Show before the Show – OSH19

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas. I’m talking about Airventure Oshkosh, of course! It’s my happy place. The place where everyone understands me. The place of 10,000 airplanes. It is so much better than Christmas!

I arrived early once again this year.  Unfortunately, so did the rain in the form of a series of intense thunderstorms. It halted all arrivals and turned the Airventure grounds into a marsh. Needless to say I spent quite a bit of time in my car, waiting out the deluge.

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Once the rain stopped I made the first of what are sure to be many trips deep into the heart of Camp Scholler. Why? I have friends who are staying there in a rented RV. More importantly, they have my beer  And my cookies. My observations of Camp Scholler thus far:

– It’s huge.

– The people are super-friendly and will give you rides on their golf carts.

– Like the rest of Airventure currently, a good portion of it is under water.

– Did I mention that it’s huge?

15D1999E-DED7-4757-B8CA-86BD39920EB3Sunday I started off visiting the actual airport terminal. After all, this blog is called Tales From the Terminal so it seemed like a good idea to stop by. It was quiet. And small. But there’s an airplane hanging inside which automatically makes it excellent. I ran into a group of Airventure newbies who needed some advice on how how to get their wristbands and I was happy to point them in the right direction.

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The rest of the day was spent wandering the Airventure grounds watching airplanes. The arrivals have been much quieter this year because of all the rain – the aircraft camping areas are under water so none of the GA aircraft were allowed in until very late in the day. Thankfully there were still lots of amazing airplanes to see.

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The day ended at the Redbird Preflight Reception which was held at their exhibit tent just off the main plaza.  I got a chance to take a peek inside some of sims, which are all very nice. I also got a chance to catch up with many old friends who were also at the event.

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On Monday Airventure officially begins. I am super excited to see the A-10 and F-35 demo teams. I’m also looking forward to seeing the new KC 46 Pegasus tanker which is scheduled to arrive in the evening. Of course some of the best moments at Oshkosh happen completely unexpectedly.  I don’t know what adventure will come my way, but I’m ready so bring it on!

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Lunch with Champaign Lady

IMG_1409Regular readers may recall that earlier this year I set a goal for myself (and anyone else who wants to play along) of checking out at least 5 GA airports not previously visited. That’s right- it’s the 2019 Airport Challenge! Recently I took a step towards meeting that goal by spending a day at Grimes Field in Urbana, Ohio. This little airport has pretty much everything you could ask for: plenty of GA traffic, an excellent restaurant and not one but TWO aviation museums!

Along on the journey was my friend Jim Thompson, former stairs truck driver for a major airline (now retired) and current airport ambassador. We started our visit at the Grimes Flying Lab Museum. This museum is only open on Saturday mornings so I’m really glad we timed our trip to allow us to see it.

Housed in a single hangar, the exhibits are a showcase of the life and work of Warren Grimes, who founded an aircraft lighting company in the mid-1920s. The collection includes pretty much every type of lighting you can think of… and probably some you didn’t! The centerpiece of the collection is a C45-H which was used as a test bed and is decked out with so many lights it looks rather like a flying disco. It. Is. AWESOME!

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After an hour or so we made our way over to the other museum on the field – the Champaign Aviation Museum. The first thing I noticed when we walked in the door was a C-47 on display.  These planes played an important role in WWII, particularly during the invasion of Normandy when more than 50,000 paratroopers jumped from them.  With the 75th Anniversary of D-Day coming up in just a few weeks, I appreciated the chance to get an up close look at such an iconic airplane.

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This particular warbird spent some time in the civilian world.

The next thing to catch my attention was the B-17 in pieces at the far side of the hangar. Named Champaign Lady, it is undergoing a ground-up restoration using various parts from other B-17s as well as some newly fabricated pieces. It was fascinating to see how it is being assembled. It’s even more impressive when you consider it is being constructed by volunteers! One of them spent some time talking with us about the challenges of tracking down parts and securing detailed plans for such an old plane. It is definitely a labor of love. I’m really looking forward to the day when she is ready to fly.

Also at the museum is my old friend the B-25 Champaign Gal. I’ve seen her at many aviation events and if you’ve checked out my “about the blogger” page, there’s a picture of the two of us together. There were quite a number of other exhibits related to World War II including uniforms, wedding dresses made from parachutes and many, many photographs.

