Monday, April 28, 2008

Windmill Education

No visit to Netherlands would be complete without a trip to Amsterdam.

So we hopped on a train for a short ten minute ride from Haarlem to the big city. The trains in Europe are amazingly efficient and easy to use. The US could sure use more of them. Our mass transportation system is pathetic by European standards. The price of a gallon of gas this week over there was a little over $10. No wonder they use the train!

Once in the city we took the obligatory canal cruise.

It allowed for some great views of the sprawling city.
After the cruise we spent several hours just walking through the different sections of the city. And then back on the train to Haarlem for the night.

Later that week we took a short drive over to the small fishing village of Volendam. It was loaded with tourists that day. Presumably because the weather was so nice....I had always heard that it always rains in the Netherlands but so far we had not even opened our umbrellas.

We also stopped at the next town over...Edam (like the cheese).

Everywhere you look there's canals, lakes, ponds, and the sea. It was interesting to see how the Dutch people over the hundreds of years have adapted their lifestyle to live around so much water. They seem to have done a nice job of it.

Heading back to Haarlem we passed more flower fields.
The colors were unbelievable!
After that we passed some more windmills. These were the old kind.
Having grown up in the mostly dry Southwestern US, I always thought that windmills were used for pumping up ground water for drinking and irrigation. So I was surprised to learn that the old mills in The Netherlands were used to pump excess water from the lowlands back to the sea. Most of these old mills are still functional. As previously mentioned, BD's cousins live in a windmill. They have lived in it for over thirty years. As part of their rent, they are required by the government windmill preservation society to operate the mill from time to time to keep everything in good working order. Her cousins husband gave us the full tour of the mill with a complete explanation of the inner workings including the Archimedes screw and all the other intricacies. It was interesting to learn that the Dutch call the blades "wings" and the cap is sometimes referred to as the "turret".

The new kind of mills are even more much so that on almost any horizon, you can probably see one. They are used to generate electricity.

After that it was back to base to rest up for the next day's activities.

More to follow in a few more days.

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dutch Vacation

It seems like I just went on a vacation only two months ago but in reality it was almost three! The events of the past couple of months with the MD-80 fleet have made a vacation a welcome diversion.

Since I haven't been back to work in a couple of weeks, I'll have to supplement my blog with more vacation stories. My apologies once again.

This time it was to be a week in The Netherlands with a side trip over to Belgium. We left from DFW on KLM's new service from DFW nonstop to Amsterdam. I've never been a huge fan of any Airbus product but I must admit that KLM's new A-330's are very nice. And the service on KLM was outstanding! Our US airlines are put to shame by the service from the foreign carriers. The overnight flight lasted just under 9 hours and was smooth as glass. Western Europe was experiencing some unusually clear weather and the descent and approach over England, the North Sea and then the western coast of The Netherlands was quite scenic.
Our home base was to be in the city of Haarlem which is fairly close to Amsterdam. BD has some family there. Her cousins live in a 19th century windmill. More about windmills in a later post.

One of our excursions was a drive up to the island of Texel in one of the northern provinces. We had to take a short ferry ride where I got a shot of this dredging ship. There's always a lot of dredging going on all over the place. There must be an ongoing problem with the sediment.

Driving along, we came by a small airport with this ex Royal Netherlands Air Force F-104 Starfighter parked outside. The airport only had a small grass runway so I imagine that the 104 had to be trucked in. The fighter seemed a little out of place here.

The northern end of the island has a small lighthouse. We walked around the beach for awhile but the wind was howling (and extra cold), so we made it quick. Heading back south again we passed several small towns with their requisite churches. There are more sheep on the island than people. Lots of horses too.

These were Friesian horses. They were huge.

So back across on the ferry again and then on back to Haarlem for the night.
On the way we passed numerous windmills...the old kind and the new. Also we passed several fields with tulips and various other flowers in bloom. Lots of colors!!

