Monday, June 30, 2008

Assorted Rants

After the week of full moon madness, summer solstice, and Friday the 13th, I had been hoping for something better. Nothing specific, mind you, just better in some indeterminate sort of way. While nothing dramatic occurred, I'm wrapping up the week feeling disappointed.

After a one-week reprieve, the Four Olives cafe is now closed. I had supper there last Sunday, so I was one of their last customers (again). Too bad, although I'll probably save money.

My trainee is officially being reassigned to another tower where he can hopefully be successful. Meanwhile, we've had one more check out in the tower. There are a couple more who look promising, but no more in the pipeline. The experiment with Air Traffic Assistants (ATA's) has been a complete failure so far - we're 0 for 3 - the last one had his training terminated on Friday.

The flow control job that I put in for here in LA is apparently going to get canceled (again). They've bid and then canceled the bid for this job three times now; it's been vacant for a year. Meanwhile I've heard nothing more about the DFW tower job I bid on, and they just came out with another bid. So far no news either on the New Orleans supervisor job that I bid on last month, but it's still early days for that one.

After calling my sister Sunday afternoon, I managed to drop/lose/misplace my phone. The loss of the phone doesn't bother me so much as the loss of the names and phone numbers stored within. As I was on my lunchtime walkabout when I called her, there's only a square mile or two of one of the world's busiest airports in which to look for it. I retraced my route on the midshift, but as that was some twelve hours later I didn't really expect to find anything. I've no doubt that if I indeed dropped it somewhere along my walk it was picked up by someone within minutes. The airport is bound to have at least one lost and found, and probably several, but I'm not optimistic that a phone would make it to one of them. Ironically, just a few days ago I got a call from my phone service provider trying to sell me a new phone; maybe I shouldn't have deleted that message . . .

I've been watching a show where the guy is working in his shop with tools and lathes and such, all the while wearing a spotless white shirt. I realize that it's television and so there's editing involved, but even so. I've never seen him get his shirt even slightly dirty. I am genetically incapable of even putting on a white shirt without something happening to it. In fact, the harder I try not to make a mess, the more certain it is that I will. I don't think I've ever done an oil change on anything that didn't result in oil on me and the ground somewhere. I can't even put air in the tires without looking like I just changed at least one of them. The only way I manage to appear at work (or anywhere else) in a presentable manner is by not attempting anything before going. Since I sometimes don't go to work until three or four in the afternoon, you can understand why I never get anything done.

And while I'm at it: I can't have a nice watch, either. For my entire life, my father has owned and worn the same watch, given him by his mother before I was born, and it looks as good now as I can ever recall. I, on the other hand, am hell on wristwatches. I've had several decent watches, all of which have ended up with scars that give them the appearance of having survived (if just barely) armageddon. I try to have one that's still presentable for appearing in public, and I try to remember to take it off before I get involved in something likely to do it harm. The one I'm wearing right now has made it about three months so far. I don't wear it at all on the weekends - I've got several Wallyworld cheapies that I wear for when I know I'll be doing pretty much anything more than reading a book. And they look it.

There's probably more, but that's enough for now. Have a good week -


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Red Tails

I've got a friend who lives under the finals, about ten miles east of LAX. A regular plane watcher, he's got a great view from his back patio. A while back, he asked me about a red-tailed airplane that he'd seen. I don't know that I was able to answer his question, but it got me to thinking about how many airline paint schemes feature a large amount of red on the tail. A fair number use blue as well, but that'll keep for another day.

This Airbus 320 sports a special Air Canada scheme; I like it better than their regular one.

A Swiss (formerly SwissAir) Airbus 340-300, pulling into gate 101.

This is Virgin Atlantic's old paint scheme; the new one has different lines and less blue.
Virgin 747's are actually becoming a rare sight at LAX;
Virgin Atlantic mostly operates Airbus 340-600's into LA these days.

Virgin America Airbuses. The new Virgin Atlantic scheme is similar.

Northwest's old and new schemes both feature red tails. Northwest has had red-topped paint schemes for quite some time; the company's origins up in snow country were the impetus: It was thought that a red plane would be easier to spot, particularly in the event of a crash. A lot of Alaskan and Canadian bush planes to this day carry reds and oranges for similar reasons.

All three of these Airbus A330-200's are LTU, a German airline.
I have no idea what 'LTU' stands for.

MD-11's are popular with cargo carriers. The upper shot is of Shanghai Cargo; the lower is Martinair. Fedex also has a lot of MD-11's, but the tails aren't red.

Japan Air doesn't have much color on its planes; what little there is appears on the tail.

Here's a gaggle of 747's, a couple with red tails. In front is a Connie Kalitta freighter, with an Air Pacific (Fiji) sandwiched in between the Qantas in back.