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My favorite exhibit, however, featured the Women Airforce Service Pilots, more commonly referred to as the WASPs. The museum has life-sized cut-outs of at least a dozen WASPs, each of which is holding a poster-sized information sheet which includes a photograph of themselves from WWII, their nickname, what planes they flew and an anecdote from their time in the service. Some of their tales are absolutely priceless! The exhibit brings the WASPs to life in a way that history books cannot. I found myself desperately wishing I could have met those ladies in person!

After we left the museum we did what any self-respecting avgeek does – we grabbed some lunch and hung around and watched airplanes! One of the best things about GA airports is how close you can get to the ramp areas. I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of planes that flew in while we were there.

So, what GA airfield have you visited recently? Need some suggestions of where to go? Check out eatattheairport.com! And if you are anywhere near Urbana, OH (or even if you aren’t) plan a visit to Grimes Field. Just make sure you get a piece of ridiculously delicious pie at the cafe – because the only thing better than spending a day with airplanes is spending a day with airplanes AND pie!

Want to learn more about the Champaign Aviation Museum? Check out episode 548 of the Airplane Geeks Podcast in which they interview Aimee Brower who handles public affairs, donor relations, and education.

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Photo by Jim Thompson

One Hundred (and then some)!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Numbers Behind the Passenger Numbers

37774304_unknown.jpgAccording to a quick Google search, Pittsburgh International Airport saw around 9 million passengers in 2018. Chicago Midway had 22 million. Tampa had around 21 million. My airport saw just over 8 million passengers – the most ever. That’s great! Or is it? How does an airport know whether the number of passengers they are serving is good or not?

Load factors 

One useful metric is the load factor. You may have seen this used to determine how well an airline is performing in general, but in this case airports are looking specifically at the load factors for flights into and out of their cities. In the simplest sense, the load factor is a measure of how full the flights are. It is calculated by comparing the number of paying passengers against the total number of seats that were available. For example, if ABC Airlines had 5 flights in and 5 flights out of the airport and used airplanes with 100 seats each, that’s a total of 1,000 seats available. If each plane had 75 paying passengers on board, then there were 750 passengers total, and the load factor is 75%.

IMG_1207I can’t speak to how other airports collect passenger data, but my airport does it via monthly reports that are submitted by the airlines. Each report includes the type of planes used, the number of landings for each, the number of passengers, etc. From that information we can determine the total number of seats and, in turn, calculate the load factors for each airline, as well as an average load factor for all flights during the month.

Higher load factors mean fuller airplanes which means better profit margins for the airlines. When flights aren’t profitable guess what usually happens? Yep – they go away.  Not good! While the monthly load factors are useful, it is also important to look at trends over time. Comparing the numbers from the last few years I noticed that the average monthly load factor at my airport has increased more than 5% – and it was fairly strong to begin with. We definitely like to see that!

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Photo by Jnpet, Creative Commons License

Heavier metal

Of course load factors are just one piece of the story. Another metric to look at is the types of planes that are being used, and how that usage shifts over time. A high load factor on a small plane is good. But when the number of passengers becomes strong enough to justify moving up to a bigger airplane, that’s better. And when the load factors start growing on the bigger airplane, that’s better still!

Let’s take the humble CRJ for example. To keep it simple I’ll combine the stats for the 200, 700 and 900 together. In February 2019 there were roughly 100 fewer CRJ landings than in February 2018. However, there were 100 more Airbus 319/320 landings, and 50 more Boeing 737 landings. Some of those increases were due to added flights and Mad Dogs being retired, but many were the result of a shift to bigger mainline planes and fewer regional ones. That comes out to several thousand more seats available in February 2019 vs 2018. At the same time, the load factors remained strong. Yes! That makes us very happy! (Don’t you worry – we still love the CRJ!  Although the number of flights may have decreased, we still see PLENTY of them around.)

