A few days before Christmas, a couple of pilots came to visit us at the TRACON. This was the crew of the DHL-owned Airborne Express DC-9 that has been parked next to the TRACON since I've been here.
This DC-9 was a staple here, our only real cargo operation aside from the half dozen light cargo haulers that come in and out everyday. Every night at the same time, trucks would line up to transfer their packages onto the airplane. A short while later, those old turbofans would spool up, splitting the night sky with an ear piercing whine. The big yellow bird would roll out and be on its way. They were usually the last airliner out the door.
Come morning, they would be the first ones in. More trucks would be waiting to pick up their cargo at daybreak. Afterwards, ground crews would break out the airplane shampoo and scrub the soot off the tail left by the old, dirty engines.
In early November 2008, I read that DHL was cutting 9500 jobs. They'd had some trouble over the years, with competition from UPS/FedEx as well as from internal strife with their new German owners. Since the 2003 merger with DHL, many of the kinks had apparently been ironed out and they were building new business. However, the economic realities of Fall 2008 had turned against them. "Survival of the fittest", as they say.
I wondered how and when this would effect the guys that flew out of here.
A month later, amongst the holiday cookies and delicious sandwiches they brought, was a card the crew had made out to the controllers of the TRACON. In carefully written script, the captain thanked us for all of our work, and added sadly that as of January 31, 2009 the AbEx DC-9s of Pensacola would be no more. DHL was closing up shop in the United States and pulling out of its agreement with AbEx. With no buyers for the old airframes, they were flying the distinct yellow airplanes out to the desert and scrapping them. No longer would I be greeted on the way into work by that yellow tail poking out over the fence. The captain had been flying "the -9" out of here for 23 years.
As December became January, the DC-9s continued flying. I'd almost forgotten the news about DHL. However, the effects of the economic downturn were plain in this small city. Small businesses of all types were closing down. Strip malls all over the place were vacant. People were holding on tightly to the money they had. The only Cuban restaurant in town shuttered its doors a few weeks ago. Linens 'n' Things failed to my wife's dismay. Circuit City announced its liquidation. Walmart and Amazon.com got busier. It seemed as if at every major intersection there was a guy holding up a bankruptcy or liquidation sale sign with "50%" and "70%" emblazoned on them in neon orange and yellow. The efforts and jobs of many were simply disappearing.
Last Friday, I came into work, and the old Douglas DC-9 was gone. In its place sat a tiny, little King Air.
How much things have changed in only three months.
Hopefully the remaining eleven months of 2009 will show a shift for the better.
4 days ago