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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AAmazing AAviation Day!

IMG_1159In the United States, National Aviation Day is held on August 19.  Here’s how I’ve celebrated at work the last couple years:

  • I bring in cookies.
  • Everyone eats them.

Yeah… not very exciting or inspiring. This year, however, I lucked into a very coveted ticket to attend AAviation Day at one of my favorite places – Charlotte Douglas International Airport! No, that’s not a spelling error – the extra “A” in “AAviation” is a nod to American Airlines who, in conjunction with the Airline Geeks, put together an awesome behind-the-scenes tour at the nation’s 5th busiest airport. Can you say avgeek heaven? Oh yeah!

IMG_1013I kicked things off early by parking on the very top level of the garage. No way was I going to pass up the chance to do a little pre-event plane spotting! (And lets face it, if they handed out diplomas for plane spotting from parking garages, I’d have a PhD!) My dedication paid off – I got my very first look at Amazon’s Prime Air 767. Sweet!

From there I made my way to the terminal to meet up with the rest of the group. There were about 12 of us altogether. I expected that most attendees would be from the Charlotte area. Wrong! In fact only one of the group lives near CLT. The rest were from places like New York, Texas, Florida and even California and Washington! Some of us work in aviation and some don’t, but all of us were kids in a candy store the whole day.

IMG_1189The tour began with a visit to the Operations Tower. Wow – what a view! And what a lot of computer equipment! The Operations Tower is responsible for all aircraft movement on the ramp. I wish we had a set-up like that for deice pad control in the winter! But then again, the ramp at CLT is a MUCH busier place with 600+ flights per day. We were allowed to wander around the room, examine the different work stations and ask questions. I honestly could have stayed for hours!

Our next stop was out onto the roof where we had a fabulous view of the ramp. The entire group went camera-happy, snapping pics almost non-stop. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many American airplanes all in one spot! Good thing there wasn’t deck furniture and a cabana (and drinks) up there or they might have had some trouble convincing me to leave!

From the roof we went all the way down to the ground level for a walking tour of the ramp (with ear plugs and high-viz vests, of course). Being around the airplanes and crews and ground equipment was simply spectacular. There was so much going on – it’s much busier than what I am used to! Alas, there was not a single stairs truck in sight! Fortunately there were so many airplanes and so much to see that I didn’t mind.

After the ramp tour, we visited the American Airlines offices and enjoyed lunch in a cool, comfortable conference room. (Did I mention that the temps were a toasty 90F+ outside?) Several executives from American joined us and we were able to chat with them about how the company has grown over the years, as well as some of their future challenges.

FullSizeRender (81)After lunch, the awesomeness continued with a tour of the training facility. We met in a conference room first to learn a little about the training program itself and watch a video about the history of American Airlines. Then we visited the egress training area where Flight Attendants learn how to operate various types of emergency exits. Seeing the cut-away plane interiors was actually quite fascinating. They even had an E145 fuselage (minus the nose, wings and tail).

From there we moved into one of the flight simulator rooms. There were three Airbus A320 sims in this particular room, all of which were in use.  (The facility has approximately 13 sims of various types.) It was fascinating to watch the sims move around and to speculate on the scenarios that the pilots inside might be facing.

Our last stop of the day was the American Airlines maintenance facility. The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door is how big it is. Similar to the Boeing factory in Seattle, employees use bikes to get around. We walked through fabrication areas and past the parts room on our way out to the hangars where there were three planes undergoing maintenance. I can tell you this – I do NOT want to be the person assigned to work on the top of the tail! Then again, climbing up and down all those flights of stairs would definitely be good exercise!

Our last event of the day was a visit inside one of the planes in the hangar (an A320). We examined the cockpit and then lounged in first class for several minutes. I also checked out the seats in the back and found them to be roomier than expected.

All too soon, however, it was time to exit the plane, take our final group photo and catch a shuttle back to the terminal.  I couldn’t believe it was time to say goodbye already! We were so busy the day just flew by.  Fortunately we had new friendships, amazing memories and some cool swag to take away with us.

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Look!  I found the motorized stairs!!!