37509824_UnknownMax effect

You may be wondering what kind of impact the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max is having on all this. That’s a fairly complex matter. Certainly there have been some cancellations. Looking just at the airlines that fly the Max into my airport and comparing the number of flights that were scheduled against the number of flights that actually happened, there was a drop of about 3%. That may not seem like a high number, but then again, that was just for half the month. It remains to be seen what the long term implications will be.  If you are curious to know how an airline copes when some of its planes are grounded, the Flying and Life Podcast gave a really good overview of what steps they have to take to re-book stranded passengers and rework their schedules. I strongly encourage you to check it out!37507712_Unknown

Lies, Damn Lies and…

The numbers are, of course, just a snapshot in time and there are a whole lot of factors that the airlines consider when deciding which planes to fly on what routes. Things can change from month to month and season to season. That’s why the airport has people much smarter than myself who track and analyze all this data. But every now and then I like to take a peek and see how things are looking. Maybe one of these days I’ll see an A350 on the stats sheet. Or a 777! OK, so it’s not very likely.  But, hey – an avgeek can dream!

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Not an airliner.  I just couldn’t resist adding a pic of this sweet bizjet!

 

Museum Mayhem (Part 2): Navy Air Museum

IMG_0571By now you know how much I love aviation museums. They’re the perfect way to chase away the winter blues. But recently I found something even better. What could be better than aviation museums? Aviation museums IN FLORIDA. And when you only have time to visit one aviation museum in Florida then your destination HAS to be Pensacola. Why? Because that’s where the National Museum of Naval Aviation is.

IMG_0573This museum doesn’t pull any punches. The first thing you see when you arrive is an F-14. And it’s not just sitting tamely by the front door. No, it’s up on a pedestal, wings swept back, looking as intense and as mean as only an F-14 can look. And did I mention that it is located on an active Naval Air Station? That’s right – there’s gates and guards and people in uniform everywhere. It’s awesome.

IMG_0586Once inside it just gets better. There is pretty much every Navy airplane you can think of. There are also a whole bunch you didn’t think of. Take flying boats, for example. Sure I’d heard of them. I’ve seen the Martin Mars at Oshkosh so I know how impressive they can be. Yet somehow the flying boats at the Navy Air Museum managed to be even more impressive still. Perhaps it’s the way they drawf everything around them. Maybe it’s the way they are a perfect blend of boat and airplane. Whatever reason, I fell instantly and completely in love with them!

The main part of the museum has two floors that are crammed full of airplanes and displays, including an exhibit on lighter-than-air ships and an extensive display of airplane engines. (I finally understand how a radial engine works!) There is also an impressive WWII area that gives you a taste of what life was like on board an aircraft carrier.  The second floor of the museum is open to the main gallery areas which I LOVE because it allows you to look closely at the planes that are suspended from the ceiling. I could have spent the entire day in the main building, but I didn’t because there’s a second building that I just HAD to see – Hangar Bay One.

37507296_UnknownThere was one airplane that I had been searching for the whole visit and I finally tracked it down in Hangar Bay One. No, not the F-14 or the F-18 or the F-4  (although they are all there and they all ROCK).  The plane I was looking for was the Bird Dog. Yes, that’s right. Tucked in the midst of all these power-house fighters is an ordinary little plane that looks a lot like a Cessna… because it is. But it’s not your ordinary GA airplane. It’s a Cessna that landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier, flown by a pilot who had never even seen a carrier before, much less landed on one. Did I mention there were seven people crammed into the plane’s small cabin? You absolutely MUST hear the full story. I highly recommend you listen to Captain Nick’s Plane Tale about it. 

Hangar Bay one also includes exhibits on female naval aviators, the coast guard and the space program.  There are also lots of stand-alone cockpits that you can climb into.  As is always the case, there are never enough hours in the day to really see and do everything I wanted.  However, I did make some time to stop at the museum store on my way out.

The one thing I didn’t get to do during my visit was take a look at the airplanes that are parked out back. I didn’t realize that the only way to see them is via trolley tour. The tours fill up fast and unfortunately by the time I tried to sign up, it was too late. But that’s OK. Now I have an excuse to go back (as if I really needed one).  If you ever find yourself in the area you absolutely MUST visit this museum.  And yes, it’s totally OK to listen to the Top Gun theme on the drive in

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I love airplanes with teeth!

Museum Mayhem (Part 1): Air Mobility Command Museum

9C8601B3-1F51-4CAF-9434-9C5D9F140320In my part of the world, winter means lousy weather, cold temps and very little plane spotting. It also means I go through serious aviation withdrawals. Ugh! So how do I combat the winter doldrums? Aviation museums! They allow me to get my aviation fix and keep my camera from getting too dusty. Recently I got the opportunity to visit a museum I hadn’t been to before: the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover, Delaware.

