Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Charter Pilot, or Repo Wrap Up

Okay, finally found how to get the old interface back.  Yeah, blogger is free and you get what you pay for.  Remember when free software was unsupported and would stay the same, never changing.  Now, I guess free means, "lets fuck with it till it pisses everybody off."

Anyway, as promised, my contract trip wrap up.

First off, the plan was originally, this:
Get to India on Thursday, spend the day and night in the hotel and get an easy start around midday Friday.  There were 7 planned stops. Kolkata to Fujairah, then to Luxor, then Majorca, then Santa Maria, St. John's Bay, Green Bay, WI, and finally Grand Junction Co.  With planned overnights in Majorca with friends and good seafood, and possibly St. John's Bay to rest up after the crossing.  The ferry company, of course arranged handlers, factors, landing permissions, fuel contracts and everything in all these places before hand.  It was, as contracts go, an easy show up, fly the plane, go home situation. 5 days, Wednesday to Sunday. Easy.

But as many military commanders will tell you, a plan never survives contact with the enemy.  The enemy in this case is Bureaucracy, with a capital B.

First, it suddenly became a "DO IT NOW!" situation.  So, instead of mailing my Indian visa paperwork in to the consulate and getting them back 3 to 5 business days later by mail, I found myself on an airline to New York on Tuesday at OMG in the morning to hand walk them through the agency that India outsourced their Visa process to. I had done the online stuff then night before and had everything printed out and ready to go in a nice neat folder sitting by the door, so I wouldn't forget it in the morning. You see where this is going, don't you.

Okay, on a side note, seriously, India has outsourced it Visa application department to a company with 4 offices around the country in the US.  India is where WE outsource everything to! How recursive do we need to get?

I realize I've forgotten my all important paperwork and 2x2 passport sized photos in my nice neat folder by the door where I wouldn't forget it just after checking in at the ticket counter, but not before going through security theater.

I have an hour till the plane closes its doors and leaves.  My car is on the other side of the airport at the FBO where my plane is. (Hey, I park free there.)  So, I run back out to the White-zone-is-for-loading-and-unloading-only. Grab a cab, through the guy in there out, in a panicked voice explain to the driver that I have to get home and back to the airport in basically 20 minutes. We did it in 24.  I cleared security theater in 15 and I was NOT the last person on the airplane.  But not by a lot.

Seeing as how there were no guarantees that the visa would be issued, but it usually was, it was a fretful day, to say the least.  But at 5:30, they called my name and handed me back my passport with a freshly minted 6 month tourist visa to India.  Big BIG Kudos to the people who work at their NY office.  These guys and gals from the security guard at the street door to the process clerks to the managers made this process as smooth and painless as possible.  You guys RAWKED.

Then it's run back to the airport, grab a flight to Chicago, because that's where my Air India flight is leaving from on Wednesday.

End Day One.

Day Two starts with me meeting up with Vincent, the lead contractor on this ferry at the hotel.  We finish some paperwork, make sure everything is packed and hop the shuttle to the airport with plenty of time.  At which point I realize I've left my phone at the hotel.  No big deal.  We planned on 2 hours to clear Security Theater, so Vin gets off at the international terminal and I just ride the shuttle around back to the hotel and there's my phone at the front desk. 

Thank you thank you thank you.  You don't realize how much of your life is on your phone till you lose it.

I get back on the next shuttle to the airport and call Vin to tell him I have my phone and the day's panic is over.  At which point Vin tells me he's left his visa back at home in Kansas.  You see, his visa is in his OLD passport. He remembered his NEW passport.

Airlines will not let you one their airplane without a visa.  They're liable for HUGE fines and sundry if they do, not to mention the sundries that the foreign country has waiting for you.

No way around it, his visa will get to him no sooner than Thursday.  And since international flights tend to run once a day.  He won't be able to get to India before Friday.  We decide I'll go ahead and go over the airplane and books to make sure there isn't anything that will keep us from launching as soon as Vin gets there.  So, off I go.

I will not get into the flight.  Anybody who's flown internationally on any airline knows what it's like.  Everybody else just couldn't understand.

