Saturday, June 25, 2011

Airline Repair Facility Tour

Wow! I'm really far behind posting stories. Don't worry though, I'm still alive and lot's been going on...LOTS!

On our first day in Frankfurt we did a BBQ with our hosts at their place. While drinking a couple of bottles of wine and eating some fabulous food, we were offered a chance to visit host #2's workplace for a tour. He's an aerospace engineer and works in projects and maintenance for a large commercial airline based in the city, which, due to a long legalese non-disclosure form that I signed, I can't mention by name. (Also, you'll note that the photos for this story have been partially blacked so that I could use them. There are so many more cool ones from the visit that I can't post.)

Have you ever thought about what it'd be like to go behind the scenes at your local international airport to see what goes on? Ever wonder what they're doing over in those huge hangers on the other side of the airport? I definitely did and couldn't wait to see it. My only other previous behind-the-scenes view of an airport was one time when I flew from Carlsbad to Las Vegas with the owner of my last company on his small plane. Landing on the main runway at McCarran with 737s in front of and behind us was an experience I'll never forget.

After arriving at the airport via the metro, we took an employee bus to one of the industrial-style entrances on the other side. There's a visitor's center (sorry-no photos allowed) there that's mainly for vendors and other official visitors but it's also set up for the occasional friend or family that comes to visit an employee. The waiting room had two sets of three coach-class airplane seats and not much else. I was hoping for an upgrade but it wasn't going to happen on this trip. Oh yeah, there were no pretzels or peanuts provided while we waited.

When host #2 arrived, we had to pass through a security checkpoint that is identical (sorry-no photos allowed) to the one you go through to fly on a commercial flight--identification check, metal detector, x-ray tunnel, etc.--but without the U.S.-government sponsored "massages". And with that, we were on our way into the first big hanger where there were several planes undergoing different types of maintenance. It was very cool to be able to walk get up and personal with both the planes and the staff.

We then went through one of the buildings where they disassemble, inspect, and reassemble the engines. It's amazing how many small blades there are inside a jet engine. Each one needs to be taken out, sent out for inspection/rework, and then reassembled back into the engine. The engines are then set aside for use in the next plane that needs them.

From there, we got to see one of the main "control" rooms where all the facilities planning is managed. Having done a ton of facilities planning over the years, it made me happy to see that they were using model planes with magnets attached to them on a large magnetic white board (sorry-no photos allowed) to allocate space for each of the planes needing servicing.

From there, we got to check out the cockpits and crew quarters of a couple of the planes. It was interesting to see the differences that host #2 pointed out between the two main companies that manufactured the planes we saw. For example, one company uses a joystick-based control system where the other uses a "steering wheel" style of control.

Have you ever wondered where the crew disappears to on those long, international flights? They might just be hanging out in the crew clubhouses built into the recesses of the planes. We got to see one area that was behind and above the rear bathrooms in a 747. There were several bunks and a tiny bit of space for the crew to nap/relax. One of the other planes we saw had a system where they place a "crew-container" into the belly of the plane. The crew accesses it via stairs or a small elevator located in a closet next to one of the middle bathrooms. The container looks just like one of those large metal cargo boxes that they load into the plane except that these ones have some bunks and space for the crew.

Another walking-around photo:

One of the things that I learned on the tour that I had no idea is that they regularly reconfigure the seats in the plane depending on the route and demand for seats. Host #2 told me that it can be done in "a couple of hours", which allows for them to offer more or less of certain classes of seating. Prior to this, I assumed that the seating in a plane was relatively static, rarely if ever moved.

The last part of our tour was probably the most important--the employee dining room! We got to sample a bunch of company-subsidized food from the cafeteria, which, as with tour and everything else from that day, was first-class! What an amazing opportunity! Life's pretty good, isn't it? :-)

A special thanks to our hosts (who requested to remain nameless) for the amazing time we had on our trip to Frankfurt and to Diana for knowing lots of pretty amazing folks. Let's all meet up again soon--maybe in northern Thailand???

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