Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Three Months

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.

November 2008

January 2009

Hopefully the remaining eleven months of 2009 will show a shift for the better.


Anonymous said...

me thinks it will be worse before it gets better. tell the controller that used to work at kday, tango november says hi.

YF said...

ABX is our main traffic early in the morning in my area at ZID, Wilmington is always very busy first thing in the morning with tons of heavy jets coming out of there. But now they are no more, and because of it we no longer need two people here at 5am to work that push. in fact the first day shifter doesn't come in until at least 6.

slow, slow days ahead, everyone here is scared of a downgrade to ATC-11

Steve said...

So because everyone stopped buying local and started buying from Amazon.com, air freight went down? Me thinks you could have picked a better argument.

The economy stinks, Florida more than most places I hear. But that alone didn't kill your DC9 flight. In 20-something years, there has been more than one recession and probably a full on "depression" too.

Wicked Penguin said...

@Steve: You're reading a little too much into my post. Relax.

What I'm saying is that the signs of a bad economy are everywhere. ABX being gone is just one more sign that happens to be readily apparent to me and to our already meager Air Carrier traffic count. That's all.