As a passionate aviation enthusiast who happens to work in the industry, I have had many amazing avgeek experiences. However, I can honestly say that AAviation Day ranks right up at the top. A HUGE thank you goes out to Ryan Ewing and the Airline Geeks for all they did to plan and organize the event, as well as the wonderful staff at American Airlines for making the day so special!

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So what do you think? Are you crazy jealous and wondering how you can experience AAviation Day for yourself? Check out the Airline Geeks website and follow them on twitter. Events were held at all of American’s hubs, as well as two locations overseas. And the ticket cost? Zero. Zip. Nada. Free! But you have to pay attention if you want to score one. If this year was any indication, next year will be even bigger and better. Hope to see you there!

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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DeIce Age

img_6539It’s not exactly a secret that I love airplanes and I’m fascinated with airport operations, so when I was offered the chance to help out with deicing this winter you can probably imagine my reaction. “Wait… I get to be on the airfield, in a Follow Me truck, surrounded by airplanes and deicing equipment? Oh. Heck. YES!”

Every airport handles deicing differently. At my airport the airlines are responsible for their own deicing. However, Airport Operations is responsible for the flow of traffic into and out of the deicing area. Ops was looking for a couple extra people to help out and I’m told that they thought of me because I know a bit about airplanes. But honestly, who else are they going to find who is not only willing to be at work at a ridiculously early hour but is actually excited about it?

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“Did someone call the Iceman?” “No, they called DEICE, man!”

For now I’m just riding along while I train – and there’s A LOT to learn. Here’s how it works: Planes call Ops (deice control) when they are ready to taxi and we tell them which line to park on in the deice pad and how to get there. In some cases (especially if the pilot is new or unfamiliar with the airport) we’ll act as a Follow Me vehicle and either lead them into the deice pad, or park just ahead of where we want them to go so they can see where they need to be. Once in position they contact their own deice team to get sprayed down.  When deicing is complete they call us back and we pass them along to ground control for taxi instructions.

When planes push one at a time, it isn’t too bad. During the morning rush, however, there are many planes pushing at the same time, all of whom need to be deiced. If that weren’t enough, we also have to handle planes that are being moved from parking spots on the apron through the deice area on their way to various gates. Plus we have to watch out for planes at the gates that border the deice pad, who often push back with no notice. Oh, and did I mention we have to mentally juggle all these pieces while driving around, talking on the radio and keeping a log of every plane? It’s tetris on steroids with airplanes! It’s intense! And its also ridiculously awesome.

img_6548For the record, riding in a Follow Me truck is every bit as cool as I thought it would be. There’s nothing quite like looking out the back window and seeing the nose of a 737 RIGHT THERE. And in case you are wondering, deice trucks are just as fun to watch up close as they are from a distance. The airfield is especially lovely in the early morning. I never get tired of seeing airplanes silhouetted by the rising sun.

Plus at long last I’ve found out where my fellow aviation fans have been hiding – in Ops! I love spending time with coworkers who know what FOD is, who refer to the MD-80 as “the maddog” and who will pause to stare at the Boeing 757 at it takes off because hello – its a Boeing 757! For once I can be my geeky self and no one minds.

img_6527Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while might be a bit concerned about my ability to concentrate in the face of so much avgeek awesomeness. Fear not! I’m honored to have been given this opportunity and I’m going to try to learn as much as I can so I’m able to help out as much as possible. Besides, even though it can be very busy, there are also quiet moments where I’m free to geek out over all the cool stuff going on around me.

So what’s next? Well I’ve got to learn the call signs and ICAO codes for all the airlines at my airport. And I need to learn which regional airlines fly for which major airlines. And I need to get better at telling all those pesky RJs apart. And… well, you get the idea. For now my goal is to get good enough to be able to keep the log and be a second set of eyes, especially during snow events when things really get intense. Will I ever get good enough to go driving around by myself?  We’ll just have to wait and see. Oh, and in case you are wondering, the Follow Me truck is a regular SUV. But don’t worry – I’m already working on a list of reasons why a stairs truck would be vastly superior.

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Airport Tales: Captain Al

 

By RHL Images from England (Busy Holding Points) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAnd now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the third installment of Airport Tales! This time around we’ve hopped “across the pond” to chat with Captain Al Evans.  Al flies with a major UK airline, but over the course of his career he’s flown pretty much everywhere and has some great stories and insight to share.

