Posts Tagged ‘Cincinnati’

The Valley of Blue

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

I’ve written before about the fact that I am a warm weather guy—my wife and I very nearly moved our family to the Virgin Islands several years ago—but I prefer to deal with many of the inconveniences of winter flying versus one minute of dealing with a thunderstorm.

That conviction was reinforced in spades in July, when I was scheduled to fly a CVG-GSO turn. This happened during the stretch of 90- to 100-degree days when a front decided to assume a stationary stance along the I-70 corridor.

Our normal route of flight on this city pair takes about 50 to 55 minutes, and essentially is a direct line from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International to Piedmont/Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C. I’ve done it enough times that I could do it with my eyes closed.

On this day, however, little was going right. We were running late because the airplane was late getting to us for our first leg in DTW. We had some passenger connection issues as well as some other run-of-the-mill airline stuff go wrong that put us about 15 minutes behind all day. Had we been on time, we just might have made it out of the CVG area in time to punch the line and fly the normal route to GSO.
Instead, we were forced to take a journeyman’s route, flying from CVG due east until we were past Pittsburgh, and then finding a spot to turn south and race the weather. I held off on the controller’s request to start south until we were well clear of the eastern band of weather that was on our route, and as a result, we got a nice smooth ride into GSO.

The return flight, however, was not going to be any easier. Our dispatcher loaded us down with a truckload of extra Jet A and wished us luck. He confirmed to me on the phone that the weather would not be a factor in CVG, though the forecast would require an alternate. In reality, the worst of it was west and south of the field. The radar on my phone seemed to confirm that.

Getting home required almost a reversal of our route down, but with one major constraint: We were filed for FL300, but we could not get past FL220 because of traffic saturation. We could see it on our TCAS, and when we checked in with Washington Center, we could hear it on the radio. More than once, the congestion was so bad that our initial transmission was a press of the Ident button on the transponder—we simply could not get a word in edgewise.

We, along with (it seemed) every airplane on the East Coast, were stuck in a “Valley of Blue.” The sky above us was clear, and it wasn’t too bad going north either. East didn’t look great, but even if it had, it didn’t do us any good, and we could not find a clear hole to the west—not one that both of us could agree to try. When I liked one, the first officer didn’t, and vice versa. We kept going onward, again sneaking in the Pennsylvania area. The controller occasionally would ask us when we planned to turn. We never had a good answer. We tried to get a higher altitude, because in several places, it looked as though even a few thousand feet would get us over the weather. No dice. It was one of the few times that I heard a controller announce, “[a]ll aircraft cleared to deviate as necessary.”

Wow.

Finally, when I began to think that we might need to announce to the RCMP that we were coming to Canada, eh, we found a hole to our left and floored it. Three or four minutes later, we were firmly established on a heading that again paralleled the weather, going west. We had to argue with several more controllers as we worked around a sizeable cell, and we had to contact the dispatcher about the 8,000-foot difference in our altitude and the effect on our fuel burn, but the farther west we went, the better the ride got. A normal flight of an hour took 90 minutes. Two hours later, we were on the ground in Baltimore for the overnight.

I hate thunderstorms…but I so want to move to a tropical island and fly VFR for the rest of my days.—Chip Wright

It looked easy on paper

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Why is the day that should be easy the one that gets difficult, and vice versa? As I write this, I’m on a trip that started off as a fairly long, potentially hard day. It was scheduled for five legs, with an airport check-in time of 6:09 in the a.m. The nine minutes is the company’s idea of being generous with extra sleep.

As a result, I woke up at four-something at the hotel in DTW to catch the 5:35 van. Our duty period was scheduled for 13 hours. Any number of things could have gone wrong. The consolation for me was twofold: The overnight was scheduled for my home city, so I could spend the night in my own bed; secondarily, the trip got easier with each day. The second day only had three legs, and it was scheduled to end at 1:30 in the afternoon. Very gentlemanly.

The first day went off without a hitch. All five legs went as planned, even with a flight attendant change in the middle and an FAA operational observation in Raleigh-Durham. We even had light loads, which always helps.

The second day did not start so promisingly. All of our flights would be full or close to it. The first one was full with a company dispatcher trying to get on our jumpseat. (Dispatchers are required to get five hours a year of observation time in the cockpit.) It was raining steadily when we got to the airport, and the weather in Memphis was lousy, which required an alternate. The closest one was Nashville, which is not close—it was 40 minutes away, so we had much more fuel than we usually do for a flight to Memphis. We spent at least 10 minutes trying to make the math work to get the dispatcher on board, and every time we thought we had it, something would change (like more luggage). It got so that not only did the dispatcher not make it, but neither did one of the passengers (who actually appeared to be quite pleased with the development).

In the middle of all of this, I had to review the MEL to make myself familiar with the procedures to use when a fuel pump is not working. The pumps are so reliable that this was only the second or third one I’d seen deferred in more than 9,000 hours in the airplane.

The end result was a late push followed by a headwind of well more than 80 knots. To add insult to injury, our gate was occupied upon arrival in Memphis, and we lost precious connection time waiting for another one. The poor visibility in the morning had slowed the operation considerably.

We made it to Cincinnati with the only aggravation being a different runway assignment than we had expected, which led to a longer-than-planned taxi, but we were still late. None of us could fly any farther without some food, so we ran to get something to take with us. And finally, fate smiled upon us: The weather system had pushed through, and the jet stream finally gave us the push we needed. We left 10 minutes late for Richmond, flew fast, and landed on time. The crew that took over the airplane had no idea how grateful we were to see them.

I handed the captain the keys, packed my bags, and bid him fare thee well. Oh, and by the way, there’s this fuel pump issue you should be aware of…—Chip Wright