Wednesday, March 13, 2013

No Pressur....ization!

I'm currently on my couch at home on Day 3....more on why in a bit.

Day one was pretty easy. My Captain is a commuter and had to take a two leg commute to get to work. I offered to let him take the first leg and I would take the last two since he already had a long day.

My flight attendant was interesting. She worked for Delta airlines in the 80s and 90s. She retired, finished raising her kids and enjoyed retirement, but she missed being in the air. Last year she joined my airline. I was in awe at how professional and caring she was, not that most of my flight attendants aren't, but she went above and beyond most.

On the first overnight we got to the hotel just before midnight. Around 12:30 AM I heard a fire alarm going off. It wasn't in my room, but it was close.

I figured there was no commotion....and no fire I was safe.

The noise got louder. I looked out the peep hole. No one moving. I called the front desk, no answer.

Still no commotion or fire trucks. I just ignored it and went to bed.

The next morning I learned the source. My flight attendant made popcorn in her microwave. She said it started smoking after just a minute, filling her room. The windows don't open so she had to go downstairs and get a fan from the front desk to blow it into the hall. Her entire room reeked of burned popcorn. I could smell it on her clothes. Thankfully she was going home that day.

We hopped into the hotel van at 1:30 PM for a 2:30 PM departure.

The inbound was early. The crew advised us the pressurization system was MEL'd. We would be flying around unpressurized.

Normally the maximum cabin altitude is 8000 feet. This means the air in the cabin is as thin as it would be if you were standing on top of an 8000 foot mountain (8000 above sea level).

The cabin pressuization system will keep the cabin altitude as low as possible for as long as possible. When the need to raise the altitude arises it the system will do so at the lowest rate possible to stay within limits. This allows our bodies to slowly get used to the pressure.

Being unpressurized the cabin altitude would be at or slightly lower than actual aircraft altitude.

Due to various regulations the highest cabin altitude we can fly around passengers without supplying them supplemental oxygen is 10,000 feet.

We would be keeping this plane for the first three legs. They were all SCHEDULED for under an hour.

Since we would be flying lower we would burn more fuel. Extra fuel loaded, we blocked out early. My Captain made a PA about the pressurization system and away we went.

Since we were unpressurized the cabin altitude would rise as quickly as we climbed.

Normally the initial climb rate for the aircraft is 2500-3500 feet per minute. If we did that unpressurized it would be very painful on our ears.

I advised the tower of our situation and they passed the word along to departure. We would be climbing no faster than 1000 feet per minute.

Even at that rate it was not very comfortable.

Normally the flight is flown at 17,000 feet. That day it was 9,000 feet. Very bumpy flight down low at 250 knots.

Approaching the Bravo airspace I advised approach of our situation. They understood and gave us an early descent. Once again my Captain kept the rate under 1000 feet per minute. Blocked in 15 minutes late.

Quick turn.

Blocked out 4 minutes late.

Normal departures out of my base are of the RNAV variety. They almost all involve a climb to 10,000 feet quickly. We couldn't do that comfortably.

We were given a non-RNAV departure to the south as the airport was in a south flow.

During taxi out the ATIS changed, now a north flow. We queried ground to make sure the departure routing was still valid. The chart had provisions for a north bound departure, but it is almost always given for a south flow. They said it was fine.

Checklist and flows down we were told to "line up and wait" (I miss position and hold!). There we sat. For three minutes while flights stacked up next to the runway.

"5733 continue holding in position, we are still working with departure on getting you out of here." stated tower.

After another 2 minutes, "5733, sorry about this, taxi down the runway, left on Bravo, left on Sierra, left on Alpha and hold short runway 33R, departure can't figure a way out yet." said the tower controller.

Nice. Down we went.

There are two other busy airports nearby for general aviation (lots of business jets) and another busy airport with business jets and airline traffic. We were a problem.

Ten minutes later we were told to line up and wait again.

Slow climb as we were vectored around other airports. Very odd flying so low for so long. Finally out of the Bravo airspace.

Blocked in 15 minutes late.

Boarded up quickly. Closed the door and then my Captain advised the passengers of the pressurizaiton issue. Once he was done we got a "ding" from the cabin. A passenger wanted off.

She was a nervous flier. My Captain made another PA stating the aircraft has redundant systems and he wouldn't be flying the plane if it wasn't safe. No joy, she wanted off.

Jet bridge reconnected, she got off.

Blocked out 10 minutes late. My leg. Another slow climb.

I pulled the power back very early to comply with Class C speed restrictions and a slow climb.

Away we went.

Approach controller didn't care for us throwing off the normal RNAV arrivals as we approached the Bravo airspace.

Given an early descent. Arrived 25 minutes late.

Two hour sit.

Quick flight to the overnight. Another MEL'd airplane. Nothing major, but it required a maximum power takeoff instead of the normal reduced power takeoff.

The out station airport has a 200 foot wide runway. I've landed on it several times...but never a greaser. A light airplane + night time + wide runway....always throws me off. It wasn't rough....but it wasn't smooth. I get paid the same either way.

Day 3 was supposed to be four legs to the overnight.

The first two were standard. I was supposed to fly legs 3 and 4 while my Captain had the first two legs.

For leg 3 we blocked out 10 minutes early. After running the engine start checklist we heard, "4599 the airport is closed, a Piper just ran off the side of the runway."

Winds were 120@10. The only open runway was 17L. Apparently a student pilot had some trouble and ran off the side of the runway. No injuries, but the runway was closed.

Tower advised the runway should be open in under 30 minutes.

My Captain felt it was better to  keep the passengers on board.

So we sat. Dispatch was advised of the issue.

Just 18 minutes later the Piper was being towed to the FBO.

Blocked out 20 minutes late. We only had a 35 minute turn to the overnight.

My leg. Climbed shallow to make up time. Twenty minutes out we got the mixed news. We were pulled from our overnight. Operations decided with a possible 30 minute delay and only a 35 minute connect time, it was better to staff the flight with reserves to get the flight out on time.

The rest of my crew commutes.

Our ETA was just 5 minutes late.

Blocked in 6 minutes late. My Captain asked scheduling to leave us on the overnight. To late. The flight was restaffed and boarding a few gates down.

I went home, they all went to a hotel. We all get paid.

Four legs tomorrow.

Happy I live in base.

1 comment:

  1. Yup, great that you live in your base city! I can easily imagine that commuting sucks. I guess I've always been troubled by MELs. The minor, odd item being MEL'd is one thing, especially when there are redundant systems, but having the entire cabin pressurization down seems a bit over the top. Too many compromises in the 'normal and expected' routines, to say nothing of the discomfort to the paying pax. One flight to your own maintenance base, with or without pax is one thing, but to fly it as-is more once is... questionable at best. The flying public and your airline's stock holders will rejoice, knowing that I don't run your airline ! Of course I understand that FAA-dictated MELs are considered 'safe' for limited periods and that an airline's self-imposed MELs are often even more restrictive. Still, I'm not sold on the idea that flying a medium sized high-performance jet around for several days, without cabin pressure is a smart idea; too many compromises and newly introduced variables. But at least you got an extra day at home and that cannot be all bad. Best wishes, -C.


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