- 20 Jan 2023
- David Wyndham
- Aircraft Ownership
Every region of the world has its own nuances and complexities when it comes to planning a private flight and ensuring availability of adequate service and support. Andre Fodor shares some of his tips and experiences...
Arriving at a Dubai airport ahead of a trip to London Luton, the crew and I were looking forward to an easy six-hour flight. It was a very hot day, and our airplane was parked miles away from the FBO on a remote ramp at the airport.
Because of the distance between the FBO and the jet we agreed that the second pilot and flight attendants would head out to the aircraft to start fueling, undertake the pre- flight inspection, and prepare the cabin for departure. I would remain at the terminal to complete paperwork, pay for services, coordinate our departure, and await the passengers.
A short while later my phone rang. It was the second pilot to report that, due to the high outside temperatures and low fuel density, the required fuel amount was not uploading into the aircraft. The fuel computer system under these circumstances was restricting the available load that could fill the tanks. As a result, we now had an unexpected range issue just 45 minutes before our scheduled time of departure.
I called our international handling and dispatch provider and an alternative plan was quickly developed, allowing for a fuel stop in Prague, Czech Republic. The dispatcher efficiently arranged the changes and sent us a new flight plan, updated clearances and releases.
The last encumbrance was an overflight clearance over Iran, which was eventually granted thanks to the team’s operational knowledge. We were back in the game, and the passengers were not delayed.
Upon landing in Prague, a fuel truck was ready (thanks to our dispatcher’s forward-thinking) and the ground handler greeted us with a gift basket for our passengers. All in all, this was a first-class recovery to what could have been an arduous day of delays.
On another recent occasion as we prepared to depart on a flight across the Atlantic towards Milan, Italy, the weather was looking dire. The ceilings at our destination airport were oscillating at or below minimums, and our only legal alternate was an hour away and had rigid allowable maximum times on the ground.
Since our arrival time was in ten flight hours, it was necessary to make changes before the flight got underway.
In discussion with our dispatcher, we opted to use Milan Malpensa airport (instead of Linate) since it had better weather and the approach light system was of a much higher intensity and therefore better suited to lower ceilings and foggy conditions.
It was also suggested that we delay our departure by 45 minutes and fly the trip at a slower cruise speed, ensuring the arrival phase of our flight would occur during a better forecasted weather window. It worked like a charm!
Self-dispatching in the United States is an easy process. The US is a nation with almost no slot requirements, and it’s possible to file a flight plan, pick-up a clearance, and taxi out for takeoff within minutes. The advent of internet connected smart devices has made all this possible with minimal keystrokes.
Unfortunately, the same is not possible in Europe or other parts of the world, and without local operational knowledge and an experienced professional at the helm, there is little chance of navigating the myriad of slots and airspace clearances required to fly and depart airports trouble-free.
Having someone tracking your flight progress during a long oceanic trip, updating customs of your arrival time, and following up and checking on passenger transportation, adds an additional layer of reliability, safety, and security.
On yet another recent occasion, I was working as a contract pilot on a multi-day trip. The airplane’s owner also owned a chain of fueling stations, and the airport we were flying to next served a small town location.
As I self-dispatched, I glanced at the airport facility directory and noticed that its Pavement Coefficient Number (PCN) was considerably lower than the Aircraft’s Coefficient Number (ACN). The airport surfaces would not be able to bear the weight of the airplane, even if our tanks were empty.
Speaking with the passengers, I learned that they had visited that same airport many times in the past using that same aircraft. While I didn’t point any fingers, the aircraft owner was scandalized when I told him of the operational restrictions and that, should any damage to the aircraft or airport occur, his insurance would have been invalid.
A quick search helped us identify another suitable airport that was a mere ten-minute drive away from the original destination.
Among my techniques when self-dispatching is to use my network of colleagues as a sounding board. Occasionally, due to airport constraints, weather, or maintenance issues, I may find myself sitting on the fence regarding making a ‘go or no-go’ decision. On occasions like these, a second opinion is always welcome when it can augment my field of vision.
Sometimes, when we’re in the thick of things, we cannot see the whole picture, or miss the smaller nuances that could impact the flight. Ultimately, when in doubt I lean towards the most conservative approach, helping eliminate gray areas.
Moreover, whenever I am dispatching a flight I run through my own personal checklist which not only includes check marks for passports, vaccination cards, aircraft documentation and maintenance release, but also for discardable cooking pans for catering and electrical adaptors for overseas travel.
My list has been built from years of experience, and every pilot should have one that is personalized for their needs.
Crew Resource Management (CRM) is a term that has become commonplace among our generation of pilots, but the definition has changed. It once stood for what we did in the cockpit. Today CRM represents the involvement of everyone and everything that directly or indirectly affects the flight.
Taking into consideration safety, operational and human factors, CRM provides opportunity for all involved to contribute with valuable information. Dispatching an aircraft is a part of that process – especially when we consider the preparation of a flight, the trip itself, and the post-trip phase. “Plan well and fly well” – that’s good advice.