Page last updated at 03:54 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 04:54 UK

The US pilots living next to a runway

By Rajesh Mirchandani
BBC News, Los Angeles

A plane lands on the runway at Los Angeles International Airport, behind mobile homes for airline workers
Living by the runway can be noisy, dirty and smelly

Airline jobs once inspired respect and envy.

But at Los Angeles International Airport about 100 airline employees - from mechanics to pilots - are living in mobile homes parked just yards from one of the busiest runways in the world.

It is a sign of the harsh reality of an industry that once embodied glamour.

Two weeks ago, I parked my car in Lot B at LAX when departing on holiday.

For passengers like me, it offers a cheaper alternative to parking at the airport and free shuttle runs 24 hours a day to the terminals.

On the short journey, the bus passed a large cluster of trailers and mobile homes.

Frugal life

This week, I went back and found that this makeshift trailer park is home to about 100 airline industry workers, including at least three pilots.

We end up with a lot of engine noise... there's the dirt factor... and of course the ever-present smell of burning rubber as they land

David Shaeffer

By day they man the planes, by night they sleep under them.

Some have been here for years, and say the site has grown in recent times.

In fact, Lot B has become a semi-permanent feature of an industry in flux.

I met mechanic Dana Hayes, who, each week, leaves his wife and home in Utah and lives a frugal life in a small neat trailer.

He can sleep, cook and wash with relative ease, but it is cramped, lonely and there is little to do.

"It's tough sometimes," he tells me. "It's better being home. I built a big home up in Utah... [But] it's better than paying rent... at least you can put a little money aside for retirement or something."

Faded glamour

Even at the pinnacle of the industry, some feel the squeeze.

Airline captain Bob Poster wonders if his title has lost its lustre.

"I was sitting with a friend of mine in his really nice RV [motor-home] over there last year and we were sitting there just talking and he says: 'Wow we're living the life! Two airline captains living in a parking lot!'"


Airline captain Bob Poster says there has been a decline in status and pay

Gone is the glamour of an airline career.

The fear of terrorist attacks, rising fuel costs and the deepest recession in 60 years have hit aviation hard. Airlines have shed thousands of jobs, and lost billions of pounds.

Those still employed face pay cuts and demotions. Many have to go where the work is. And that means living in places like Lot B.

At least it is cheap. It costs $60 (£35) a month to park, compared to at least 10 times that to rent a room in Los Angeles.

The commute to work is short and it is possible to get some sleep: aircraft land at a runway further away at night (pilot fatigue is a growing concern and has been implicated in recent crashes).

Lot B is far from ideal, but some say they do what they have to in uncertain times.

"We end up with a lot of engine noise... there's the dirt factor... and of course the ever-present smell of burning rubber as they land," says mechanic David Shaeffer.

"[But] it's a small price to pay. We have got ourselves a job in this environment, in this day and age that's not bad at all. I have no complaints."

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