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Top 5 Interesting Airport Facts

by Tori Williams 1. November 2016 20:30
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This semester has been one long lesson into all things airport operations related. When I am not at school taking such classes as Airport Operations and Aviation Administration Decision Making, I am at the Lexington airport soaking up knowledge from my airport operations internship. I have never had a semester where I felt I experienced and could apply the material I was learning in such a way as this. I have been extremely blessed with my internship and the amazing professors at Eastern.

In a strange way, my lessons outside of the classroom have lined up perfectly with the lessons in class more times than I can count. For example, we had a lesson about airport wildlife management at school and then during my time at the airport that day we encountered birds, deer, and checked the wildlife traps. My coworkers are very good at turning things we encounter into learning moments, so I have heard countless stories and gotten hands-on experience with a lot of things my classmates are only reading about.

During this awesome semester I have learned a few airport facts that truly surprised me. I gathered my top five to share here.

1. Airports make an enormous percentage of their revenue from parking

I was surprised to find out that of the overall revenue that airports acquire, non-aeronautical revenue accounts for nearly half of the total. This exact number of their non-aeronautical revenue is 44.8%, according to one study. Parking and transportation alone contribute to 41.2% of the total revenue, putting it in a category of its own. This is one of those facts that make sense if you think about it, after all airports almost always charge for parking and thousands of cars come through every day. Several major airports also contract out parking. Companies will bid on a parking contract and whoever wins is in charge of parking at that airport. This seems to be efficient for both the airport and the parking companies.

2.TSA is under a microscope

Nobody particularly enjoys going through TSA, and it often seems ridiculous to have to remove your belt and shoes to not be a threat to national security. However, one fascinating thing I have learned is that TSA often gets tested themselves. The TSA inspector will occasionally send volunteers, usually new airport employees who have not been seen by TSA yet, though the TSA security line with explosives or other prohibited items stashed in their carry-on. In some cases, they will even strap the prohibited substance to the bodies of the volunteers to see if the TSA screener can find it that way. The supervisor on shift is made aware before testing begins so they will be prepared and not let the screener call airport police on the volunteer. Thankfully Lexington has been extremely successful in their testing, but other airports have not been so lucky.

3. Airports send birds to The Smithsonian

Whenever there is a bird strike and the airport cannot discern the species of bird, they must send DNA to The Smithsonian. That can be feathers, a sample of the bird guts, or both, depending on the state of the animal when they are found. The Smithsonian then analyzes the DNA to accurately identify the species of bird, and returns that information to the airport to include in their wildlife strike report.

4. Airport record keeping is insane

One thing I instantly noticed about working in operations is that there are dozens of large, thick binders filled with papers that they are constantly referencing, updating, and archiving. The airport is required to keep certain records for up to two years. That means that even if someone hasn’t worked at the airport in a year and a half, they still have a massive binder dedicated to them with all of their training records. Other binders include the unofficial version of the airport certification manual, dozens of maps of the airfield, badging applications, and many more that I have not yet seen. Someone could easily spend days reading these binders and not see half of the material the airport keeps on hand.

5. Airport expansion is very complicated

Commercial and GA airports alike face a number of challenges when it comes to growth. Many communities do not understand how great aviation can be for their local economy, so they oppose runway expansion projects and even the simplest changes to the airport. I found it particularly interesting using Lexington as a case study, as their airport is surrounded by horse farms owned by some of the biggest names in horse breeding and racing. It would be extremely difficult for them to expand because of the value of the land around them. Airports constantly have to balance growth with community relations, far more than several other industries.

I hope that you have learned at least one interesting fact by reading this article, and I can’t wait to learn more as I become more knowledgeable on airport operations! It is a whole world of intricacies and innovations that I am lucky to be part of!

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Airports | Tori Williams

Top Airport Stress-Relief Upgrades

by Tori Williams 2. October 2016 00:41
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To the majority of passengers on commercial flights, traveling can be a stressful and sometimes uncomfortable experience. Long lines to check in, confusing security rules, and having to rush to your gate after all is said and done can drive even the most understanding person crazy. On top of all that, several airports have puzzling signage and unclear instructions for moving between terminals. This can leave the passenger with a sense of dismay and dread when trying to navigate through to their flight. Thankfully, several airports have recently begun revitalizing their interiors and amenities in an effort to reduce passenger stress and create an overall ambiance of ease. I found several examples online and I picked my top 4 to share with you here.

