Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fed Ex R Us

The delivery isn't until the early afternoon, so we take advantage of our regular customer status at the hotel chain and get a late checkout time so we can lounge around in our palatial upgraded rooms, do a workout, and get some lunch. Life is hard, eh?

As we're leaving, a couple of Skywest pilots are having a cigarette outside the hotel before checking in, and we stop to chat. They're glad to be working, of course, but not thrilled with their working conditions. I confess that I'd like to fly for a regional, but don't seem to have what they are looking for. They both know other pilots who do what we do and don't think it's a bad option. "Yeah," I say, "But I'd really like to ..." and the captain finishes the sentence before I do with "flight privileges?"


They're really not all they are cracked up to be. And I already know this. Sure you fly for nothing or for a fraction of the regular fare, but it's space available. You can plan to get on the first flight out after your shift ends, but you might wait a day to get where you are going. Or even get stranded part way. You have to leave a day or more buffer to be sure you get back. Might as well make more money and buy cheap tickets that you know you will get to use. I know Skywest pilots don't make much money. But the FO had an awesome haircut. Maybe her brother or sister is a high-end hairdresser and she gets free cuts.

So we pile our luggage into our vehicle and drive out to the airport. It's accessed by a dirt road that turns off a poorly paved road that turns off the main highway. There's no airport fence or even a clear delineation of where the airport ends and farmland stops. We park in front of the hangar and bring in the part. While they are installing it, we load our luggage into the airplane and secure it. The hangar has no password on the wireless internet -- who's going to poach your bandwidth in the middle of a field? -- so I download and install a new version of my navigation program and update the weather. It's supposed to be a little low for the first 200 miles, with a bit of rain, and then open up for clear weather to destination. Winds are, of course, headwinds. There's a good breeze here, too, which is good because it's straight down the runway and will help us get out of the short strip full of fuel and gear.

The engineer comes in from the run-up shaking his head. "Doesn't it work?" we ask. The gauge works fine. There's something wrong with the squat switch. The gear horn blares continuously. The airplane is convinced that the landing gear is not locked down and is desperately trying to warn us to either extend it or pull up. The engineer goes into his office and returns. He's ordered another part, a new squat switch.

"I knew I shouldn't have loaded the bags!" says my coworker.

We unload the bags and put them back in our vehicle, then drive back to the hotel we just checked out of. Once again we will stay the night in preparation for doing the Fed Ex pick up dance again tomorrow.


Chris said...

I can understand that a reliable engine temp gauge is an essential item, but the squat switch? Not criticising, just trying to understand the reasoning behind cancelling the flight.

Sarah said...

Hello again Aviatrix.

Ah, the allure of non-rev travel. When I was growing up back in the jet age, my airline employed family enjoyed the privilege not usually afforded the lower middle class.... Air Travel! That's the real benefit, being able to take the whole family for essentially nothing. Yes, you must have flexible travel plans ( it was less crowded back then ) and never, ever tell your seatmate how much you paid for your "ticket".

I still miss it... but that benefit isn't why I am sometimes wistful about never flying for a living on the line.

Aviatrix said...

Chris, it's a serious electrical malfunction. The engineer wasn't going to release an airplane for fifty hours in the field when it couldn't tell if its wheels were up or down. And I wouldn't have accepted it. The airplane was certified with that operable.

I accepted an airplane once for northern summer flying when one of the two eyebrow lights on the VSI wasn't working. Nothing wrong with that? Two hours later I flew into turbulence and the broken wire swinging around the inside of the dashboard started a fire.

Chris said...


Again, not criticising, just trying to understand. I was under the impression this was an inconvenient field to operate from and you wanted to fly the aircraft out as soon as you could. I clearly misunderstood. I realise now that you have the engineers and facilities you need and might as well get everything right rather than go somewhere else to have it done. Apologies if I caused any offence.

Aviatrix said...

No offense at all, Chris. I guess my mentioning the field length was a red herring for this entry. (Its relevance comes into play later in the narrative). The airplane didn't get stuck and stranded here, it was deliberately clown here for scheduled maintenance. It's funny, some of the best repair shops are at the ugliest little runways in the middle of nowhere. I worked for a company once that had its scheduled maintenance done at a field some of the captains refused to fly into. The guys didn't want to pay rent at an airport when they had their own strip, I guess.

Had this strip been really in the middle of nowhere, we probably would have pulled a few circuit breakers and flown to some place more convenient. Transport Canada knows that groundable components only ever break on the homeward leg.

Chris said...

Plus I have not quite wrapped my head around the 50 hourly maintenance concept. Would you agree that it is safer, but mor commercially inconvenient, or is that not the case?

Geekzilla said...

Third time's a charm?

The Voyager software looks super cool. I was entranced by the half-hour demo!

Aviatrix said...

Chris: safer or less convenient than what?

If you're comparing it to a privately-registered aircraft that only requires an annual inspection, then yes. For an airplane to work hard every day and only see a shop when a pilot snagged something might be convenient for the owner, but would put a lot of pressure on the pilot and would not be as safe.

As this is a Canadian commercially-registered aircraft, the 50 hour inspections are a legal requirement.

Aviatrix said...

Geekzilla: Voyager is very cool. If I did cross country navigation every day I might ask boss to buy me the pay version. The free version does the job, though.

Chad said...

Haha, that's so true regarding the best maintenance shops have the ugliest runways. The shop my current employers have their maintenance done at is a short, narrow gravel strip carved out of the trees. Also when I lived in the Niagara area, I had the annual done for my PA-30 at a 2200 ft turf strip with a slight dogleg, trees off one end power lines off the other.