It has been a very busy week with Memorial Day and many charter runs to Nantucket and the outer Long Island airports. All these flights inevitably originate in the NYC metro area with an intense pace in the air and then coordinating catering, passenger loading, fuel, luggage (and wheelchairs) on the ground. If you get any personal time for a sandwich you are lucky. Departing in the 5PM crush of traffic requires some special techniques to avoid waiting forever in the usual conga line of jets. I am glad I have done this many times in little planes, it makes getting up to speed on the charter side more manageable. Five legs a day through this gantlet (“a form of punishment in which people armed with sticks or other weapons arrange themselves in two lines and beat a person forced to run between them”) certainly feels a little like work.
Teterboro is every east coast charter pilot’s nemesis [see this YouTube] but ends up being our daily workspace in the metro area. I remember teaching the techniques to a new private pilot here years ago. She became livid because ground would not even call her back and talk with her. She thought this was because she was a woman with a foreign accent, but it’s pretty universal and nothing personal, just a super busy environment where everyone can get a little frustrated. It is very important to stay cool and know the rules (written and not) and essential to be totally prepared and situationally aware. Changes and opportunities happen quickly. Having a toolkit of essential tricks sure helps.
Flying the Pilatus with it’s wonderful versatility is also a huge advantage. Controllers are aware what this plane can do in the hands of a competent pilot so we often get quite an privilege for this capability. On approach, we stay fast on final, slow instantly airborne and land in under 1500 ft (love that reverse thrust). We are usually taxiing in on the first or second exit. (One of our pilots actually holds the record in the Flight Safety sim. She landed in under 700ft ground roll at max gross!) On departure a Pilatus can leave VFR (most charter jets cannot), so we can get out quick, turn low and immediately transfer to departure for efficiency. This is almost bush flying in the megalopolis.
The usual traffic procedure in light winds is to land everyone on 19, doing 180 knots to the marker, 120 knots to the numbers please, then immediately get off and free up the runway. For departure the usual taxi procedure is a conga line of frustration to runway 24. There is a “holding pen” between the ends of 19 and 24 where everyone queues up an waits endlessly for departure. Our favorite shortcut, since we are a turboprop and can depart VFR, is to request immediate departure on 19 if we see a gap in the incoming traffic. This requires your being immediately ready and responsive (you do not want to screw this up with ATC). On take-off, execute a quick left turn and disappear up the Hudson staying below the Bravo (1500MSL). The challenge here is avoiding the Bravo shelf west of the Hudson, staying under 200 knots and avoiding all the helicopters (fortunately we have sophisticated traffic avoidance systems and synthetic vision). Coordinating a climb ASAP is next action item.
If there is weather and you must depart IFR on 24 the challenge is accurately flying the famous RUDY 5 departure with it’s mandatory 1500/2000 crossing altitudes threading the needle above and below Newark inbound traffic. I have been told this is responsible for the most pilot violations of any procedure in the whole US. Either way you are ready to pivot and respond immediately to opportunities and get flying to expedite your customers transportation. They did not hire us to watch jets on the ground in NJ for an hour.
Once airborne it is “game on” with NY Center if we are VFR to coordinate an early climb. All turbine engines burn a lot of fuel down low so “up” is essential. If we are lucky we might even be able to pick-up our IFR clearance for Part 135 flight tracking. Being fast, concise and accurate on the radio and doing exactly what you told the controller you could do are the primary skills for the pilots in any busy airspace. It certainly helps that usually one pilot is flying and one is talking (though we have single pilot 135 approval also). All traffic flow along the coast of Connecticut is either low or over 12K to accommodate inbound traffic to the NYC airports so getting to altitude before CMK eastbound is the goal or you will be caught “in the weeds.” The arrival and ground ops at East Hampton resemble an aircraft carrier deck on the weekends with Blade running shuttles in their helicopters. Recently we had three amphibious Caravans, five helicopters taking off from the ramp mixing it up with the usual jets and turbo props on the small ramp.
So far LaGuardia seems like a pussycat to me compared to the challenges of KTEB. Usually we start this procedure VFR at the Tappan Zee and call tower inbound. They keep us 1000 ft down the Hudson and direct either a right downwind 31 or base to 22. Similar to KTEB; “keep the speed up, land short and get off my runway.” (With all the inherent contradictions involved). At KLGA you turn off right at Foxtrot/Echo and go to the “five antennas” for parking. The restaurant here is wonderful but parking is expensive for GA.
Sheltair is always ready and picks us up here with a van and you get to enjoy one of the most beautiful FBOs in the East. For me, Sheltair has an amazing resonance of aviation history being located in the old Pan Am terminal. The Boeing 324 Clippers once landing and departing right here delivering fashionable clientele to exotic destinations all over the world. The Art Deco interior has not changed a bit since the 30s and 40s. In my next installment I will talk about the challenge and fun of the island airports and operating in minimal weather operations. Several trips to South Carolina have been challenging with all kinds of crazy schedules. Every day is a new adventure!