Saturday, November 21, 2009

November already

Wow, November already.

I've had a fairly busy last couple of months. A few notable stories to share.

Three weeks ago, I was in a car accident. I was turning off my street and onto a busier street and managed to misjudge my turn so badly that I ended up sticking well out into the outside lane.

The outside lane happened to be full of same-direction traffic and with my luck, I happened to encroach onto the path of a tractor trailer.

Luckily, I guess, my encroachment into his lane was in the form of the front end of my car turning underneath his trailer as he went by. I managed to catch a glimpse of the side of his trailer a few inches from my driver side window and instantly realized that this put the hood of my little car underneath the trailer... The back wheels impacted me quite smartly on my drivers side front wheel, fender and hood. He was probably going about 50 km/h and the impact threw the front end of my car out from under the trailer. Unfortunately, this spun the rear end of my car around enough that I impacted him again with the back of my car on the side/back of the trailer. I was propelled off the road, over the curb ( neatly taking out all my tires as I went over the curb ), over the sidewalk and well up onto the grass and into some bushes.

I was fine, aside from being a little bit stunned at what had just happened.

I got out of the car quickly to wave to the truck driver, who had stopped, along with a lot of other people, to make sure he knew he hadn't killed me. Or, more accurately, that I hadn't killed myself, as it was completely my fault. The people that stopped were just as surprised as I was that I was OK. It must have looked pretty dramatic from outside, I know it did from inside.

It was pretty much a big crash, a jolt and then everything spinning around in my windshield, accompanied by the sound of broken glass flying around.

Pretty stupid on my part. I had turned out of this street a thousand times since I moved here two years ago.

We exchanged details and I called the police to report it. There was little question my car had sustained more than the 1500.00 limit for mandatory reporting to the police. As no one was hurt, they were a little while showing up. I felt bad for the truck driver who was on the job and was being inconvenienced pretty badly by my mistake. I got his details and told him he might as well go, since it was clearly my fault and its not like there was anything to dispute.

The police arrived and it took less than five minutes to give him enough info for his paperwork. He explained how the process would work, with them towing my car away and the insurance company picking it up from them. All I had to do was leave my keys in the car, take any personal items I needed and that would be it.

Felt more than a little weird making such a mess of glass, busted car bits, and then just walking away from the whole thing, leaving my car up in the bushes for someone else to look after the whole thing.

Walked home and called the insurance company.

They had a rental car delivered to me within the hour, the claim all set up and explained how they would do an examination of the damage and let me know if it would be fixed or written off.

I have to say, the whole ordeal was pretty painless.

They did end up writing the car off, and I was fortunate enough to get enough money out of them to pay off what we still owed on it.

My insurance doesn't even really go up, as I have enough safe driving years that they give you one freebie out here without taking a hit on your rates.

Did a fair bit of shopping around for a new car and finally settled on a 1999 VW Jetta. Its not new-new like my little Mazda-3 that is being stripped of all its remaining useful bits somewhere, but its small, easy on gas and in good enough shape that I don't have to stress about it starting in the morning or body panels rusting off and littering up our parking spot. ( unlike some vehicles that have graced our spot.... )

So, theres that.

I've been studying IFR rules and procedures in my spare time, and I'm kind of hoping to write the INRAT ( the written exam for the Instrument Rating ) sometime before spring. Most likely February, but I haven't really committed to it yet. I'm interested in it, and its always challenging learning something new, but I keep coming back to the fact that since I can't really afford the flying part of the rating yet, that this is all just academic.

There's a lot to learn though, so its better than playing video games or watching TV.

Union Contract negotiations at my fueling gig are well underway and things are moving very slowly. Not a good sign, and I don't even want to think about the "S" word. The longer it drags on and the more disillusioned my coworkers are getting with the process though, the more people are starting to talk about it. It went from a absolute last resort, but no-one really thinking of it as a serious option, to now being one of the few remaining bits of leverage we have.

I interviewed at a freight forwarding outfit the other day. I've been looking for some part-time work that might help me save up some cash / relieve some debt pressure.

I forgot how much I enjoyed freight forwarding and am almost afraid of getting this job. Its hard to logically justify a career path that has so little going for it in the economic department ( flying ) when a perfectly good career is available to me in forwarding. I worked as a freight forwarder for over ten years and, without being too arrogant, I'm pretty good at it. I've been courted by a dozen or so different companies over the years, wanting me to come work for them and I've made enough contacts in the industry that getting forwarding work wouldn't be too hard.

The hard part is getting a part-time forwarding job. The company I interviewed for was interested in the idea of hiring a part-time person, but the local manager still has to sell it to his boss, so we'll see.

Part of me thinks, maybe I should go back into forwarding full-time and do the fueling thing on a part time basis instead of the other way around. It makes a lot of sense financially, but I'm nervous about it. I'd hate to put myself in a position where the money becomes the anchor tying me into something that I don't really want to do for a long time.

The Lovely Wife and I have, however, started working towards a new goal.

We've talked about it before, but we've started making some concrete efforts towards it now.


Everyone thinks we're crazy.

