Can standing on the cold tarmac in the earliest hours of the day watching the sleepless cargo jumbos at Schiphol be an idyllic experience? Jan Koppen returns with a unique composition that lets us all put ourselves into this unusual environment.
It’s about four hours after midnight and I’m standing on the vast freight apron of Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport in Holland. Cold rain is lightly drizzling down, from the threatening dark, water-filled clouds. While working my regular nightshift, I interrupted my overloaded schedule in order to catch up with some action on the freight ramp. In front, I see some familiar silhouettes of the classic large turbofan-powered Boeing 747, vaguely lit by the shimmering yellow ramp floodlights. Looking across the tarmac, I see several classic 747s parked together, some of them barely visible due to absence of sufficient light—surely a delightful view considering the dwindling numbers of first generation 747s throughout the world.
Schiphol, well-known for its established carriers, is also frequently visited by worldwide 747 operators such as KLM, Martinair, Malaysian, Singapore, EVA, China airlines, Nippon Cargo, China Southern, Korean, Dragon, JAL Cargo, Northwest, Jade Cargo, AirBridge Cargo, Southern, Atlas, Polar, ELAL, Great Wall, Surinam, Cargolux, Kalitta, Virgen, Saudia, Air Atlanta, Emirates, TNT, Syrian, Air China, Corsair, Japan Defence Force and Royal Air Maroc.
The lesser known, but surely more interesting carriers that grace the ramp at Schiphol are the cargo jets of GirJet, Focus, Blue Sky, World Travel and Air Universal. This second category of 747s, often run by a couple of experienced aviators mostly on a low budget, will carry literally anything. Their cargo manifests show that besides general cargo, such items as in-calf cows and one-day chickens are heading for exotic destinations such as Iran and Kazakhstan.
The classic 747, which can be acquired at a reasonably low cost, offers a generous payload of 100 metric tons, which can be loaded with 29 maindeck and 9 lowerdeck pallet positions. Besides these advantages, there’s a minor draw-back, in the shape of four fuel guzzling Pratt & Whitney JT9Ds or the early generation General Electric CF6-50s turbofan engines. Increasing fuel bills can cause an early retirement for the remaining 747-100/200/300 series. Another problem is current noise restrictions—due to the increase of these restrictions at the major airports, the classic 747 will be surely banned for its excessive noise someday.
Just in front of me, ground handlers are loading one of these dependable 747s with outward-bound cargo. The classic lines of the big Boeing are so evident when standing close to this four-engine transport. The overall sight of the giant bird commands deep respect from the onlooker.