have an FBO visit coming up. And I’m hearing rumors that we might be visiting the ATC tower in the spring. Plus I’m already dreaming about a return trip to Oshkosh. Who knows what other adventures will come my way. If there is one thing I’ve learned in the last three years, it’s that sometimes the best moments happen totally unexpectedly, and sometimes the ordinary things are the most special.

Author’s Note: Guess what else is celebrating its three year anniversary?  This blog!  THANK YOU SO MUCH to all my readers.  You guys are the best!

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Airport Olympics

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Photo by Aero Icarus, Zurich Switzerland, Creative Commons

Editor’s note: Hello friends! Just a quick note to encourage you to give a listen to the latest episode of the Aviation Careers Podcast. I was honored to be the special guest discussing careers at the airport. Hope you’ll check it out!

Welcome sports fans! I’m thrilled to be reporting live from the Olympics! I’m sorry… Who? Michael Phelps? Oh no… Not THOSE Olympics! The AIRPORT Olympics!  They go on every day at airports around the world. Let’s go live to the ramp for our first competition!

Synchronized Push-back

IMG_4554Here we see two Southwest airplanes doing their best to “stick the landing” in the synchronized push-back competition. What they are hoping you don’t notice is that one of them actually pushed back one minute before the other. So while they look beautifully synchronized at the moment, the truth is that they actually weren’t synchronized at all. Not even a little bit. As a result the judges had to deduct 9 points (from a 10 point scale). However, the planes were awarded one point each for actually departing on time.

Runway 10,000K

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Waiting for their turn to antagonize competitors

If I can direct your attention to the airfield, it’s time for the start of the Runway 10,000K. This event combines the speed and endurance of a marathon (a really, really long marathon) with the ability to manage pyrotechnics. There’s the starting gun… and there’s a flock of birds! The competitors are sprinting to the approach end of the runway where they will pause and fire the bird cannon. Ah, nicely done! But now the birds are at the departure end of the runway. The competitors are sprinting the 10,000 feet necessary before they can fire their cannons again. This event is going to take awhile – we will check back in a bit later to see how things are going.

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Crowds of athletes preparing for the Gate Dash. Photo by 周一楠 (Own work) Creative Commons

Your-Gate-Is-At-The-Other-End-Of-The-Terminal Dash

The action continues inside the terminal where we see crowds preparing for the “Your-Gate-Is-At-The-Other-End-Of-The-Terminal Dash” (commonly referred to as the “Gate Dash”). This event is a perennial favorite – no matter whether you are entering through ticketing or making a connection, the gate you need is always the gate farthest away from where you happen to be. In fact, you may have participated in this event yourself on your last trip. At my airport this is considered a sprinting event. At other airports, such as Atlanta, it falls under the marathon category.

Luggage Toss

And now it’s back again to the ramp where scores of competitors brave the elements to compete in this well-known event.  It involves IMG_4604grabbing awkward, heavy pieces of luggage and tossing them onto the mobile conveyor. Points are awarded for actually getting them onto the conveyor.  Bonus points are awarded if the bags survive the journey up the conveyor and actually make it into the airplane.  Fail to make the conveyor too many times and hopes for winning this competition are dashed… along with every fragile item inside the suitcases.

Runway 10,000K (part two)

Let’s go back to the airfield for an update.  It looks like the birds have moved over to the other runway now, forcing the athletes to cross the ramp.  Woah!  One of them almost got hit by a suitcase from the Luggage Toss competition! Another had to hurdle over one of the mobile conveyors. It looks like they’ve finally made it safely to the second runway… but wait! The birds have flown back to the first runway again!

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Airport gymnasts wait their turn to compete. Photo by By Danpaluska (Own work) [CC0]

Security gymnastics

Inside the terminal its time for everyone’s (least) favorite event: Security Gymnastics! The first competitor steps up to the mat. He’s going to attempt to remove change from his pocket while simultaneously removing his loafers. Although nicely executed, the difficulty level is low which limits the number of points he can be awarded. Now the next competitor steps up to the mat. It looks like she is going to do the exact same routine… but wait! She’s doing it in high heels! And she’s removing a laptop from her carry-on while maneuvering a stroller and carrying a screaming baby! That’s an unbelievable level of difficulty which really maximizes her points potential!

Stairs Jousting

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A big thanks to Ken Hoke (Aerosavvy) for recommending this gif!

I saved the best and most daring competition for last! Of course I can only be talking about Stairs Jousting! And if you are looking at the footage, no, that’s not me on the fourth step waving a pitchfork. I don’t know what you are talking about. I disavow all knowledge! Besides, we all know that true Olympic Jousting Masters use STAIRS TRUCKS. Because nothing intensifies competition like horsepower!

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My trusty stairs-jousting steed.

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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