Saturday 18 May 2013 22:18 UTC
Discuss the problems and solutions to all of the situations that Pilot X finds himself in.
The Risk Manager
Company founder and present CEO, instructor, charter pilot, salesman and finance raiser… the pressures on Pilot X are building.
By Richard Boswell
As the rain started to patter down on the windscreen, X smiled. It quite literally never rains but it pours. As the intensity of the rain increased, he gazed out of the cockpit at the thickening grey clouds and realised that it was decision time. Should he stay or should he go?
On paper, the decision was simple, but it depended on what bit of paper you were looking at. X had run the little charter company for nearly 30 years and in his capacity as Crew Resource Management instructor and Flight Safety Officer the decision was easy. Taxi back and cancel the flight. But as is common with small aviation companies, he wore many hats and another one was founder and CEO. Year-on-year he tried to carve an existence as an aviation entrepreneur; some years were good, others much more difficult, with X living a hand-to-mouth existence from charter to charter. Still, he had managed to survive where countless other companies had failed. However, one thing was certain, every year the cost of business increased and the amount of business declined.
Today, here was a lucrative charter with customers who promised to bring lots of repeat business when he needed it most, so to taxi back now and deposit his passengers at the terminal building, knowing that there were unlikely to be any hotel rooms available at this remote location and long since the last train had departed was not wise. And with 10,000 hours under his belt on the trusty Seneca V and with almost 20,000 in total, he knew that he could virtually fly this route blindfold. And to continue in this weather, that is virtually what he would have to do.
As always, things were never as simple in reality as they appeared in the classroom when he gave flight safety courses. “Don’t fly if you feel fatigued, don’t fly if the weather is below limits, don’t fly if your safety equipment is unserviceable.” The advice was sound in an academic environment but did not reflect the day-to-day reality for most pilots.
He reflected on his day. He had started early after a late finish the night before. The charter the previous evening had gone well but he had not arrived back until almost 11pm. This meant that he could not fly and remain within the flight time limitations regulations until 11am this morning. He had an early morning charter but it was straightforward and he had organised for one of his young freelance pilots to fly it. This meant he needed to get up early to make sure that the pilot was fully prepared for the flight. It may have been easier to fly it himself but the FTL rules didn’t allow this and he had a meeting organised with his bank manager at 9am anyway. The meeting went pretty much as expected. X was hoping to borrow some money to fit the fleet of two aircraft with enhanced GPWS. It was expensive, but X could see the safety benefits of the technology given the nature of his operation. He had experienced a few close shaves in the past and appreciated that with the correct equipment and training this system would help avoid further close shaves or worse. His bank did not see it like this – why would they lend him money for equipment that did not improve efficiency and was not required by legislation for his type of aircraft and operation?
By the time he returned to the airfield, his junior pilot was back safe and sound. The flight seemed to have gone well but he had not been able to get the weather radar to work and, although he had not needed it for the flight, as the weather was forecast to deteriorate, he had ‘snagged’ the aircraft in the technical log. X sighed, he knew that this was the correct procedure but he also knew that there was no way that an engineer would be able to come out and fix the aircraft before he needed it. He also knew that they didn’t carry any spares for the weather radar, as they were too expensive to hold in stock. He cleared the snag and transferred the defect to the deferred defect list as he was entitled to do, and noted that unless he could fix the radar within ten days the aircraft would be grounded.
The empty leg to collect the passengers was uneventful, however, on arrival at the small regional airport things started to go downhill. He was aware of the approaching weather front and knew time was tight; he had already called his passengers and politely asked them to be prompt, and also called for a refuel as he taxied in, only to be told that there would be a delay of up to two hours. On shutdown, he dipped the tanks. He had enough to get back with VFR reserves but only just, and without the weather radar he didn’t want to go IMC anyway. He decided to go with what he had rather than wait for the bad weather to arrive. As he walked towards the terminal his passengers phoned him: they were delayed at security and were being told that they needed a ticket before they could pass through and proceed airside.
It took another 45 minutes before X managed to locate his passengers and steer them through security and load them in the aircraft. The grey clouds were already looming when he called for start. Taxying out, he was informed that there would be a further 10-minute delay before he could take off, as there was jet traffic they wanted to get out before him. And then the rain started to patter down on his windscreen. Should he stay or should he go? ■
1 Unfortunately these types of real world pressures are increasingly common for both private and commercial pilots alike. What would you have done and how do you manage risk?
2 What is enhanced GPWS and what safety benefits does it bring?
3 What is a deferred defect list?
It is all too easy to sit in a chair at home and say I would have cancelled the flight, but that was the clear choice that ashould have been made - it is likely that he was fatigued anyway from a late nioght last night and up early to check on the freelance pilot.