1. Narita Airport Running Lanes

Well in advance of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Narita International Airport decided to redesign the interior of their airport with a minimalist and easily navigated layout. Inspired by running tracks, these blue and red lanes show passengers exactly where they are heading. Blue represents departures and red represents arrivals. The designers chose these colors with purpose, too. Blue, the color of the sky, uplifts passengers and excites them for the travels ahead. Red, a more earthy tone, is there for arriving passengers as they conclude their travels and return to the ground.

2. San Francisco Yoga Room

No, you have not been transported to a peaceful yoga studio. You are in fact in Terminal 2 of San Francisco International Airport, just on the other side of the TSA checkpoint. A few years ago the airport converted a storage closet into a fully functioning yoga room, featuring dim lights, a mirrored wall, complementary mats and blocks. This free service has helped many a weary passenger feel at ease during their stressful layovers. In fact, it has rave reviews on its Yelp page. Quite an interesting and helpful addition to the amenities offered at SFO.

3. Canine Therapy in Denver

One of the latest trends in airport stress-relief is to bring in certified therapy dogs for the guests to pet and play with in the terminal. This is not exclusive to Denver airport, as I found many articles where airports around America had brought in special dogs to soothe customers. This usually happens during the busy holiday season, where travel seems very high-stakes and travelers just want to hurry past to visit family. Many passengers who visited with the dogs reported that their stress levels had decreased by a substantial amount and they were very glad to play with a pooch during their stressful trip.

4. Butterfly Garden in Singapore

You read that right! The Changi airport in Singapore boasts a very luscious garden in Terminal 3 that houses more than 1,000 tropical butterflies and as many as 40 species during different seasons of the year. This unique space of tranquility is open to passengers who are traveling through their airport at no cost. The natural light, water features, and beautiful nature on display in this garden help passengers feel an instant sense of relaxation.

Airports are focusing more every year on making the passenger experience less stressful and more luxurious. I hope that in your future travels you are able to find a peaceful release from all of the stress!

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Airlines | Tori Williams

Beginners’ Guide to Public-Use Airport Classification

by Tori Williams 1. September 2016 20:00
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One of the best college courses I have ever taken is Airport Management. It is truly fascinating to learn about the breakdown of just how exactly airports are classified, owned, funded, and managed. Pilots would not fly without airports, and airports would not be necessary without pilots, so I believe that any good pilot should have a working knowledge of the different types of airports and how they are categorized.

I could make a whole series of articles just based on who owns what type of airport, the types of regulations they have to follow, and the different ways airports are managed. However, today I would simply like to introduce the rules behind how airports are generally classified in the US.

The FAA has been recognizing public-use airports that are eligible for federal funding since 1970. They created the National Airport Systems Plan (NASP) which included approximately 3,200 such airports that were shown to be serving public needs. In 1982, with the passage of the Airport and Airway Act, the FAA was asked to prepare a new version of the NASP, to be called the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS). This updated version included a total of 3,411 airports in 2008.

With the new NPIAS system came a new way of classifying airports for federal funding. Here are the basic parts and a quick definition for each.

1. Primary Airports

These are categorized in the NPIAS as those public-use airports enplaning at least 10,000 passengers annually. This accounts for less than 3 percent of the nation’s total airports, with only 383 airports falling into this category in 2008.

2. Commercial Service Airports

This is any airport that accommodates scheduled air carrier service by a certified airline. Of the 770 million passengers that flew domestically or internationally in the United States in 2009, practically all of them went by way of a commercial service airport. The FAA recognized 522 of these such airports in 2008.

3. General Aviation Airports

Airports with fewer than 2,500 annual enplaned passengers are covered by this classification, as well as airports that are used exclusively by private business aircraft not providing commercial passenger air carrier service. This category gets a little more tricky, as there are over 13,000 airports that technically fit the description. However, not all of these are included in the NPIAS. There is usually at least one GA airport in the NPIAS per county, and any airport with more than 10 aircraft based there and more than 20 miles away from the next nearest NPIAS is also included. In 2008, a total of 2,564 airports held this classification in the NPIAS.

4. Reliever Airports

Perhaps the most unique of the classifications, relieved airports are specifically designated as “general aviation airports that provide relief to congested major airports.” In order to qualify as a reliever airport, the airport must have at least 100 airplanes based at the field or handle 25,000 itinerate operations.

