Aug 26, 2018 Breaking the ICE

This blog is about working out the bugs in a new relationship I’ve established with a pilot clearing house of sorts. Trying to get that first flight in the books before I lose interest. The route to accomplishing that can be circuitous at best.

Home Front: I’m catching up on my blog this morning – writing this on Sept 9th, 2018. I’ve had a few days off of FlightSafety recently; it’s been raining steadily since yesterday. My left arm and hip are very sore from a hard fall I took while riding my new bicycle a few days ago. I don’t think I broke anything, but I stunned myself pretty good. My helmet took a solid hit that saved the back of my head, so the safety equipment matters.

It was a stupid mistake caused by getting too tired and drifting off of the trail after an arduous uphill climb. The front wheel dropped 3″ and I couldn’t get it back over the lip, carrying the forward momentum I was gathering into the ground with my left shoulder.  Strong headwinds that day had made me working harder than normal for the entire 30 miles, and I just didn’t want to quit. I’ll restart again next week, using a Red Bull cycling startup plan a FB friend forwarded to me.  Maybe a little more planning will be a good thing.

My in-laws are playing musical hospitals again this week. Mom had a mini-stroke and remains in the hospital.  Dad lost the feeling in his legs and almost fell again. They just fold out from under him with no warning, so someone has to be here with him all the time. Beverly has devoted herself to her parents care entirely, but this week needs to be different. She normally attends a conference every year related to the firehouse volunteer work she does. The siblings are stepping up to cover for her and allow that to happen, but it took a few days to sort it all out. When you are the cornerstone to the structure of a number of lives, mine included, it takes allot to transfer all that responsibility smoothly. Even temporarily.

So Bev leaves today, and other siblings will be in and out of my house all week helping Dad. I’ll be a part of that too, even though I have three long days of work on my schedule. It can be weird having so much traffic through my home, but it is the best solution for us.

Westwind Flying:  In late July, I decided to join an organization that aligns owners with pilots. It is just one of the actions I’ve taken in an attempt to develop options that will build my operational jet experience. Three weeks had passed since I submitted my paperwork, and I hadn’t heard a peep from them. It could be that they realized I had zero actual jet time; that the organization was a mess and not worth my time; or that the paperwork was missing something.

I reached out to one of the Admin folks to find out what was going on. She told me that this process normally takes a month, and that there were no problems with my paperwork that she was aware of. Seems like an incredibly long time to me, but what do I know. In the back of my mind I figured this opportunity would not bear fruit for me. Oh well.  Move on.

To my great surprise, I received a text from them telling me not that I’m not only good to go, but that they have a trip for me already! Brooke, my contact at this new firm, wanted to know if I’d be interested in a 4 day trip that included two travel/positioning days. Wait a minute – my first indication that I’d been cleared to fly is a flight itself, and it’s a four day starting in just a few days? Welcome to part 91 flying, I guess. I still had so many questions about the logistics of it all.

My schedule was light, so I said yes without giving much consideration to the aggressive itinerary or any of my other concerns. No better way to answer all of my own questions than to just go out and figure it out on my own. As it turns out, saying YES to this flight didn’t mean the flight would actually happen though. This firm I had affiliated myself with hadn’t actually signed an agreement with the owner to provide services to him yet. It appears that the owner and this pilot would be working out the details on both ends – on the fly.

While they continued working to get the owner signed – they needed to ensure all of my paperwork was in order. I was asked to forward a copy of my medical and tell them what my daily rate would be. The former was easy, but I’d be guessing at a daily rate. The only rate I knew of was $850 that was mentioned by an experienced contract pilot to a similar firm. Since I have no operational jet time, and can’t really guess at what would be acceptable or appropriate. I admitted my ignorance and went with an average rate they suggested for the time being. I want to fly.

With that settled, Brooke and I exchanged a series of back and forth texts that included qualification clarifications and my birth city so an eApis could be filed for the Canada stop-over. I went to bed realizing that the flight was to begin in just two days, the owner hadn’t yet signed.  Travel arrangements hadn’t been made nor researched either. I guess this might still happen.

I awoke very early the morning of Friday 24th and sent this to Brooke: ‘I hope this is a work phone and doesn’t ping you in the middle of the night. Part of what I have to learn about our interactions.

I am thinking we need to set a decision time early today for this trip. I have other things I could be doing, and rushed travel arrangements can make me suffer unnecessarily.