We've got some big challenges with making it happen though. First and foremost, we need to reduce our financial obligations here to the point where our debt is serviceable on the amount of income we can expect over there.

Second, we both need to find jobs over there.

We've decided on a years timeframe to try and meet some financial goals. This will probably necessitate us both working full and part time jobs.

That being said, if the right opportunity came along in the meantime, I think we could make it happen in short notice as well.

I spoke with a fellow at work the other day, he lives / vacations in Kenya one or twice a year and seems very connected with the local flying scene over there. The other day he asked me to forward him a copy of my resume, as it looks like he is preparing to make another trip over in the next few weeks. Its funny how these things can fall into place once people know you are interested. Fingers crossed.

One of the local helicopter outfits at the field had their annual Christmas party for customers, friends and suppliers. They fly in a serious amount of Lobster and boil it up right outside the hangar in these great big pots.

They also spend a few hours shuttling everyone up for a ride in their A-Star Helicopters.

I snuck over there and managed to cadge myself a ride.

That. Was. Cool.

My second trip in a helicopter, and I like it and all, but I'm not sure flying one would be my thing. Yet...who knows?

We do a lot of sports-charters, primarily NHL teams, at our FBO. The teams come in and we marshall them into a parking spot, chock the wheels, get the air-stairs truck up to the door, open up the cargo holds and offload the players bags and all their team gear.

If the team is just coming in for the day and then going back home the next day, they usually have a carry-on bag each and nothing in the hold as far as personal luggage. If they are on a one, two or even three-week road trip however, they'll each have a great big suitcase as well.

The personal bags are stored up front usually, in Pit#1,2 and/or 3.

On a side note, aircraft with bulk-loadable downstairs cargo holds, have the cargo areas divided up into " pits ". A pit is basically a section in the hold, noted by a cargo net divider and usually a painted line on the wall. This allows us to load a certain amount of volume/weight into each " pit " and record those numbers for the flight crew to work out their weight and balance.

With these flights, it usually isn't much of a concern as personal luggage is almost always much bulkier than heavy. That is, the pit will be full of bags long before the actual weight is much of a factor.

The pits are numbered starting from the front of the plane, towards the back. The front hold usually has 2-3 pits and the rear, depending on the plane, could have as many as five or six.

Once the plane is shut down and the doors are open, we will marshall the buses into position at the bottom of the stairs to receive the players and occasionally, a media contingent.

Our procedure is to have a couple of guys up front in the forward hold retrieving the personal bags and placing them on the ground for the players to collect and put on the bus as they board. I've seen other FBO's handle the bags off the plane and then also load them onto the buses, but the players and team management never seem to mind our method and it speeds things up considerably.

With only having to have two guys up front handling personal bags, the rest of us can be at the rear hold getting the belt loaded into position, marshaling the equipment truck up to the back of the loader and getting the cargo nets in the rear hold taken down in preparation for offloading.

Each team in the NHL has a Equipment Manager, some of them have a couple of them. When a visiting team is in town, the home-team equipment manager will look after collecting their gear from the plane and taking it to the rink and getting it settled into their dressing room. This saves everyone from having to set up rental trucks each time they visit somewhere else and dragging their equipment crew around with them.

Once the truck is in place, the equipment manager and one of our guys will be in the back of his truck helping to stack the gear as it comes down the belt and two more guys will be up in the rear hold.

One guy gently moving the customers property from the location where it was so lovingly and carefully placed by the on-load crew on the other end and getting it in the general vicinity of the door opening and the other person will ever-so-carefully and with as much grace as a person can muster moving 150 lb crates and giant hockey bags from a crouched position with an APU screaming over your head, place them on the belt loader.

The whole thing is usually very quick. Most often, its late at night and the players want to get to the hotel ASAP to get some rest before the next days game. The equipment guy has a ton of work to do now that the gear is in town, and most of us are on the tail end of our shifts or well into overtime and looking forward to getting home as well.

Luckily, we've got a really good crew and since most of us have done hundreds of these charters, with the exact same thing happening every time, its a pretty well oiled machine.

Occasionally things still go sideways though.

Last week we had a team going out that ran into some trouble. They were using the same plane that U2 used on their tour, and the charter outfit hasn't got around to repainting it yet. After all the gear was loaded, doors closed, stairs and chocks pulled, we were all standing there waiting to marshal them out when the engines shut down quite unexpectedly.

First they called for ground power and the stairs. We got the GPU ( Ground Power Unit - airplane electrical power generator, portable ) in position only to have it waved off.

Our air stairs developed sudden electrical issues of it's own and we had to jump start it with the pickup truck ( while the windows of the plane are full of curious faces wondering what the hell is going on with their plane and now what the heck are these jokers doing with the jumper cables?? ).

Turns out they had a mechanical issue with a fuel valve in one of the engines and had to get one of their maintenance crews to come over from their nearby hangar and do some swearing and poking at bits underneath the engine cover.

It worked, as they were on the way within an hour and a half of the engines shutting down. Not much of an issue really, but its the kind of thing that might keep you there all night, waiting.....

We handle a lot of music groups as well, sometimes just the performers on a smaller private jet, other times entire production teams in chartered airliners.

