Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In the Pink?

'So that's what it was', I thought as I was eating strawberry yogurt, finishing my breakfast on the second morning of our four day trip. I didn't have this intellect because I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night', although I did. I was recounting the first day's events, flying all pleasure travellers.

And I've found that they bug me, just a little bit. I still treat them the same as others, I'm still friendly and say 'buh-by' in person to them on the way out. But they're not seasoned veterans like business travellers are. They hate giving up their rollerboards to gate check them with a yellow tag to be put in the rear cargo; they're skeptical of where and when they'll get them back. They get pretty anxious when we're only 25 min late on their 45 min connection that they booked, when there are other flights later in the day. They scrutinize my First Officer and I because 'the plane is so small' and because we don't have the comforting 'look' of experience (salt-and-pepper hair and wrinkles) like the Boeing and Airbus drivers at the majors do. They even make little irritating comments, which I understand on a certain level, because it reflects their unease and anxiety at entrusting their lives and their families to the hands of others.

But that's all okay. I truly do enjoy flying the general public; come one, come all. I understand passengers concerns and try to empathize with them. This trip had a few trying moments, however. As a professional, I can put with passengers comments, for one reason is it makes for good stories.

First day, first leg. My FO, a really good, fellow Christian we'll call 'Paul' from Brooklyn, NY, flew the approach and landing into RDU (Raleigh-Durham, NC). For a couple reasons, at first we were high on the visual approach in nice weather. Paul corrected for it, and consequently our descent rate was about 1,200 fpm (feet/minute), it's usually 700-800 fpm. If it was too steep the GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System) would've announced "sink rate sink rate". After a couple of those warnings we're supposed to decrease the descent, and possibly go around if a safe landing can't be made. The GPWS stayed quiet as Paul lowered the nose, deployed the flight spoilers (panels on top of the wing which reduce lift and increase drag) and commanded increased flap settings and landing gear down, to slow down and configure the plane for landing, all while descending down to the proper glide path of 3 degrees. Then he then decreased the descent rate to remain on it. He made a very nice landing for having the descent rate he had earlier, I would've managed that approach exactly the same way.

Stepping off the plane, a thritysomething guy murmured to me "we almost bit it". I let him go while thinking 'What did we almost bite? The ground? Excuse me? Because we have to hit the ground, that's the idea of landing the plane.' Paul made a correction to get on the proper glidepath so that we could land in the first part of the runway, made a nice touchdown right on target, and this fella says 'you almost bit it'. It struck me as so odd I had to laugh about it.

Previously this month landing in Sarasota, an elderly gentleman said to me on his way out "you better check the wheel I think you broke it". I literally had to laugh again after that one. I had made a firm landing, I wouldn't call it hard, but it was that rare one these days that I wasn't happy with. But it was a perfectly fine and safe landing. It's seems uncalled for, because we can have a great flight overcoming all sort of obstacles and challenges and passengers judge us on the landing. But that's the way it is in this business, that's the way it is.

After the first to RDU it was my turn to fly and Paul would operate the radios and such. Generally nice and friendly North Carolinians were boarding for a quick flight to New York City for some post-Christmas shopping and entertainment. I got the third degree again. "Feeling good today?" was the typical question no less that four different passengers asked me as they stepped on board. I expect one maybe, but four? I felt fine, but asked Paul mockingly 'do I look pale'?

We took 50 peeps to NY on a beautiful morning, flying up the New Jersey coast, crossing over the Verasano bridge, and straight in to La Guardia from the south. The air was smooth and visibility good. The view of Manhattan out the left side of the aircraft was well worth the ticket price they had paid. I made a nice landing, we taxied to the gate, and I stood up and greeted the folks goodbye as they left our aircraft. Everyone was happy. Well, almost everyone.

Warning: this is about to get gross, proceed with caution: A mother and her cute three year-old were making their way up to the front of the cabin, she leading her daughter by the hand. 'Can you make it, are you gonna be okay?' She looked up at the doorway and the steep airstairs, and her little body decided it had had enough. Her little hand over her mouth couldn't stop it. She was the one that was not feeling fine on this aircraft, not me.

