Posts Tagged ‘Detroit’

What I miss about GA

Monday, May 21st, 2012

I recently did a flight from DTW to Kalamazoo (AZO). We had some time on the ground to kill, and our gate’s location gave us a great view of the approach end of Runway 17. Several airplanes were doing pattern work, including a Cessna 172 (with a horribly ugly paint scheme, I might add), a Piper Cherokee, and one or two others. A couple were flown by students, as evidenced by the hesitant radio transmissions and the near-misses of nosewheel-first landings. Others were likely someone out just practicing, taking advantage of the clear sky and summer-like March weather.

My first officer and I began chatting about how nice it would be to trade places for a day with these pilots.

The truth is, I can’t tell you how much I miss general aviation flying. I don’t get to do it nearly as much as I would like because of the cost, and when it comes to travel, you can’t beat the free flight benefits of the airline.

But I miss everything about GA—getting dirty on a preflight, being able to turn the radio off, tracing my flight on a sectional (not easy at 400 knots true while in the flight levels), or just taking the airplane around the patch one more time because I didn’t like my landing. If I tried that at my day job, I’d have more than a little explaining to do. They might even deduct the cost of the extra fuel from my paycheck. And I especially miss doing primary flight instruction. I’ve long maintained that if I could make the same income as an instructor as I do now, I’d trade my uniform for shorts in a heartbeat.

On occasion, we will see a 172 or a Cherokee on our TCAS that is flying at or below 1,000 feet just sightseeing or slowly going from place to place, or maybe even nowhere in particular. Once in a while we see those airplanes doing ground reference maneuvers or lazy 8s. It’s hard not to think about how far my own career has come watching somebody else go through those maneuvers that I too had to master.

If you are pursuing a professional career, take the time to enjoy the steps along the way, and if you can pull it off, stay involved in your GA roots. You will miss it more than you ever will imagine. I fly whenever I can, and I keep my CFI certificate active; I worked way too hard to ever let it expire.

There may be a thing or two about GA that I don’t miss—the broken orange juice cans in the Cessnas, not having a weather radar, bouncy fuel gauges, and I’d like to have an autopilot—but the benefits way outweigh the cons. I think I’d like more than anything to be able to fly a cross-country and substitute my iPod for ATC…just once.—By 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