The Liberty Gazette
September 27, 2016Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: The pilot and his passenger have been enjoying the view cruising a couple thousand feet above the countryside. They plan to stop at a small airport just outside a medium sized town. The passenger spots it first, and slapping the pilot on the shoulder he points out the faint outline of a cracked paved runway and a neatly cropped grass runway crossing it. As they fly over the top of the airport the pilot peers down at the windsock which is pointing out the best runway for landing into the wind - it’s favoring the grass runway. The dynamic duo rein their trusty steed down into the traffic pattern and touch down onto the manicured grass. As they approach the airport buildings, one small building stands out, looks more like a large toll booth, and out onto the ramp comes a kid in greasy overalls and a ball cap. He waves and then thrusts his arms straight out in front of him, bidding the airplane’s crew to line up and taxi nose first into the parking spot in front of the fuel pumps.
Back in the day, cowboys patrolling a ranch boundary in search of stray cattle would have a cabin for shelter from the elements, called the “line shack”. The airport version meets a similar need. As it used to be at gas stations with their line of attendants waiting for the next customer so they could air up their tires, fill their tanks with a couple dollars worth of gas and make sure their windows left clean and streak-free, aviation’s counterpart is the lineman. Many an airline or corporate pilot career began working the line, placing chocks under wheels, fueling, cleaning windows, fetching ice and coffee for a departing flight.
Today’s airport line shack is more likely a room in a bigger building, a passenger terminal with a great view of the airport ramp, the “shack” relegated to aviation history status. But unlike the gas stations we use today, where profits are made from self-serve pumps, and sales of chips and soda, at many airports the art of line service has grown. Yes, there are airports that only offer self-serve fuel at a competitive price to attract customers, but counter this with a full service “Fixed Base Operator” (FBO) such as Galaxy Aviation at Conroe’s Lone Star Executive Airport with its rooftop Black Walnut Cafe and a herd of linemen (and women) watching for arriving aircraft and scurrying out to the ramp to marshal them up underneath an awning and place a red carpet at the airplane’s exit. Here service is their bread and butter and you’ll see images of service stations you knew from the past living on.
Big FBOs at big airports are big business, often employing hundreds in specialized areas of service. Hobby airport sports five different FBOs competing for business. In addition to fuel they offer first class passenger amenities, comfortable lounges, catering, maintenance and concierge services. Line personnel run about loading bags, driving passenger’s cars up plane-side or offering a golf cart ride to the modern well-appointed passenger lounge, or placing newspapers, coffee and ice in the aircraft at the pilot’s request. Some offer mini-gyms and snooze rooms for pilots.
Self-service fuel is a good thing but sometimes we seek places that offer other services too. However, I do miss looking for a little line shack. In all my flying years I have not seen much middle ground in the world of aviation. There is no aviation equivalent to Buc-cee’s.