Monday, August 29, 2011

All's Quiet on the Eastern Front - A Day Without Airplanes

Photo courtesy Republic Airport
A sky as blue as one found in a child's storybook greeted the New York City area after Hurricane Irene, but missing from the picture early this morning was the normally ubiquitous presence of airplanes. To people living in this region - home to three major commercial airports and four major airports for business, charter and general aviation - the last time aviation shut down to this extent was September 11, 2001.

Sure, Irene had the airlines cancelling thousands of flights - running 24/7 they've got experience and manpower to handle it. (See this spooky shot of JFK Airport from Frank Van Haste's blog here.) When it comes to business and general aviation, it's the very unusual scenario that has them packing up and flying out of town.

The exodus began late last week and increased in intensity as the weather forecasts became more dire.
Planes were ferried to Pennsylvania and upstate New York and to anywhere their owners could find hangar space. "We didn't now how bad it was going to be, so we wanted to be sure we were prepared," said Michael Geiger, airport director at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, New York, which is home to more than 500 mostly single and twin engine piston aircraft.

Photo courtesy Republic Airport
Though Geiger didn't know how many, a number of planes were flown to inland airports. Shortly before our conversation this morning, five of the planes belonging to the flight school of Farmingdale State College had returned.

They were not so lucky at Teterboro Airport, just nine feet above sea level, the airport remained closed today as workers tried to clean up. The plan is to open the airport tomorrow. Wisely, there were no airplanes left on the ramp during the storm, and damage was confined to the airport.

Thirty-five miles northeast, Westchester County Airport is busy, busy, busy taking the flights intended for the New Jersey airport and closing the short runway - 11/29 - so that the planes destined for Teterboro have a place to park while waiting for the airport to reopen.

Photo by and with permission of Steve Ferguson

Good thing then, that the most dramatic post-Irene activity happened earlier today when three touring World War II warbirds belonging to the Collings Foundation departed after their annual visit to the airport went soggy. Airport executive and aviation enthusiast, Steve Ferguson was out on the airfield seeing them off and taking photos of the P-51 Mustang, the B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress, all of which were in town for the annual Wings of Freedom visit.

Photo by and with permission of Steve Ferguson
Ordinarily, when the planes are here, the foundation sells walk-through tours, flight experiences and even flight training.  But on Saturday, when it became a wash-out, Landmark Aviation one of the FBOs at the airport did some shuffling in its hangar. "Landmark Aviation was very gracious to move some planes around in their hangars to make room," said Hunter Chaney marketing director for the foundation.

 Westchester is my local airport and I am accustomed to hearing the general aviation and regional traffic, so as I took my early morning walk it was odd to see the perfect flying conditions and hear everything but airplanes; the birds, the leaf blowers, the chain saws and the electric generators were all making their post-hurricane music, but I need not have worried. The corporate jets started making their presence known before I had my morning coffee and as I write this blog, even the noisy Piaggio is back.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

It's a Ghost Town at Airports on the Northeast Coast

Photo of HPN on Saturday by Chuck Allen
Some of  America's most active business airports would be - should be, having one of their most active weekends on this, the last weekend before the Labor Day holiday. Instead they look like this desolate scene at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York.

In anticipation of Hurricane Irene, Westchester, Republic and Teterboro are reporting airfields that have become ghost towns. My friend, Chuck Allen, a pilot and member of the Westchester Flying Club spend part of Saturday afternoon watching a lot of takeoffs...and no people moved their airplanes out of the path of the hurricane. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pee 'evd By Airline Piss'enger Gérard Depardieu

Hey, Gérard Depardieu Urin' trouble!

Love it or hate it, CNN's Anderson Cooper program knows how to put together the clever repartee as demonstrated in the show's Ridicu-list segment last night.

Cooper jabbed French film star Gérard Depardieu for turning an British airliner into his personal urinal by peeing into a bottle after flight attendants told him he could not get up and go to the bathroom while the plane was on the tarmac waiting for takeoff. 

But lest the Dublin-based CityJet reap too much good publicity for taking a yucky situation and treating it with just the right amount of humor and discretion, fellow Irish airline, Ryanair has jumped in with a just-in-time advertisement that queries travelers, "Pissed off with high fare airlines?" 

Well that's rich considering that the budget carrier is the airline that routinely trots out the notion that passengers should pay-to-pee. 

If there's a take-away on this story, beyond the pants-wetting puns produced by the CNN writers, it is that in the rush to pick on airlines, it doesn't hurt to consider what it's like to be on their end of the story; ill mannered customers who stopped holding their tongues and their tempers long ago, may now be finding it difficult to hold their bladders.

Perhaps the folks who really should be seizing the spotlight here are the clever sign makers in Blenheim, New Zealand where, while waiting to board my plane at Marlborough Airport recently, I followed the wise and wordless advice offered up the passenger waiting area. 

Hey, Depardieu -- maybe you should, too!

Monday, August 15, 2011

What "Is" is When It Comes to Foreign Ownership and US Airlines

In 1998, when asked during his impeachment trial if he was in a relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, then-President Clinton  famously parsed, "It depends on what the meaning of the world 'is' is."  The same sort of some-see-it-blurry line exists when talking about the rules preventing American commercial  airlines from foreign ownership.

With the purchase by Asia Fountain Investment and seven other associated entities of 24.4 million shares of AMR, a foreign interest now owns 7.3%  of the parent of American Airlines, a spokesman for American Airlines confirmed today. 

This isn't the first time big foreign investment dollars got sucked into the engines of the Dallas-based airline. In 2006, the Iceland investment company FLGroup, bought nearly as many shares, held them for a little over a year and then sold nearly all of them but not before griping about the opacity of AMR in its individual business units. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Did Delta Boss Threaten to Fly the Coop, Or Just Blow Hot Air?

CEO Anderson photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines
Does somebody actually advise Richard Anderson, the chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines or does he just wing it when he talks tough like he did recently on Fox News?

In a fawning interview earlier this summer with anchorman, Neil Cavuto, Anderson sounded an awful lot like he was threatening to take his big ole Atlanta-based airline out of the country if those Obama liberals didn't stop messin' around with his nearly-non-union shop. Or that's how it sounded to me anyway. His PR department says otherwise. The full clip is below so you can decide for yourself.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hangar Flying Through History From a Wing Chair

The actor Jimmy Stewart with Gen. Jimmy Doolittle at the Wings Club

Airplanes had been around nearly forty years when New York’s Wings Club was formed in 1942. And over the years the club has charted a course that parallels the highs and lows of the industry itself as I wrote in this article published in The New York Times. The occasion for writing about the Wings Club is its move into new digs after 8 plus years of not having a place to call “home”. 

In the course of working on the story,  I spent some time looking through the two volume history of the club.  I can’t decide what was more fun, reading the year-by-year account or seeing the doings in the old photos. (Click here to view historic photos courtesy of the Wings Club.)