Primary Airports also have a special subsection to include the different sizes of primary airport operations. It is important to note that the NPIAS definition of a hub is different than that in the airline industry, and they are simply referring to the number of annual enplaned passengers that use the airport. These are as follows:

1. Large hubs

These airports account for at least 1 percent of the total annual passenger enplanements. Of the 30 large hub airports that were classified in 2008, they handled 70 percent of all passenger enplanements in the US.

2. Medium hubs

These airports handle between .25 and 1 percent of the annual enplanements. There were 37 airports that held this designation in 2008.

3. Small hubs

These airports handle between 0.05 and 0.25 percent of annual passenger enplanements. The NPIAS reported 72 of these in 2008.

4. Nonhubs

These airports handle more than 10,000 annual enplanements, but less than 0.05 of the annual total enplanements.

I hope that I have helped to break down a little more just how airports are classified by the FAA. I would recommend looking up your favorite airports to see what type of hub they fall under, and if they are considered primary or just commercial service.

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Airlines | Tori Williams

Top 5 Things that Happened at Oshkosh 2016

by Tori Williams 1. August 2016 18:30
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This year at Oshkosh was one of the biggest and most exciting yet. It seems that the world’s biggest airshow continues to get better every year. Unfortunately I was unable to go this year because of how close the date was to my upcoming wedding. However, this did not deter my groom and he flew his Stinson 10A up for the week and kept me updated on daily events.

Several major things happened at Oshkosh this year and I was able to live vicariously through my Facebook friends as they experienced them. So here is an outsider’s view of the most talked about events at Oshkosh 2016!

1. The Martin Mars Water Drop

If you have been following anything online from Oshkosh, I am certain you have seen the infamous video of the Martin Mars dropping thousands of gallons of water during an airshow. It dropped 7,200 gallons of Lake Winnebago water, to be exact. The Martin Mars is the world’s largest warbird ever built, originally designed to be a bomber for long-range missions. It was converted into the massive firefighting water bomber that it is today in the early 60s. There’s also good news if you are interested in owning the Oshkosh show-stopper – it is up for sale for a reported 3 million dollars.

2. Harrison Ford was Everywhere

I am a member of several discussion groups online for female pilots, both private and public. When I scrolled down my newsfeed and saw a woman in such a group post a photo of herself standing with Harrison Ford, it blew me away! I showed my mom and my friends and joked about how if I were there I would have met him. Little did I know that within the next couple days, dozens of people in my newsfeed would post their own photos with or of Harrison Ford. It seemed like he was everywhere, and there was plenty of photo evidence of this. It was a huge year for him, too, as he flew the 2 millionth EAA Young Eagle in his de Havilland Beaver.

3. The Canadian Snowbirds Routine

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds took to the skies over Oshkosh for the first time in over 30 years. By all reports, it was absolutely breathtaking. They flew several complicated maneuvers and were definitely a fan favorite. The team flew in Canadair CT-114 Tutors, keeping incredibly sharp formations. This was certainly a highlight for the week and I’m sure EAA is thankful to our friends up north for the amazing show!

4. Another Breathtaking Night Airshow

The EAA nighttime airshow is a fairly recent addition to the week. Guests are able to watch the unique combination of amazing aerobatics and dazzling lights. On Wednesday night this spectacular nighttime airshow entertained thousands as the airplanes and fireworks boomed through the darkness. This is always a treat, but EAA seems to always find a way to make it better each year.

5. EAA Drone Center Continued to Grow

An exhibit that has been steadily growing over the last few years is the Drone Center in Aviation Gateway Park. Catering to pilots who have a particular interest in drones, this large caged area was used for flight demonstrations of the latest models all week. It is fascinating how this would not have existed several years back, and how it is gaining so much traction nowadays.

What was your favorite Airventure highlight? We can only wait in anticipation for next year’s amazing week in Oshkosh!

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Tori Williams

10 Comments Pilots are Tired of Hearing

by Tori Williams 2. July 2016 01:02
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Anyone who has been flying for any amount of time has been exposed to his or her fair share of public opinion. Whether it comes from genuine curiosity, ignorance, or just an urge to make conversation, people typically ask the same things over and over. I discussed the topic a few of my pilot friends and compiled a list of quotes that we are just tired of hearing.