I felt so bad for her, but at the same time I had a nervous impulse to laugh. Call me insensitive if you want, I know that's not the best reaction to have. I held my laughter back as our Flight Attendant Stacy, the girl's Mother and myself witnessed her get sick all over our main entryway. Her Mom had held her hands out, the classic maneuver of catching what you can, but this little one had had a healthy breakfast. There was a lot to clean up, but the good news was that the poor cutie was done and looking and feeling better now.

I've been in sensitive and embarrassing situations before, but this one was quite peculiar. Plenty of passengers have gotten airsick, it just happens sometimes. But never in this way. It was all over the floor and had to be cleaned up ASAP. The biggest problem was that we still had 20 passengers stuck in back, now to be confronted with a large, gross and slippery obstacle on their way out.

Waiting for a mop and designated personnel to clean this up would've likely taken 10 minutes or more. We don't have to clean 'bodily fluids' from the aircraft per our working contracts. But Stacy, myself, (and her Mother of course) met the call of duty. In short order the 'stuff' was covered three deep with heavy duty paper towels. I made a quick, non-laughing PA (announcement) that one of our passengers had a problem getting off the airplane, and to watch your step at the front of the cabin.

They all took large steps over the area, holding their noses up in hopes the smell wouldn't reach them. Oh, and the color, I know you don't need to know but maybe are curious? Pink, with bits of red.

Now we've come full circle, at where we were in the beginning. In a similar way, like this time last year, we're simultaneously looking back on the past 12 months and looking forward at the next year. And maybe rejecting things in our lives we don't like, things that now make us sick. A gross metaphor, but honestly some of the things we (me at least) carry with us in our lives are gross to our Heavenly Father.

Thoughts I have regarding 'out with old, in with the new' for this New Year, 2009?

When I feel bogged down, weary of the world's ways and influences on me, my thoughts, actions, and deeds not pleasing to myself or my Heavenly Father, I hope to remember that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" 2 Corinthians 5:17

And from Romans 12:2: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Change Happens

“Change happenz” is an advertising slogan for an insurance company’s TV ads. I’ve had quite a bit of this recently myself on this five day stretch of flying.

Two different winter storms and sick calls of other pilots produced a re-route and large delays for me. I’ve been in more hotels than nights I’ve been gone, I’ll explain in a bit. The first night I was re-routed to Nashville instead of Detroit, and was scheduled to catch up to my original Co-Pilot and Flight Attendant the next day in Philadelphia.

Day two: The ‘city of brotherly love’ greeted us with light winds from the east, ragged clouds, and a constant cold and pelting rain. At least it wasn’t moderate to heavy snow they had north of us in PA and NY State, and NYC. The east wind and wet runways guaranteed big delays when flying to Philly, because of the runway configuration and stopping capability on a wet surface.

I then had a scheduled 5.5 hour break until reuniting with my original crew and the last two legs of PHL-BNA-DCA. So the company kindly put me in up in the Holiday Inn PHL Airport hotel. Actually our pilot union contract requires this if we have a break of more than 4.5 hours, a nice feature.

I had planned to call in sick for the last three days of this trip, so I could attend Marissa and Maren’s Church Christmas program. But instead, after the interesting coincidence of running into my Domicile Manager the first two days, I decided that I had to let him know about it, and request to have it dropped instead. I talked to him when I saw him as I was walking out of the airport to go the PHL hotel. My conscience was obviously speaking to me, and he promised to do all he could to influence crew scheduling to drop it for me, short of junior manning other pilots to have it covered. With all the changes and cancellations, the reserve pilots were being used, and the drop wasn’t approved, even after I requested it a second time. My conscience is clear (and that’s a great thing), but I missed my lovely wife and daughters dearly. It was very cold and windy, post-blizzard on Sunday night at home, but they bundled up and Shannon says it was a great show. I’ll see video of it soon, I hope.

