Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Another V.I.P. Movement

In a recent post I discussed how a certain VIP aboard Air Force One could foul up the entire hub and spoke operation of any given airline in a single afternoon.

To contrast that episode, I flew a trip the other night that had a different VIP in question. In fact that person would be onboard our flight.

As we sat parked at the gate in Miami watching our passengers board for the city of Port-of-Spain in Trinidad, one of our flight attendants came up and told us that the Prime Minister of Trinidad would be on board tonight. It was interesting that neither our gate agent nor our dispatcher notified us about this. You'd think that they would want the cockpit crew to know about a high profile passenger being aboard. Sometimes we're the last to know!

So then off we went with Mr Patrick Manning and his entourage aboard for the 3 1/2 hour leg to Port-of-Spain. As we pushed back from the gate, we could see only one local Miami police officer on the jetbridge waiting to make sure that we departed safely.

I've flown numerous celebrities and athletes around before and it's always curious to hear from our flight attendants how they behaved while inflight. Occasionally these passengers expect preferential treatment due to their celebrity status. And when then don't get treated as such, they can get ugly.

I'm happy to report that Mr. Manning behaved like the true gentleman that I'm sure he is.As we descended for POS, Piarco Control ATC facility handed us off to POS tower and asked us to say "hello" to the President. "Consider it done" we replied. Then after landing, the tower controller asked us to "give our regards" to the President!

Sounds like a popular President we both thought.

As we finished up our shutdown checklists and were putting the plane to bed for the night, we saw Mr Manning and his entourage heading for Customs and Immigration along with the rest of the passengers. It was as if he were just a regular guy!

We both found it a little unusual that a Prime Minister of a nation (no matter how small), would be flying aboard a commercial airliner. Perhaps that's their policy...I don't know.

It was an interesting contrast as to what must go on behind the scenes of an Air Force One mission. Our flight was just business as usual even though we were carrying a head of state onboard. An Air Force One mission must take some intricate planning and coordination. The security details must be endless.

I'll bet the food is better too!

Coincidentally, on the return leg to Miami the next day, we heard Air Force One calling in a position report on the radio. They were headed from Lima to Washington. Good thing they weren't headed for Miami again.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

A Job With Benefits

A recent trip I worked allowed my cockpit crew and I to put aside for awhile all the bitterness and animosity we have for management and just enjoy the surroundings.

That's not to say that we didn't have our usual gripe session on our way there and back, but at least the layover was a good time.

I'm talking about one of the more senior trips on the 767 bidsheet in Dallas. That would be the Maui layover.

Our 3 PM arrival time allowed for a very nice happy hour with an all you can eat fish dinner at a local hangout near our hotel in Kihei. But the following day would be even better.

One of the benefits of being an airline pilot is the reciprocal jumpseat agreement we have with most other air carriers. In other words, we can fly on most any other air carrier (in their jumpseats) for free. And their pilots often ride on our jumpseats as well. If there is room in the cabin then we allow them to sit there instead of in the cockpit. They usually do the same for us.

One of those carriers we have an agreement with is Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. They are a helicopter sightseeing operator in the Hawaiian Islands.

And this day they had two extra seats on one of their tours around Maui. So one of the other pilots and I made our way back to the airport and soon found ourselves strapped in to an Eco-Star and climbing up towards Haleakala Crater.
After a few minutes at the crater we dropped down to the rainy side of the island. There are waterfalls everywhere you look.I have done the day long drive to the little town of Hana before. This day I was happy to see it from the air instead.No wonder people go to Maui for vacation!After the flight it was back to Kihei for lunch and some pool time before the flight back home.

Now THAT was a good layover!

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The 757...very nice!

One of the benefits of being rated on the 767 is that the rating also qualifies the pilot for the 757 as well.

It is a common type rating...meaning that the airplanes have enough similar flight characteristics so that a single rating is all that is required. The engines are different as are a few of the systems and some of the limitations are different as well, but the airplanes essentially fly the same and the transition between the two is very easy.

The 757 is an absolute joy to fly. Even though the pay scales are slightly lower than the 767, I don't know any of our pilots that don't enjoy flying it. It handles like a sports car as opposed to the 767 which handles like a big luxury car.

At AA, our domestic and international divisions include 767 and 757 flying co-mingled.

AA purchased their 757's with Rolls Royce engines. They produce almost 43,000 pounds of thrust apiece. Maximum takeoff weight is 250,000 pounds and max landing weight is 198,000 pounds. Maximum operating altitude is 42,000 feet.

When AA purchased TWA in 2001, their 757 fleet was integrated into ours, but they have since gone away. They all had Pratt & Whitney engines and were slightly incompatible with the AA fleet. Many of them are now being operated by Delta Air Lines.

So with all that being said, the day's trip would be from Ft Lauderdale over to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, back to FLL and then on to DFW. Our 757 was lightly loaded with passengers but heavy on fuel. We were carrying enough fuel for the return leg as well. Apparently since Hurricane Ike hit Haiti, fuel has been in short supply so the airlines are tankering in their fuel.

Also since the hurricane, radar coverage is non-existent. We would be making mandatory position reports and flying a full DME-ARC approach to the airport even though weather conditions were fine.We checked in with Port-au-Prince Control and started our descent over the northwest part of the island. There was no traffic inbound but they still cleared us for the full approach even though we had the field in sight about twenty miles out.The DME-ARC led us to a straight in landing over the Gulf of Gonave and a taxi in to our parking spot. No jet bridge today. The few jet bridges there were not working.

During our short stay we saw several UN helicopters delivering humanitarian supplies throughout the island.

Sixty minutes later we were on our way back to Florida.

Port-au-Prince cleared us directly up to flight level 400. It took just over 20 minutes. No time to climb record today like Darren but still respectable for an airliner.

The Bahamian island chain passed below and soon we were over the island of Bimini and descending for FLL.As nicely as the 757 flies, the landings are just as easy. Or at least that's what all the First Officers that I have been flying with have shown me. The FO today greased it on 9L at FLL. I have yet to plant a 757 on the runway but I'm sure the day is coming. I have already done so in a 767 so that square is filled.

My leg back to DFW and still no hard landing! What a nice airplane!

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple.