Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Special Areas and Airports

Special Areas and Airports. There are a bunch of them. These Special Areas and Airports are normally designated due to unique terrain or approach procedures. In order to land or fly through these areas (for here on I will abbreviate Special Areas and Airports by using SARA) the crew must study the FAA/Jeppessen pages which typically have detailed photos and procedures. Additionally my airline designates some SARA's Captain only.

Last week on Friday, I picked up an overtime trip to such an airport. Only the Captain is authorized to takeoff and land due to the very complex arrival and departure procedures. Eh.

The flight almost didn't happen. The original Captain was stuck at an out station due to weather. While walking through the airport I saw another Captain eating lunch and gave him the heads up that he might be reassigned. Sure enough five minutes prior to departure he was reassigned.

Halfway there we began discussing the arrival procedures. At the present time weather was below minimums, but at arrival time the forecast was to be right at minimums. The weather forecasters earned their money that day. The ILS to runway 7 requires 3 miles visibility and that's exactly what we had. The airport is surrounded by mountainous terrain. The go around procedure involved a fairly steep climbing turn.

We had a quick turn due to being late. Just one runway. Only two taxiways were open (the first and last) and the field was non towered. During the ground time we discussed the departure procedure and the engine out procedure. We taxied to the end of runway 25 as taking off from runway 7 was too weight restricting due to terrain.

Being non towered we had to call for release. The cloudy skies prevented a VFR departure. I called the center hoping there was no inbound traffic. No such luck, a 737 was 30 miles out, but already on the approach. This could get interesting.

We were holding short of runway 25. The 737 was landing runway 7. If they taxied to the end we would be nose to nose (again only the first and last taxiways were open/plowed of snow). Before we could think further we had another problem. Fuel.

Prior to taxi we had deiced. Min takeoff fuel was 8100. At the time we were at 8200....with the 737 still 30 miles out. The Captain shut the left engine down and then asked our dispatcher if they could lower the min takeoff number (There was contingency fuel on board). The dispatcher came back with a min takeoff number of 7800. Golden.

The 737 was on a 10 mile final and made a position report. I made one stating where we were and quiered if they could do a 180 on the runway. The 737 stated it should be no problem. Good.

They landed and cleared the runway. Another jet was holding for the airport over a VOR to the west at FL200. Center released us first.

Our company departure procedure requires us to fly to the same VOR and enter a hold until reaching 15,000 feet. Once at 15,000 feet we can resume our flight plan.

Uneventful. After clearing FL200 the Captain handed the plane over to me.

The airspace around the hub was a bit busy even though the weather was VFR. The approach controller instructed us to head to an initial approach fix and join the localizer for the runway. A moment later the controller advised the localizer was out of service and cleared us to the same fix for the GPS approach.

Twenty miles away the runway was in sight. Fifteen miles out we were cleared for a visual. I clicked off the autopilot and flight director (since it was only showing lateral guidance it wasn't much use) and simply flew the plane. Decent landing. Four hours of overtime was done.

Saturday night I started a 3 day trip. It was a very easy 1-2-1 trip. One leg the first day, two legs on the second and one  leg on the third day. The legs were long though especially with the winter winds. The worst winds were on day two with a 180 knot headwind RIGHT on the nose. The final leg on day 3 was THREE HOURS LONG from takeoff to landing. Ugh. The legs were a little longer than normal also as the Captain and I have little in common and thus don't talk much. We get a long great, but have never found a common topic of interest. Lots of time was spent starring out the window.

All in for February I flew 23 hours and will be paid for 92. Not bad at all.

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