Each time our airplane got more delayed, I delayed my hotel van, which ran every 20 minutes. The plane finally arrived at about 7 PM, as I was waiting by the gate, watching the cascade of red ‘cancelled’ notices on the monitor, and harried travelers fret about. I had notified Dispatch and Crew Scheduling of a potentially crippling problem, my legal duty day limit, but they were putting out too many other fires to make a decision. I had started the day in Nashville at 6:50 AM, and I’m limited to 16 hours actually on duty. Even though I went to a hotel, I was still on duty, and I would turn into a pumpkin if we didn’t park the plane in DC by 11:50 PM eastern time. Quick calculations of our standard times to BNA, our turn time, and BNA-DCA time meant we had to push back by 7:30 PM in PHL at the latest to make it work. Dispatch said ‘GO’ however, so we boarded up about 3 hours late and went into a strong headwind, leaving 20 minutes later than we could have to make DCA on time.

Descending into BNA, Dispatch ‘emailed’ us over our ACARS box (a magic box we communicate with operations with, get airport info with, and takeoff and landing data with) that we were done in BNA. We parked the plane at 10:12 PM. With a standard 25 min turn, and an estimated 1:22 total flight with a tailwind, that would put us in at DCA at 11:59 AM, 9 min late. It was a good decision to cancel the flight, actually a no brainer.

Day three: The next morning we re-positioned (ferry flight) at 7:30 BNA time, without passengers back to DCA. I had originally been scheduled to be in PWM (Portland, ME) this third night. We had another day room to wait on the airplane and our schedule to come back to us. We did a MHT (Manchester, NH) turn, on time actually, in light snow, got de-iced, and high tailed it back to DCA to overnight there. We couldn’t overnight in PWM because getting up early in BNA made it too long of a duty day for us; our contract permits us to be scheduled for only 12 hours if we show as early as 6 AM. I had a pretty good sleep debt going by now, and had a good rest in ‘old town’ Alexandria, VA.

Day four: We were supposed to deadhead to NYC where we were informed by the departure monitor that our round trip to ILM (Wilmington, NC) and back was cancelled. After another day room in Chinatown (Flushing, NY, next to Queens) and more delays, finally we took a van back to LGA at 9:30 PM. We pushed back for BWI (Baltimore, MD) left at 10:50 PM, 1:20 late.

Then we went to the wrong hotel! I called them and they picked us up, the number was right on the trip sheet I printed out two days ago. But our company had changed the hotel, and hadn’t changed it on our schedules yet. I guess the desk clerk didn’t know it either, she didn’t call me back! My company sent an email notice on October 29th, but I hadn’t double checked the hotel changes verses my overnights. Fortunately, the new hotel was close and the driver picked us up quickly. My bad on that one. I’m good, but I’m not perfect.

By this time I felt like I was living out the REO Speedwagon song ‘Roll with the changes’. Changes can be difficult to deal with, and these were no exception, but every single day?

As we checked to the new hotel at 12:50 AM (whew), the Crew scheduling gal was kind enough to consider the extra time it took to get to the correct hotel as time on duty. That meant we could still show on time on the fifth morning in BWI, but we received what they call a reduced rest, less than 9 hours. It required that we be completely done the fifth night by 12:50 AM, in order to start ‘comp rest’ (compensatory).

Day five: We were scheduled to show the next day at 9:30 AM and be done by 8:45 PM, no problem, right? Wrong. Delays at BWI, first for the airplane to come late from LGA (New York), then an ATC delay to go back to LGA. Cold gusty winds on a partially frozen ramp the poor passengers had to walk across slowed down the ramp agents as well. We turned the plane in 50 minutes. The next stop was RDU (Raleigh-Durham, NC), where the FA (a cool black guy named Phil) and I enjoyed Popeye’s spicy fired chicken together and pondered whether CS (Crew Scheduling) would drop the last two flights (DCA-Providence-DCA). You see, at RDU we were scheduled to swap aircraft, only the ‘swap’ was in Indianapolis, and had to go through DCA before heading down to RDU. We were delayed again, predicted to leave RDU at 6 PM, 1:10 late.

