Around the World

Miles flown for stories
2014: 228,152
2013: 330,818

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Lesson in Safety: How Airlines Deal with Thunderstorms

An example of Dispatcher-suggested storm deviation. The green line shows the planned route, and the pink indicates the path actually operated to steer clear of the weather

An example of Dispatcher-suggested storm deviation. The green line shows the planned route, and the pink indicates the path actually operated to steer clear of the weather

Story written by Phil Derner with NYCAviation.com

I have a love-hate relationship with thunderstorms. As a Dispatcher, thunderstorms bring what I feel is the biggest challenge to the job. It is also a Dispatcher’s time to shine and when their pay check is truly earned, making the job fun, rewarding and incredibly satisfying.

The level of challenge sometimes surprises many people because thunderstorms have a relatively short life. Snowstorms present some challenges, but when a blizzard is present, if conditions are that bad, the airport will often shut down in advance or the airline will have canceled enough flights to where the dispatch workload is lighter. Snowstorms are easier to predict and sit over an airfield for a long period of time, so when you can’t get in, you know you’re done for a while. Thunderstorms, on the other hand, tend to pass through a location in about 20-30 minutes. Though fast-moving (average from 25-40mph, or faster!) there are multiple influences that affect the growth, dissipation and speed of the storm, making predicting the time of the storms arrival very challenging. Not to mention that storm cells may be in clusters, where an airport can receive a torrential downpour, while a neighboring town a few miles away can be dry as a bone. Try forecasting that 8 hours out!

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Planespotter’s Bucket List: A Day at Maho Beach, St. Martin (SXM)

Air Caraibes Airbus A330 about over the bay, about to land - Photo: Bernie Leighton

Air Caraibes Airbus A330 over the bay, about to land – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

My fiancee and I, chatting earlier this year while I was at my computer:

“Hey sweetie, did you realize our honeymoon cruise stops for a day at St. Martin?”

“Um, I think so, yea…”

“Did you know that is where they have the beach with the planes that just about land on your head?”

“Like the videos and pictures you showed me? Wow! That’s awesome! Sounds like we should spend that day there at that beach, you think?”

“Oh man, I am SO marrying the right woman!”

The author standing directly below a Boeing 737 about to land - Photo: Julian Cordle

The author standing directly below a Boeing 737 about to land – Photo: Julian Cordle

When I tell people I’m into aviation, my (now) wife likes to describe me to others as “like the super-excited train guy, but with planes”. Tongue-in-cheek, of course. In any case, once we made plans to visit world-famous Maho Beach on St. Martin, she listened to me tell her many times “I can’t believe I get to actually BE THERE” while I was browsing the many stunning photos online.

Continue reading Planespotter’s Bucket List: A Day at Maho Beach, St. Martin (SXM)

The World of Flying Standby

Slow morning at Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) in upstate New York - Photo Steven Paduchak

Slow morning at Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) in upstate New York – Photo: Steven Paduchak

Ever wonder what it’s like to be “that guy?” Specifically, when trying to get on a particular flight, standing up at the kiosk as the gate agent scans everyone’s boarding pass?  Well people, I had the distinct opportunity to be “that guy.”  Welcome to the world of flying via standby.

What is “standby” flying?  Well, I’ll tell you.  People who are on a standby list for a particular flight have the option to snag any available seats left over once the boarding process is complete.  By “standard passengers,” I, of course, mean people who actually paid money (or miles) for their ticket.  Flying standby is most commonly a result of a friend or relative working for that specific airline, or regional affiliate. My first week being a part of this kind of travel was entertaining, exciting, nerve-wrecking, aggravating, and unorthodox, to say the least.  Here’s how it all got started.

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My First Flight on the Airbus A350 XWB

The Airbus A350 waiting to be boarded - Photo: Owen Zupp

The Airbus A350 (MSN002) waiting to be boarded – Photo: Owen Zupp

A flight test program is a finely-tuned schedule, down to the most detailed demonstration, with every minute of flight time accounted for. The deadlines of certification and delivery loom ever-closer as the engineers and pilots continue to put the aircraft through its paces. Still, recently, Airbus was able to somehow wedge a 60-minute flight into their A350 XWB timeline to showcase their newest family member to a media contingent visiting Toulouse for their ‘Airbus Innovations 2014′. I was fortunate to be one of those that flew aboard that flight.

The A350 wingtip with special escort - Photo: Owen Zupp

The A350 wingtip with special escort – Photo: Owen Zupp

The fact that Airbus was prepared to conduct the flight reflects two rather key points. Firstly, that their flight test program is on track and secondly, that they are confident enough in their product to take a load of media scribes aloft. Furthermore, Airbus created specific social media channels for the journalists to share the flight with the world. Consequently, there was a buzz of texting and tweeting as 200 passengers cleared a security channel and filed down the aero-bridge.

The aircraft’s cabin was still in flight test mode, so interspersed amongst the passenger seats were stations of data-gathering equipment, computer screens, and cables taped to the floor. Even so, as one walked through business class and into the economy cabin, there was still that new airplane smell. The interior boasted all of the mod-cons of inflight entertainment systems and even the fasten belt sign was a scrolling digital display. As we all settled in, there was no mistaking that this was a new generation of passenger jet and we were very privileged to take flight.

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Being a Youngster Working as a Travelers Aid

A Travelers Aid desk at DCA

A Travelers Aid desk at DCA – Photo: Ryan Ewing

I love airplanes and sometimes I think airplanes love me. It is hard to fathom that these beautiful, curiosity-instilling works-of-art can fly. Throughout my life, I have always had a strong interest in aviation. My parents tell me that I would always ask a family friend, a pilot for a major carrier, questions about airplanes. I never caught the aviation bug – I was just born with it.

It was a summer day in May of 2013 when I came to the realization that I needed to find something to do during the summer besides sitting on the computer or watching TV. I talked to some people and found an organization called Travelers Aid International. Initially, I didn’t know Travelers Aid even existed, but I knew this would be a perfect place for me. I contacted the organization at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and they sent me a very kind response telling me where to meet for the interview. There, during the interview, was where I would start something that I would never be able to end.

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