Saturday, February 7, 2009

Check Those Fuel Gauges Carefully

I'm still flying the Caribbean skies and enjoying the weather immensely. I haven't had to fly an instrument approach in months. My recurrent training is coming up in a couple of months and I'm sure to be a little rusty.
A recent trip took me down to San Jose, Costa Rica. I hadn't been there in almost 20 years. It sure has grown. AA operates four flights a day in and out of there and they usually are full.

The return leg took us right over Cuba. Years ago we would fly around Cuba so as not to enter their airspace but nowadays we pass right on through it provided we contact Havana Center and receive the appropriate clearance.

The Florida Keys would be up next as the sun was setting. If you look closely you can see the bridges on US #1 connecting some of the keys.The next leg was to be from Miami down to San Juan, Puerto Rico. A one hour delay for maintenance passed by and we finally took off from runway 26L. Passing through 5000 ft I glanced at the fuel panel and noticed that our right wing tank fuel gauge and the fuel totalizer where both blank! The left and center tank gauges were still showing the correct amount but that wasn't good enough. It was the first officer's leg so I had him take over ATC duties and then I pulled out our procedures manual to see what could be done. Well, it turns out that nothing could be done since the specific problem that we were having wasn't even listed.

A night flight over the Caribbean without operable fuel gauges didn't seem like anything we wanted to do nor was I interested in any further troubleshooting or a radio call to our maintenance folks in Tulsa, so I quickly made the decision to return to Miami ASAP. A call to the Purser, a quick PA to the passengers, a call to the company, and then my attention was back to the cockpit as we switched from climb mode over to approach and landing mode.

I told Miami Approach about our situation and they were very helpful and offered any assistance we might need. I asked for the nearest available runway but that was all. It wasn't exactly an emergency so I didn't ask for the rescue equipment but even so, we were given priority handling and our clearance to land came right away. Those guys at ATC are great!

Our Miami approach charts were still out as we had not even had time to put them away yet so we did a quick approach briefing, ran through the landing checklist and before we knew it the FO was clearing the runway and the flight was over. Total time in the air was only 17 minutes.

Approaching the gate I could see a couple of mechanics waiting on the jetbridge for us. And as luck would have it, as soon as we parked at the gate the fuel gauges came back to life. It never fails! But they ended up taking the plane out of service anyhow.

To end the story for now, they finally found us a new plane. We were re-catered, luggage transferred, fueling completed, pre-flight done, angry passengers boarded again and away we went only three hours late. I finally hit the sack in my hotel room at 3:30 AM only to be awakened in just a couple of hours.

Details in my next post.....

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


mlesser said...

Thats pretty exciting stuff! I guess the boring flights where everything goes to plan are the best, but its good to know that you make a decision based on safety. Im sure the passengers would understand this. Well i hope they would. But that sort of thing makes me want to be a freightdog for life.

Having said that, there is nothing worse at the moment than seeing the OAT at 45 degrees C, and when i get out of the C210 plane it feels like a cool breeze.

Take it easy Len, thanks for reading my blog


Melaida said...

Great Blog! I love the pictures with the stories!

Anonymous said...

Great blog! I love the pictures to go with the stories.

Mark Lawrence said...

Wow Len - that's an experience - I'm interested - what was the landing weight with only 17 minutes flying - that must have been a heavy landing? I would have thought runway 9 using a great deal of the length?


Len (Barfbag) said...

Hi Mark,

Actually we weren't that heavy. It was a fairly light load and we were under the max landing weight. Can't remember the exact weight. I asked for and received runway 30. Runway 9 was available but 30 was closer at the time.