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Background:

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

Captain AlLike many aviators, my passion for flying came from my Dad. He was and still is an inspiration to me on many levels. Coming from a rural background in wartime Britain his opportunities were limited but he grasped the opportunity to join the Royal Air Force with both hands. He started out as an apprentice radar engineer and showed great promise, not only in his trade but on the rugby pitch (being Welsh and fast he was a natural selection). An unique set of circumstances led to him leaving the air force, unable to fulfill his ambition of transferring to air crew. He had all the skills and acumen but lacked one thing – colour vision! Despite having umpteen Air Force medicals this small hiccup had been undetected, and what’s more, scuppered his current trade as engineer too. After many deliberations the Air Force accepted that they had caused his colour blindness and he left. Many years later, when I was six, my father reignited his passion for flying by undertaking his Private Pilots License (PPL), paid for by my grandmother who very astutely wanted to see her children enjoy their inheritance whilst she was still alive! My dad was a natural and went on to represent Great Britain in Precision Flying and Rallying for many years.

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By Valder137, Creative Commons

As for me the spark was ignited, but when I was old enough flying jobs were as abundant as rocking horse dung. So I fell into other careers: radio presenter, audio engineer, music producer, videotape editor and finally special effects compositor for feature films and commercials. This created the income and one day in a high street newsagent I saw a copy of Pilot magazine and bought it. At the back of the magazine was a full page advert for a UK PPL in 21 days in the Florida sunshine for the grand sum of £1999. The spark turned into a flame and 2 weeks later I started in Ormond Beach, Florida. Part-way through the course I telephoned my dad and told him what I was doing and he said “great, let me know how you get on”. The following week he turned up completely out of the blue on the day of my General Flight Test and congratulated me face to face for my initiative and hard work. For me there was no going back and with my parents backing and support (something they have always given regardless of my plans) the journey to commercial aviation began.

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Chuck Yeager is a great guy, but sadly he’s not a natural Al. (U.S. Air Force photo)

I completed most of my training in Florida with the odd bit in the UK. I worked exceptionally hard to achieve the required standards and some failures (with the subsequent retests) were necessary but on reflection they made me a better Captain – not everyone is a natural Chuck Yeager!

Having flown in the Caribbean for a while, I returned to the UK and started in the right-hand seat of a Jetstream 41 flying domestic and international flights ostensibly from Cardiff. There is no doubt in my mind that flying a 29 seat turboprop is the perfect way to cut your teeth in European commercial flying, a career route that is fast becoming defunct!

Within the same airline, albeit after a rebrand, I flew the Embraer 145, the Jungle Jet, named after its Brazilian heritage. It was a wonderful aircraft, a junior B757, but it wasn’t well suited to British short runways or crosswinds!

FullSizeRender (48)There was an employment bubble, the world of aviation is cyclical, and I seized the opportunity to join a major player in the UK aviation world. The interview was a chat with two management pilots – no computer tests or HR trickery, and the deal was struck, or at least I thought so! A phone call later gave me an unexpected option Boeing or Airbus? Truthfully one look at the the beautiful A330 made the decision easy and the course date was set. A period of time flying the company A320/1s was required before I could get a go of the Big Bird, that time was quick and the delights of stormy nights in the Greek Islands was soon replaced by stunning visual approaches in the Indian Ocean! I still flew the narrow bodies but my time was mainly A330, it was a wondrous period of my life – I think I got married round about now but I’m not sure!

Command beckoned and a return to narrow body flying became the norm. Being a Captain in an airline that empowers its Captains brings many challenges and joys, but I can truly say not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new and enjoy myself.

Airport stuff

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

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By StromBer (own work) Creative Commons License

My favourite airport of flights past is Malé International in the Republic of The Maldives.  Why? Because after flying for over 10 hours through the night the beauty of the world is presented in a plethora of beautiful colours, as the sandy atolls poke out of the azure waters. The airport itself was a joy and visual approaches were often the norm. The airport has a long tarmac runway and a somewhat shorter water runway. I can honestly say I only ever landed on the long one! The ability to call visual with over two hundred miles to run and hear the gentle squeak of rubber on tarmac as 11 hours clicked over was unforgettable.