0A24DAAA-7EFD-4D75-879E-3DF1A13F577EI’ve been wanting to check it out for quite some time. As the name suggests, the museum focuses on military transport and aerial refueling airplanes. In other words, the big planes. And you know how much I love the big planes! As if that weren’t cool enough, the museum is located right next to Dover AFB, home to the 436th Airlift Wing which flies both the C-5 Galaxy and the C-17 Globemaster. From the moment I saw those tails in the distance I was already completely in love with the place… and I hadn’t even parked yet!

First thing to know if you plan to visit is that most of the airplanes are outside. It rained the morning that I went, but fortunately it had stopped before I got there. The gloomy weather meant that there weren’t many people around so I practically had the museum to myself! I started by exploring the indoor exhibits. Even though the space is somewhat small, there was still plenty to see, including an exhibit on the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), a mock-up of a C-5 flight deck and a refueling boom from a KC-135. There are also several airplanes including a C-47A Skytrain and a B-17G “Sleepy Time Gal.”

Then I zipped up my jacket and headed outside. Oh my goodness they have some amazing airplanes! I was thrilled to see a few of my favorite heavy haulers including a C-5, a C-130, a KC-135 and TWO C-141 Starlifters – an A model and a B model. They also had several planes that I am less familiar with, including the C-119G Flying Boxcar and the C-124A Globemaster II. And there were a few planes I didn’t expect at all, like the F-101B Voodoo and the F-106A Delta Dart.

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A Pakistan Air Force Ilyushin Il-78 parked at Dover AFB

The entire time I was outside enjoying the exhibits, I was also keeping an eye on the AFB on the other side of the fence. I have never seen so many C-5s and C-17s all in one place! I just couldn’t stop staring at them!  Then much to my surprise another one of my favorite airplanes appeared – an Atlas 747! It taxied onto the apron, parked and began unloading cargo.  Want to make a 747 look small?  Park it next to a bunch of C-5s!

Next stop was a visit to the ATC tower. It used to be the active tower at Dover AFB. When a new tower was built they brought the old tower over to the museum. They lowered the height a bit to make it easier to climb up, but the view is still spectacular. Some of the old ATC equipment was left in place so you can get a feel for what it looked like when it was operational.  The tower is definitely one of the best parts of the museum.

The only person in the tower while I was there was one of the museum volunteers. We chatted for at least half an hour about the various planes in the museum’s collection. I learned that the C-141B was originally destined to be scrapped. However, a hard landing at Dover AFB damaged the landing gear so rather than risk flying on to the boneyard, it was moved over to the museum instead. (Now that’s what I call a good bad landing!)

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Saved from the boneyard! This is one lucky “Lizard.”

My time at the museum flew by and all too soon it was time to head home. I plan to return on one of the open cockpit days which are held the third Saturday of the month between April and October. Did I mention there is no charge for admission or parking? I put some money in the donation box, though, because the Air Mobility Command museum is definitely worth supporting. I hope you’ll go and see for yourself!

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The Magic Avgeek Detector

 

AA92CBF6-7CB4-42C1-89C5-74C715FF0A71One thing I learned early on at my job is that you don’t have to be an aviation enthusiast to work at an airport. In fact, most of the people I work with, while very talented and quite passionate about what they do, aren’t at all interested in airplanes. And that’s OK. But I know there have to be avgeeks hiding out somewhere – the challenge has been finding them.

Even people who on the surface might seem to be interested in aviation, actually aren’t. The first time I saw a P-51 while at work I could barely contain my enthusiasm. I was practically jumping up and down as I watched it taxi out. In fact, I was so excited that I couln’t help exclaiming to a woman who was standing nearby, “ Look! It’s a Mustang!”  As she backed away from me with a confused expression I realized she wasn’t there for the airplanes. She clearly thought I was nuts.

3257F394-B710-4B15-B95C-2C62F9AD184EOver time I pretty much gave up on the idea of tracking down other airport avgeeks. But all that changed last summer in an unexpected way. Did I stumble across a magic device for detecting aviation lovers? Well… kind-of. And what, you ask, is the secret to unveiling hidden avgeeks? An A220 lanyard! Who’d have guessed!

