Behind-the-scenes airport operations tours are almost always amazing experiences, but Paris Orly Airport (ORY) seems to have set the bar for me with this one. Orly is the second-busiest airport in Paris (after Charles de Gaulle Airport), the 11th-busiest in Europe, and is located about eight miles south of Paris.
It’s a proper international airport and the busiest domestic airport in France. It serves 143 cities, saw a total of 33,120,685 passengers in 2018, and its three runways had 229,654 aircraft movements in 2013, which is the most recent year for which records are available.
Orly serves as a hub for Aigle Azur, Air France, French Bee, HOP!, Transavia France, and Corsair International. It’s also a focus airport for Air Caraibes, Chalair Aviation, easyJet, Royal Air Maroc, and Vueling.
The airport’s terminals are undergoing major renovations, and Orly South and Orly West have already been renamed to Orly 1, 2, 3, and 4. The planned result through the renovations is a much-improved passenger experience.
As mentioned in my recent French Bee flight review, ORY has a great glassed-in observation deck that’s open to the public and accessible before security. But, I came to see what’s airside, and, with the help of both French Bee’s marketing team and the operations and fire department staff at ORY, I got the royal treatment. I had hoped to see some cargo operations, but that didn’t pan out this trip. What did happen, though, was something beyond what I’d expected – a full-on fire drill.
Orly’s airport fire department has an old Sud Aviation SE 210 Caravelle for training – it’s secured to big concrete posts behind the fire station. It once held registration number F-BVPZ with Corse Air International, which is now known as Corsair International.
We spent more than an hour with them, watching the drill, touring the aircraft, and the station. The trucks roared out of the station, sped to the plane, and doused it with water. Then firefighters dragged out hoses to spray down the engines, cool the wings, and soak the wheels.
We even got a ride in one of the airport fire trucks after the drill. My inner 10-year-old was delighted.
Heck, my current 53-year-old self was delighted, too.
The fire department is very well integrated into the airport’s operation system – the fire station even has its own ground tower to better keep an eye on things.
Fun little things of note: at ORY, each vehicle that accesses the taxiways and ramp areas only needs clearance from ground control once each shift; this is different from what I’ve experienced at Stateside airports, where tower clearance is required to transit outside of marked airside vehicle lanes.
The airport fire trucks have ADS-B transceivers with moving maps on large display screens, allowing them to monitor both aircraft and other similarly-equipped vehicles.
Seeing the highly-trained fire department in action was an amazing experience. I’m definitely hoping for a return visit once the airport’s renovations are complete to see all the improvements.