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

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By Ayala (Own Work) Creative Commons License

Currently my favourite airport is also one of the world’s most challenging, Gibraltar. A short runway clinging to the side of a rock with sea at each and and no instrument approaches focuses the mind on a regular basis. There is nothing more satisfying than achieving a smooth touchdown after spending many minutes battling with horrible orographically produced winds. Gibraltar often has a tailwind on both ends of the runway!

Biggest airport-related hassle:

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Hey now… that’s a Boeing! How did it sneak in here? Oops! Sorry about that Al!

Security is now part of our lifeblood in aviation but standards vary greatly, not just from country to country but airport to airport. It is time that ICAO mandated that whilst no pilot is perfect, of can of Pepsi in the hands of a pilot is not a security risk. Many pilots these days judge airports more on their practical and common sense approach to the landside/airside transition than more aeronautical related facilities. Some airport genuinely view pilots as part of the problem and not part of the solution! I do not need a 330ml can of Pepsi to cause harm when there is a fire axe on the flight deck and within my reach!

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

My turnarounds are often short (less than an hour) so my interface with terminals/FBOs is minimal but any handling company that provides free doughnuts gets a thumbs up from me (thank you Calgary)!

Strangest airport-related incident:

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Virginia State Parks, Creative Commons License

The strangest airport experience I ever had was when I was deadheading from New Dehli to Dabolim (both in India) when we were asked to evacuate the aircraft via the forward doors only. Once outside and fearing the worst we could see what the problem was – a huge swarm of hornets had covered the entire tail section of the aircraft, there must have been millions of them! From the relative safety of an airport bus the fire brigade tried to disperse them by spraying them with water – it didn’t work and the flight was eventually cancelled! I know not what happened to the hornets or indeed the aircraft but I did make it to Dabolim, eventually!

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

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Ha ha ha Boeing, very funny. Now cut it out!

As an industry we have faced many challenges in the past 20 years or so, but airports must become more open minded and become ‘user friendly’, nobody likes queues and often they are as a result of poor design and poor implementation. Our customers face huge delays in proceeding landside to airside with little justification. Our airports have become soulless people processors. Once airside opportunities are missed, does your airport offer a choice of full service restaurants? Very few do, favouring a selection of fast food & fast eat options. Not everyone is in a rush! We need to put some soul and passion back into our airports – no more grey or beige corridors please!

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

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Pushback tug. Hey.. wait just a minute! Thought we wouldn’t notice, huh Boeing? Well we did. Now stop it!

I have often mused about taking a pushback tug down to my local pub! No parking spaces? No problem! Some years ago when Milan Malpensa airport opened its new terminal they provided crew with electric scooters to get to the gate – there is nothing more surreal than watching 3 pilots and 14 cabin crew racing down the concourse on scooters!

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

If I could ask airports to provide one thing it would be a courtesy filter, nobody should be allowed at an airport unless they can be courteous. Every week I find myself dealing with rude and disrespectful people and it seems to be getting worse. My industry once led the world in service and style alas no more or perhaps I’m just getting old!

Anything else you’d like to share?

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OK Boeing, now you’re just showing off.  Seriously that’s enough! Cut it out! (Photo by MarkJHandel, Creative Commons)

I don’t want to end on a negative so I shan’t! Aviation is a vocation or perhaps the worlds strongest drug – either way it is a truly wonderful industry and not a day goes by when I remind myself how lucky I am. And finally (if you’ve made it thus far thank you) our industry is in good hands for the future as just last night I had the pleasure of meeting Jess. She was one of my cabin crew, and at young age of 19 has embarked on learning to fly. Her commitment and enthusiasm are an aviation viagra to us old pilots.

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Getting better.  Now remove the flag…

So at this point I bid my passengers farewell, my crew adios and my wife and son hello!

Captain Al out.
Captain Al Evans

A320/1 Fleet Manchester (MAN) and Birmingham (BHX)

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Yay! Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to share this with us Al! I completely agree with your observations about some of the challenges facing airports today. And I LOVE your choice of airport vehicle! Of course now I’m going to be sorely tempted to “borrow” the nearest tug next time I plan a night out!

