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Craig's Corner: Project Night Owl

It will be no surprise to most travelers that the Vancouver Airport is a 24-hour enterprise. YVR’s Maintenance, Operations and Engineering departments work around the clock, as do many of our business partners including ambulance, security, police, cleaners and airside escorts. What are they all doing? They’re taking care of our passengers. 

I’ve mentioned recently how we’re currently in our 100 busiest days ever this summer—well, these days don’t just end at 5pm. We have five flights this summer in the very early hours. And while passengers on these flights make their way through the airport, our night staff maintain the vast terminal complex—the biggest contiguous building in BC—and our airside system, working on many projects that can only be done at night.  

To better connect with our night crew, we started Project Night Owl, a summer initiative where Directors, Vice Presidents and I spent two graveyard shifts with the overnight team. The project helps us “daywalkers” get to know the night workers and their jobs. It aims to provide insight on key areas of communication and project management, while removing barriers and improving teamwork. 

It’s also a lot of fun—and did it ever make me proud of YVR.

I had the chance to see our team in action and they are truly unsung heroes. I watched Shift Managers coordinate activities, respond to myriad calls, issues and problems, all with confidence, care and conviction. I saw our Emergency Response Services team, BC Ambulance service and Terminal Duty Officers respond to several medical calls, caring for passengers (and their babies). I was there when a Maintenance team untangled a potable water hose, getting a flight out and a vital bridge back into action for the next day (and then studied complex electrical diagrams at 1:00am to troubleshoot a generator fault).

I saw our NAV CANADA partners and airside safety officers close the South Runway, get 170 workers out onto three separate projects on the airfield and start working—and then reverse the process and have the runway system safely back up to international standards by 6:00 am!  I watched our baggage and gate schedulers run the night schedule and then perform the almost mythic "burst" of the next day's schedule, which sets the stage for the next 24 hours.

I spent time with two airfield electricians/athletes, replacing old inset lights with new LED versions. Sound easy? Try doing this at 2:00 am: get your equipment set up, unbolt, wrestle and pry the old light off, clean the can and the mucky wires, wire in the new light, align and fasten it into the ground. Then, move your truck and equipment and do it again and again, while looking at the beautiful green lights leading aircraft in all weather conditions straight to their gate. 

I only saw a tiny fraction of everything that goes on in the evening and early morning at YVR. But what I did see was truly impressive. Andrew, Christina, Jennifer, Nancy, Bill, Tony, Kelly, Ben, Marcello, Gord, Elaine, Jacqueiline, Anne Marie, Betty, Kavan, Phil and everyone on the YVR night crew—you and your colleagues are YVR Stars.

The Night Owl participants all agree: it was a uniquely motivating experience. When it's dark and many of us are resting, in an aircraft or at home dreaming of the next day's flight, the airport is wide awake. And it’s in very good hands. 

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