Posts Tagged ‘airports’

Videos of traffic patterns? Yes, please

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Flying to a new airport is great fun, but it poses its own set of challenges. You can study the sectional chart, the airport diagram, and the Airport/Facility Directory for an hour, but when you’re up in the air 10 miles out, searching for that strip of asphalt, sometimes it’s tough to put those pieces together and pick out your destination. (Ask any student pilot in the Northeast who’s had to spy an airport in an urban area, seemingly buried in a maze of buildings and highways.)

Short final to Metropolitan Oakland International Airport.

Short final to Metropolitan Oakland International Airport.

A new website aims to help you. was created by California pilot Tony Arbini, who says he was assigned an airport he had never flown to for his long solo cross-country. He went online to try to look up the airport and learn as much as he could about its airspace, but he didn’t find much. He created in a quest to “find a better way to communicate” airspace and traffic patterns for a given airport, according to the website.

The airspace around OAK is depicted graphically.

The airspace around OAK is depicted graphically.

Arbini and his team visit airports and videotape the flight, but the site’s collection of videos is much more polished than what you’ll typically find on YouTube. Each video introduces the airport by showing you its location on a sectional chart, with traffic patterns, airspace, and nearby navigation aids highlighted. Static photos display pertinent landmarks to help you spy the runway before you’re directly over top of it. There’s also info on traffic pattern altitudes, noise abatement procedures, terrain obstacles, and other good-to-know stuff.

Traffic patterns at OAK are highlighted. (

Traffic patterns at OAK are highlighted. (

All of this can be found in traditional sources, of course, but I like the way presents it in a neat and graphically attractive package. Note that the use of the website should enhance—not replace—your due diligence when digging up “all available information” about your destination.

Right now the website covers airports in California (plus one lone airport in Alaska). But that’s where you come in. The website urges you to “fly it—film it—share it.” You can upload your own footage to the site. Arbini provides tips on how best to present it, and he even includes a tutorial on how to use his preferred action cam—a Garmin Virb—to get that great footage.—Jill W. Tallman

People per plane

Monday, July 9th, 2012

I will be the first to admit that pilots can be pretty myopic and focus only on their own issues and causes, especially when it comes to pay and/or job advancement or security. While a few of these grumblings may be misplaced, most aren’t. A few, sometimes, just aren’t understood or realized.

I’ll give you an example. It’s a common refrain that airlines plan on X number of pilots and flight attendants—often lumped together as crews—per airframe on the property. On the low end it might be eight to nine pilots, and on the high end it might be an average of 11; the most common is 10 pilots/5 crews, and wide-body international birds might need as many as 14. But that isn’t the end of it by any stretch.

Each airplane must support the livelihoods of others whose livelihood is to support the airplane. For instance, the airline must carry a certain number of mechanics, dispatchers, fuelers, cleaners, accountants, advertising folks, et cetera, to get the job done. The more airplanes in the fleet, the more people who are needed. At the height of the bloated payrolls in the early 2000s, many airlines averaged more than 100 employees per ship. Now, that number is much lower.

Some of this is a result of contracting out certain services (which could be the topic of a number of books, let alone this blog), and some of it is a result of more efficiency, especially with regard to computing power. The most obvious example of this is the severe reductions in the number of ticket agents, thanks to the ability to check in at home or at an airport kiosk. The days of standing in a long line every time you go to the airport are over.

When I got hired at Comair, I went on a tour of the company offices. One thing that stood out as a shock to me was the bags and bags of torn ticket stubs that had to be reconciled by hand. Same with the monthly pilot payroll summary sheets. No more. Those items are totally automated, and many of those jobs were eliminated.

Likewise, we and every other airline had a staff of people whose job was to sift through lost bags and find the owners. Today, that is much easier and faster, and it requires fewer people because of the new industrywide tear-proof bag tags that are bar-coded. A scan gun can save tons of time and money when a bag is lost. If the bag tag does get separated, then it becomes much more work-intensive. Thank goodness, that’s rare.

But some things never change. Pilots still fly the airplanes, and the FARs do much to dictate the staffing of crews. Likewise with dispatchers, who are also required, and whose work days are legally limited. One dispatcher can handle a fair number of flights, so adding one airplane may or may not lead to new jobs in that department. But at some point, you will need to spread the workload. Crew schedulers, fuelers, and gate agents—actual, at-the-gate agents, not the ticket counter—are still needed as well, and are only added when the number of airplanes added to the fleet (or flights are added to the schedule) forces the workforce to be grown. Some of those skilled employees are more expensive than the non-skilled workers: mechanics, pilots, avionics techs, even the mechanics for the airport ground equipment.

The new industry average for employees per plane is now closer to 85-90. A friend at Southwest tells me that theirs is 62. Keep all this in mind when you see your ticket price. It covers a lot: employees beyond the crew; spare parts; fuel; lease payments. If you see 10 people at the airport who directly affect your flight, there are dozens more you don’t see whom you can’t travel without, just like you don’t see the new tires and fuel pumps that were put on the airplane late at night, or the facilities to store all of those parts.

I’m not always a fan of workforce efficiency improvements and the lost jobs that come with them, but it is the basis of capitalism, and all of us have a certain level of price sensitivity. After all, even I buy tickets on occasion, and I will be the first to admit that price is the most important factor. And yes, I will check in at home whenever I can.—By Chip Wright