A loooong day of FAA and storms!

sorrygottarunway

Well-Known Member
Hello folks,


What a week for flying it has been! I've been flying quite a bit this month, and just finished a 3-day of flying into/out-of Washington. I happened to decide to take my camera with me to work on Monday, I haven't done so in well over a few months. Little did I know that it would become one of my longest days working for the airline these past 3 years... This is my “trip report” if you will, which will hopefully convey some of the stresses and rejoicings of what was a very long day!

A little background: an airline pilot is required to adhere to a duty day of 16 hours, under 14 CFR Part 121. No exceptions for our domestic schedule! (unless there is some part-91 flying tagged on at the end, for example a ferry flight or reposition flight...but even in that case we wouldn't be able to accept passengers).

My morning began with by waking up at 3:45am to loud claps of thunder and rain pounding on the windshield. Since my show time was 5am and I nomally wake at 4am for this, I forced myself out of bed and flipped on the computer to asses this morning's situation. Looked like a passing rain shower, but the forecast called for bouts of moisture to linger on throughout the day with some strong thunderstorms around 4pm-6pm. Same forecast existed for IAD for a little bit earlier in the day. My day would end at 2pm well before this nonsense began, so I felt fortunate to be able to fly the morning schedule. Another treat for the day was my crew: I had the opportunity to fly with an FO that I hadn’t flown with in months, so I was looking forward to catching up with him during the flight.

Weather at around 4am, before my day began...


Our first flight departed early and arrived early around the early morning showers, leading to a beautiful ride on top, taking advantage of some tailwinds up at 16,000ft as well. I noticed that on this flight we had bettered our dispatcher’s fuel burn forecast by more than 200lb! As companies tighten the belt financially, we try to do as much as we can to make not only safe decisions, but also ones that could help improve efficiency, fuel or otherwise. Anyhow, this early arrival left a good span of time for a cup of coffee and a chance to update myself on the "company gossip" going around, which seems to grow richer every day as fuel prices escalate and furloughs occur for several of the major regional carriers.

Returning to the aircraft with a release in hand, my FO was concerning himself with the preflight. I was hoping we’d be able to board and leave the gate early on this next flight to Allentown as well, having observed some pretty tired looks of the passengers in the boarding area, having probably just come off of flights from Asia and Europe. At the same time two gentlemen were inspecting the aircraft and my FO points to them… “they want to talk to you.” Ah yes, the FAA, always ready to help! Both gentlemen politely pointed to the hydraulic lines attached to the steering mechanism in the nose-gear, noting that they were touching each other, and suggested that I should probably have it looked at by maintenance. To my internal-brain babelfish translater which is fluent in FAA, this meant “fix this before this plane moves with passengers on it.”

Unfortunately, this was the only plane that we could use at the moment, so while it was taxied up to our maintenance hangar for the necessary adjustments, we had to wait about three hours for another aircraft, scheduled to be finished out of a standard check today, to arrive back at our gate. During this delay, I was also greeted by another FAA official that wanted to ride along in our cockpit jumpseat and do a route observation on the flight into and out of Allentown. At this point, I was wondering if it wasn’t my day to finally cash in on those sick days I had been saving up!

Luckily, during the course of the delay, he tired of waiting for the new aircraft and decided to go back to the office and return the next morning. I must add at this point that the FAA officials I met this day were completely professional and good natured! However I’m sure fellow pilots will agree as to the level of stress one feels when dealing with these persons-of-the-government!

Finally our new steed arrives and we efficiently board and set off for Allentown. I during the flight the array of large topped out clouds far west, and wonder how fast they were moving. Did we still have a chance of making it home before they hit? A quick call from dispatch notified me that we would have to be punctual and quick about getting back to Dulles and then setting off for Binghamton, lest the storms at our final destination block us out.

We finally arrived back in IAD (Dulles) at 3pm from our Allentown round trip, over 4 hours late! Luckily, most passengers were able to make their rebooked connections, and were very understanding of the delay. While I ran excitedly inside to grab our dispatch release for the final flight back to BGM, those storms that had been building to the west and north had moved along our route of flight and had finally made their way into the DC area. My release had been sent over 2 hours ago, so now in contact with my dispatcher, I was advised that there was a “ground stop” over my first fix. So close! Yet so far! Returning to the gate, I noticed that our passengers already were boarding the aircraft. The ground crew had been ultra-efficient in fueling and loading our aircraft for departure, and the gate had followed suit by boarding passengers all to eager to get on their way. Unfortunately, I was tasked with giving the bad news to the passengers, and decided that it would be best if everyone returned inside the terminal to wait out the storm. Good thing I did, within the next half hour the ramp had closed down to a storm cell moving right over the airport.