More to follow in a few days.

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The MD-80 Saga Continues

Wow, what a week this has been for the MD-80 pilots at AA. Not to mention the traveling public.

Last month there was a grounding of a large number of the fleet due to wiring issues related to an Airworthiness Directive. It was supposedly completed and all was well with the fleet...or so we thought.

My trip this week was to be a three day affair with layovers in San Antonio and Salt Lake City. Day one went nicely with a turnaround to Atlanta and then on to San Antonio. It was the NCAA final four weekend and the city was packed with basketball fans. I had some extra time so I went out and did the tourist thing myself along the Riverwalk and the Alamo.

Back to DFW and then on to SLC for a short layover. SLC is a hub for Delta Air Lines. I shot this 767 launching from runway 16L.

The next day was to be a long one with five legs planned.
We had completed two legs and were just about to pushback from Albuquerque with a full load when the agent came on board to tell us that AA had grounded the entire MD-80 fleet. Another apology and soon everybody had gotten off the plane.

Sensing an impending extended stay in ABQ, I had the FO call our hotel and get us rooms for the night before they filled up. Then I called our dispatcher to see if he knew anything. He said that the FAA had been doing an audit at DFW of AA's previous MD-80 repairs and found that the repairs weren't up to their standards so they (the FAA) grounded several planes right then and there. AA subsequently chose to ground the entire fleet in order to re-inspect all the previously repaired airplanes.

This was looking bad! We all went to our hotel which was within walking distance of the airport and settled in and waited for news from AA. At least I had a view of the mountains.

Initially the plan was to ferry as many planes as possible back to the big hubs where maintenance could perform the inspections. So we were told that the next day we would be ferrying our plane back to DFW.

The next day we all went over to the airport, (including another MD-80 crew and several commuters trying to get to work), and we waited and waited and waited most of the day for the ferry permit from the FAA and the official word that we had legal authority to ferry the plane back to DFW. The ferry permit was finally received but then we got word that the DFW hub was expecting severe weather and that AA didn't want any more MD-80's parked there at the mercy of the possible hailstorm and tornadoes that were forecast. So back to the hotel we went.

The next morning brought some better news. We had the go-ahead to fly. Soon we were holding short of the runway and waiting for this C-17 to get out of our way!

We just wanted to get airborne before anything else happened.

Fortunately we made it all the way to DFW. After landing I had never seen so many MD-80's in one location! They were parked everywhere. All grounded awaiting inspections.

So the three day trip turned into a five day ordeal. It was reminiscent of my 9/11 trip where I was stuck away from home for almost a week.

As of today, AA has well over half the fleet still grounded. The apologies from AMR headquarters are coming fast and furious. Now I don't blame AA entirely...the FAA and their embarrassment from the recent Southwest Airlines incident is what brought on most of this whole situation. This monumental mess will cost AA in the tens of millions.

I'm going on vacation next week to Europe. Good thing I'm not flying on AA. I wonder if they'll still be in business when I return?

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Always Apologizing

Just as my last trip went surprisingly well, the following one was pretty awful. There are times when I almost feel embarrassed that I work for an airline given the bad publicity that we receive. And today was a good example of that.

It was supposed to be just an easy turnaround from DFW to Philadelphia and back. I was hoping to be home by 10 PM if all went well. But right after sign in at noon I could see that things might not go smoothly. Our departure had been delayed for 45 minutes for ATC flow control delays to the east coast. PHL was reporting good weather but there was a large area of weather in the deep south that was moving up the east coast and causing issues with ATC.

I joked to the First Officer that this was turning into a possible all-nighter. Little did we know.....

I called clearance delivery at DFW to verify our delay and they replied that ATC had just added two hours to our expected departure time! So I told our gate agent and she just got mad and said that we would be boarding on time and that we'd have to take our delay off the gate somewhere. Not so fast I said....time to go over her head and ask the ramp tower if we could stay on the gate for a while and not board our full flight. They said "no can have the gate for as long as you want".