EGPWS provides a radar type image of the surrounding terrain rather than looking straight ahead and merely providing aural warnings which older conventional GPWS does.
DDL is a method of accepting certain defects and postponing rectification until a later date or event.
There are two ways to argue with a woman.
Neither of them work!
This is very difficult to comment on when the weather is just described as 'bad' or 'raining' or with 'a front approaching'. What were the actual and forecast conditions? What about the destination? What's the cloudbase?
Assuming X holds an IR (he's run his own charter firm for a while, I think that's a reasonable assumption) then there is no reason why he shouldn't depart in 'rain' so long as the forecast conditions at the destination are above legal minima for an instrument approach.
Welcome to commercial flying. If the weather is above legal minima, then, all other things being ok, you go.
Of course most of this is irrelevant, because he doesn't have IFR fuel reserves. He could try and scud-run it VFR, but we're not told if he's going towards the weather or away from it so it's difficult to comment on this.
The eGPWS is just a distraction, something taking his mind off the flight - which is not good news. It isn't required, and an (instrument qualified) commercial pilot with 20,000hrs and 10,000hrs on type should be able to fly to minima without such optional extras.
He has the ratings, the aircraft has the minimum equipment. The optional extras are nice, but not essential.
Is he fit to fly? He must judge that.
Not got IFR reserves? That would make the flight unwise as well as illegal.
It's a judgment call, which for a small outfit in his situation may make it a tricky one.
Moderatio in omnibus
No IFR reserve means no go or make an intermediate stop for fuel end of text AFAIC. otherwise he's got the rating and enough kit so would be good to go, he's sufficiently experienced to cope with tiredness and stress I would have thought, but only he can judge that.
EGPWS is as KNT describes but it's only a nice to have.
DDL as KNT again.
Extremely grumpy PPL/IR
And people complain about being charged £30 by a handling agent.
With a decent handling agent his pax would have been waiting for him in the VIP lounge, and the bowser would have been waiting for him on the tarmac. Cheap at twice the price.
Which just leaves
Could someone who knows more about such things please explain why that was a show-stopper? - I didn't see any embedded CBs in the question (but I might not have read it carefully enough).
At risk of diverting off-topic, folks like myself don't need handling, and there's no good reason it should take 2 hours to get refuelled. That's either poor customer service or unfair - and in this case dangerous - tactics on the part of the handling service. I will continue to avoid handling services, whilst acknowledging that they probably have their place.
No absolute show-stoppers here, so no absolute opinions. It may have been feasible to set off VFR, so the flight wouldn't necessarily be illegal. However, though it would be useful to know more information, I think it's clear from the implication that the pilot would have to 'fly blind' that this would not be a sensible course of action.
The catch-22 - the more you wait, the worse the weather. The worse the weather, the more fuel reserves you want, in case you have to divert. In most circumstances I would have wanted the fuel, and would have called the fuel suppliers again and asked them if there was any possibility of expediting the refuelling. There may even be some advantages in waiting - depending on the direction he was flying, the front might pass.
In this situation, communication is key. For example, the pilot could explain that had they been able to depart on time they would have been able to fly by sight. However, due to the delay - for which the passengers were in no way to blame - they would now have to fly by instruments, and would therefore require additional fuel to comply with regulations and stay safe. This gives a better impression than asking everybody to rush, then not being ready himself.
I would follow this up with an Email to the passengers apologising for the delay, reiterating the reasons for it, and explaining that in future - now that the pilot is aware of the problems clearing security at that airport - he would be able to be more pro-active in solving them if they were to fly that route again. After all, the passengers are flying home late in the day after the last train so it's likely that his service is valuable to them. The weather is visibly worsening - something that a layman should be able to appreciate - and sensible customers will value honesty and concern for their welfare, and realise that his service would be better under more normal circumstances.
What would I do differently? In practice, probably nothing. People are fallible and we don't always think ahead as far as we might. However, our pilot could have carried more fuel from his home airport, or perhaps called ahead to make an appointment with the fuelers at the destination airport. He could also have made the go/no-go decision before helping his passengers aboard the plane. If there is to be a delay of an hour or two, they'd be more comfortable back in the terminal, and again it would look better to have made the decision and to have explained it to them in more amenable surroundings.
Surely the u/s weather radar would not necessarily ground the aircraft even after 10 days. It would probably be listed as an allowable defficiency providing there are no cb's forecast on the route.
I would have thought that a chap with his long experience of the charter biz. would have encountered the described situation many times in the past. Flying for fun and flying with commercial pressures are of course quite different. After that length of time running a charter company and 20,000 hrs I think I'd retire gracefully, even if it meant getting a paper round to pay the rent.. (!)
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