I land in Delhi around three-ish, India time, with an expected 7pm flight to Kolkata.  Of course the Kolkata flight is late, by 2 hours. And I should have known that was the norm, not the exception.

By the way, when and why did they change the name of Calcutta to Kolkata?

I meet my factor at the airport and he gets me to my hotel with no problems.  By the way, I have to send out electronic Kudos to Dipankar, my factor, Swissotel Kolkata and it's staff.  These guys made the stay as easy and painless as possible.  Are you getting that painless was becoming the goal of this trip?

Anyway, after much shuffling, hemming, hawing and a couple of sticky fingers I finally got a pass to get onto the airport to inspect the airplane, logbooks and paperwork.  Normally, India won't let crews onto the airport till 2 hours prior to flight.  This wasn't going to do, since I needed to be there early enough to get whatever passed for a maintenance facility to fix anything I found wrong.  They coughed up the pass about 4 pm local. Luckily, the maintenance guys were there till 5.

All this time, Vin is either flying to Delhi or waiting on his Kolkata connection.

The airplane was, with some minor and one major exception, immaculate.  I got in contact with the old captain on the plane. (He's in Florida now) and He explained why that was.  Basically, he wouldn't let anyone in Kolkata touch the thing. All maintenance was done at Bombardier's facility in Delhi by factory mechanics and engineers. H'Ray for first world maintenance!  The minor exceptions were your basic electronic ghosts and all airplanes seem to have, they were know, were trying to be traced and weren't going to keep the airplane from flying.

Ah, but the major exception...

You see, this was a repossession on a Lr-40XR.  And we were told that the XR models all had the larger fuel tanks.  The original 40's had a max fuel load of 5375lbs.  This is enough for 3 and a half hours with reserve.  An option for a larger 6060lb fuel tank was introduced with the BR models.  This works out to a 4.5 hour range with reserve.  And we'd done all our leg calculations with that 4.5 hour range in mind.  But, whoever originally spec'd this airplane out must have thought that 3.5 hours will get you anywhere in India comfortably.  There's no need for a larger tank.  That sound you hear was the original plan finally dying.

Even climbing as high as possible and using most economical long range cruise there were gonna be at least 3 legs of the original plan that would have required an hour of glider time. Jets suck as gliders.  I mean they're better than a backpack with an anvil, just ask Wiley E. Coyote.  But still.

So, where are we? Oh yeah, the airplane doesn't have the range, Vin is stuck in Delhi waiting on a flight that's gonna be at least 2 hours late, our overflight clearances are all for Friday and we're rapidly running out of Fridayness.

I do what I can.  I make sure the airplane is fueled. I play loose and fast with Friday and get our flight plans pushed back to 23:55 India time. (Still technically Friday). And I get power on the plane and make sure all the lights light and bells bell and whistles whistle.  Gotta love glass cockpits. I also get as much of the bribery as I can out of the way with what money Vin gave me for that.  The rest will just have to wait for Vin, who gets into Kolkata at 23:30.

I think we finally took off at 1954Z, that's 0124 local. India is +5.5 hour from GMT.  Right?

Now the hard part.  You see the first of those hour glider legs was this first one to Fujairah, UAE. We are not gonna do it.  Scratch scratch, mumble mumble, shuffle shuffle and we decide that as soon as we clear Indian airspace we're gonna call and make a technical stop in Karachi, Pakistan.

Of course we haven't arranged prior permission to do so.  But hey, it's a technical stop.  That's like a Get Out of Jail Free card, isn't it? Right? Guys?!?

We land, they have us follow the follow-me jeep to an appropriately remote and foreboding customs pad and they drop off a guard and take Vin to the airport authorities to arrange fuel and clearances to continue.

The guard was a good guy.  He has very little English, and I have absolutely no Farsi or Arabic or Urdu (thank you google).  So, we discussed the philosophical import of the current global climate orbiting around the international impact of the information super highway and way to improve X25 packet transmissions.

Seriously, we talked families and life.