Hearing this the agent got even more angry and called her supervisor to complain. But I guess it didn't do any good since her phone call was very brief. I can understand why an agent wouldn't want to deal with a bunch of delayed passengers, but for her to want to load them all on a confined airplane just to get them out of her hair is just not the way to treat our paying passengers. She was not seeing the big picture.

Moving on....our delay was now up to four hours and we were finally boarded and almost ready to push back when one of our rampers came up to tell me he spotted a couple of nicks on two of our compressor blades on the #2 engine. He had been standing on a cargo loader and was looking into the engine inlet when he saw them. So out came maintenance 15 minutes later and they reported that the nicks were within tolerance and we were good to go. I said we'd take the plane as long as they'd sign the logbook stating such. Well that changed everything....the mechanic stormed off and didn't come back for 20 more minutes. When he returned he said that the nicks were now out of tolerance and that the plane was out of service! We weren't surprised....that kind of thing happens way too often with maintenance. They hate for us to write things up in the logbook because that generates more work for them. But if we don't write things up, they don't get fixed and that's just bad for everyone. Things just kept getting worse this day.

They found us another plane in short order but it was in another terminal so that took another 30 minutes to get everyone off the first plane and on the second one. Then right before pushback again our #1 flight attendant called to tell us that she was missing a trash container in the forward galley and that it was a required item for departure. 30 minutes later we had our trash container and finally on the taxi way headed for the runway. By now we were over five hours late. Our passengers were furious. So was this puppy we were carrying in the belly!

I had been making numerous PA's all afternoon long but they only go so far in calming people down. I told the flight attendants to "comp" the first round of drinks. Maybe that helped a little.

A now retired captain once told me that AA should really stand for "Always Apologizing". How true!!

So then we get to PHL 5 1/2 hours late and sure enough, our gate is occupied! Another apology to the passengers....10 minutes later and we're finally parked.

They loaded us up quickly and in less than one hour we were westbound for DFW. 3 1/2 hours later at 2:00 AM we were parked back at DFW.

I finally made it home by 3:00 AM. That was a long day!

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Great Southwest

Enough complaining about AA...time for some sightseeing in the western US.

Last week ended with a turnaround to Las Vegas and back. As usual we were completely full. I can't ever remember not being full going to Las Vegas. It's an incredibly p
opular destination.

We launched behind this ATA DC-10. It's a former Northwest airplane now painted in ATA colors. I just read where ATA ceased operations so I imagine this DC-10 will be parked soon.

We climbed on up to 32,000 ft and enjoyed a smooth ride under clear skies across the Texas panhandle. We even passed this guy above us. It's pretty rare for an MD-80 to pass anyone but I think this was an RJ. They cruise a little bit slower than we do.

New Mexico went by and then came Arizona. It was a little hazy by then but I managed to get a shot of Meteor Crater near Winslow. It's a little blurry but you can still make it out pretty well. It's almost one mile wide and over 500 ft deep.

The descent started just after the Grand Canyon and took us over Lake Mead. The Colorado River feeds this lake. The water level is pretty low these days as you can see from the water line.
Then on my side along came Hoover Dam. For many years the road between Arizona and Nevada crossed right over the dam. The state line runs right down the middle of the dam. But in the photos you can see where there is a new bridge being built over the river. It should cut down on the traffic jams.
Once again it is a little blurry due to the haze but you get the idea. After that it was time to land and find our gate.

Just under one hour later we were full again and climbing eastbound across Arizona. The sun had set, smooth conditions prevailed, and we even had a nice tailwind on the going home leg. And to make an easy day even better, our gate was open at DFW, our ground crew was in place to wave us in, the gate agent was there to open the door, and I didn't have to wait too long for the employee bus to get me to the parking lot.

So sometimes the job isn't all that bad.

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple.