Monday, July 26, 2010

Attitude Does Not Equal Authority

The next day there is no delay. I wake, eat breakfast and go. Today I add two litres to the left engine and one to the right. You can tell we're getting close to maintenance when the oil consumption increases, but I haven't burned that much since yesterday. I'm putting more in than what is required just to replace what was there yesterday. A greater amount of oil will, I hope, amortize the cooling job across more oil so I won't need to use the cowl flaps so much. I text my fellow pilot to ask him if he can buy some more oil today. We're almost out. I clean the windows, give a straightforward briefing to a person who my instincts say would not appreciate the silly one, and we go fly.

We're just five hundred feet below the clouds, working fairly near the airport. A little Cessna takes off and joins us up here too. I later looked it up by its registration and learned that it's a privately owned C150 registered to two owners, one in Dawson Creek and one in nearby Pouce Coupé. I wonder who they are, not living together, different last names, but sharing an airplane. Every time the pilot position reports, she is much lower than us, and having recently been in a C150 I think that's because she doesn't want to take the time and trouble to climb this high. They land after perhaps an hour. Probably she was just up for a joyride.

We fly over Pouce Coupé and kill a few minutes trying to decide how to pronounce it. I think it retains close to the French pronunciation (it means "cut thumb") and rhymes with Moose Toupée, but for all we know it rhymes with Mouse Poop. After six or seven hours of equally inane conversation we are overhead the airport ready to land. "Down in six minutes," I tell the FSS guy, and my touchdown is six minutes and six seconds later. My sense of victory is brief, because I flub the flare glancing inside to check my time accuracy. Dork. Smooth landings require follow through.

After I exit the runway I stop on the apron and set the parking brake. As I wait for all the equipment to be shut down properly in the back, I text my flight follower and discover that I am to fly to another destination right away. Then I get a call from the other pilot saying that he will do the flight, to avoid giving me an overlong duty day in case there's a long hold. He's probably been awake for almost as long as I have, but I don't argue because he didn't fly yesterday at all. And his duty day has probably only just started, He may have been napping all morning. I taxi to the fuel pumps.

There are a couple of people standing in the "secure area" square outside the terminal, and some small pieces of furniture possibly symbolically blockading it. I pull around the outer boundary of the square and park at the pumps. There's a guy there in ear defenders, reflective vest, etcetera and as the mission specialist disembarks ear-defender guy asks him how much fuel we are taking. I hear "You'll have to ask the pilot" so I come out and tell him 700-800 litres, but I want to check with the pilot of the next flight first. He's on his way, so I'll start fuelling while I wait for him to arrive. The guy asks me if I want 100LL or jet and I tell him 100LL and then get out my credit card to activate the pump while he unfurls the hose. He tells me that a Hawkair plane is coming in for fuel too.

"Do you work for Hawkair?" I ask.

He gives an answer that I don't remember verbatim but that was roughly equivalent to "I work for you too." It's not uncommon for the operator of a self-serve pump to provide fuel service when he's around, especially when the pump is busy, so this isn't incredibly irregular. I turn on the pump once the credit card has been verified, and he pumps fuel. He momentarily knocks the nozzle out of the tank and sprays fuel all over the wing. Some pilots freak out about this sort of thing, but it's probably about 30 cents worth of fuel. "It happens," I say, to let him know I'm not fuming at him. He puts the nozzle back in the tank and I open the other tanks I want filled. I tell him that I will be right back. After seven hours in a plane, the sound of rushing fuel is not conducive to continued bladder control. I can also see the other pilot approaching from about 30 metres away, so he'll be here to say what fuel he wants before this tank, which I know he wants, is full. I wave to the approaching pilot and head towards the terminal.

I can see the Hawkair on its landing rollout, as I recall it was a small Dash-8. At this point there's a number of people on the ramp in high visibility clothing and ear defenders, plus a woman in a skirt. She's the only one who isn't visibly doing something, so I ask her, over the roar of the turboprop taxiing in, if she knows if it's okay if I cross the yellow square to the terminal without a badge. She says yes, but I won't be able to get out, and I say yes I know. I have the code. I bolt for the toilet. That done, I go out the groundside door, around the building to the codelocked side gate, dial in the code and jog back to my airplane. The person who was fuelling is now gone, the pump turned off and the fuel nozzle left propped in an open tank, and a number of people, including skirt woman, are glaring at me. "There was someone here fuelling me when I left!" I say by way of apology, and take the nozzle out of the tank so I can restart the fuel pump without risking it ricocheting out.

