Monday, October 28, 2013

Corporate Pilot for a Weekend

“The team is leaving the stadium now. Is the mechanic going to be done by the time they get here?”

That was the question we faced the other day during a charter for the NFL. One hundred sixty passengers on seven coach buses were on the way to the airport and we had just discovered a major maintenance problem. Oh, and the police had closed down the freeway so they could get there quicker. Wonderful.

One of the emergency slide rafts had a rope hanging out of it. That rope would be attached to the sea anchor in the event we ditched in the water. Of course, ditching in the water on a flight that wouldn’t leave the Upper Midwest wasn’t likely, but that’s probably what Sully thought too. From what I know about slide rafts, the FAA is very picky about their operation. Phone calls to maintenance control were made to see if there was a fix. If there wasn’t a fix, then all the players, coaches, media, and the security team would be stuck until we found a solution.

The team coordinator said, “We need to let them know if they should stay at the stadium.”

We still didn’t know if the mechanic could fix it or not.

“I’m not sure,” the captain said.

Hundreds of steaks and pasta dishes were being cooked in preparation for their arrival. It would be the players first meal after the game and if there was one thing I didn’t want to do, it was get in between a bunch of 300 pound men and their food.

Finally a phone call from maintenance control. The raft could be fixed (versus being replaced which would involve flying in a new one). Good news.

The team coordinator, whom I’m pretty sure was about to throw up, said, “The team is leaving the stadium in five minutes. Where is the mechanic?”

The mechanic didn’t work for us, so an outsourced mechanic was in his office (on the other side of the airport) talking to our maintenance team trying to understand what the fix was.

“The team is leaving the stadium now.”

Pacing back and forth wasn’t doing much so the coordinator and I ate a big steak dinner. Flying charters has it’s benefits. After we finished eating we went outside to the air stair and tried to figure out if the team would board through one air stair or if operations should hook up the jetway to door one. Air stairs were attached at door two and door four of the Boeing 757-300, but the broken slide raft was at door four and if the mechanic was still working on it, they couldn’t use that for boarding. Jetway stairs aren’t the sturdiest things ever and to make someone who made more money in one day than I will all year board on a rickety staircase didn’t seem right. Despite that, time was essential so we decided to attach the jetway to door one.

The operations agent said, “The team is exiting the freeway now.”

A couple minutes later, I began to hear police sirens in the distance. It was the team escort. In the back of the airplane was the team coordinator, the captain and a handful of flight attendants, all anxiously waiting to see if the sole mechanic would fix the raft. I was at door two looking for the first sign of the convoy.

My palms were getting sweaty when finally, from the back of the airplane I heard someone yell, “He fixed it! We’re going to board through the air stairs. Have them remove the jetway.”

The mechanic came forward and began filling out the paperwork. The operations agent removed the jetway from door one just as I saw two police motorcycles and three squad cars escorting a group of coach buses pull onto airport property. Not a minute to spare.

As if nothing had ever been wrong, the team boarded and within 15 minutes of their arrival, we were pushing back and on our way. The flight back to their home base was literally the smoothest flight I’ve ever been on or flown. I managed to grease the landing and we pulled into the FBO (which is where corporate planes park). Over 100 cars were running and waiting, talk about first class service. The team disembarked and an hour later I was on a flight home.

I love it when a plan comes together.