Finally Flying (Flight Levels!)

So as you might imagine, flying clients is much easier and more fun than training with every possible emergency being continuously hurled at you! So far at this writing, I’ve made four trips and I am currently sitting in Chicago waiting for clients to return to KSYR as I type this. Then we reposition to KCDW where this plane is based.

The major focus of charter flying, as I understand it so far, is providing safe, comfortable transportation for the client who pays the bills. The convenience of direct flights on their schedule without TSA intrigue makes the extra cost well worth it. Usually a company like ours does not own the planes but “manages the asset” for people who own the plane. A mutually satisfactory contract is arranged to split costs and revenue. This provides relief from the total cost for the owner and they sacrifice some flexibility of going “anywhere anytime”. Usually when the owner flies it is  a part 91 operation (less restrictive). When we fly a non-owner charter client this is under part 135 of the regulations. We have a very detailed General Operations Manual and Operating Specifications that interprets the regulation and provides guidance on how to legally transport these people; 90% of our flying. In all cases, the maintenance is Part 135 (pilots don’t even put air in the tires, this would be done by an approved  135 maintenance facility!)

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My first flight was a reposition from KCDW to KHPN for a pick-up at Westchester. The routing was directly over Kennedy and down to South Carolina. One obvious rule of the charter business is maintaining the confidence of the clients so we don’t reveal any actual identities, but you hear all the names in the news every day. This client  lives in South Carolina but works in Manhattan. Their company bought this aircraft just to transport it’s employees (and this one in particular). It is equipped quite nicely with internet service at all altitudes and they are even installing jet beds. This pristine plane has fewer than 150 hours on it (and you certainly will not find it on FlightAware). This particular C-level employee shuttles into town a couple of times a week for a day or two to go to work in the city, then we provide the transportation home. Weather was good for this flight and just a few turns avoiding storms at FL240.

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Three important “gotchas” for the Pilatus: First; watch the brakes with the low pressure tires and no anti-skid braking system. If you are in a crosswind and grab a brake or are overeager on landing you can easily “flatspot” or totally ruin a tire. Second, with take-off flaps at 15 degrees and a slow 22 second retract cycle, it is very easy to exceed the 160K limitation which will alert on the electronic maintenance logging system and lead to a very expensive (required…$20K) inspection. Lastly, the shaker/pusher system is very touchy and can activate on landing (especially in the ice pusher mode) if you attempt a really nose high landing. Just slightly nose off to avoid the shake/push (a know Pilatus problem) OK…got it!

KPWKsectionalToday’s flight was a Part 135 charter out to KPWK, north of Chicago. As usual these are early starts, with a 4AM wake-up and out to the plane an hour before departure to arrange the catering, preflight plane and final check on weather. When the clients load up we should be cranking and rolling. They enjoy coffee and pastries and we go to work up front with aviation. This whole business is built on transparent service and customer satisfaction.

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You could not ask for a better day to fly with clear skies and little surface wind. At FL270 however we had a 52 knot  headwind. SInce TAS increases and the fuel burn decreases so dramatically on a turbine up high (half the fuel) we need to cruise high despite winds. It was over two hours to Chicago…and now we wait for the day until the clients return for the flight home; driving the bus! Lunch at Bob Chinn’s Crab House was memorable and worth the exploration of the neighborhood. Hawthorne FBO at Palwaukee is a wonderful facility.

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The return from Chicago at the end of the day was initially disappointing with only a 5K tailwind at FL200. Having faced a 60 knot headwind on the way out , we were looking for some payback (that pilot game). Finally, climbing to FL270 we picked up a 71 knot push and decreased our time to SYR to just 2 hours. At this altitude the cabin climbs to around 8,000 ft (5.75lb differential pressure) which is what the airlines usually maintain. This can be hard on some customers (why you feel beat up after a day on the airlines!) Our customers had discovered the booze and there were no complaints from the back!

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After SYR, the last leg was a quick Part 91 repositioning hop to KCDW for a flight the next morning. This was only 36 minutes @ 15K over the clouds for a visual into runway 22 at CDW. Despite the 14 hour duty day we vacuumed out the plane and restocked the catering for the next crew and completed all the flight logs and expense reports for the day. What an amazing experience with so much left to learn. My next challenge is mastering the General Operations Manual and Op. Specs. for the FAA line check next week. Back to the books!

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