The Days Go By

by Berck

It’s never a good sign when things go wrong the first leg of a 4-day trip.

The flight started on time and there wasn’t a cloud in Denver, despite the afternoon thunderstorm forecast. This should have seemed ominous enough, but we plowed ahead. The inbound flight arrived a little late, as usual, and we just managed to get the door closed for an on-time departure with less than 15 seconds to spare.

It was my leg, and I was bit annoyed that with a departure from Runway 34R we were unable to get a westbound turn, or a climb higher than 10,000 feet for what seemed like an eternity. Flying the wrong way while not even being allowed to climb seems like such a waste of time and fuel.

My Captain ran the climb check, but didn’t get a chime when cycling the seat belt sign on and off in order to let the flight attendant know that we were above 10,000 feet. So he tried calling her, which also failed. I engaged the autopilot and tried my side. No luck. The lights on the com panel didn’t light up at all, and before long the flight attendant was banging on our door to let us know that the intercom wasn’t working. Which we already knew.

Captain seemed to think we should continue to Montrose, but I pointed out that this wasn’t a wise plan. First: I knew that we would not be allowed to depart from Montrose without a working PA/intercom system. There aren’t any of our mechanics, nor are there any Dash parts in Montrose, which meant that we could be stuck there for days while a mechanic and parts are flown in on another plane. The second, more justifiable reason for turning back to Denver is that it’s the safest option. Without communication from the flight attendant, it’d be difficult for her to notify us if there was a fire in the cabin, or for us to notify her if there was a fire in the cargo compartment. (The Dash 8 is equipped with a sophisticated cargo fire suppression system: There’s a smoke detector in the cargo compartment connected to a light in the cockpit. There’s a hatch at the back of the cabin which permits the flight attendant to crawl back there with a fire extinguisher. Seriously.) Furthermore, in the event that other things go wrong, we’d be unable to order an evacuation, or have the flight attendant prepare the cabin. While we could theoretically open the cockpit door, security procedures are such that we should not do so.

Fortunately, the Dash flight deck door doesn’t have a normal sort of peep hole, but rather a small, rectangular bit of glass with a flap. We could open the flap, and write short messages that the flight attendant could read, after getting her attention by banging on the door.

We showed her a, “GOING BACK TO DENVER, PREPARE FOR LANDING,” note. The dispatcher and maintenance concurred that going back to Denver was the best option. The Captain (who was relatively new to being a Captain) was worried that the company would get mad that we we went back to Denver over a relatively minor issue. I assured him that it would be much harder to justify to the FAA why we went to Montrose. And, as I suspected, the company was glad we went back to Denver.

I managed a decent landing to runway 7, fortunately I’ve got enough experience with Denver to know that the approach to runway 7 is usually slam-dunk (they leave us way too high for too long), and it’s made worse when you get vectored back for the arrival from a pretty high altitude.

The passengers seemed relatively understanding. In general, I’m amused that they get upset when you inform them that the weather is too bad to allow us to safely fly somewhere, but as soon as you mention that the plane is broken in some way, they’re perfectly glad to sit around and wait.

The mechanics showed up and tried some unpromising things. Microsoft has trained them well, and they decided to turn all the power off and back on to see if that fixed the problem. Fortunately, it did not. Nor did opening up the giant rack of avionics equipment and replacing several of the large, heavy, expensive-looking electronics boxes. They gave up, and told us to find a new plane. Fortunately there was a spare in Denver that day.

I had enough time to get a hot pastrami sandwich at Heidi’s before this decision was finalized. I ate half the sandwich while getting the paperwork ready for departure. We had an uneventful flight to Montrose, where I elected to land the smaller of the two runways because the wind favored it and it would be a shorter taxi. I put the props in full reverse on landing in order to avoid back-taxiing on the runway. The Captain took us back to Denver and executed one of the best landings I’ve seen in a Dash. Both of us knew that he’d be unlikely to repeat the performance this week.

We still had to go back to Montrose, then back to Denver before we’d be allowed to set off for Durango, our destination for the night. On the third Denver landing for the day, I got cleared for the visual while midfield, 6000 feet above the runway at 210 knots. That’s the sort of thing the Dash is good at, though it doesn’t happen often in Denver. I made what I thought was an impossibly short approach with flaps 35, but I underestimated the Dash’s go-down/slow-down abilities, and had to carry a lot of power. But it was fun and still reasonably well-done.

We got to Durango at about 11:45pm, which was only about 45 minutes late. Not too bad, all things considered.

The otherwise nice hotel in Durango managed to screw up and I got stuck with a smoking room. Fortunately, it wasn’t terribly smoky, otherwise I think I would have demanded that they find a hotel somewhere else with a non-smoking room available. I’m still not happy about it, even though they gave me a free lunch in the posh hotel restaurant. I made it clear that I would not accept a smoking room tonight (we come back after a short round trip to Denver), so we’ll see if they fix the problem. Our contract with them states clearly that they are to provide us with non-smoking rooms.

Long term outlook on life is still uncertain. Some of the Dash classes for jet pilots who will be trained to replace me are being pushed back a bit. I’m thinking it might be more toward the end of the year that I get furloughed, but it’s so hard to tell, and the company isn’t talking.

Flying jobs are still pretty much non-existent and I don’t really have any plans. Theoretically, it’s better to find a new job before you lose the old one, but I’m guessing I can collect unemployment for awhile. And since I don’t actually know when this job will end, I don’t want to leave it for a job that I know won’t be as good.

I’ve got some time off next week, so I’m headed to Knoxville for a long-overdue visit. Jonah doesn’t get to come, since she has to work more normal hours at her new job.

On the plus side, when I do lose my job this winter, it’d be a great time for you guys to come visit. I’ll have time (if not money) to entertain you!

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