You may recall that last summer at Oshkosh Airventure I got the opportunity to tour the A220, formerly known as the C-Series. The plane is the latest from Bombardier and was caught up in a bit of drama involving a legal challenge from Boeing and a partnership with Airbus (hence the name change). This, in turn, focused quite a bit of extra attention on the plane. As part of the tour I was given a lanyard, which I immediately started wearing at work. Soon thereafter the conversations started:

CEAAAEA9-52A5-4384-A257-3D01562B5E5CHave you seen the A220?

Why yes, I have. Up close and personal. And it is quite lovely. The cockpit is gorgeous – modern and clean. I could have spent hours asking, “Ooooh! What does THIS button do?” I think EAA may have warned Airbus about me because they quickly moved me along into the cabin, where I proceeded to sit in as many seats as possible.

Is the A220 going to be flying to this airport?

Sadly, no. At least not right now. This is not from lack of trying on my part. I wish airlines would start consulting me about these things!

32AB20D5-E4DD-4271-8952-20B4FD56CCF1Do You Work For Delta?

This question took me by surprise until I remembered that Delta ordered several of them and, in fact, is the first US carrier to put them into service. Of course I had to explain that I do not work for Delta, but I’ve been pestering as many of my friends at Delta as possible about sending the plane our way.

Cool lanyard! Where did you get it?

This question came from a Delta gate agent. I told him I got it at Oshkosh and unfortunately I didn’t get any extras. But I’d be happy to give him mine if he can convince his employer to start flying them to our little corner of the midwest!

8B53649A-3769-4521-A3D7-FC673C567528A220, eh? My airline ordered a bunch of them but won’t be flying them.

This statement came from a pilot at Republic Airlines, which puzzled me a bit. After some digging I discovered that Republic did, in fact, place an order with Bombardier. However the order was later removed.

Through the lanyard I’ve not only uncovered some avgeeks hidden amongst my coworkers, but I’ve gotten to chat with pilots, ground crew, gate agents and others who I might not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. I love it! Sadly, now that the A220 has entered service it will not remain a conversation piece much longer. The hunt will be on for a new lanyard to wear. B797 anyone?

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2019 Airport Challenge

camera-april-2018-1054.jpgI’ve been thinking a lot about airports lately. I guess that’s no surprise. I work at an airport. I vacation at airports. Airports are a big part of my life and I love them. So I find it very distressing every time I hear about another GA airport closing.

According to Statista.com, in 1990 there were 5,589 public use airports in the US. In 2016 there were 5,136. That’s over 450 airports gone in 26 years. And once gone they don’t come back. In the rare case where a new airport is built, it is often at the expense of an older airport which is closed (see Denver, for example).

img_8272Why do smaller airports matter? Well for one thing, that’s where most of the flight schools are and where the pilots of tomorrow begin their flight training. GA airports relieve congestion at major airports by providing alternate destinations for business jets and they are often much more convenient for business travelers. Perhaps most importantly, small, local airports enable emergency support to quickly reach communities in times of need.

img_e2204Given all the important services that GA airports provide, why on earth are they disappearing? Often these airports are surrounded by homes and businesses which can lead to noise complaints and safety concerns. Developers desire the airport property to build additional homes or retail centers. Local governments want the increased tax dollars that commercial development would bring. Small airports often don’t have the means to fend off such attacks. Once an airport loses community support and is targeted for closure, it can be too hard for it to fight back effectively. (Santa Monica, anyone?)

img_9547So, what can we do to help?  It’s simple, really – visit GA airports! If you are a GA pilot you are already helping by using these airports on a regular basis. Not a pilot? The good news is, you don’t need to have a pilot’s license to visit an airport. GA airports are often more accessible and people-friendly then their large commercial counterparts. When I thought about it, I realized I only visited 4 GA airports last year, and of those there was only one I hadn’t been to before. What?!?!? I can do better than that! And so the 2019 airport challenge was born!

The challenge is simple: in the next 12 months check out (at least) five GA airports not previously visited. 

Two of the airports on my list are Chester County Airport (MQS) in Pennsylvania and Grimes Field (I74) in Ohio. I haven’t decided on the other three yet, but I’m looking for other locations in Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, West Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. (If you’ve got a suggestion please comment on this post and let me know!)

