Tuesday, August 4, 2009

(Right hand:) 'I don't know what the left is doing'

It's August 4th, the third day of a four day trip. I've switched from early, early morning shows in July to afternoon shows in August. I underestimated the effect I'd feel from it as well. It feels great to sleep in and get more than six hours of uninterrupted sleep every night on the road. But there are strange things afoot; it will take me a couple more days of transition to get used to the new routine.

After only a single day off between trips, due to the way my July and August schedules merge, I was back in Charlotte, fighting my Sunday afternoon nap inclinations. We were to fly to Cincinnati and back, with a jet with one broken air conditioner, or 'PACK', and a flight management computer (FMS) with an expired performance database. The one PACK left made climate control an inconvenience but it wasn't unbearable, thanks to warm, but not hot temperatures at CLT and CVG. But the lack of performance data in the FMS meant that we would have to set our thrust settings old-school style, using our paper charts and tables. And we soon found out that our moving map display didn't show the ETA of any of our waypoints or destination, because of the lack of thrust setting data available to the FMS. Because the 'warm fuzzies' we like to have were lacking, the flight log paperwork we are always issued from Dispatch became a lot more important. We would actually check it's fuel and time estimations to each waypoint along the way mcuh more closely than usual, and some pilot 'mental math' calculations were in order.

Our round trip to CVG and back to CLT for the overnight went off without a hitch, mostly. Anxiety from flying an opposite schedule and not having ETA's displayed on our screens? Yes. My body told me along the way that I wasn't used to flying during this time of day, that I should be off pilot duty and preparing for bed time. This same experience befell me yesterday as well. Out of sorts and in an unwanted siesta, I told my Co-Pilot to watch out for me, but I would do my best. Results? Yesterday, I tried to perform the in-range checklist without completely preforming the 'flow', the duties which encompass the checklist, first. Last night on the way to Columbia, SC, our overnight where I'm writing from, I actually put up the sun shade to block the light from the beautiful full moon, I'm not kidding! Relative to our typical duty day we had in July, this was the high noon time we were making out way to the overnight, so it was out of habit, I presume.

Yesterday, it seemed that my affliction was passed on to a myriad selection of our operations people. We showed up at CLT on time at 2:10 PM, and the departure monitor showed our flight was delayed for 1.5 hours, till 4:30 PM. We found a crew room to rest in, and I called our Dispatcher to confirm our delay. He was understandably upset and surprised: "You guys aren't delayed, your plane is here, you're delayed?" Uh oh. Just then, Crew Scheduling called me on my cellphone, asking the dreaded "where are you?" question. The plane was here, on a different gate than shown, and on time. Well, not anymore, we had about five minutes to get out on time now. We hustled over there, and the monitor still showed the wrong gate and time, and we even had to convince the gate agents we were taking that jet outside to White Plains (HPN). The paperwork they had printed proved our point. Someone had dropped the ball, big time. The explanation we always get, and got this day, was "the city controls the departure monitors".

And the Captain is responsible for leading his crew. Oh well. This day I assumed the system would work, as the weather was fine, and I trusted the monitors. That's the way this job is, you slowly, unknowingly, ride the complacency curve until something happens, then you're gun-shy for a while. I much prefer the type of events which don't require a written report, as this one was, though. I'll be calling dispatch daily for a while now, before we leave the hotel for the airport!

We flew CLT-HPN-DCA, it was all fun until greeted with the news that our CAE (Columbia) aircraft we were to swap into in DC was delayed for maintenance. Taxiing into our parking spot we spied our 'swap' and noticed that it's right engine cowling was open, and a ladder was laid horizontally across the ground. The jet was 'hot and dark' (doors closed, no power or air-conditioning on) as well. Dispatch told us they were waiting on parts and were expecting a 9:30 PM departure, 1.5 hours late.

Shortly after, while conferring with Maintenance (MX) I was informed that the part for the jet they thought was good was bad, and a good part wouldn't help fix the plane till 2 AM. That equalled a cancellation to me, but Dispatch came to our rescue again with a good plane which would arrive at 8:15 PM, just a little after our scheduled departure of 8:08. Good. No, we would still be a little more delayed. This 'good' plane required a service check, an 'oil check' and more of sorts, by MX before midnight, or it would become illegal for flight. So it looked more like a 9:30 PM departure, all in all.

DCA ops chomps at the bit to board your peeps on a bus which they drive out to the aircraft, which seems to arrive just as you do at the aircraft. It takes us a good 5-10 minutes before we stow our bags, check everything and are ready to board. With a service check due I made sure ops would not board our peeps until I told them, to limit their time on the lovely bus.

Our plane arrived and we checked it out, but MX wasn't climbing all over it, like they were on the jet next door to us. A sharp ramp agent talked to them and got back to me: "they said this plane doesn't require a service check". What? A quick call to our MX department confirmed that our Dispatcher had gotten confused, our swap required a service check by the next night at midnight, not this night. You know, people are human, and this characteristic was showing it's face all day. The right hand was learning that it did not always know what the left hand was doing, truly.

Are we always aware of what we are doing and thinking? I'm thankful that in my job we have many checks and balances, and procedures for covering and correcting others errors. It contributes vastly to the safety of airline travel, the safest way to travel long distances by far.

Anyway, we shortly awoke to a hurried atmosphere of boarding us and departing ASAP. My good Co-Pilot's job on the way to CAE was to fly us down there; I was to lead, monitor, and communicate. So I was able to observe and 'wax' silently. The "smaller great light", the one which "governs the night" (from Genesis Chapter 1) was full and round and bright. Climbing out from DC southbound I gazed at the silver water and the striped, white reflection the moon provided on the historic Potomac river. The night breeze displayed ripples of life on the current, in between calm stretches, just as in our own lives. The skies were hazy but visibility good, the air alive with a moon glow which reminded me of an idyllic but trepidatious scene under the oceans surface, with many illuminating jellyfish gracefully swimming in peace.

When the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing, one must first know that fact itself, and then seek to find the truth, in the true light. It's good that we spiritually have a light available to illuminate our paths during all of the day and all of the night. Unfortunately for some, (those who don't believe) I'm not speaking universally, as far a true light goes, anyway. From the Gospel of John, Chapter 1:4-5, referring to Jesus: "The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it." And from 1:9: "The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world."

Read the gospel of John, find out more, and believe about the 'true light, whose life gives light to everyone'!


the boy said...

Hey Craig!

I enjoy reading your posts and just wanted to second your feelings on the arrival and departure monitors in CLT. They need work. Maybe the city could outsource them.....

Kim said...

Great work with God's Word brother!

Pat said...

You are such a great writer...ever think about writing a book?

'Captain Craig' said...

To 'the boy': thanks, I appreciate it. Monitors in many airports, hub and outstations both, are suprisingly inaccurate at times. When in doubt, ask a gate agent, & don't let them shame you for it either!

Oh, and G'ma Pat, thanks! Yes I have a little lately, in consciously humble aspirations of a daunting task (the biggest sounding phrase I can create on the cuff!) Leaning toward a fictional story based partly on my and others experiences. Am I crazy?