This time when I called CS about our predicament, she seemed concerned. I was to call them back once we got to DC. If we left RDU anytime after 8 PM, there was a real chance we couldn’t do the PVD (Providence) round trip back to DCA, finishing by the required 12:50 AM time. The plane, a –APU model (APU didn’t work – it’s a extra engine in the tail which provides electricity, starting power, and air conditioning), finally arrived at about 7:30 PM. I had already called CS back, and we were released once we arrived at DC. My FO (First Officer) and I only, that is. FA’s don’t have the same duty and rest rules that pilots do, unfortunately. Phil had to gut it out two more legs, I apologized to him for it, although there wasn’t much I could do. I pleaded his case to CS, to no avail.

The trip was finally over for us in DC, two other reserve pilots were scheduled to do the PVD turn for us. My error in BWI with the hotel got me out of some work, which I didn’t mind at all. We were all pretty tired. I can’t remember a trip in which I had so many changes, delays, and cancellations, on virtually every day. I was off to the crashpad, walking while my cheeks got rosy, thinking about all the changes we endured.

This time of year we remember and honor the birth of Jesus Christ, if you celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, that is. Mary and Joseph, central to the story of Jesus’ birth, endured and tolerated many changes as well.

Angels came to them in person and in dreams, and told them things would occur which drastically changed their plans for the future. It seems Mary and Joseph, engaged to be married, planned on having a normal life together, raising a family. Change happened for them, in a way completely unanticipated. In response, they believed God, and were obedient to his commands. The scriptures make it all seem easy, but if you put yourself in either’s position, it definitely and entirely wasn’t.

Not to diminish Mary’s role, but let’s talk about Joseph. From Matthew 1:18-25: First, Mary, a wonderful woman he is engaged to, turns up pregnant. He could’ve divorced Mary, could’ve had her stoned if he wanted to. The locals no doubt explained it all away by saying that they obviously slept together, or at least Mary had slept with someone. But Joseph was an honorable man, ‘a good man’ with an established Jewish legacy. He was a descendant of David. Why did he pay the price of humiliation and a tarnished reputation for the rest of his life, no doubt? It had to be because he believed the dream he had of a visit from the Angel of the Lord. It must’ve been a vivid dream! Joseph followed the Angel’s instruction, and took Mary as his wife.

These words repeat in my head today, from Third Day’s song ‘Born in Bethlehem’: “Hallelujah, the King is here, given for all men, for today the Holy Son of God is born in Bethlehem”.

You see, Micah had prophesied in his book Micah (ho ho ho), chapter 5, then recounted in Matthew 2, that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, ‘The Town of David’. But Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth. God made historical circumstance work in conjunction with his sovereign plan. In Luke 2, the Roman Emperor Augustus decreed that a census should be taken throughout the empire. Rome needed more tax revenue to pay for all their empire building. It sounds odd in modern times, but everyone had to travel to their own ancestral town to register for the census. Being a descendant of King David, Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem, David’s ancient home. As a man and leader of his household, he didn’t have to take Mary with him, but he did. Why?

Well, she was not only pregnant, but with a child of questionable and scandalous origin. If he had left her alone in Bethlehem, she would be unprotected from the accusation and condemnation from their community. They were in this together. From Nazareth to Bethlehem it is 70 miles, a long journey. The recent film ‘The Nativity’ (definitely worth seeing) depicts it as a very arduous one. But Joseph and Mary were undaunted. In the words of the ‘Blues Brothers’, they were “on a mission from God”. Do you think they had the prophecy in mind when they set out to Bethlehem? Scripture doesn’t say, but I tend to think they didn’t. They probably didn’t know this one of many, many prophecies concerning the Messiah.

If the Angel hadn’t visited Joseph, there is just no way he would’ve believed Mary’s story. If Mary had wedded Joseph before becoming pregnant, perhaps Joseph wouldn’t have taken her to Bethlehem; he probably could’ve made the journey there and back in time for the baby’s birth. Finally, if Augustus hadn’t made a decree for the census, Joseph wouldn’t have gone to Bethlehem in the first place. It is truly amazing how God works, isn’t it?

