Ground Clutter

Aug. 26, 2009
VIP treatment

In late July President Obama flew into the Tri-City Airport (TRI) near Bristol, TN. I visited the airport the next week to get reports on the visit. Melissa Thomas, director of marketing and air services development, describes the Presidential activity as “exciting” for an airport. However, she points out that this wasn’t their first rodeo.

TRI has served several Presidents, various senators, candidates, and First Ladies plus one Veep. Melissa says that her department “didn’t have much to do,” but only had to inform the public about anticipating arrival and departure times, possible traffic interruptions, road closings, and other things they might need to know. That didn’t seem like “nothing much to do” to me.

Melissa says that the Secret Service and Air Force One crew were cooperative, friendly, and very professional. Everyone at TRI agreed with her.

At Tri-City Aviation (TCA), the FBO that provided the services to the fleet of aircraft involved with Presidential travels, I met general manager Mike Lloyd, an employee of 35 years. Mike says it was a very busy four or five days, which became more intense every day. He also says there was not a single glitch.

Mike says that the fleet included, in addition to Air Force One, three C-117 cargo planes, a jet carrying all of the press, one Marine helicopter, two limos, one fuel truck, and a lot of equipment. About that fuel truck: Some 30 years ago, Air Force One informed Huntsville Aviation (where I worked) that they would buy all the fuel from us. The boss was delighted, of course, until they mentioned that the jet fuel truck would be filled, then left sitting — unused — for two days with an armed guard watching it round the clock. The FBO declined because that would leave its customers without jet fuel. That hasn’t changed. TCA couldn’t do that either, so — get this — a fuel truck was flown in on one of the C-117s.

After all of the preparation, all the record checking and clearances for needed FBO employees, Mike and some of his crew waited on the exact designated arrival spot for Air Force One. One of the lead Secret Service officers approached Mike to say apologetically, “Mike, we’ve got to ask you for one more favor. Could you please not put your hands in your pockets? That makes our snipers on the roof very nervous.”

Mike was proud to report that he received a personal guided tour of Air Force One. I would be, too — never been inside it. TRI Police Chief Gary Barron describes it as “a long several days,” but says it went glitchless and that everyone was pleasant and professional. Because crowd control, safety, and security required more people than TRI has, Gary got help from city, county, and state police. Obama is the fourth President who Gary has served, and he has signed photos to prove it.

All in all, it’s a story of professionals at work. I left feeling good about our industry.