This shot shows an Avianca 767 and a Philippines 747. Avianca only recently resumed service into LAX. Philippines, like Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa, brings in both B747's and A340's.

Two Air India paint schemes. The upper one is the one we usually see; I've only seen the lower one once - As they're only here a few times a week, I don't know if it's a new scheme or a special. That's another Swiss A340 in the background at the recently re-opened gate 123A, which is one of the gates that's been reconfigured to handle the Airbus 380 which is expected to begin service here later this year.

Airlines aren't the only ones who like red tails; this shot, taken at a local general aviation airport, shows a couple of the resident flight school's Cessnas. This particular school's choice of a red tail paint scheme is in commemoration of the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer Solstice

So, last week it was Friday the 13th. This week, it's the summer solstice and a full moon. Expect shenanigans galore.

Meanwhile, a couple of updates. Doug and David have managed to find a way to keep The Four Olives open for another week while searching for a buyer. Less happily, we had a training team meeting this afternoon, and my former trainee is now considering reassignment to one of the other airports in the area. I wish them all well.

Congrats to my cousin Owen and his wife Holly on the birth of their second daughter!

Holy heatwave, Batman! It's the beginning of summer, with a vengeance. Temps in the LA basin have been in the 90's for a couple of days now. 'June gloom', which normally keeps temperatures mild in June, lasted for all of about three days at the beginning of the month. My roses have been stressing from the heat, and I'm not looking forward to the utility bill.

What I'm listening to now: Cole Porter's musical, Anything Goes, recorded in 1962 with Eileen Rodgers.

Have a good (hot) weekend!


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What a week

This is turning into an eventful week, of sorts. It started last week, actually, when I attempted to record the LBSC's production of Euripides' The Bacchae, which closed this past Saturday night. This production included music that had been composed specifically for the LBSC by one of the company members, and there had been several audience requests for a soundtrack album. As the LBSC is a small community theater organization, no opportunity for fundraising can be overlooked. The topic had been discussed a couple of times, along the lines of 'so-and-so has the equipment', but no actual action was taken. It was clear from the backstage and greenroom atmosphere that this cast was not going to stick around beyond the cast party on closing night. Having hurriedly assembled a basic recording setup, I ran the idea of recording the last week's shows by the director, not expecting any difficulty. I figured that if I recorded all three performances, we'd have a better chance to end up with enough material to assemble a good final recording. Except that it turned out that she didn't want a recording of the actual show for various reasons. Instead, she suggested assembling the singing members of the cast for a couple of recording sessions before the last two shows. Fine by me, except that the music for the show is prerecorded and run from the tech booth during the show, and her preference was that we record upstairs in the greenroom, which she felt would be more suitable for audio recording. Since the greenroom is not connected to the theater sound system, this development required the presence of the actor who actually played the music on the recording, and who also played during the pre-show warmups. As seems par for the course in this sort of thing, he wasn't able to arrive a couple of hours before scheduled call on such short notice. So, in a last-ditch effort to make this work, we prevailed upon the tech director for the show to come in early - the music was recorded on his computer, and so he was the ideal person to work out those details. He was actually one of the people mentioned earlier who had the necessary equipment to make the recording, and he brought some of it with him. We ended up using a combination of some of his and some of mine, with the result that the final product will be a lot better than anything I would have been able to produce on my own. When it's all said and done though, I imagine that my main contribution to this project will have been making it happen - I didn't sing, nor did I do the actual recording.

The same night as The Bacchae closed, I learned of the likely demise of The Four Olives (, the restaurant owned and run by a couple of friends of mine, also from the theater. The down economy has had a severe effect on their business, and hoped-for expansion plans have not panned out. I had supper there Sunday night before going to work (I had the mid-shift), and may have been their final customer - I was the last one out, and they closed before I left. I hope that they can find a way to save the place, but I also know that it's been a financial black hole. Too bad, as their sixth anniversary in business would have been later this summer. I heard a long time ago that most new restaurants don't make it through their first year, and most of those that do aren't around after five years. The biggest challenge (and this applies to the theater as well) is just getting people in the door.