That’s my biggest concern right now, airline arrangements that save money at my expense of time and comfort. I am interested to see how painful it will be getting home after this trip, in particular. I assume we’ll be departing me out of Philadelphia airport.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on these concerns. In the meantime, I’ll continue preparing.

Thanks for what you do.’

The response came later that morning to let me know that the owner had actually signed late last night. He would be getting my information this morning, and would have to approve my assignment before travel arrangements could be made for me. Apparently, I’d typically be responsible for making my own travel arrangements, and that those expenses would be 100% covered on the back end. I’m ok with the expenses part, but setting flights without knowing a reliable time-table on the back end gave me continuing concerns.

While waiting for client approval, another request came in from Brooke.  ‘Hey Frank could you send me over your international procedures please’. Ummmm.   What? I responded: ‘I actually might have been international trained over the last two years at FlightSafety, just never used them, nor had to answer that question. Won’t be able to check that today either, so if that’s a killer, just let me know.’  I am growing weary of the disorganized approach, on again / off again nature of the trip, and continuing concerns about last minute travel. I continued: In any event, I’ll Circle back with you to better understand airline, travel, and hotel process. I didn’t think I was in the expense report system either, so I did get something from this exercise. I’m home and available by phone if you need me. Both sims I use broke, so I’m off.

So the texting continued back and forth in an attempt to confirm I had international training, and to encourage me to get my certificate if I had. Brooke really wanted me to call FlightSafety to get all my records, but I didn’t want to advertise the fact that I was contract flying. I told her emphatically NO – I would not be doing that. I did look up all of my records on my own, confirming that I had not been through international training at all.

Part 91 operations into Canada typically do not need international training, so their request confused me a bit. Maybe jets or their specific operation had special requirements I wasn’t aware of. I’d have to defer to them on that, and Brooke was adamant I needed it. I finally told her I was NOT internationally trained and would have to assume this trip was dead for me. I began thinking about making new plans for the coming days.

Telling her the flight was dead to me prompted a call from her boss – a pilot – and the director who was trying to get this whole thing going. This guy introduced himself and informed me that he’d be the one finding me a co-pilot. Whoa, whoa, whoa!!! I reminded him that I had made it very clear that I had zero PIC jet time and only a few hours SIC in the jet at this point. I would NOT be acting as PIC for this flight.

While I certainly was capable of flying the airplane, there was no way I’d accept that responsibility; particularly on an international flight with an aggressive schedule like this.  I told him this killed the mission (for the second time) for me, and I’m glad we finally understood each other.

He asked me to not consider the trip dead yet, and to allow him some time to get back to me. The clock was ticking and this trip was on life support. Fifteen minutes later he called back and told me I didn’t need international procedures training, nor anything else, since I was type rated in the airplane and ready to go. Furthermore, I’d be flying right seat with an experienced owner captain, and finally that all my information and ratings were good. He apologized for adding to the confusion, and the trip was back on – if the owner approved me.

Next the owner of the jet calls. Kevin is another non-pilot in the process, and wants to know how many hours I have in the jet. He also wants to know the last time I flew it and whether or not I was able to get three landings in when I did. I made if very clear what my lack of operational experience was, and was very direct in what I would and would not do for him. He accepted me right then and there, so I guess it’s game on again.

While I had him on the phone, I expressed my concerns about travel and getting where I needed to be on the schedule that he wanted. The company that represents me suggests that I make my own travel arrangements, which the owner would then pay for. I wasn’t sure how or when to do that, given part 91 arrivals can be delayed and this was all so very last minute. The owner told me he’d like to set up all of the travel for me, presumably so that he could log the points and so forth. I let him do that – since he could then help me change them as necessary.

The trip was finalized at this point. I’d be flying to Indiana via Charlotte on Saturday the 25th. We depart there to pick up a full load of folks and baggage in a nearby state, and then head west for a fuel stop in South Dakota. We would be heavy, so the fuel stop was necessary.

After that it was on to the pacific northwest and then back to eastern Canada for the night. Early the next day we would leave from Canada for stops in the mid-west before heading back to the pacific northwest again. I’d leave the jet for home after that.

I’m being intentionally vague here about destinations and stops, to maintain client confidentiality while still sharing what the process looked like.

I’ll talk more about the flight itself in the next blog. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Fly safe!   Frank