Friday, September 11, 2009

Oh, by the way....

I'm sitting here watching Fox News coverage of the memories on 9/11, and one thing just struck me: Once it was clear that airliners were our enemies' chosen asymmetrical WMDs, the decision to immediately land every airliner was just a stunning and completely unforeseen achievement.

Diverting an airliner is no small feat. Before I head off to some divert field, I have to know that I have enough fuel to get there (obviously). Less obviously, there are some airports which are not suitable for some airplanes. The length of the runway, the width of the taxiways, the weight-bearing capabilities of the same, and the available ramp space are all concerns here. Also, given that a divert field may be a suitable divert location for my plane, it is very possible to overwhelm that airport with too many planes.

Once they landed, the questions only then began to be brought. Were they there for an hour? A day? What? Can they get fuel? Are they at a location that has services by their airline? Can they get a flight plan and be dispatched? If they're staying for a while, how do they take care of their passengers? Do they buy them bus tickets? Rent them cars? Find them hotel rooms? Pizzas?

The inside story in the airline industry is that this was simply a stunning achievement, done completely off-the-cuff. The phone lines into our dispatch were melted down. Crews spent days in hotels trying to get a phone call into our scheduling people to see what they wanted the crews to do. Many simply just gave up and rented cars to make their way home. I was at home on 9/11/01 so I missed this confusion, but I did fly the following weekend when they opened up the airspace, and it was still chaotic.

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