IMG_7705As luck would have it, my friend Max Flight from the Airplane Geeks Podcast recently started his own quest to visit GA airports. Since he eats out fairly regularly, he decided to visit airports with restaurants. Brilliant! Nothing goes better with a meal than a heaping portion of airplanes and avgas! Max created eatattheairport.com which includes a google map that displays airports with eating establishments on the premises (or nearby). Check it out – it’s seriously cool! Have a favorite airport/restaurant that isn’t listed? There’s a form you can fill out to have it added to the map.

So, how much do you love aviation? What are you doing to support it? Consider this your invitation to join me! If you value GA airports and all that they provide to the community, then GO VISIT THEM! Head to eatattheairport.com to plan your trips and submit information to help other avgeeks plan theirs.

The 2019 Airport Challenge is on! Are you in? Great! I’ll see you at the airport!

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Working AT the Airport vs Working FOR the Airport

E7831688-6818-4CEE-A322-9DFBAE7A72CCI saw a video on twitter recently of a baggage handler behaving badly. The person who tweeted the video tagged the airport to complain. Other people chimed in as well, demanding that the airport take action. The problem is, baggage handlers are not actually airport employees. They work AT the airport but they don’t work FOR the airport. The media often makes the same mistake. More than once I’ve come across a headline proclaiming “Airport Employees Accused of…” only to learn that the people in question are employed by some other company that just happens to do business out of the airport.

Unfortunately, if you don’t work in aviation it can be difficult to tell who works for whom. And even if you do work in aviation, the differences aren’t always clear. Further complicating matters is the fact that every airport is different. However, I think my airport is a fairly good example of how things are run at most airports in the US, so here’s how it is for us.

c2fbef0b-de48-4cf3-9b97-baa34ac049c0.jpegTicket Counter and Gate Agents

The ticket counter and gate agents at my airport are either airline employees, or they work for a company that has been subcontracted by the airline. These folks are almost never airport employees. I say “almost” because there are a few exceptions.  For example, some low cost and charter carriers that operate out of secondary airports will contract with the airport to use airport employees to handle ticketing. However, the vast majority of the time these employees are the responsibility of the airline.

Ground Agents/Baggage Handlers

Once again, these are airline employees, or they work for a subcontractor hired by the airline (with the same exceptions outline above). 

TSA/Security Personnel 

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U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

TSA agents are part of the Department of Homeland Security. They work at airports, but they are hired, trained and supervised independently by the US government. That said, some airports do have their own security teams and/or subcontract with another provider. At my airport we have both TSA agents who handle passenger screening and a private company which manages traffic flow and provides additional security support. 

Restaurant and Store Associates:

All the restaurants and stores at the airport are run by independent companies. These companies hire, train and supervise their own employees. 

36439472_UnknownCustodians and Building Maintenance:

Custodians and building maintenance personnel are airport employees. However, certain system specialists are independent contractors. For example, we bring in employees from outside companies to manage things like the baggage systems and the escalators and elevators.

Airport Police:

In airports that are run by cities, the airport police are usually city police. At my airport, however, the police are airport employees. So are the K9s. 

36438784_UnknownYou may be wondering: don’t airports have ANY authority over the people who work there, even if they work for another company? Well… yes. Sort-of. The airport is responsible for issuing SIDA (Secure Identification Area) badges to anyone who works in secure areas, regardless of who their employer is. If someone violates SIDA rules then the airport can revoke their clearance, effectively preventing them from being able to work. And, of course, anyone breaking the law can expect to spend some quality time with the airport police.

So, who do you contact if you have a complaint or concern while traveling through an airport? Well, if it relates directly to your flight (ticketing, baggage, delays, cancellations, etc.) your best bet is to contact the airline. If it relates to the building (leaks, trash, etc) then contact the airport. However, any time you are in doubt, go ahead and contact the airport. If they cannot help you directly, they can connect you to appropriate party to resolve the issue and get you on your way.  Happy travels!

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Airport Terminal of the Future

IMG_0263Think back for a moment to what aviation was like 60 years ago. The DC-3 was a common sight and the Boeing 707 was brand new. Passengers could be accompanied by their families all the way to the gates. TWA, Eastern and Piedmont offered flights at my airport. Things sure have changed a lot since then! Well, except for the terminal. It has had several additions and face-lifts over the years, but at its core it is the same building in the same location as it was in 1958.