The music charters are a lot less well oiled.

We've got our routine down pat, and the teams and management of the sports charters know this and leave everything to us. Every runs smoothly and there is rarely any confusion or delays. Unfortunately, the music groups are usually a lot less experienced in this type of operation. You tend to get a lot of people strutting around barking orders and requesting things that are unnecessary, irrelevant, unsafe, nonexistent, unavailable and more often than not...ridiculous.

We do our best to accommodate them , as they are the customer, but it usually leads to us veering well off course from the routine and causing problems.

The van gets sent for a bucket of M&M's for the talent and is now not available when the crew call for a pickup from the hotel.

The producer asks for a separate set of air stairs for the rear door of the plane so that the talent can board first, using the front stairs and not have to " endure " the roadies, groupies and media walking past them to their seats in the back. Now we have to rent an extra set of stairs, assign two guys to marshal and operate them.

The list goes on and on, and I don't want to get anyone in trouble, so I'll leave it at that. Have got to see more than a few famous performers, but frankly, I could do without all the headaches....

We also had a C-130 Hercules from the Tunisian Air Force come into town. They make the trip out here once a year, apparently picking up / dropping off helicopters for maintenance at one of the larger local helicopter outfits here. They loaded three whole Bell 205 Helicopter ( disassembled of course ) into the back of this thing and then took them back to Tunisia.

The Hercules isn't the fastest aircraft around, so its a long trip, you can be sure! The crew were busy down at the Walmart and Costco though, so they must have had a little bit of room left over the hold for some extra personal gear...

I won't get into who/when/how details on this one, but I'll post two pictures and leave the rest up to your imagination....

Wingtip ( with evidence of repairs... )

Hangar Wall ( with evidence of .....something... )

Sitting around in the line crew room the other day, we had a funny call on the radio from an aircraft we didn't recognize. We only caught the tail end of the call, but it sounded like a " Fairchild " was coming in and would be on the ground in ten minutes, coming to our ramp. This had us all scratching our head as we weren't expecting anything and frankly, none of us could figure out what type of aircraft this would be. They were gone off our frequency by the time we answered the call, as is sometimes the case, so we were left wondering.

Visiting aircraft are strongly encouraged to call us on our Unicom frequency prior to arrival. This lets us make sure we have a parking spot cleared and ready for them, staff ready to marshall, offload and be available to them for whatever services they require. Occasionally, we get aircraft crews that don't think this call is necessary and we end up scrambling to do our jobs, mostly because we planned our manpower to assist those aircraft that DID call.

Sometimes, however, crews plan to call us when " in-range ", but end up being too busy dealing with terminal arrival and tower congestion and/or busy airspace, non-standard approaches or other distractions that preclude them being able to quickly call us on the second radio with an in-range call.

We finally got a clue as to who the mystery guest was when, over the buildings that block our view of the north runway, there appeared a giant plume of black smoke.

This picture doesn't do it justice, but wow, this thing leaves quite the " carbon footprint "

I'm pretty sure we mis-heard the " Fairchild " part of its call, as I don't think the CP-140 Aurora is a Fairchild product.

They have visited us in the past, a giant, noisy, smoky beast. Four older turboprop engines that belch a trail of black smoke wherever they go. These aircraft are used out here for long range coastal patrol and occasionally Search and Rescue as well. One of my coworkers used to work for the CF and was a crew member on one of these things, some interesting missions these guys go on!

This one just did a stop-and-go though, landing on the north runway and then taxiing over to the south runway and taking off.

We had very limited ramp space that day, in particular for something of this size so we were more than a little nervous as he taxied towards our end of the field, luckily, turning away to take off before he got to us...

Oh, and my dog visited me the other day at work and tried his hand at working as a CSR at our front desk.

He didn't do very well, he kept barking at the pilots. I'm afraid his performance review isn't going to go well.

Sorry for not posting in so long... I've been more than a bit lazy.

My mom keeps a blog as well and we got to talking about blogging the other day. I really enjoy writing, so it is very good practice, if nothing else. One thing she suggested, that I might try for awhile, is to make deadlines and be sure to post at least X number of times a week, even if they are just short blurbs.

I'm going to try that for awhile, see how that works out.

I really come to appreciate the stamina and reliability of those bloggers who manage to post every day. One blog I've been following for the last three years, is Cockpit Conversation, and her posting schedule is very, very impressive.

It's definitely an aviation blog, but if you're so inclined and haven't been there yet, I highly recommend it.

I'm picking up my mom on Wednesday and we're going to drive up to Pemberton to hang out at my brothers place for a day or so. He works for an adventure tourism outfit that operates out of a cabin. They used to be based in the city, but found they could improve the quality of life dramatically for all the partners / employee's by tele-commuting the entire office to somewhere a lot more livable than the big city. I think this is a great idea!

This will also be a bit of a shakedown cruise for the new wheels. The Sea to Sky highway has also been upgraded for the upcoming Olympics ( more on this later...remind me... ) and has some spectacular scenery enroute. I'll do my best to get some photos for a good post on my return. Promise.