Posts Tagged ‘Rochester’

Scatter plans and diversions, part one

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

This is Part One of a three-part post about a single flight from Eagle, Colorado, to Newark, New Jersey, with an unscheduled stop in Albany, New York. Parts two and three will appear in the coming weeks.—Ed.

StormI was recently working a trip that involved some bad weather at the destination. Further, because we were departing a geographically challenging airport (Eagle County Regional [EGE]), which is a high-elevation airport with a mountain at one end, we were limited in the amount of fuel we could carry so that we could maximize our payload. When the aircraft started holding for Newark, we were severely limited in the amount of time that we could spin circles in the sky.

Our scheduled alternate was Albany International (ALB), just a few minutes north of Newark Liberty International (EWR). However, our hold was on an arrival that begins closer to Cleveland. At this point on a flight, the perspective of the crew and the company often begins to diverge. When the weather is down and airlines know that diversions are likely, they need to be fairly strategic in choosing alternates. Otherwise, crews will all race for the same couple of airports. For instance, at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport (ATL) in Atlanta, the closest and often the “best” is Lovell Field (CHA) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Unfortunately, CHA quickly gets overwhelmed, and it takes far longer than it should to get the airplanes refueled and on their way. Crews like CHA because its close proximity means they can hold longer, thus improving their chances for getting into ATL on the first try.

My company has been using a “scatter plan” in which computer software tries to selectively spread out the diversions so as to avoid overwhelming one or two airports while minimizing the risk of a diversion (and minimizing the turn time when a diversion occurs). Other factors may include selecting a diversion that also happens to be the final destination for a number of connecting passengers.

Scatter plans aren’t without problems. First, the weather needs to cooperate. Second, so does the crew. In our case, ALB was a legal alternate, but the weather wasn’t very good. It was right at legal minimums. We started collecting ATIS reports for Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse. Several had either great visibility with a low ceiling, and some had a poor selection of both (in the Part 121 world, visibility is all that matters). When we contacted the company about Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), the best option, we were told that the ramp was full. Getting to ALB also meant flying through the worst of the weather.

This brings up another issue: crew legality. The company also needs to take into account which crew members may run into duty time issues. One of our flight attendants had started so early in the morning that she didn’t have a lot of time with which to work. Second, I was on my sixth day of flying, so an abnormally long delay in PIT—a very good possibility—was going to strand me as well. Further, the airplane would be stuck until they could bring in another first officer, because I would not legally be able to fly the next day.

As we began studying the weather, we pushed for a change in the alternate. The ALB weather was dropping, as was our fuel load. But there were not a lot of options. Finally, our dispatcher, who had a much bigger picture than we did, sent us to ALB. So, off we went. Could we get in, and how long would we be there?—Chip Wright

The Places You’ll Go: An ice runway in New Hampshire

Friday, February 24th, 2012

“The Places You’ll Go” is an occasional series of blog posts from Flight Training readers about the adventures they experience with a new pilot certificate. We hope these posts will inspire you to press on to the finish line of your own certificate. If you would like to submit a post, email Jill Tallman.—Ed.

On final to Alton Bay, New Hampshire

When we first get the itch to become an aviator, there could be a number of reasons why. Some folks become pilots to make a living flying. Some just for fun. Then there are the ones who do it to test their skills, explore, and enjoy the many destinations that are out there.

Recently my flying partner and best friend Frank Grossman and I fulfilled one of our “bucket list” flying destinations…Alton Bay, New Hampshire. B18 is located at the southern tip of Lake Winnipesaukee and is the only registered ice landing airport in the continental United States. (Ed. note: It’s a seaplane base in the summer.) For a very short period in January and February, the lake freezes over enough to allow general aviation aircraft to land. Frank owns a beautiful 1965 Cherokee 260 Six, which we take all over the place when the opportunity arises.

The day of our trip starting out at Greater Rochester International Airport, we were blessed with clear skies and a nice tailwind to boot. Thirty miles from the bay we encountered clouds and winds, which only got more intense as we got closer. The approach from the south using Runway 1 requires you to make a short-field landing over the hill and trees with swirling winds for us that day were 23 gusting to 31 straight down our nose. The runway was marked by cones since there was not a hint of snow, making it slick glare ice, so braking was pretty much nil! The outside air temp was around 20 degrees but the winds were strong, giving us concern for the Six to get pushed around; chocks were useless unless they had nails driven into the bottoms.

After enjoying a tasty burger and fries while meeting some of the friendly locals, we received our certificate for skillfully landing on the ice. Frank and I loaded up the Six, pointed back into the 30-knot headwind, and were airborne in about 500 feet. The local folks had asked if we could do a return for approach from the north so they could get some photos. Of course we could, it was our pleasure. The winds are very tricky in that end of the lake, which cuased a couple moments of “let’s think this through” before we proceeded. Once clear of the lake, we pointed the nose skyward for the journey back home to KROC, still enjoying some gusty winds. We reached our cruise altitude of 8,500 feet and began to enjoy some much calmer air that only got smoother as the sun started to settle.

Some folks might ask why someone would even consider taking a flight like this knowing that you could run into unfavorable conditions and not be able to get to your primary destination. We as pilots train, train, and train some more so that we have all of the variables in place regarding each and every situation. Safety is first and foremost; it is the number one item at the top of the list with no substitutes. We plan, lay out our options, and go if everything looks right–no second guesses. So why did Frank and I make this trip to such a beautiful destination? To enjoy the rewards of experiencing just such a flight that tested our skills, to explore a place that we had only heard of, and to be able to pass on to others…because we are pilots. Now if you will excuse me, I need to finish up planning our next trip. Blue skies, tailwinds, and most of all, let’s be safe out there. —Pat Collins