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For Some Pilots, Home Is An LAX Parking Lot

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For Some Pilots, Home Is An LAX Parking Lot

Economy

For Some Pilots, Home Is An LAX Parking Lot

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

These are hard times for airports, commercial airlines and for the people who work for them. To make ends meet, people are getting pretty creative. We have two such examples. First here in Los Angeles, a group of pilots has created a low-cost community in a pretty unlikely location.

NPR's Mandalit del Barco paid them a visit.

MANDALIT DEL DEL BARCO: Parking lot B at LAX, not exactly LA's toniest address - every few minutes, another plane lands or takes off on the runway, just a few yards away - but this is the place where a few dozen pilots, flight attendants and ground crew members call home.

Loud around here.

(Soundbite of airplane)

Mr. DAVE HUNT (Pilot): Oh, the airplanes? I guess there's airplanes around here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETE HOPKINS (Freight Handler): Yes. Yeah, I'ts - yeah, just a few. We have just a few coming in here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEL BARCO: Dave Hunt, is a pilot for a major commercial airline. His neighbor, Pete Hopkins, handles freight for one of the big fleets. They live in RVs outfitted with kitchens and bathrooms and small bedrooms, powered by generators and solar batteries. When the planes touch down, you can almost feel the ground shaking, like an earthquake.

Looks like they're almost going to land on top of us.

Mr. HOPKINS: That was Nippon Cargo Airlines. So 747 bringing something…

Mr. HUNT: From Japan.

Mr. HOPKINS: Yeah.

DEL BARCO: Pete Hopkins lives in his RV full-time, but Dave Hunt has another home and a wife back in Minnesota. Instead of getting hotel rooms or sharing space at nearby crash pads, it's much cheaper for them to rent space at the parking lot, just $60 a month.

Mr. BOB KENDELL (Plane Mechanic): It's a very, very good deal for people in our situations.

DEL BARCO: Bob Kendell came here from San Diego to take a job as a plane mechanic.

Mr. KENDELL: To be able to be here for 60 bucks a month, to go to work, you know, having to walk to work, or ride my bike.

DEL BARCO: Sixty bucks, that's like the cheapest real estate in LA.

Mr. KENDELL: Oh, absolutely. You can't even put one of these in a storage yard for that kind of money, you know.

DEL BARCO: Kendell says parking lot B has become a little community, complete with its own mayor and a few rose bushes to brighten up the asphalt. It's not far from the beach, and when he's home, he's on his wireless internet. He watches TV and listens to music.

(Soundbite of song, "Travelin' Band")

Mr. JOHN FOGERTY (Musician): (Singing) 737 coming out of the sky. Oh won't you take me down to Memphis on a midnight ride. I want to move. Playing in a travelling band, yeah…

DEL BARCO: It's mostly a boy's club here on parking lot B, but Sue Young is one of the few women. She shares an RV with her husband, an airline mechanic, and their two cats, Waldo and Tallulah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of cat meowing)

Ms. SUE YOUNG: They - they're fine here. I mean, they look out the window and watch the buses and watch the people go by. And they like it here, better than they do our house.

(Soundbite of cat meowing)

DEL BARCO: Everyone here has passed background checks and have valid airport IDs. There are some regulations, like no outdoor barbecues. Some folks take showers at nearby gyms, and they fill up their water tanks at the beach a few miles away. Pete Hopkins and Dave Hunt say it's like camping but necessary, since salaries for airline workers have taken a nosedive.

Mr. HOPKINS: I personally haven't had a pay raise in 20 years. It's always, you need to take a pay cut, you need to take a pay cut, you need to take a pay cut.

Mr. HUNT: Some of us are working off of 1992 dollars. It's been a devastated industry. Things are not what we thought they were going to be. Things are probably going to get worse.

DEL BARCO: Given the state of the airline business, LAX officials are more than happy to let the pilots and others continue to live in parking lot B. Hunt says he's happy to have this option, and he's really glad to still have a job.

Mr. HUNT: It's an industry that is in the throes of stagnation and maybe the early throes of death, you know. Maybe in 10 years, the airlines won't even be here any more. It's that bad.

DEL BARCO: Dave Hunt says his living situation is far from the days when pilots were treated almost as rock stars.

Mr. HUNT: Pretty glamorous, isn't it? Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUNT: Pretty exciting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUNT: You know, I mean, I for one, never thought I'd end up in a parking lot at LAX.

Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.

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