After a break for a few years, we held our third SimAirline.net reunion in Atlanta on 19-21 June. As usual, it coincided with the annual Airliners International Convention. This year was our highest attendance for the event, with the following people present:
• Nick Anderson, a Delta ramp agent in training to become a dispatcher
• Kyle Bjorklund, a dispatcher for Kalitta Air Charter
• Brandon Jones, an Air National Guard KC-135 and Air Wisconsin CRJ pilot
• Decker Loyd, an engineering and ROTC student
• Karen Loyd, Decker’s wife and an accounting student
• Dennis Negrón, a Boeing engineer
• Aaron Robinson, part of United management
Brandon and Dennis reported on this year’s event. In addition to the photos shown below, you can view a photo album by Kyle and Dennis here.
No firm plans have been made for 2016, but the two leading options are New Orleans on 22-24 July with next year’s Convention, or Washington, DC on dates to be determined.
DN: It has been nearly 10 years since I first joined SimAirline.net, a place where I made great friends. When the site closed in 2010, I thought it would be ideal to meet some of the people I had worked with, but being a college student meant that money was limited, so I had to miss out on several meetings. However, by this year I had moved to St. Louis and Atlanta was within reach.
BJ: I was an active pilot, fleet manager, and director of training for the best virtual airline to ever have existed, SimAirline.net. Although it's been over 10 years since I joined, I still have a solid understanding of our airlines’ route systems (which helps me with non-revving wherever I need to go), even compared to most of my fellow airline employees. Despite this fact, and the many close friendships I'd developed through the organization, I had not attended a reunion event due to scheduling conflicts. That was about to change!
As a seasoned commuter, I knew that getting from Detroit to Atlanta would be a challenge due to the large number of Delta employees who clog every seat (including the jumpseats). So I decided to grab the bull by the horns and build a connection. I rode a Shuttle America ERJ-145 to Columbus, Ohio, which of course was delayed. Having missed my connection, I was lucky to get a cockpit jumpseat on a Southwest 737-300—a fitting start to this trip, since I'd never ridden up front on a 737 Classic before.
Upon boarding the hotel van in Atlanta, I noticed that the other passengers were all having airline-related discussions: Boeing vs. Airbus, Delta's future fleet plans, the A350 vs. the 787; great discussions back and forth. I quickly realized that I was going to be in airline heaven for the next 24 hours.
DN: I arrived in Atlanta at 7:45pm on Friday and immediately proceeded to the Renaissance Concourse Hotel with Brandon, who also arrived around the same time. Decker and his wife Karen (married just the past weekend) had spent a few days there before us and, along with Kyle, were already waiting for us. After checking in, Nick Anderson drove us to his home nearby.
The guy is amazing when it comes to airplane stuff. While we waited for Aaron to arrive, Nick showed us what I’ve dubbed his mancave, with models of Northwest and posters and safety cards and captain hats and pins…and best of all, his flight simulator machine. We now know the secret to his amazing screenshots and contributions during our SimAirline.net years. After watching the evening traffic arrive and depart Atlanta airport from the roof of his complex, Aaron arrived and handed us the agenda for the weekend. It would be a very busy Saturday followed by a more relaxed Sunday.
BJ: Between the models, posters, and other aviation-themed memorabilia, Nick’s aviation room is like a mini-museum in and of itself. And his flightsim setup, well, let’s just say it made me wish I hadn't stopped simming years ago. We had a great time exploring his add-on scenery, buzzing around in an F-104 with an amazing sound package, and flying the mighty 707. Nick's awesome hospitality set our reunion off to a great start.
DN: We agreed to meet up for breakfast at IHOP, and after gobbling down our meal we headed to the Delta Flight Museum, the site of the convention. If you’ve never been there, two things stand out:
1) Delta aircraft everywhere. There were a 757 and DC-9 in the parking lot, and the 767 “Spirit of Delta” inside, plus smaller aircraft.
2) The convention is HUGE! Everywhere I looked there were tables upon tables of airline memorabilia and airplane models and safety cards; original, authentic, custom-made, replica; cheap, expensive.
It was really beneficial for me that not all booths accepted credit cards because I would have gone crazy. There were so many models I wanted to buy but didn’t have enough cash on hand. Luckily, one table I went to did take credit cards and I ended up with a Delta A330 and a Delta 747 model, in addition to a few smaller items. While Aaron and Brandon perused the tables, the rest of us went inside the “Spirit of Delta” and relaxed in the first class seats. After exploring the aircraft, we all went to lunch at the original Chick-Fil-A (known in the area as The Dwarf House, complete with decorations and everything).
