Sunday, December 30, 2007

Back in the Day: Part IV

This was the fourth mass e-mail that I sent out. I had spent the summer flying medevacs and it was just a couple of weeks before my stomach started giving me troubles. Although I worked a lot that summer, it was a great summer. I got to go to Switzerland in June and was able to enjoy lots of outdoor activities in Thompson.

Yesterday, August 23rd, marks two anniversaries. Meaningless and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, however, it is still an interesting thing for me to stop and notice. It is my 2 year anniversary working at Skyward and my 9 month anniversary of flying for them.

If at the end of high school, someone were to say to you me that I'd be living over 2 years (right now with the way the industry is going it looks like it'll be probably around 4 or 5 total) of my life in a small town in Northern Manitoba, I would have thought they were crazy. WHY would anybody want to live there? However, here I am. I as of yet do not own a pick-up truck, a rifle, a snowmobile jacket and I won't ever grow a mullet. I have discovered a taste for country music, developed my 'Manitoba' accent and while I like to joke that I have lost my ability to successfully use words longer than 4 syllables in most sentences, I have found a new appreciation for a way of life that is different than the general hustle and bustle of Toronto.

Last week, Sara, a new flight nurse and also a pilot moved to Thompson from southern Ontario. It's been really great talking to her as I remember all the same reactions that I first had when I got up here. "I can't believe the amount of unsupervised children running around everywhere", "I've already decided to stop playing fashion police up here". It's humourous, but a little sad at the same time. I've been super lucky that I've been able to keep in touch with most people via e-mail and MSN and have been able to get home a lot. As long as you're not stuck there for months on end, Thompson can be a nice little town.

The INCO mine with the City of Thompson in the background

The flying has been going really well. Time has flown by since I started (sorry for the bad pun) as I'm finally doing what I came up here to do. My record of longest time working on the ramp has been broken and there will be guys who will have to do 2full winters loading cargo. I am one of the lucky ones.

Medevacs themselves are very interesting. Not something I'd ever thought I'd be doing. Today we had two trips to two different reserves, both to pick up guys who had had the crap beaten out of them. There are usually more fights right around the 20th and the 1st of the month because that's when the family allowance and welfare cheques come out. More money in town, means more sneaked in booze, meaning more business for Medevacs.

A few weeks ago we had a Medevac from Pukatawagan to The Pas. It was a psych patient so we took along an RCMP officer in case the patient refused to go, that way he could be arrested under the mental health act. This patient actually behaved really well, even said “Please” and "Thank you" when talking to the nurse and RCMP officer. On the way to The Pas, the officer asked if after we dropped off the patient, we'd be able to go visit the jail, as it was their brother in-law's first day. “Sure!” we replied, “is he a guard?” 'No' the officer responded, he's in jail and it's his first day. We weren't quite sure what to say to that, but they still ended up having a nice visit, after which the guards gave us a great tour of the place. I had never actually seen the inside of a jail before. It wasn't too bad, but not a place I'd like to spend any time.


The Pas

A couple days later, my roommates, Geoff (a Captain) and Paul (a nurse) and I had a midnight Medevac to Shamattawa. It was an overcast night, there were no moon or stars, and it was very dark. Shamattawa is very isolated, a few hundred miles south of Churchill. In October of 2001,on a very similar night, a Perimeter airlines Medevac plane crashed after doing an over shoot on the runway in the 'black hole' conditions killing both pilots and seriously injuring the flight nurse. We made note of this in the pre-landing briefing. As we got closer to the field and switched the runway lights on, we noticed that the front third and last third of the runway lights were working, but the middle lights were all burnt out. We could still see the outline of the runway clearly and decided it was safe to continue on with the approach. The approach was smooth, the winds were quite light so I didn't have a very strong cross wind to fight. Right in the flare, our landing lights revealed why the middle runway lights were out. Some kids had vandalized the runway, smashed the lights and left them and the pylons that hold them right in the center of the runway! Right where I was going to land. We still had enough speed so we were able to hop around them and then come to a stop with a fair amount of room left on the runway. But still, that's not something you are expecting to have to deal with when landing a plane. And really, if you live in an isolated community where airplanes are the only way or in out, do you think vandalizing the runway and possibly causing an accident is a smart idea? Geez, there really are some dumb people in this world, plus I’m willing to bet at some point one of them will have to be Medevac’d out making use of the same runway they vandalized.

