November 3, 2010 by Bruce Landsberg
Delays are a fact in aviation life. Last week’s near hurricane in the upper Midwest made for an interesting trip to Grand Forks, ND (GFK) and back. Ironically, I was presenting a safety seminar on Real World IFR and it doesn’t get much more realistic than last week’s weather. While I always prefer to fly GA, under those extreme conditions it seemed better to leave this to those with the right tools. The outbound airline flight from Minneapolis (MSP) to GFK was canceled with refugees packed into every remaining flight. The Delta Connection Skywest crew was extremely professional and deplaned two passengers after determining that about 400 pounds more fuel was needed to reach a suitable alternate in this massive storm system. The 90 degree crosswind landing at GFK was likely close to the limits of the RJ and a thing of beauty.
In the safety business we typically focus on the negative and forget that tens of thousands of flights operate successfully in all kinds of weather. The regional airlines are collectively taking a lot of heat because of the Colgan accident. No question that some things need to be fixed but the system, as a whole, works well. No corners were cut this day.
My return the following day from GFK was fraught with delay as flight after flight canceled largely because MSP had only one runway that was within wind limits. I’m wondering how NextGen is going to improve major weather delays like this? Concrete becomes the limiting factor – not the ability to wedge a extra few aircraft closer to one another with more precise navigation. When the big hubs go down the wheel comes off the wagon and remains that way for at least a day or so. GA may be slow relative to jets but we don’t usually don’t get stuck in the hub tar pits for a day either.That’s what reliever airports are all about and it behooves everyone to protect them.
My options out of GFK ultimately evaporated after 6 hours of trying so it came down to renting a car for a drive and an overnight in Fargo. First flight out the next morning sounded good. You know what’s coming! More delays although the storm was long gone and creaming the Canadian Maritimes.
The inbound RJ that was to be the escape vehicle back to MSP whacked some birds on the way in and was taken out of service for inspection. The savior was an old Northwest Airlines DC9 that was sent to liberate us. Bondo and doubler plates were in much evidence on the airframe and the only glass in the cockpit was in the captain’s spectacles but the old bird did the job with grace.
This episode reminded me that way too many GA pilots come to grief by pushing on. The professionals have procedures and minimums. Rules are followed and options discussed. Weather delays cost time and money – it’s a fact of aviation life no matter what you’re flying. Novices push – the pros wait. They may get there late but they get there.