So I slept, or at least held my eyes closed and thought about how I'd better be sleeping, or I was going to be really tired tomorrow, from around six p.m. to 2 a.m., woke up, turned on the computer, got dressed while it unhibernated, and at 2:05 am determined that it had been raining for the last six hours and was forecast to continue doing so for the rest of the thirty-six hour forecast period. I looked outside and yeah, it wasn't raining hard. There were still dry spots under parked cars, but it was raining.
So our meeting was short. I called ATC and the people who were looking after our airplane and told them the flight was cancelled. And then I went back to bed. At that point I noticed that the bedside clock was an hour slow, which made getting up in the middle of the night when it's still light out and then not getting up after all seem all the more surreal. Did it really happen?
I went back to bed and slept until I was done sleeping, which was about six hours. Now, it hasn't been dark yet, and I've slept twice. What day is it? Alaska is confusing, and duty time laws even more so.
We were supposed to report for work at two a.m. but simply woke up and went back to bed fifteen minutes later without leaving the hotel. So what time does our duty day end now?
Part 700.18 of the Canadian Air Regulations says:
Where a flight crew member is notified of a delay in reporting time before leaving a rest facility and the delay is in excess of 3 hours, the flight crew member's flight duty time is considered to have started 3 hours after the original reporting time.
That's the rule that best applies here. For the first six hours of delay, it also gives an advantage--to the person optimising pilot utilization--over the split duty day rule, which allows a duty day extension of one to three hours: one hour of extension for each two hours of rest in the middle of the duty day. For a delay greater than six hours but less than eight hours, the results are identical to applying the split duty day rule. If the delay were a full eight hours, plus time for meals and personal hygiene, then it would be a new day. It's that rather than the calendar or daylight that determine when a pilot's new day dawns.
If our rest period continues without interruption until eleven or so, the duty day has been technically reset, and we could legally be asked to work a fifteen hour day starting any time after then, say five p.m. until eight a.m. tomorrow morning. That would be nasty, but every once in a while the work demands it. There are some other factors that come into play, the trump card being that if we the pilots consider that we are fatigued or likelt to become fatigued as a result of a schedule, we're bound in law to refuse it.
That's the law, here's the application. At nine a.m. not only has it stopped raining, but all forecast of rain is gone from the TAF. I call back ATC and ask when our next window is for the work. Sunday morning is a pretty quiet time at most airports, but PANC isn't most airports. It's the same lady, what kind of duty days do they have? She's a realist though, and I guess she doesn't have vacation comng this week. After some more hmming and making sure I know just how inconvenient this is, she verbally shrugs, "Sooner you start the better." I call everyone to say we're a go, again, and we'll be airborne within the hour.
Out at the airplane, the FBO has reconnected the nosegear scissors after towing. That's rare. but they've screwed up the billing despite my "FUEL ONLY" verbal and post -it-ed designation of the credit card number I gave them. They'll sort it out later. We've decided to fly this two-crew, because of the busy-ness of both the airspace and the radio work. I ask the other pilot if he wants to drive or talk. He says he'd rather leave the talking to me, if I don't mind. He says I'm good at talking to authority figures. He just knows I love to yap. It's the role I would have chosen. The flying isn't different from what we do every day, but the ATC negotiation and traffic will be interesting.
I call clearance delivery right after start up on the ramp and they already know all about us and our unusual mission, so I don't have to do any explaining. They assign me a transponder code and a runway. I ask if they'd like to assign us a temporary operational callsign for the mission, "to avoid all the alphabet soup." This is for me as much as them, because American controllers won't shorten my five letter callsign to the last three the way Canadians will, and they will pronounce the C maybe as Charlie, maybe as Canadian, sometimes include the type and sometimes not, sometimes pronounce the letters in the phonetic alphabet and sometimes just use their names the way they are pronounced in the alphabet song, and just the way you may not hear your name when it is called by someone who pronounces it incorrectly, I may miss a call for me. And I don't want to spend the next five hours reciting my entire callsign in every call. "Sure," says the controller, "what do you want to be?" They want ME to pick? I make something up on the spot, almost as cool as AIRSHARK ONE. They accept it unblinkingly and tell me to call tower for taxi. I acknowledge, laughing as I release the mike button, because I'm an AIRSHARK! I'm hoping that I haven't stolen someone else's handle or done something illegal here. I was expecting ATC to assign me something convenient for them, usually just the type and a number, or a part of my full registration.
We taxi to the threshold of the runway, take off and start work. It's fun. It's awesome. Anchorage is an awesome area, with sea and mountains and a big inlet and airplanes everywhere. At first ATC asks us to call every turn, but they quickly realize that we are going to do exactly what we say we are going to, with clockwork predictability. If I turn the tracklines on on the GPS they make pretty patterns, because even the turns are close to identical. As I'm not flying, I can see the whole ballet unfolding, and keep expecting being asked to turn aside, wait twenty seconds, extend a line or modify a turn.
We play chicken with B747s flown by pilots with minimal English skills, counting on their comprehension, flight plans or habits to have them turn east at four hundred feet. We do what feels like an airshow pass with big-yet-manoeverable metal inbount to Elmendorf air base. "I acknowledged having it in sight without remembering what it was. We report sighting the helicopters, float planes, and even other aircraft the same type as us as they look out for us. An advantage I didn't consider of being AIRSHARK is that we're not advertising the foreign callsign.
Over the course of the flight we were handled by five different controllers, working quite long stints at the mike, considering that they kept up a continuous stream of instructions, advisories and clearances. And after all that time, ATC has not delayed our relentless progress through the grid by as much as one second. They are moving the massive Boeings around us. It's now well into the working day, but they aren't asking us to give them a break, either. Man, they really want to get rid of us.
We told them when we had flown our last line and were cleared in to land, with a Korean Airlines B747 waiting at the hold short line for us. We taxi off triumphant and proud. I call the ground controller and ask him to convey our thanks to everyone involved. Anchorage ATC are awesome. They took full responsibility for a very awkward flight, never asking me to change frequencies nor wasting a second of our time.
I'm on a high after accomplishing this mission. The ultimate in happiness for me is achieving something as part of a team when we weren't sure that it could be done. To get this done the second full day in Alaska is beyond expectations. Except for the pessimist's expectation that the more you want to have an opportunity to explore a place, the quicker you will be yanked out to go somewhere else.
Our supper restaurant has placemats with a map of Alaska on them, and we look at them to see where we're going next. Hmm. The annotation for that region of Alaska says that it is "cool and foggy" in the summer. Just what we don't need. And the food is truly awful.