1. “But you don’t actually FLY do you?”

This is the most common question I am asked when it comes up that I am in flight training. It is hard to answer this without sounding a little condescending. Yes, when you are training to become a professional pilot you actually get inside of an airplane and fly it around in the air. I am not sure what they think it means to be in flight training. I find this is a great opportunity to broaden their worldview and explain how the pathway to becoming a commercial pilot starts in much smaller airplanes than a jumbo-jet, which you have to fly several days a week.

2. “Will you fly me to Florida?”

This is typically the follow up question from the causal non-pilot acquaintance. Will you fly them somewhere really far away? This question can get awkward when the asker is serious and persistent. In most cases I explain how it will cost hundreds, if not thousands more to rent a small airplane and make the trip than to just fly on a commercial airline. Don’t be “that guy” to your pilot friends.

3. “You must be so rich!”

This assumption always rubs me the wrong way. It is no lie that aviation is an extremely expensive career or hobby, but I have worked hard to earn every flight hour I have accumulated. The majority of my flight training has been financed through scholarships awarded to me by the Ninety-Nines and I am so proud to be part of an organization that helps passionate students that are not able to afford flight training. Somehow people seem to forget they are talking about a sometimes-sensitive subject because they assume you are rolling in money. I can assure you that the majority of student pilots are not.

4. “So it’s not like you’re actually in college.”

I have gotten this response more than once when I tell someone I am in the flight program at my university. Yes, aviation students are in college. We have to take general education classes like everyone else. In a lot of ways our schedules are way more challenging than that of a regular college student, because a flight lab (which includes an average of 6 flight hours a week) only counts as 1 credit hour. Not to mention the time we spend preparing for flights and driving to and from the airport. Being in an aviation program is no walk in the park!

5. “I don’t trust [insert plane type] you won’t see me flying those.”

This was a major pet peeve of my friend who occasionally flies a Cirrus aircraft for flight instruction. He said that other pilots are terrified of the plane because of the horror stories they had heard about the parachute that they are equipped with malfunctioning. He said that they don't parachute into the airport every time, and they are really quite safe aircraft.

6. “You aren’t a real pilot until you fly tailwheel.”

This one gets thrown around a lot between nose gear and tailwheel pilots. Often coupled with, “a tricycle gear lands itself,” or “true stick and rudder skills come from tailwheel.” While I do appreciate the respect given to tailwheel pilots, I think it can sound unnecessarily degrading. All pilots are trained to be as good as they can be, and they should all be recognized for their unique skills, no matter the airplane they use.

7. “So do I really have to turn my cellphone off in an airplane?”

Nowadays I just give a simple “yes,” to this common question. It is one thing for me to have my cellphone with me on a training flight in perfect weather, it is another thing entirely for 150+ people to have their phones simultaneously transmitting while the pilot tries to land in extremely limited visibility. When your whole life depends on your instruments being accurate, there is no room for messing around. Just turn your phone off, you won’t have signal anyway!

8. “Who is the better pilot?”

My fiancé Daniel and I get asked this all of the time. We have a good laugh about it and say that it is the other one. Some pilots are very competitive and a question like this can spark some tension. In general it’s probably best to not compare two pilots with similar skills and qualifications, unless you are evaluating them for employment.

9. “I didn’t know women could fly!”

Despite huge advancements in the last several decades, aviation is still a male-dominated and sexist world. I became aware of this the first time that I went to take my private pilot written exam and the test administrator scoffed and said, “You don’t LOOK like a pilot.” People tend to picture either an old man or Tom Cruise when they imagine a pilot or aviator. I hope to see the normalization of the word aviatrix in the next few years. Women pilots are growing in numbers and there is no room for sexism in this industry.

10. “I could never do what you do. Flying is SO unsafe.”

The people that say these things typically have it in their mind that pilots are some daredevil risk takers that thrive off of the adrenaline of putting their lives on the line every day. Flying is not nearly as dangerous as the media makes it out to be, and I have always felt much safer while flying than I ever did while driving my car. I can only jokingly respond, “there’s a lot less things to hit when you’re flying!” so many times.

I hope that you enjoyed this article of 10 things pilots are tired of hearing. Do you agree that these are overused? Are there any phrases that drive you crazy? Let me know in the comments below!

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Tori Williams



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