The biggest change ever arrived on the first Christmas. Jesus, who always co-existed with God and the Holy Spirit from the beginning, now came to our world as a helpless baby, as one of us. He changed history and the human race forever.

Happy Birthday Jesus! Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chasing the Light

My FO took this picture (thanks!) with a very nice camera. Still, it doesn't do complete justice to what I’m about to describe. Like many scenes of seen from my office in the sky, to experience it fully, ‘you had to be there’.

It’s early evening during the first week of December. We’re westbound in smooth air at FL320 (32,000 ft) somewhere over Alabama, making way toward BNA (three letter identifier), otherwise known as Music City, USA (or Nashville, TN), known in the business as ‘Bananaville’. BNA, Get it?

How far does the silver gray undercast stretch beneath us? As far as, no, farther than the eyes can see, perhaps all the way to BNA, 1:08 away, maybe even past. It’s flat, texture and appearance not unlike a freshly shorn lamb’s coat laid out on the shepherd’s table. The sun, obscured by clouds in the distance, is blocked from our view. It sets without letting us peek at it dipping below the horizon.

We’re chasing the light of the fading day, my FO (First Officer) and I know it. We don’t have to pronounce what we’re observing together. Our TAS (true airspeed) is 430 kts (nautical miles/hour), but our GS (groundspeed) is 350 kts airspeed), making the headwind (you guessed it) 80 kts. In spite of that, we’re giving it a go; we’re going to see how long we can extend this magnificent dusk horizon light, which is promising and starting to deliver a glorious panorama.

My machine can do some cool things. It can make the sun rise again, Hemingway like, if you time your climbout just right. If your machine is fast enough, it can make the sunset become a sunrise. Just ask a retired SR-71 Blackbird or Concorde Pilot.

We’re not keeping up with it, but that’s alright. The undercast has darkened to a deep black depth, the far end of it meeting the colors which beckon us onward, daring us, begging us, to reach the other side, or keep trying to. Have you seen the film ‘The Truman Show’? It looks like the backlit sound stage he lives in, on the ocean, similar to the perfect dusky sky on the horizon meeting the water. Only better. If we reach the end, will we walk through a hidden door to the outside world like Truman did?

How can I describe the vibrancy, depth, and glory of the red, pink, orange, yellow, and blue my FO and I share in silence together? One faded perfectly into the other, and the blue changed so many shades to an octopus ink above us, as I marveled multiple times back toward the darkened earth of the east behind us. What, what is that there?

That, my friends, is something I’ve never seen, a stripe of green, above the yellow, before the blue. A quick recollection of basic elementary science, art, and rainbows confirms this. Yes, the green is in the right place, and it is incredible and beautiful, this sky that God has permitted me to experience this day of our Christmas season officially open (only after Thanksgiving).

I’ve chased the light before, but never appreciated it as much as now. This job, and my life, has many things in it I take for granted too often. Not anymore, I hope, and the inner voice that travels with me promises that as well.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Rosary by any other name . . .

Recently during a quick turn in CHS (Charlie South, Charleston, SC) a cool rain was sprinkling the ramp, and the peeps were disembarking down the air stairs from our flight down. After going to the 'big boys room' (always avoid the blue juice RV bathroom in the plane if you can) inside and getting paperwork I marched back out to the plane.

An upright, bright, and properly dressed young woman with an air of joy and righteousness came right up to me. In a cheerful voice she asked 'are you the Captain'? Flattered, I thought she wanted to thank me for the flight (I had lucked out on the landing again). She said 'I have a gift for you, rosary beads for you'. She told me she gave them to the 'other pilot'. Surprised and thankful, I accepted them gracefully, and murmured 'thank you, thanks a lot'. Her act of blessing and gift giving complete, she confidently walked inside, never looking back. I presume she was a future Catholic Nun in training, and the way I was treated I would've recommended her.

I'm not Catholic, but I have a healthy respect for anyone who is a regular and devoted practitioner of the Catholic faith. As I watched the three elderly Nuns board our flight out of CHS, I wondered 'did they know their fellow sister in training?' and I meditated on the significance of this gift.

