Friday, November 24, 2006

Santa's Sleigh is a FedEx DC-10

As sure as the sun rises and sets, today--'Black Friday'--kicks off the Christmas Buying Season. I can get away with saying 'Christmas' in this 'politically correct' culture war because Wal*Mart has decided to call it 'Christmas.' You can count me among those that LOVE Wal*Mart, so if 'Christmas' is good enough for them it's just fine with me. But that's a whole 'nother blog entry.

A strong economy bodes well for this shopping season, which officially starts today. (As an aside, isn't it miraculous that the economy went from being almost moribund before the election to 'robust' and 'hopeful' now? Again, a whole 'nother blog entry). These days, you have much less trepidation from the buying public when it comes to on-line buying. The fear of Internet transaction fraud and credit card theft hasn't kept millions of us from 'pointing and clicking' our way through the cyberspace Mall. I have a bit of selective skepticism, but the key word here is 'selective.' By and large, the catalogs come in the mail and in short order I'm pointing and clicking my way through them. Bricks and mortar, in many cases, have been replaced by broadband and megabytes.

Clear winners in this 'new paradigm' are our friends at FedEx and UPS. You'll see their trucks scurrying about over the next several weeks, filled with packages for under the tree. And those having the luck (good or bad) of living near an airport will see the big jets arrive and depart, chock-full of the kind of things Santa's Sleigh should be filled with. At our own nearby airport in Manchester, New Hampshire, FedEx rumbles in with big DC-10s while UPS does the duty with Airbus A300s and occasionally a Boeing 767. The A300s, while a little smaller than the DC-10s they are being replaced by, are still very large planes. FedEx upgrades the aircraft size at nearly every station it serves to account for the Christmas rush. Our A300s turn into DC-10s while a smaller station like Portland, Maine trades in a still-smaller A310 for the A300. A rising tide floats all boats, and the need for aircraft capacity from sea to shining sea is never higher than it is now.

In writing a couple chapters for a book on the history of Manchester Airport, I was the guest of the fine folks at both FedEx and UPS this past summer. Once I got clearance from corporate (Memphis and Louisville, respectively), the world was my oyster. I was allowed out on the tarmac as the big A300s came in; I was invited onto the planes, to talk to the pilots, and generally see what they do each morning and evening. For UPS, Manchester essentially serves as a mini hub for the rest of northern New England. Rather than fly their own big jets from Louisville, KY to a place like Presque Isle, UPS takes everything bound for the upper reaches of New England and sends that freight to Manchester. One of these A300s comes in at around 6:30 each morning while the second one comes in twelve hours later. Freight for the local region gets placed on trucks, while everything bound for the rest of Maine and Vermont is placed on smaller contracted feeder aircraft.

FedEx does things a bit differently. Their planes come in from Memphis (at 6:30am and again at 6:30pm) and Indianapolis (once, at 6:30pm) filled mostly with mail thanks to a large contract FedEx has with the U.S. Postal Service. But at Christmas time, the mail competes for space with packages from or to Aunt Sally. Or Lands End. Or Plow & Hearth. Or L.L. Bean.

Our 'point-and-click' society and the explosion of 'overnight express delivery' is mostly why FedEx and UPS need big planes. But technology plays a huge role in making sure that Aunt Sally gets her package. The long ILS-equipped runway at Manchester means that the big planes can get into the airport even if morning fog off the Merrimack River causes ground fog. The planes themselves are often repurposed retirees from the passenger airlines yet are outfitted with an incredible array of avionics. This pretty much guarantees an on-time arrival no matter the weather. If the plows can keep the runway clear, you can be sure that FedEx and UPS will find their way to it.

Here's to FedEx, UPS and the big jets they fly: The 'New' Santa's Sleigh!

The people have spoken...

We're a little less than a month removed from mid-term elections 2006. The war in Iraq was correctly seen for what it is, and our sitting president is now a lame duck. 'Milk-and-cookies' diplomacy will now be given a chance, and two years hence--in 2008--we'll have a chance to see whether that was the right course to take. For now, it's hard to argue with those who say change was needed.

At a more micro level, our state of New Hampshire bears watching. We're now much more Democratic than we've ever been. The 'Live Free or Die' State is looking a whole lot like 'Massachusetts North.' In an ironic twist, many folks from Massachusetts--fed up with the goings-on in that Liberally-charged state--are fleeing to New Hampshire. But they're taking their baggage with them. Many of them want the things they had 'back home,' and that means higher taxes.

But the whole issue of 'taxes' has New Hampshire residents in a tizzy. Everything that needs funding here (read: schools) falls on the back of the local property tax. There is no income tax; there is no sales tax. That means there's no way for the State of New Hampshire to play 'Robin Hood.' And to this writer, that's a good thing. While my property tax is rather high, I know my dollars are staying within the town.

As projections and studies point to job and population growth for New Hampshire in the next several years, similar studies are pointing to just the opposite for Massachusetts. It will be interesting to see how our state evolves over the next few years, and whether the 'Live Free or Die' motto falls by the wayside in much the same way our beloved 'Old Man of the Mountain' did a few years ago.