Being a Captain

I never published this for some reason: now a few years ago. I am privileged to be flying an Ultra now and hope to get back to active writing (it helps me learn this stuff- there are lessons every day!)

I became “captain” officially for Part 135 operations after my 135.299 ride with the FAA in October 2016. Probably more importantly is all the responsibility that this new position added. In the PC-12 you can legally fly a whole cabin full of passengers IFR through the weather solo, and I have many times now. Not only are you fully in charge loading up 9 people (one in front) and baggage, you are the only crew to handle all the details and surprises. This can be a challenging responsibility.

I passed the FAA 135.299 ride officially in October 2016 with the FAA. Almost immediately I had a series of trips all over the East to various diverse locations. The bigger challenge of single-pilot charter is coordinating all the details of passengers and catering, loading and dispatch; creating a seemless “mobility solution” for those paying for the service. The flying is (usually) pretty familiar and straight forward, but surprises are everywhere! The real shock came at St. Simon Island in Georgia. I was early for the flight and collecting the remote release clearance over the radio. As I was keying this into the Honeywell system, I heard the baggage door close and the passenger (a block-time customer but from another base) was initiating his own loading procedure. Obviously there is a delicate line we cannot cross here and when the passenger is operating the equipment, we are no longer in our designated roles. I knew now why we had been having alerting issues on this cargo door; incorrect procedures.

On another solo IFR flight up from Mississippi, I encountered an uncrossable line of meso-convective weather and had to land in Spartanburg and wait a couple hours before we could continue to the destination. When you are solo, a surprise diversion in the clouds is a bit more work than a crew-coordinated change of plans.

Even the dual trips in the winter can be challenging. I had a “owner-trip” scheduled from Caldwell to Mt Tremblant in Quebec. Of course, as the day of the trip approached so did a monster cold front from the west (Montreal to Mexico).  Any part 91 pilot would just wait a day and go after the storm…but not charter. When I said it was not a good day to fly this route the boss said “Good judgment, but we delay, we never cancel“.  So straight up the cold front we went (later in the day so it was getting dark too) and finally topped the ice at 26K. With a full load of passengers and skiing equipment, we descended through the ice into the dark, mountainous ski resort (with no real weather reporting) for a night landing in the snow. The “dusting of snow” reported on the runway was really 3 inches. We had to get a remote departure clearance, get deiced and depart in 30 minutes before the airfield closed. What made the return even more interesting was the late hour precluded clearing customs at Syracuse or Burlington so we had to land at Messina (just over the St. Lawrence and non-towered) in the heavy snow to meet customs. As we pulled in, a Suburban drove out, checked our passports, said good night and disappeared. Off we went into the snowy night (the life of charter operations).

Thank goodness for a co-pilot on this flight, coordinating the remote clearance through FAA as we watched the snow piling up on the wings. Off the ground in good haste, we flew the approach to minimums at Syracuse and got a taxi to the hotel.

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