O'Hare Airport Terminal, Chicago

O’Hare International Airport also has a big terminal construction project planned. (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Now let’s imagine 60 years into the future. What will air travel look like in 2078? What kind of airplanes will we fly? What kind of cars will we drive? (Will we even still be driving cars?) What if you had to design and build an airport today that will meet the needs of the flying public (both commercial and GA) for the next 60 years and beyond? What should the terminal look like? How big should it be? Will the security needs be different? Those are just a few of the considerations that airport designers face.  I have a hard time  deciding what to have for breakfast – I couldn’t imagine being tasked with these types of decisions.  Needless to say I’m very glad that I’m not an airport planner!

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Salt Lake City International Airport is in the middle of a large expansion project.  Estimated cost: $3 Billion (Photo by GoMan195531 at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons)

After 60 years, the functional life of our terminal is starting to wind down. We went through a modernization program recently that will extend our ability to use the building another 15 years or so. However, the time is coming when a new building will be needed. But… how do we know when that time is? As it turns out, the answer is rather complicated.

The first, and perhaps most obvious, factor is the number of passengers using the terminal. We know the maximum number that the current facility can reasonably handle. When we reach a certain point in passenger growth we’ll need to start construction so that the new building is ready when we hit max capacity. Another thing to consider involves infrastructure. When key items like boilers, furnaces and AC units begin to wear out, it will probably make more sense to start construction on a new terminal than to spend millions of dollars putting new equipment into an old building. There are other factors as well, but these two are probably the biggest. If we keep going at our current pace, we expect to hit one of these thresholds in the next 8-10 years.

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Indianapolis’ new terminal opened in 2008.  I dig the trippy lighting! (photo by By utahwildflowers  via Wikimedia Commons)

Even though construction won’t start for a while that doesn’t mean we can just sit back and relax. Nope – there are a whole lot of things we’ve been working on in the meantime.  First off we had to figure out where the new terminal should go, as well as the parking garages, lots, rental car facilities, etc.  Then we had to work on all the studies, evaluations, surveys, environmental impact reviews, wetland assessments, etc. that are routinely required as part of any construction project. Then once all of that has been worked out, the basic infrastructure must to be put into place so that when we’re ready to start building, we have what we need. In our case that means putting in all the utility lines, as well as relocating some of the big RTR antennas.

Another thing on the to-do list is figure out how to pay for it all. The full project is slated to cost over a billion dollars. Ouch! Most airports use a combination of methods to finance this type of project including borrowing money, obtaining grants and using Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) funds.

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Concourses B and C at Philadelphia International Airport were also built in the late 50s. (Photo by David Broad via Wikimedia Commons.)

Not familiar with PFCs? Check your next airline ticket. Every time you get onto an airplane you’ll see a charge of $4.50 (capped at $18/trip). The airlines are required to charge these fees and then remit them to the airports. I love recording the PFC charges because they come from airlines all over the world. We routinely receive remittances from  Japan Airlines, Air France, Luftansa and Qantas. No, none of those airlines fly into my airport.  However, if you buy a ticket to Paris via Air France, then Air France will charge you the PFC and remit those funds to us, even though you’ll actually fly out of my airport on one of their partner airlines (or one of their partner’s regional carriers). The FAA has pretty strict rules about how PFCs can be used. Airports can only use them for very specific things like enhancing security, reducing noise or increasing capacity. FAA approval is required in advance – and the airlines are allowed to give their input as well.

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Wouldn’t be a post from me if I didn’t include a pic of the latest cool airplane to fly in!

One thing my airport won’t use to finance the new terminal is local taxes. Since we aren’t owned by the city or county but instead function as an independent agency, we don’t use county or city taxes for construction projects or for our daily operations either.

So, what DOES the airport of the future look like? Well I’ve heard we are going for a modular design that will allow us to start with what we need, and leave room for us to easily add/adapt as passenger and airline needs change. The proposed design itself is… interesting. A lot can change in 10 years, so what the terminal will actually look like remains to be seen. But based on the most recent conceptualization let’s just say that I think the Jetsons would feel right at home.

Jetsons Airport

I’m not saying Hanna Barbera designed the look for the new terminal… but they totally could have!