"It's self-serve fuel!" she says. True, and I have no idea why the guy was helping me, but he was. And my coworker should have arrived to take over before he had to flee. Then I realize that he is at the pumps, but skirt woman has him cornered, as she is chewing him out for walking in between the Hawkair and the terminal. "It's a SECURED airplane," she tells him. "It's going to VANCOUVER!" In fact she's so busy chewing him out that I think she failed to see me do exactly the same thing moments ago. I thought she meant I wouldn't be able to get out again because I wouldn't be able to get back through the CATSA people to exit the terminal, not that I wouldn't be allowed back in the yellow square.

The Hawkair turboprop is now parked behind our airplane and although the Jet A hoses reach it in that position, they can't start fuelling until I'm done, because the keypad that controls both tanks is shared. If she would stop hassling my co-worker we could get out of the way faster. My coworker rekeys the fuel pump and we finish fuelling while everyone glares at us. I mean WHAT? Sure the Dash-8 is bigger than me, but there's no reservation system for the pumps. I was here, pumping fuel before it even landed, and so there's no way I can be accused of having cut in front. If there is some reason why it should have priority, the young man with the reflective vest could have told me to push off and wait. Yes, it does take a while to fuel my airplane. But it probably takes a while to fuel a Dash-8 too, and we're departing immediately to Edmonton, with the pilot's duty day ticking. We have every right to be here. We ignore the glares and chat about how he didn't have a chance to buy more oil yet, but it's available at the airport, and how we should get badged so we don't get hassled for doing our jobs. Skirt woman (who wears absolutely no symbolic or official badge of authority, not even a reflective vest or a clipboard) says it wouldn't make any difference. No one is allowed to go between the airplane and the terminal. It's SECURED! Because it's going to VANCOUVER. We remain unimpressed. We've both been to Vancouver.

When I get to the last tank, I give my coworker the nozzle to finish fuelling so that I can remove my gear from the airplane and let him get on his way. I leave the key on the floor inside the rear boarding door and tell him that. Everything done, I wish him a good flight, pick up my bags and the in-flight garbage and very carefully go around the Dash-8, outside the magic yellow square, not between it and the terminal. At no point during my transit am I any closer to the Dash-8 than I was while I was at the fuel pumps. When I re-emerge to her view on the other side, skirt woman comes over to yell at me.

"You're not supposed to be there! If Transport Canada were here ... This airplane is SECURED to go to VANCOUVER!"

I gesture at where my feet are. "I'm not inside the yellow square." I resist the temptation to touch it with my toes.

She says it doesn't matter, that the nearest I'm allowed to be, "is .. is .. there!" while gesturing vaguely westward. She may be pointing at a distant maintenance hangar. It is not clear. She says I need to be escorted if I go anywhere. I literally throw up my hands. "Escort me" I say in exasperation.

"Where do you want to go?"

"A FOD bin."

She doesn't know what that is, but one of the rampees does and gestures for her. She escorts me to a big yellow drum and I throw out my in-flight garbage, and then continue past to the exit gate.

I am in general a law-abiding, cooperative person. I have read all the NOTAM and posted signs for this airport and I have worked at airports large and small all over North America. I was actively trying to comply with the security protocol. Moreover skirt woman had ample opportunity to explain her particular security rules. I initially approached her for instructions. Then she stood around and glared at me for five minutes or so while I pumped gas. She could have spent that time explaining her rules. The aren't the same at every airport. I have had many cordial conversations with security people as I stood just outside the magic yellow square. I was willing to grant her the authority to dictate limitations. Just tell me lady, please, what I may not do; tell me what I need to do. I'm not cowed by the mere presence of an airplane bigger than mine, so without further instructions it's business as usual. She did nothing to indicate what procedure I must to follow in order to respect the "secured airplane," until the third time I crossed the ramp.

