October 10, 2007

A New York Departure

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By: Phil Derner Jr.
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An ATA Boeing 737. (Photo by Phil Derner Jr)
An ATA Boeing 737. (Photo by Phil Derner Jr)
When updating the news page to reflect ATA’s recent announcement to pull operations out of La Guardia Airport, I started to think more about what this means to me personally.

In 2002, when my interest in aviation really started to (my God, pardon the pun) take off, I hung out with Tom Turner at what was infamously known as “The Dock” on the shoreline of College Point for a gorgeous September Saturday that felt very much like today. I didn’t yet have a camera, and Tom let me take hold of his Canon D30 (no, not 30D) and take a photo of what was already my favorite aircraft since I had became a plane geek…an ATA 737-800.

A longer version of the 737, these with those 8-foot winglets and the nice blue and white scheme approached head on and I fired off several shots during its landing on runway 31. A few weeks after my first struggles with Photoshop, I got my first acceptance on, which was the official start of my obsession with aviation photography.

I spent the past five years getting shots of these birds from various angles with various backgrounds and foregrounds. My most memorable one was when I was able to get a shot of N311TZ passing the NYC skyline, a composition I made several previous failed attempts at. Not that long after nailing what I envisioned, I was at the 86th Floor Observatory at the Empire State Building, and I took a photo towards La Guardia Airport. It turned out that I’d taken the same exact photo as my skyline one, but from a reverse angle, with the ATA 738 in the same position on approach to runway 22 with the park from where I had taken that photo behind it. I swear it was an accident, I’m not that obsessed. Well, I am, but that’s not the point. That low quality photo quickly became one of my favorites in my collection.

Of course, ATA leaving New York is not the end of the world or a call for mourning. I’m sure that in my travels I’ll still see ATA 737-800s for quite some time to come. Like in the past, I’ll arrange for a day trip or mileage run to get to sit in their Business Class cabin to yet again enjoy all that I like about that airline both inside and out. But it will no longer be a part of the New York City aviation scene that I’ve associated it with for the past few years.

I mean that literally. Look at the logo. You see that wingletted aircraft? That’s N328TZ, taken from a backlit photo that was actually within the first dozen shots that I’d taken when I got my Canon 10D, my first Digital SLR.

Now, of course, it’s just a plane. I didn’t make the planes, I don’t own the planes, I don’t have stock in ATA, nor do I actually work for them. There are no tears in my eyes or sobbing loneliness in a hot bath or extricating myself with a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream. I equate it to a sports player that won your hometown team a championship that is being trading to another city. I look at those planes and I think about the photographic challenges and rewards given to me. I think of good times in fun places with friends, that if these planes had eyes and personalities, they could say that they witnessed me smiling at Planeview Park, at In N’ Out in LA, from the parking garage at Midway and that it saw me squishing my face against the glass of La Guardia’s Central Terminal Building like an idiot. Emphasis on idiot.

Many of us can look back on days when we enjoyed a certain aspects of aviation and saw it depart for good. Whether it be a retired aircraft, a failed airline, demolished terminal building or a specific flight at some point in time, we look back at the times we’ve enjoyed it from inside and out. Geeks and non-geeks alike can look at aviation and think about how it brings us memories, and not always good ones. Whether it be going on exciting vacations, the never-ending business trips that earn that pay check, going home to bury a loved one or to gather to celebrate a holiday, aviation plays a vital roll in everyone’s lives.

With a smile and gratitude, so long ATA.