The incredible variety of experiences and challenges is what keeps charter flying so interesting. Flying with good people makes it fun and worthwhile. If you personally thrive on stability and consistency in your life, you might not be suited for charter flying; this life is full of surprises and I confess this might be what I personally like most. Versatility and creativity are the more important piloting skills for this job; most days provide some new challenge. To be a successful pilot you must have a diverse toolkit of skills at your disposal since any particular day might involve; flying IFR to minimums at the islands, transitioning through a nasty convective line or tactical VFR “bush flying in the Bravo.” A Pilatus is capable and versatile. We sometimes depart VFR low to escape KTEB at rush hour or circle *around* (Boston Tower) to land in the opposite direction. I do love this challenge and adventure. The dark side is of course the temptation to cut it even closer or make it go faster. It is essential for safety to set hard limits (follow the General Operating Manual) and maintain good company operating procedures. Historically, many pilots get in trouble pushing too hard (“what was I thinking?”). A solid dose of discipline and respect for safety and regulatory compliance have to be part of the toolkit. We have a great crew structure and two pilots are always briefing and working each challenge to assure a safe and efficient outcome even if it sometimes throws us a curve.
In the NYC metropolitan area one skill that is indispensable and honed on a daily basis is efficient radio communication. After 40+ years of flying this is something I continue to work on daily. Fast and furious is sometimes the rule. A busy controller can deliver altitude, heading and new frequency all in a one breath. It is not at all uncommon to be switched to a NYC frequency and it is so busy you cannot even check on…and don’t even try! New York on 127.6 in close west of the Hudson is famous for congestion with Newark, Laguardia, Teterboro, Caldwell and MMU approaches all streaming south for landing. You just switch frequencies and listen to the constant flow of instructions. New York will inevitably call you when they have your “command” and you better be quick and concise with the readback and also ready to comply promptly. They do not tolerate “slow” in speech, thought or action (but at the end of seven legs you can unfortunately be all of these) Widespread weather makes this whole system much more complicated and delays can become epic in proportion with tired and sultry passengers in the back who just want to get on their way (while up front we burn precious fuel and run short on “duty time”).
These two photos are at JFK during a pick-up from an inbound international flight. A large convective area was just west and they NY Tracon imposed SWAP (Severe Weather Avoidance Procedures) as the mass of storms moved over the NYC metropolitan area. Ground control was parking loaded jumbo jets on the unused runways and issuing two hour delays (“shut it down, we will call you”). We watched nervously as the thunderstorms continuously closed in from the west and the clock ticked down. We ended up in a conga line for an hour and felt fortunate to beat the storms and finally get flying this night. We were headed south and fortunately, being a turboprop we could go on a lower terminal routes and escape to our destination in SC.
Our company does a lot of shuttles to the islands and East Hampton and this day (below) was a cat and mouse event with a progressing convective line. Every departure required a negotiation with ATC to get released into the weather since ground delays and gate holds are imposed when SWAP hits. Here are two views of the same day as the front progressed Eastward. We ultimately got trapped with the last load of passengers to the islands and stayed on the couch at KACK. On July 4th weekend there were no hotel rooms and even having a plane on the ramp with the threatening hail was very bad news. There were so many planes out there they closed the crossing runway and parked planes up and down the pavement.
We had successfully transited this line all day until the weather door slammed shut at 7PM. One poor Pilatus pilot from another shuttle company who tried to get home across this mess regretted it. The reward for his “bravery” was first “scared to death” (you should have hear his PIREP) and second, a pink slip from his boss for being so arrogant as to launch into the severe weather mess. Our trip into KHPN an hour earlier had been beautiful and smooth over the sound (once we got west of the front), but a long wait and a game of PacMan getting back east through the cells into KACK (we have on board radar and spherics). Our exit plan home had been runway heading (240 off KACK) and go around from the south. Unfortunately the Warning Area to the south was “hot” and we were denied routing so there was no real option but the FBO couch.
Daily delights that never change for corporate pilots are passengers with way too many bags, late or just rude (leaving the plane and simultaneously cleaning out the liquor cabinet and snacks). Then there is the struggle occasionally with departure delays and the overnight “camping trips” on the couch. For me personally, the most unpleasant issue is the constant hotels and inevitably crappy food. It is a real treat to finally get home and have an unscheduled day to go running or just read. I am getting better with this situation though and we negotiated sandwiches from “Charlie the Butcher” in Buffalo over the radio 60 miles out on the last inbound. Most bad situations are inevitably my own “failure to plan well.”
Our flight schedule has provided some amazingly fun trips recently like a flight to Missoula over the space of three days. This was a family getaway and “glamping trip” for the owner. We got to see Mt. Rushmore on our down time and also I was able to visit my brother (briefly) in Montana. Experiencing the expansive scenery out West was fabulous, and especially refreshing after running up and down the Hudson Corridor and back and forth to the Islands for the previous three weeks.
A couple of trips to Boston Logan ($1300 when you touch down) provided some exciting “Bush flying in the Bravo” with seven full legs including two approaches to minimums and a unique “circle to visual” approach at Logan. The controller really did us a favor (but was asking a lot) instructing an ILS to 15 break out below the clouds and circle down the channel (very low around the tower) to a short final Runway 4 (and “keep your speed up”). I love this stuff…game on! Sometimes I think they issue bets in the tower to see how many crazy things they can make us do.
This morning was an easy flight to Saranac Lake with a pick-up and delivery to White Plains. What a gorgeous flight over the Adirondacks this morning. Many wonderful experiences and hopefully more to go!