Sunday, June 02, 2013

Contingency Planning

Before our season (yup we have a season) had really started yet this year I was already flying regularly because the company subcontracted me and an airplane to another company. They were paying by the hour for the services of me and our airplane, and it's my job to fly where and when they direct as long as I judge it safe, but there didn't seem to be someone there willing to pull the trigger on final decisions.

The guy who comes in the airplane with me to operate the client's equipment is new to their company. I think he has done this job with their pilot in their aircraft, just not for very long. The first day I come out to the airport, get the airplane ready, brief him on emergency equipment, expected behaviour, and the like. He is familiar with sterile cockpit procedures and respects the position of pilot, so this isn't hard. People who haven't flown for long tend to be a little intimidated and those who have become acclimatized to the safety culture. I can't think I've ever had a passenger who was really obnoxious. Nothing worst than the airline regulars who would roll their eyes and hide behind their newspapers during the passenger briefing, or the few that will not put away their cellphones until I am personally and physically headed their way.

Part of being new to his company and having both critical work and expensive contract equipment at his command is that he doesn't want to screw up the go/no-go decision. He relies on advice from a supervisor who seems in turn not to do anything without talking to a project manager who is on paternity leave in another province. On day one the weather was marginal. I don't remember whether we flew or not, just that confusion reigned. For example prior to engine start I ran through my company prestart mission briefing which includes clarifying the locations and timing of the flight. It's all right near the airport. The client wanted to do area A now at 2500' and proceed to area B to be there for 0617z at 2000'. I ask the client, as we peer at the clouds so low they reflect the city lights, if area A is not flyable does he wish to go to B early, hold airborne until 0617, or land and wait? This provokes a new flurry of telephone calls. I brief before take off on what I will do if one of the engines happens to quit during departure and these guys haven't considered what will happen if the clouds don't cooperate?

I did manage to get a list of required weather criteria for their work. The specified altitudes can be reduced a little. It should not be raining or snowing. We must not be in or above cloud. Light mist is okay. I've done this type of work before, but every project manager bends the rules in different directions. On day two they ask if I can come out to the airport for a flight.

It's interesting being asked not told. Knowing how busy they will keep me during our season, my company made it clear that I did not have to do this work if I didn't want to, it's just an opportunity to make some extra money. And for me it's an opportunity to increase my currency. My recurrent PPC ride (flight test to renew my credentials) is coming up, always a fun thing to do when you're out of practice from an off-season layoff. It seems that the voluntary nature of my participation in this project has been stressed to the client. To my mind once I agreed to the work I agreed to complete it, or at least work up to the agreed-upon cut-off date, but it sounds as though they think I might refuse on any day. I have specified a couple of days on which I have appointments. The off-season is my only chance to make appointments I can keep, because otherwise I may be out of town at short notice.

So here we are on day two. I am available, and make it clear that it is safe to fly and I will do so if they want, but I point out some discrepancies between their mission criteria and the actual and forecast weather. Finally they do that delayed response consultation thing again and cancel the flight. On day three I send them updates with each new forecast, interpreting the weather products and indicating the current weather and the forecast weather, along with what I think is the best and worst they can expect. The weather is horrible, but they have pressure from their client, so still want to try the mission. I go along, because it's safe, and me flying is how my company gets paid. It turns out to be an eighteen minute flight. The odd thing is that both my contact and at least one of the chain of command above him are able to read METAR, TAF and GFA weather information. They just seem to skip the step of comparing it to their needs. On day four I can't believe the client wants to fly again. In the middle of the night. The forecast weather won't support their mission. I go have a two hour nap. At the last minute they cancel. On day 5, they cancel at a reasonable hour.

The project drags on like for weeks, almost until the cut-off date. I nevertheless tried to coach them in subtle ways on how to make more efficient choices. At one point I sent I think they had an appreciation for it too, because I found out later that they wanted to keep me. Nuh-uh. My company wants to keep me more. It's so nice being wanted. I came home from that stint with a new appreciation for my own company's communication, planning, training and efficiency.

1 comment:

Cedarglen said...

Yup! When one finds a comfortable, respectful home, staying for a while is not a bad thing. The grass is not always greener... and you've been through a lot. Good post and thanks.