Sigh. She probably hates that aspect of her job, and doesn't really like confronting people, so that by the time she does she becomes bitchy and ranting. And now I'm bitchy and ranting, too. My customer also ran afoul of her, but because he didn't have to be on the ramp he just fled to his truck until I was done. We go to Canadian Tire on the way back and rant to each other about the difference between authoritative and bitchy. I buy a flashlight to replace the broken one in the airplane. As we leave we notice the "secure" Hawkair taking off. My customer notes snidely that no one is clinging to the tail, and that's enough to snap me out of my rant.

I finally have a chance to get those groceries I've been needing, at a chain supermarket across the street from the hotel. The appearance of the produce section is a bit of a shock. There is hardly any green, and what there is, is rotten. There are paved roads coming in here, but I guess I'm further north, culturally speaking, than I thought. Despite the paucity of produce, I'm so hungry that most other things look good, and I buy a bunch of stuff I shouldn't. The produce truck pulls in just as I'm crossing the street back to the hotel. I hope they are bringing something fresh and green. Also I was so eager to escape from skirt woman that I completely forgot to hunt down that oil.

The customer calls to say that I have a 05:30 report tomorrow, so I eat some of my groceries and go straight to bed.

His Casket Was Almost Orange!

And here's an update too interesting to leave to the people who follow old comments. A few days ago I posted "His Casket is Actually Orange," a short blog entry on the passing of David Warren, inventor of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. His son, Peter Warren, stopped by the comments, and fortunately father and son share a great sense of humour because Peter answered the blog's flippant questions with both a link to a picture of the coffin (apparently they did consider painting it orange, but went with plain wood), adorned with messages from family, the words "Flight Recorder Inventor: Do not Open," plus his actual last words. "I was a lucky bastard."

I love it. I've never seen anything like it in Canada. Everyone is going to die eventually and I think there's a lot to gain in admitting humour and personality to the last rites.


david said...

My brother had a friend who knew for a long time that he would die young due to a health problem. The friend was an artist, and designed his own casket to look like the Loblows No-Name packages of the time, all white with a giant barcode painted on the side.

grant said...

Re: colorful coffins apparantly Gahna is the place
to die for:

And check out these

Chris said...

I sympathise Aviatrix. I have found here in Oz that most aviation type people are commonsense about security. Most non-aviation type people tend to be more hung up on rules than outcomes.

Sarah said...

Too bad. It does seem that giving some people a little authority makes for what they used to call "popinjays".

That's a pretty cool note you got from Peter Warren. I'm glad David got a nice sendoff & appreciate the family's obvious love and rueful humor on his passing.

Peter Warren said...

Thanks so much for your comments. It has been most interesting seeing the comments people have made, all round the world, and particularly in aviation blogs.

My father was irreverent and quick to challenge conservative dogma. He was also vibrant, positive and outgoing. The challenge was to reflect that at his funeral. It was a big funeral - a couple of hundred people. We played Tom Lehrer songs - "The Elements" - has was a chemist - "Poisoning pigeons in the Park", and carried his coffin out to "We will all go Together when we go". If you don't know Tom Lehrer, you can find him on Youtube. People signed his coffin instead of a condolence book. We lighted a bunsen burner instead of candles. We delivered his coffin to the funeral in an old Morris Minor. And, most of all we kept it upbeat and positive. It has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life being able to send him off like this.

Anonymous said...

"Skirt woman (who wears absolutely no symbolic or official badge of authority, not even a reflective vest or a clipboard)..."

I'd be tempted to tell her that civilians shouldn't be on the ramp, and would she please go back into the terminal and stay with the other passengers.

But I wouldn't. I'm weak that way.

I didn't even know who'd invented the flight data recorder, but it's an idea very near and dear to my heart. One of the reasons I follow aviation is because, almost more than any other discipline that I know, those involved in it a) focus on improving systems, and b) admit to human fallibility.

As for Tom Lehrer, I regularly contemplate a quote of his: "It's a sobering thought to realize that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for three years."

grant said...

Meanwhile other countries pursue a lower tech solution: Flight Data Recoder Parrot!

Aviatrix said...

Grant, that is sooooo funny. I'm posting it tomorrow so people who don't read the comments can see it.