After finishing lunch, it was time for our next stop: Aaron had previously worked at the Delta Operations/Customer Center, and had arranged a special tour for us. Every call made to Delta flights was in that room: where crews would overnight, where flights would divert if necessary, whether a flight should be canceled, and fueling logistics, among other things. They even have plans about what to do in case of severe weather, and we had a firsthand look. As we arrived, a local storm was quickly developing. Thunder, rain and wind pounded the building.
BJ: Having spent some time in my regional airline's operations center, I was astounded at the size of Delta’s. Our guide provided an excellent and informative description of each job position, and answered our questions very thoroughly. Aaron had briefed him beforehand on our backgrounds, and he conducted the tour at a level of detail far above what I expected. Personally, I had a lot of questions about the relationship between Delta and their regional partners when severe weather and other challenges arise, and he was able to answer them honestly and knowledgeably. Having had my flights cancelled or held numerous times because a mainline aircraft had priority made me wonder who makes those decisions and what factors are considered. I got a much better understanding of the big picture from our tour.
We were then treated to a real-time demonstration of the center at its best while a storm passed overhead. The level of coordination between dispatchers, ATC liaisons, meteorologists, planners, supervisors, schedulers, and pilots was simply astounding—all designed to keep the operation moving.
Next we headed over to Delta TechOps for another tour. One thing I never realized about Delta was the amount of work they do for other companies. The engine shop was breathtaking, and the level of organization was astounding. There were individual sections for each engine type, with many engines in various levels of disassembly. Even on a Saturday afternoon, crews were hard at work inspecting engines and putting them back together. Non-Delta engines were shrink-wrapped and loaded into crates to be delivered to the customer. We were also able to see the engine test cell, where the engines are run and the fuel management schedules adjusted in the FADECs. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to start up any of the engines in the test cell...but it was a great tour nonetheless!
DN: Many of us see an airline and think only about the crew on the airplanes, the customer service at the airport, and the management. This however is the often forgotten side, where Delta brings in its fleet for repairs, painting, overhaul, and inspections before heading out for revenue flights. The building itself is a maze; one side leads you to the tools; another side leads you to the hangars.
One of the treats of the tour was that we were allowed inside one of the 737-800s that had been stripped down for inspection. The cockpit and the cabin were just bare skeletons with wires. Close by, a C-40B (U.S. Air Force 737-700) was also being repaired, though because of the obvious security measures, only cleared personnel were allowed nearby. Brandon had to depart during the tour to return home.
After a rest break, we set off to a restaurant called South City Kitchen for dinner. One can’t be in the South without trying Southern cooking, so if you are ever in Atlanta, this is a place to be. We toasted to Karen and Decker’s marriage—they would be jetting off to Dubai soon for their honeymoon, and we wished them all the best. We then stuffed ourselves with delicious meals (the buttermilk fried chicken was outstanding). To end the day, we returned to Nick’s place to unwind and chat.
Sunday arrived and our agenda was essentially no more. The original plan had been to visit the CNN Studio Tour or the World of Coca-Cola, but as we had stayed up late and were tired from the heat of the previous day, we decided to take it easy. Many of us had early flights, so in the end only Kyle and Aaron headed downtown. Nick stayed home, while Karen, Decker and I headed off to the airport. After a small lunch, we watched a few departures in Concourse F before I went to my gate for my flight back to St. Louis.
On a personal note, I’d like to thank Nick for his hospitality and generosity (I left with a collection of Delta safety cards that he gave me); I’d like to thank the folks at Delta for allowing us to view a side of the airline pretty much unknown to the general public; but more importantly, I’d like to thank Aaron for organizing this event. I’m looking forward to next year, whether we meet in New Orleans or create our own event elsewhere. I strongly encourage everyone to attend one of these events; I had a great time and would definitely do it again.
BJ: Overall, the reunion was a huge success for me, and I can't wait for the next one. I regret that I wasn't able to stay longer, but I'd promised my wife that I'd be home for Father's Day. Speaking of wives, I want to congratulate Karen and Decker on their marriage. Special thanks go to Aaron for organizing this event, and Nick for his great hospitality. I hope to see everyone again soon, and hopefully meet some new faces from our great virtual airline!