Later that night (well, actually it was the wee early hours of the morning), I had to discuss the imminent termination of training for my trainee. He's nearly out of training hours on ground control, despite our creative accounting of his training time. It's too bad, because he's one of the most dedicated trainees I've ever seen, and he's a great employee - other than his inability to do the job. I don't think I've ever worked with someone who wanted something so much, and worked so hard, and yet was still unsuccessful. A little over a month ago, I told his supervisor that I didn't have anything new to say, and had run out of new ways to say the old stuff. And it was old stuff; we were dealing with the same issues in May that I'd first written up in November or December. His other instructor has maintained for quite some time that he wasn't going to make it here, and early on I felt it was too soon to make that call, and in fact felt obligated to take the other side just to balance the training team, lest it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the meantime, we've had all the other instructors on our side of the schedule work with him some. This served two purposes: One, there was the chance that one of them would be able to make a difference; and Two, if not, then we would have corroboration of his inability to handle the traffic. All of this will come into play later this week when we have the training team meeting. It's been understood that his hours could be extended if he was showing progress at the time that became necessary, but it's now that time, and he's not showing the promise that we'd need to carry on. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to reassign him to one of the smaller airports in the basin; his family home is here in LA (about the outer markers for the 24's and 25's - how convenient is that?), and I think he's got the potential to do the job - he's just not ready for prime time. This brings up another recent development, concerning one of our previous wash-outs who was assigned to another tower in the LA area. This person has apparently made themselves rather exceptionally unpopular by spouting off about how 'that's not how we did it at LAX'. Never mind that the reason that this person is there in the first place is because they couldn't do it at LAX. As an instructor, I will say that there's not much I want to hear less than how you used to do it where ever you used to be, especially when you're using it as an excuse not to do it the way you're expected to do it here and now. I know it's human nature to compare something new with something familiar, but even so. The common viewpoint among ATC instructors is that what you did before doesn't matter; it's what you're doing now. Show me that you can do it my way first, and then I'll more amenable to listening to how it's done elsewhere.

Music stuck in my head for the better part of the last week: Blue Rondo a la Turk by Dave Brubeck. The opening minute or two seems to be on an endless loop. The only escape will be when it gets replaced by some other ditty or sound clip. Before this, it was one of the songs from The Bacchae; apparently the recording sessions were enough to finish that off.

Between the stuff at the theater, the restaurant, and the quick-turn for the mid-shift, I completely missed Father's Day. Fortunately I got a card in the mail last week, but I had hoped to call on the day. Last time I was back home, I gave my dad his Father's Day present early, as I had it in the truck at the time: a metric crescent wrench. I'm not making that up - it really was an adjustable wrench with metric markings. Who'd a thunk it?! Next year, I'm gonna get him a bottle of prop wash!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Captain's Log

Another week, and time for another journal entry. Journal? Well, if not that, then what? This certainly doesn't count as a diary. "Blog" is short for 'web log', but I don't know that I'd really consider this a log, either. Log of what? Basically, whatever I get around to committing to the keyboard. As I have CaptainVector as my web persona, maybe this should be the "Captain's Log."

Captain's Log, stardate 2008166 . . .

This is one of those times when the limitations of spell checkers become apparent. Think about how many words, when misspelled, are other words. Which then slip right through the spell check. In the opening paragraph, for instance: "Diary" vs, "Dairy". That's one of the things that makes doing this blog harder than it first seems. I re-read every entry several times during the process of composing and revising, and yet several times I've found errors after posting the entry on-line. I suspect that, knowing what the line is supposed to say, the mind sees that in lieu of what's actually there. I personally have the biggest difficulty with "from" and "form", along with "it" and "if".

I'm not feeling too inspired this evening, I'm afraid. I'll spare you more airplane pictures for the time being. I dropped my until-now trusty Olympus camera last week while trying to document some of my roses. If it had been turned off at the time, it may have fared better. Unfortunately, not only was it powered up, but it landed on the extended lens. Since then it has exhibited signs that all is not well inside - the lens makes a grinding noise when extending or retracting, and focusing is apparently now optional. Additionally, it no longer always bothers to save the entire photo; I've got several where only the top half of the picture was recorded. Curiously, it has recovered somewhat in the intervening week. As it is actually several years old now, I don't hold any hope of being able to actually get it repaired. Replacement seems imminent. This will be a chance to upgrade to a better lens and more megapixels, although what I've read on the subject of megapixels leads me to the conclusion that the idea of 'more megapixels means better camera' ain't necessarily so. That said, prepare for a slew of shots from the new camera when that happens.

Speaking of my roses, most of them are in bloom just now. I have a couple dozen grandifloras and floribundas, each a different variety. As I'm in temporary quarters (still), they're all in pots, and this allows me to rotate them to show off the ones that are carrying the best blooms. I'm thinking about trying a system of rotational feeding to see if I can always have some coming into bloom as the current batch begins to fade. Such a system probably wouldn't work much of anywhere other than southern California, and I'm not assured that I can make it work here. It'll be another one of my tedious projects - keeping track of which plants got fertilized when, and which are due next. I'll have to mark the pots and assign them to two or three groups; tracking with only the names would be too tedious to contemplate, as most of the name tags are not easily accessed (this is intentional, so that the neighborhood kids don't get any ideas). So far, my plan doesn't try to account for the different blooming characteristics of the various varieties. Here, plants' flowering tendencies seem to be less seasonal than in other places - that's what makes me think that I might be able to pull this off - I've several plants that are supposed to bloom once a year, and yet set blooms off and on for months.

