RIP, ADP - Part II
Of course, 9/11 happened shortly thereafter. Suddenly UND had a glut of instructors as recent graduates returned, newly furloughed. Few of the full-time instructors were getting the time or pay they needed, to say nothing of the part-time instructors. At the same time, I realized that I really didn't want to stay in Grand Forks any longer than I needed to. In April of 2002, I was hired by Piedmont Airlines on the condition that I needed 1000 hours total time before being assigned a class date. I called around to some major flight schools around the country, but most had no need of extra instructors in the year after 9/11. The manager at ADP, Mark, said I was welcome back anytime. I left the same day I graduated from UND.
The school had changed from the last summer. There were less students, fewer of them were foreign nationals, and the Egyptians had completely disappeared. The drop in revenue was having a clear effect on profitability: fewer and fewer planes were being kept airworthy. When a plane had a crash or major maintenance issue, it was parked and used for parts. The flightline started looking more and more like a boneyard as major portions of the fleet sat engine-less and forlorn on their tails. The Seneca fleet, once ten airplanes strong, was decimated by a series of gear-up accidents and engine failures.
In my last post, Ron noted that of his flight school's fleet of 35 airplanes, not a single airframe has been lost since he's been there. Air Desert Pacific's fleet was about that size when I started. When I was there, ADP lost a Warrior in the San Gabriel mountains in poor weather (it still hasn't been found), had several Senecas land gear-up, had an Arrow land so hard the gear came through the wing, suffered several prop strikes, a nose gear collapse, a major engine fire, and a Joshua tree that totalled a Warrior during a forced landing in the desert. In the last case, a shady local prop shop was to blame; it was shut down after several other accidents, including a fatal Travelair crash. Most of these incidents were simply pilot error. Several of them were cross-country renters that'd been given a cursory checkout; a few of them had inexperienced instructors on board. One of the Seneca gear-ups was on a commercial checkride. The maintenance at Air Desert Pacific may have been sketchy but it didn't seem to be a factor in most of the accidents. I kind've think it was just the nature of the place: with so many accelerated students and short-term renters on holiday, we had a lot of different people flying those airplanes, and some of them were clods.
The diminishing fleet of aircraft resulted in less flight time, but I was okay with that. Dawn, then my girlfriend, had moved out to SoCal, so I was glad to have more free time than the last summer. I had fewer accelerated students, and got to take several primary students through their PPL checkride, which I really enjoyed. I had decent multi-engine time, so the drop in multi-engine students didn't bother me. I was one of the senior instructors, so I got more of the "challenging" students. Some simply needed a change in instruction, some an attitude adjustment, and a few simply had no business flying airplanes. When that was the case, feelings might get hurt, but the school's management at least backed me up.
In the fall of 2002, I was ramp checked by the FAA in one of ADP's better airplanes and they found 13 different airworthiness issues. The inspector didn't violate me but gave me a strong verbal warning. I'd been watching the flight school go downhill and I felt the time was right to get out of instructing. Piedmont postponed my class date indefinately when they went into bankruptcy with USAirways, and no west coast airlines were hiring at the time, but the Part 135 freight op affiliated with the flight school, AEX, had an opening. In January 2003, I ceased to instruct full time and became a freight dog.
The last thing I heard about ADP before they went out of business was that Mark quit and got a job as an engineer for Rockwell-Collins. I was glad to hear that. He was a good guy who worked tirelessly to keep the flight school going, and I often felt that he was the glue holding the whole shambles together.
Next post: my very favorite ADP stories.