Over the next few hours, the A terminal in Dulles became a very busy place! Many flights arrived, hardly any departed. It was a beehive with many queens! The radar had worsened considerably, and another delay of 3 hours was inevitable. The crew room bustled with displaced crews, frequently checking the weather and generally keeping themselves entertained. The atmosphere was slightly bittersweet… it’s very rare to have a time when almost all the crews are in the crew room simultaneously. Many I hadn’t seen in quite some time (since the last training event, working opposite schedules, etc.), so it was a nice opportunity to say hello! On the other hand, we all wanted to get out of there and finish our trips!
Finally, around 6pm, there were still plenty of storms along our route of flight, but it looked like some very large gaps had formed in the weather, and it was now possible to go out and pick our way between everything. The picture out the window at Dulles had also improved considerably. Unfortunately, now we were delayed so far (remember, our original departure time back to Binghamton was 12:30pm!) that our 16-hour duty limit was coming into the picture, as well as waiting with another crew scheduled to go to Binghamton at 5:05, delayed with us!

It was decided that with the loads (each Binghamton bound flight had about 25 people booked), both flights would be run, and one airplane would be handed over in Binghamton to another crew and become the “overnight aircraft.” Now the real comedy began, much to the chagrin of ground personell, gate agents, and ATC alike: with the improved weather, everyone was attempting to leave simultaneously. In situations such as this, IAD has put in place a moderately effective “gate hold procedure” to keep taxiways from becoming overrun with lines of aircraft to depart. They call it “ground metering” and after an aircraft is boarded and awaiting push, you call and simply state your first fix and location on the airport. They then can check the ATC spacing requirement over your first departure fix and either give you a “go” to get out into the line, or a no-go, which keeps you sitting at the gate. Our fix, joined onto a low route was completely free, so off into the line we went! The time was just about 7pm, so we legally could still taxi for an hour, depart finally at 8pm, and still arrive in Binghamton before our 16-hours was up at 9pm. After this 8pm point however, we would knowingly be exceeding our 16 hours with the flight into BGM- so we’d turn into theoretical pumpkins and the airline would be forced to release us from duty for the day.

Fortunately, we were able to follow our sister aircraft to the runway, and were off by 7:45pm, taking off right after the other Binghamton-bound.

Enroute, there was really not much of concern weather-wise. Yes, there were still quite some large cells that had to be circumnavigated, but they were isolated, allowing us to do the task visually. It was at this point in the day that I remembered my camera in my overnight bag, and decided to let it take in some of mother-nature’s offerings. And what a sight it was. The interplay of twilight, cloud and moisture created colors that looked surreal, especially in the areas where some of the more severe storms had passed through. We found that our planned route way off to the west of the line was not necessary, and took advantage of several large holes in the weather, again saving time, fuel, and passenger patience. We arrived safely in Binghamton after a surprisingly very smooth flight at about 8:50, 10 minutes from our 16-hour Cinderella time.


_____________________________________________________________________
THE PICTURES...

Weather at 7:45pm, our approximate departure time. You can see the "hole" between the reds/oranges that we were able to go through. Our original planned route of flight was up to the west of the line cutting across northern PA, then shoot back east into BGM.

Our route was planned... CAPTL6.MRB.V501.PSB.V35.ULW..CFB..BGM

What we actually flew... CAPTL6.MRB.V501.PSB.V35, deviations towards the eastern hole, then direct CFB when able.




The hole up ahead... and interestingly enough, right on the line direct BGM!


A closer look...


Even closer...


In between the two cells. I later found out on the news that this thunderstorm produced several funnel clouds, hail and downed trees! Certainly a peculiar feeling flying near to this beast. On the radar, perfectly clear path for us on into BGM. In fact, between these two storms, it was glass smooth!


Peering underneath...


On the other side of this one, there were a few more to be reckoned with...


Descending through the cumulus scuds into the BGM area...


Exited off the runway in BGM. We stopped here momentarily to wait for a delayed US Airways (piedmont) flight to taxi out off the ramp, on their way to PHL.
 

Sidious

Well-Known Member
That was a great write up! Thank you!

One suggestion though... Take that darn camera with you more often!
 

MikeFavinger

Hubschrauber Flieger
Funny - I was out flying while you and your sister aircraft were headed to BGM. I heard center ask if this would be a regular thing you two flying together or something like that. I think one of you got an "A" put at the end of your call sign to avoid confusion.

Hm... small world!
 

sorrygottarunway

Well-Known Member
Funny - I was out flying while you and your sister aircraft were headed to BGM. I heard center ask if this would be a regular thing you two flying together or something like that. I think one of you got an "A" put at the end of your call sign to avoid confusion.

Hm... small world!
Yep that was us... all hail to completion factor!
 

aeroman2

New Member
ya, i have to agree, that was a great write up followed by great pictures! And as said a few posts up, bring your camera along more often!

-Steven
 

Matt13C

Well-Known Member
Good read and awesome pictures. I love clouds, the first picture in the second post is my new background. I am sure dealing with this sort of thing gets old. But as a student pilot with aspirations of one day punching holes in the sky, write ups like this give me a little tingle in my stomach for the adventures that will be had.

Bring your camera more often and do not forget you have it.
 
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