Message to Bush, McCain, Obama, et al: It's the economy, stupid! And on that topic, why do they always quote economic figures with food and energy factored out of the equation? Do economists just not eat? I don't know about you, but most everybody I know is more worried about the escalating cost of living than global warming or the space station or any of the rest of it. (Interesting how the biggest news about the space station was when the single toilet failed - what happened to redundancy? And talk about a service call . . . )

I've been watching the first several seasons of Mythbusters lately: Now there's a cool job. I'm sure there's more to it than what we see on TV, but even so. Those guys have, under the guise of proving or dispelling assorted myths and so-called common knowledge, gotten to shoot at and/or blow up all kinds of stuff. I enjoy the show, even though I dispute some of their logic and findings. They've done five seasons so far; I wonder how much longer they can get away with it?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Airline Rumors

* * * Please note that I've revised this entry a couple of times, so if you read it before without this header, it's been changed. Thanks - CV

Despite being a controller at the nation's fourth busiest airport, I am not usually privy to any unpublicized information about the airlines that we serve. Nonetheless, I do get occasional requests for the latest airline or aviation news. So here goes:

Continental has announced that they will reduce capacity (read that as 'no empty center seats') by 11 percent, retire 67 aircraft, and cut 3000 jobs.

United announced plans for 1,100 layoffs as well as retiring 100 of their least efficient aircraft, mostly B737's. In addition, merger talks with USAir have been broken off. This after previous merger discussions with Continental were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, United's Ted subsidiary is also being shut down, much as Delta did with its Song operation.

The Delta Song 757's have all disappeared; here's one at Terminal 5 last year.

American, who was most recently in the news for instituting a fee for the first checked bag, and still smarting from this spring's grounded MD-80 debacle, is now planning to park many of those same, now freshly-inspected, airplanes. It is noteworthy that American is the lone big airline in this country to have kept itself out of bankruptcy (so far). As much as I don't like them, I have to give them credit for managing that. It's probably going to come back on them though, as all their competitors have managed to dump their pension obligations, and American is still carrying theirs. One positive bit of news is that American has just begun service to Moscow, albeit from Chicago.

AirTran and JetBlue have both postponed orders and/or deliveries of new aircraft. JetBlue, which was to begin service out of LAX last month, announced that they were putting those plans on hold for the time being. AirTran, however, has expanded service at LAX, adding flights to Milwaukee and Indianapolis.

The on-again off-again Delta and Northwest merger is reportedly on again. The biggest stumbling block is combining the two carriers' pilots. Neither pilot group wants its members to lose seniority, which is an inevitable result of combining the two lists.

On the international scene, Quantas, Malaysia, China Eastern, and China Southern, all of whom operate at LAX, have all announced various retrenchment measures. An industry trade group, the IATA, has said that there may be as many as 50 European airlines in danger of receivership.

A number of carriers are suspected of being on the verge of shutting down. We've already seen ATA's sudden shutdown after their loss of a key military contract. That same week, Aloha, SkyBus, and Frontier all declared bankruptcy; Aloha and Skybus have ceased operations, but Frontier is still flying for now. Charter carrier Champion quit flying at the end of May. I've heard that ground transportation companies are refusing to honor vouchers from AirTran. A popular rumor is that Spirit Wings is another likely candidate for the bankruptcy court. There are questions about Virgin America, the recent start-up, but I expect that Richard Branson's gazillions will keep them in the air, at least for the short term. Last year's British start up, MaxJet, has already faded away, having suddenly stopped flying amidst the Christmas holiday season. I've also heard some questions about JetBlue's financial stability.

A Spirit Wings Airbus, taken back when they operated during the day at LAX. Now they're only here late at night.

The Virgin America gates at LA's Terminal 6

A MaxJet B767 arriving at LA's International Terminal, late last year.

The factors driving all this are the lousy economy and the escalating cost of fuel. The latter has a fair bit to do with the former, and I don't see either situation improving this year. My impression is that the best investment in aviation right now would be in aircraft storage and salvage facilities. With all the current and pending bankruptcies and fleet reductions there are a whole lot of airplanes getting parked. Some temporarily, and some probably forever. I've seen examples of each leave LAX recently. Just today we had a Northwest cargo 747 depart for the boneyard; probably on its final flight. It wasn't the first, either. Northwest in particular has some of the oldest aircraft in mainline operation in this country. Champion and ATA both had aircraft on the ground at LAX when their respective axes fell.

Final Flight: this Northwest cargo 747 departs runway 25 Right, headed for the boneyard

A Champion 727 on the Imperial Terminal ramp, a couple of weeks before they ceased operations

ATA was the last regular operator of L-1011's at LAX, one of which is seen here on the ramp along with one of their B757's, a few months before they shut down. Both of these aircraft are now parked in a desert storage facility.

Friday, June 6, 2008