Aside from a 15 minute period where he went off to do his morning prayers, we hung out at the airplane and watched the sun finally rise.  And yes, he is Muslim and no, he wasn't trying to blow me up or chop my head off.  Which sort of lends credence to all Muslims are not fanatic jihadist theories.

Fuel arrived after a while and Vin came back a while after that.  Our middle eastern handlers in UAE finally contacted someone in Pakistan to act as our factor and all the necessary paperwork was fill out, stamped, folded, spindled and mutilated.

We landed in Karachi at 2312Z and finally took off at 0202Z.  By the by, we landed there after a 3 hour and 17  minute flight with 1200lbs of fuel left on board.  That's 45 minutes of fuel if you squint just right, but not too hard.

Karachi to Fujairah was easy, 1 hour 45 minutes.  Refuel, barely on the ground an hour and off again to Luxor. 

By this point we KNOW we won't make our original fuel stops so we've rerouted from Luxor to Crete to Luxembourg to Keflavik to Goose Bay, then back on plan.

Fujairah to Luxor is a 3:31 flight, Luxor to Crete is 2:10, Crete to Luxembourg is 3:02. We finally landed in Luxembourg at 1537Z which I think was 5:37pm local.  I think Lux is +2, but it might be +1.  It's all sort of fuzzy at this point.  We crawl to the hotel, shower, change, get to the bar for a beer or two and then bed.  I was spent, and I'd burned through 5 of my 6, 5 hour energy shots.  I remember thinking as my head hit the pillow, "I wonder if I'll be abzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz"

By they way, all this westward flying meant we were actually sort of making our days longer.  Aside from the first leg, all the flying was done in daylight.  And we ended up with a 28 hour Saturday.

Sunday was supposed to be painless.

We took off from Lux at 0558Z, which I think is either 7am or 8am. local.  Three hours, nineteen minutes later we landed at Keflavik, Iceland 20 minutes after we took off, local time. Quick hour on the ground and 3:16 to Goose Bay, Canada.  At which point we find out that whoever was supposed to arrange Customs at Green Bay and forgot to make the phone call and we weren't gonna be able to fly into the US.  We make some frantic phone calls and on a SUNDAY, customs get someone to Bangor, ME for us with literally zero notice. 

Yes, I am impressed.

No big deal, instead of Green Bay, we clear in Bangor. Hour and a half flight to Bangor, Custom guy inspects us, and our paperwork with a Geiger Counter, I swear to ghu, and 2 hours later were in the US flying to Akron, OH for fuel and then Grand Junction, CO. 1:44 to Akron, 3:17 to Grand Junction.  We landed in Grand Junction 10 minutes late.  From the ORIGINAL plan.  We'd said we'd get the airplane there by 5:30 Sunday, that was with 3 days to fly and 5 days total road days.  Instead, we had 2 days to fly and we still did it.  We got into Grand Junction at 2339Z which is 5:39pm local.  Of course we were zombified.

The hardest part of the entire trip was Monday's airlining back to home. 3 legs, 2 hubs and 12 hours in airports.  I really hate airlines.

Here are some pics snapped from my crappy phone camera:

This is all I saw of Dehli, India

The airplane and our handler in Fujairah, UAE.

These next two are the glaciers in Iceland.  I think we were either at 47,000 ft. or 51,000 ft.

This is on approach in to Keflavik. The Bahamas of Iceland.

Goose Bay.  That's just a pile of snow behind the FBO there.  Did I mention that this was mid-April?

Finally, the airplane on the ramp in Grand Junction.

And the view out my window at the hotel in Grand Junction.  Seriously, I could live there.  Love the country, nice folks, no oxygen though.

And that's all I have to say about that.


bluesun said...

Cool, if you came into Junction from the west, you flew right over my house--we're about a mile from the end of the runway.

aepilot_jim said...

We came in from the east, but swung west of the city to land to the east. So, we probably did. Sorry for the noise.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the compressed version of what a late friend of mine did. His wife didn't think he had a real job for the first month that they were married. Then he got a call for an over-night delivery trip and got home six weeks later! "Oh, since you are here, we need this to go to there . . ." Lather, rinse, repeat. I think she was relieved when he lost his medical fifteen years later.