Now I have a set of rosary beads, what am I going to do with them? I'm not going to start praying the rosary, sorry. Instead, I'll carry them with me to remind me to pray, and to pray more often. A Rosary by any other name is a set of prayer beads, for me anyway.

My spiritual life (my 'inner life with God' as the discipleship course I've been attending terms it) has had some pretty positive changes this fall. I have a greater awareness of my prayer life, or lack thereof. So, this event, this 'God thing' as I see it, has inspired me to pray more often and to pray for more persons and things. I'm reminded of Paul's letters from Ephesians 6:18: "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.".

Till next time, I'll be crossing the sky. And hoping to pray more often.

Friday, December 12, 2008


At the height of the Thanksgiving travel weekend, we were scheduled to fly forty-two peeps (passengers) from DC to SRQ (Washington DC to Sarasota, FL). Sarasota is a nice retirement and vacation city midway down the western coast of Florida. I had never been there before, and neither had my FO (First Officer). That fact alone promised adventure and a little excitement.

There was a long, strong cold front stretching from north to south along the eastern US. It was moving in an east direction at a pretty good clip, and was currently still in the Gulf of Mexico. The weather packet in our flight paperwork predicted strong gusty crosswinds, heavy rain and thunderstorms with the passing of the cold front at SRQ at about 1:30 P.M. We were scheduled to arrive at SRQ at 12:30, 0:30 later than normal because of very high headwinds associated with the low pressure system and cold front.

So, we had quite a lot to think about, and an hour of predicted buffer between landing and the weather rolling in. The crosswinds predicted at SRQ were right at our jet’s limit of 27 knots, and that didn’t include the gust factor, the maximum momentary winds to be expected. This was a challenge in itself. Additionally, you never want to tangle with a thunderstorm, especially on landing. The low visibility heavy rain can produce was another factor to consider.

I and my FO both wondered out loud “Why didn’t Dispatch give us an alternate?” An alternate airport would give us a way out if the weather arrived at SRQ before we did. We would have fuel to hold with to wait out the weather, and to go to an alternate airport if we needed to. Legally, we didn’t require one, as long as our predicted arrival was at least 1 hour before the weather moved in. As I was scratching my head, I realized our dispatcher was new, I hadn’t seen his name before. We were hurrying to get out on time, and I was concerned about beating the weather in. I should’ve noticed that I had a case of get-thereitis already developing. I reasoned if we asked for fuel and an alternate, our chances of meeting the front, gusty crosswinds, thunderstorms, rain and all, were increased because of the time required to get fuel and do the paperwork with dispatch. I thought that if we leave now, on time, we had a good chance of landing at SRQ before the front passed. In flying, you always want to manage the risk, and always have a way out. We checked the forecast for Tampa and Orlando, they would be fine to divert to, if it came to that.

So, after my FO had no major protests to what I favored, we left DC on time and headed south. At the top of the climb I realized the full effect of the strong headwinds. Did I mention the headwinds? Yea, an average of about 170 mph at our cruising altitude of 33,000 ft. About 1 hour before landing, our dispatcher contacted us, and gave us an alternate airport of Tampa Bay, which is north of SRQ. Apparently the activity we didn’t want was becoming more likely at SRQ, maybe the front was moving in quicker than forecast. It was good that we now had an alternate. The flip side was that this reduced our holding fuel, we didn’t have much, about 0:15 worth.

Trudging onward, we were now about 0:25 from SRQ. The radar was painting a few developing cells along a NE-SW line toward SRQ, unfortunately. Orlando approach gave us vectors to the west around this activity, which we appreciated. I thought that we were almost home free, that the activity we saw out the windows had passed by SRQ. It was not to be. Within about ten minutes, the weather report at SRQ changed from basically ‘nice’ to the direct crosswind of 25 knots, gusting to 39, with heavy rain and cumulonimbus clouds. The front was passing through, and this was connected to the line we had just been vectored to avoid. ‘Expect holding with Jacksonville center next frequency’. SRQ was now a closed airport and we were going to be one of many holding aircraft.

