Sunday, September 20, 2009


The next morning we take off early for the airport that does promise to have fuel for us. My coworker is flying, but my duty day clock started ticking at the same time as hers, at the 7:00 report. The client actually wanted us to start earlier, but I landed at 10:00 p.m. last night, and by the time I finished fuelling and got back to the hotel it was almost eleven. I can get ready fast in the morning, so that still allowed me to sleep eight hours and be in the lobby at seven, but no earlier.

We roll our eyes at the number displayed on the GPS for groundspeed. Even though she is flying low level, which usually keeps a plane out of the worst winds, we have a good 20 knot headwind. It won't matter much in the end. Delays on the ground always outstrip those in the air, but it's still more fun to see the high numbers than the low ones on the GPS.

We spot the airport but can't see the runway markings until the flare. Someone needs to get out here with a line-painting truck. We roll out and taxi in up to the pump. It's an old style car gas station pump, the kind where the nozzle goes in the side and you flip down the arm after removing it. It even has a "turn ignition off" sticker on the front. "I bet it's in Imperial gallons," I predict, but it was in litres. So it's newer than 1976. Not by much, I'd bet. There's an advance person on the ground here who has arranged fuel and he gives me a magnetic key to activate the pump with. It's weird, it looks like just a little magnet, like the kind that would be glued to the back of a souvenir you stick to your refrigerator. You just pop it on the lock plate and it releases the pump. You can then put it back in your pocket while you pump.

The static line barely reaches the airplane, but the hose has an extension, so it will reach the far tank. It kinks really easily though, so we have to unfurl it carefully. After all the tanks are full, my coworker goes to fly the first shift. The ground crew offers to take me for a tour of the town, or something. I'd love to look around, maybe go and see the local museum or buy some souvenirs, but I know that the day may run past nine p.m. so I need to extend my duty day. The regs say that if I get between four and six hours rest in "suitable accommodations" I can extend my duty day by half the rest. It's my job right now to sleep.

The client's representative checks me into a little motel on the company credit card. It wonder how awkward it looks to the clerk with a guy wanting to rent a room for a woman for just a few hours. When asked my name for the register I'm tempted to blurt "Smith!" I go to the room put out the do not disturb sign, lock the door and climb into bed. About ten minutes later I the crew who were cleaning the next door room as I passed reach my room. They might have knocked; it's hard to tell what noise is knocking and what is just people moving equipment around, but then they try to come in. The inside lock stops them and they go away. I wonder what purpose the do not disturb sign serves here. Clearly it has nothing to do with attempts by staff to disturb me. Nevertheless I manage five hours of sleep. I'm now good until 11:30, which should be plenty for our mission. The motel restaurant seems to specialize in Chinese food, so I order the ginger beef. It was good and plentiful and then I get a cab back to the airport. The person who checked me in is off working elsewhere and won't be back until the end of the day.

My timing was just about right. I enter the little pilot lounge and the cab driver comes in too, to ensure that his business card is still on the bulletin board. A radio on the counter tuned to the unicom frequency squawks with my coworker's voice returning to land. I tell her the wind at the field and that there's a cab here.

She taxis back to the pump and takes the cab into town for food. I start fuelling, then after about 300 litres the pump cuts out. Weird. I restart it with the magnetic key and it works. For about another 300 or 400 litres. They promised us they could give us 1200 litres of fuel today. I don't think I've taken quite a thousand yet. But I can't get the pump to start again. I go back into the pilot lounge and start calling numbers on the contact list. I am getting people to answer, because they have provided cellphone numbers and even though it's Saturday, this is farm country where people don't have the concept of working and non-working hours. Working hours are when there is work to be done! The people I reach are friendly and wish they could help me, but everyone I reach is either away out of town for the weekend, or holding the phone for someone who is. I finally find someone who happens to know that the key is only good for a thousand dollars worth of fuel. Apparently the person who assigned it to us didn't realize that limitation, because he knew we intended to take 1200 litres, or about $1500 worth.

I examine my fuel on board situation and my POH to determine that the fuel is sufficient and that I am not too asymmetric to fly. My coworker did a good job this morning, so there isn't much work for us, and we finish up the day and return to base with more than sufficient night reserves. We land around nine, and after fuelling I taxi back to park. My coworker could have done it just as well, but I have a hotel receipt proving I had the rest. If some stupid incident happened during taxi, I could prove I was in a legal duty day. Ass covering: it's the law.


Grant said...

How is it that you are able to fuel again after the flight? I'm guessing 'cause the day has been reset in some appropriate time zone?

Always something new to throw curves at us! Good job - good blog.

MikeB said...

If I understand you correctly, I can't see that time zone would make any difference. It's surely just total time.
Aviatrix said that after 5 hours sleep, she'd be good until 11:30 and that they eventually landed around nine. Provided the refauelling took less than 90 minutes, she'd be ok.
Hope this helps,

Matthew Flaschen said...

I think Grant is wondering how come they were able to use the fuel key again after the $1000 cut-off.

Syrad said...

Rest regulations and their current shortcomings are a big issue for me. I fly under 121 in the States, where the regulations say that we have to have at minimum eight hours of rest. However, that clock starts ticking fifteen minutes after we set the brake regardless of where we are. After deplaning passengers, doing postflight walkarounds, and shutting down the airplane we're rarely out of the airport by then. Our clock goes until our show time, which the company can reduce to thirty minutes before departure.

Essentially, this means that all the time we spend waiting for the hotel van/car service, travelling to and from the hotel, and checking in are part of our eight hours of rest. At my company we rarely only have minimum rest, but when we do it's common to only get five hours of actual sleep. Obviously these all come after long and hard days, because something unusual and annoying is happening at work if we're so delayed we're down to minimum rest. I hate doing min rest overnights, and I am frustrated that they're legal for us to do even though there has been copious research showing the wide-reaching consequences of not getting enough sleep. Research has shown that 97% of the adult population needs somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep to be fully rested. Current regulations ensure that a US airline crew on a minimum rest overnight is not getting anywhere near the amount of sleep needed to be fully rested.

With your operation, how does rest work? Obviously you have control over many things that airline crews don't have, so do you calculate the start of your rest time as when you walk in the hotel door and the end as when you leave the hotel? Or do you work it some other way? I'm curious because I believe that eight hours "behind the door" (at the hotel) is the absolute minimum that should be allowed. I'm also not a fan of sixteen hour duty days, which are legal for us. Fortunately they don't happen much, either, because I don't know many people who are still completely safe to operate an aircraft after sixteen straight hours of work.

A Squared said...

Grant asked: How is it that you are able to fuel again after the flight?

One possible scenario is something like this: Left their overnight location with full fuel, flew to new location and refueled with 300 l. (about 2 hours of flight or more for a recip twin) Flew until fuel was low, added another 700 l. and reached the 1000 l. limit.

Aviatrix said...

A Squared's fuel math and MikeB's duty day math are is correct. The transit to the job was only an hour or so and thanks to the efficiency of my co-worker's efforts on the first mission, we were able to complete the job with the fuel on board and still have enough fuel for the ferry home with night reserves. I'll answer Syrad's question in this afternoon's post.

Grant said...

Yeah - I was wondering if the fuel pump limit reset itself to a "new day," or did something else happen.