One other interest that Al didn’t mention is his desire to help people who have a fear of flying.  Check out his awesome website: flightfearsolutions.co.uk!

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Ah, there we go!

You Go Girls! Celebrating Women of Aviation

IMG_3117It’s Women of Aviation Worldwide Week and it begs the question: How exactly do you define “of aviation?” People tend to focus on increasing the number of female pilots, which is definitely a worthy cause. But what about female mechanics? Engineers? Ground personnel? Stairs truck drivers?  Being involved in aviation encompasses so much more than just flying!

The Past

You may have heard of Raymonde de Laroche (first woman to receive a pilot’s license) and Amelia Earhart (first woman to fly solo non-stop across the United States) but how many female aviation pioneers can you name whose contributions were made outside the cockpit? Turns out there are bunches of them.  Here are just a few:

 Phoebe Omlie – 1st Female Airplane Mechanic

phoebe_1929Phoebe Omlie was born in Iowa in 1902 and fell in love with aviation as a teen when she saw a fly-over to commemorate a visit from President Woodrow Wilson. She went on to get her pilot’s license and performed as a stunt pilot and wing walker. All of that is really awesome but then she did something which, in my opinion, makes her even more awesome still – in 1927 she became the first female to earn an airplane mechanic’s license!

 Mary Van Scyoc – 1st Female Air Traffic Controller 

Born in Kansas in 1919, Mary went on her first airplane ride at age 16 with Clyde Cessna. (Yes, THAT Cessna!) She went on to get her pilot’s license and later a degree from Witchita University in English and Physical Education. She taught school for a year then, soon after the start of World War II, she saw an ad for Air Traffic Controlers and signed up. In 1942 she began working in Denver tower.  Later she transferred to Witchita and eventually worked in the Cheyenne tower as well. To be fair, a number of women began working in ATC around the same time. Mary is generally credited as the first so she gets the mention, however they’re all amazing. You go girls!

 E. Lillian Todd – 1st Woman to Build an Airplane

toddplane1909Ms. Todd was born in 1865 in Washington DC. As a girl she showed an affinity for mechanics and invention – interests she later attributed to her grandfather’s influence. In 1906 she designed a biplane based on the wings of an albatross, which she had been able to study at the natural history museum.  She was eventually able to build the plane with funding from a benefactor and in 1910 it flew 20 feet.  Are you kidding me with this?  I can’t even build a decent paper airplane, let alone a functioning biplane.  Ms. Todd ROCKS!

 Bessie Dempsey – 1st Female Engineer at Boeing

Bessie started out her professional career as a Vaudeville dancer in California. She went back to school and studied engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. After graduating in the top 10 percent of her class she got a job as an engineer at Boeing, where she worked for 24 years.  So wait… she got to be in a movie with the Marx Brothers (A Night at the Opera) AND she got to work at Boeing?  Wow! Talk about having it all!

1st Woman to Drive a Stairs Truck

Sadly, this pioneering soul has been lost to the annals of history. I am truly devastated.  Whoever she is, I’m sure she relished every moment behind the wheel.

The Future

IMG_3058Last year for Women of Aviation Worldwide Week I rounded up a bunch of teenage girls and dragged them off to an aviation museum. I was a bit uncertain about how the trip would go since none of the girls had expressed any interest in airplanes or aviation. As it turned out, everyone had a really great time.  Here are some things that I learned:

– Inspiration comes in all forms.

– Airplane art is way cool.

– If they can climb in it, on it, under it or around it, they will.  More than once.

IMG_3118– Simulators are AWESOME.

– Rest breaks are important.

– Girls know more than you think.

– They’re open to learning more than you think.

– They’ll notice things you didn’t notice.

– Even if they aren’t interested in becoming pilots, they are quite confident that they COULD be pilots if they want to be.

And that’s really what it is all about.  I don’t know if these girls will go on to pursue careers in aviation, but at least now they know that they can if they want to. Ultimately, the best thing we can do for aviation is to get as many people involved as possible – men and women, young and old, from every corner of the globe and in every facet of the industry. Oh – and letting me drive the stairs truck wouldn’t hurt either. 

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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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