Things got busy as both of us sighed, set up the holding pattern ATC gave us at an intersection basically north of Tampa Bay (TPA), and contacted dispatch using our electronic box (ACARS) again. It didn’t look good, our fuel status I mean. Center told us to expect to hold for 40 minutes. Our FMS (Flight Management System) spit out a yellow number at us, which isn’t a color we like. If we held for the 40 minutes, went to SRQ, abandoned the final approach and flew to TPA and landed, the FMS thought we would taxi in with 600 lbs of fuel. Our minimum IFR FAA legal fuel to land with is 1900 lbs (a 45 minute reserve). We obviously weren’t going to be able to hold for 40 minutes. Meanwhile our dispatcher got back to us and gave us a ‘bingo fuel’ of 2500 lbs. In stereo my FO and I say out loud ‘2500 lbs?’, obviously knowing that wasn’t going to cut it. After talking it over and massaging the FMS to show 1900 lbs landing at TPA if we held, went to SRQ, then TPA, the FMS numbers were white, and the bingo fuel we calculated (the FMS rather) was 3550 lbs. What do you know, we had 3550 lbs on board, after holding for about ten minutes.

I said ‘well we’re diverting now, I’ll tell dispatch over the ACARS, why and what our bingo fuel we calculate is, you tell center and we’ll head toward SRQ’. There is a lot of decision making and coordinating that goes on with different parties when a diversion occurs, and I could feel the stress building. When you divert, it’s supposed to be a joint, coordinated decision between the Captain and the Dispatcher. In this case, we didn’t trust the information we were receiving, and I hoped dispatch would see the error of their ways, as we were compelled to divert right then, without their concurrence. We didn’t legally have enough fuel to continue holding for SRQ. So essentially we were wasting fuel with every minute we spent in the hold.

The weather at Tampa wasn’t great either, but it wasn’t closed, and it was much more doable than SRQ. We landed 0:15 later between partly cloudy skies with good visibility, a little horizontal rain, and a pretty strong crosswind.

Most of the passengers understood the situation, but they were all tired and hungry. After a call to dispatch to get more fuel ordered, to get filed again for TPA-SRQ, and to prepare and send paperwork to TPA, we made a normal and uneventful flight to SRQ, where the improved weather was similar to what we had at TPA.

Our dispatcher was apologetic to us. He mistakenly considered our bingo fuel as the minimum we needed to leave the hold and go to TPA with, not go to SRQ and then to TPA. This is what we suspected, and I understood of his side of the situation, I didn’t give him too hard a time over it.

He wasn’t the only person making mistakes, however. At DC I should’ve insisted on an alternate airport for SRQ, considering the forecast and strong headwinds. If we had taken the time to add an alternate airport and take on the extra fuel, we would’ve been able to hold until the weather moved out of SRQ and land there instead of diverting. As always, hindsight is 20/20.

I’ve had a similar situation in the past which I asked for an alternate and fuel, got it, and still held near our destination until the thunderstorm, still just north of it, moved slowly away enough so we could land in a slight tailwind after making a wide berth around it.

It’s interesting, in that a situation I prevented from occurring in the past has now occurred in the future. Flying, like life, has a way of presenting and teaching lessons more than once.

Next time.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Things as they appear?

Wow, commuting from FSD-MSP shows that winter is already here. The landscape from the Diesel 9 is cold, white, stark, bleak, and . . . beautiful and intriguing. The farm places are the dark spots, with the evergreen trees positioned as wind breaks. There are other features to make out. Windswept wisps of snow cradle the contours of the farm fields and hills. No, that must be scattered cloud formations guarding the ground. The wooded hills between the farms show fir trees pointing the proper way between the snowfall. Wait, that's the filling in of many frozen glacier lakes with snow, for the macarbe ice fishing season. Minnesota is a true land where winter lives, and thrives too yet.

Life's event's can appear to be one thing and then another as well. A burden becomes a blessing. A responsiblity becomes an opportunity. A conviction becomes preparation for repentance. An interesting coincidence becomes a display of God's sovereignty.

Thanks for tuning in. That's all for now.