Last weekend I had the most exciting Medevac of my career so far. It was already a busy night in at the Thompson hospital as a little girl and her mother were hit by a car while crossing the road. The driver was blinded by the sun and didn't see them until it was too late. Originally, Life Flight, the gov't of Manitoba's jet was supposed to take the little girl, and we were to take the mother. Sadly, the little girl ended up dying from her injuries, so they decided to keep the mother in Thompson for a little while longer. We ended up getting the patient from hell.

This guy, (only 20 years old) was easily about 6'4" 280 lbs and had just got out of prison a week before (not the same one I visited). I guess he tried to go settle some old debts after having lots to drink, but ended up getting the crap kicked out of him. He was found unconscious by the side of the highway. By the time we loaded him on to the plane he still reeked of alcohol even though it had been almost 20 hours since he had been drinking. He was barely conscious, but just to be sure his wrists and ankles had Velcro cuffs on them. He was difficult to get through the door cause he was so tall and quite heavy, however, since he barely had his eyes open we didn't figure he would be much of a problem. We got a quick glimpse of things to come when just before we took off, he bolted himself up to an upright sitting position and started screaming. The nurse settled him down, told him that we were just going to a hospital in Winnipeg and that he should just try and sleep for the trip. The doctor we took along with us didn't even wake up for it (probably because he was narcoleptic). The patient laid back down, and we blasted off for Winnipeg.

After we were about half way there (An hour and a half flight), the patient sat up and started screaming again, he was harder to calm down, the nurse managed to, but only for about ten minutes until this guy started screaming again. We woke up the doctor who went to go help the nurse hold down the patient. The doctor held him down by the C-collar on his neck, but the patient was so strong that he sat up really quickly and broke it. The doctor then held the patient down by his shoulders.. He was screaming and swearing more, and then he started spitting. This was made even more unpleasant when added to the fact that he had lots of cuts in his mouth so his spit was bloody. He managed to hit the doctor with some. The Doctor, a big man and ex Olympic class Judo competitor didn't appreciate being spit on. He then took a blanket and covered the patient's mouth to keep the spit from going everywhere. This may sound harsh, but when you consider the potential for serious communicable disease, I felt the actions were justified. Even still, after everything was done the ceiling of the plane was covered with bloody spit. The doctor didn't want to give him a sedative because we didn't know if he had brain damage or not. About 20 minutes before landing, the nurse said he was having real trouble with the patient trying to get out of his restraints, and unloading him was going to be next to impossible. We called ahead to Winnipeg and asked them to call the police to meet us after landing.

When we arrived, The airport police were waiting for us. We asked if they had any restraints to help unload the patient, but they said they didn't. I asked the maintenance guys that showed up to watch if they had any cargo straps, they said they did and we went to grab them. When the police were told about the spitting patient, they offered to get us a 'spit sock' for him. This is a mesh bag that you put over his face and when he spits, it doesn't go through. It took a bit of time, but once we had the patient herc strapped down, a spit sock on him, 2 pilots, a doctor, a nurse, 4 police officers, 2 paramedics and a bunch of mechanics, we were able to unload the guy. We had breakfast in Winnipeg, flew home, then went to bed, exhausted.

I'm sure I'll have more stories like these as time goes by.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Back In The Saddle

As some of you may know, I'm not flying commercially at the moment. I had some minor health problems which made flying a whole lot less fun. So, I decided to head back to school a couple of years ago and I'm currently in my second year of law school. If someone decides that a career as a pilot is something that they want to do, I think that it's very important to think about what they'd so if they lost their medical. Having a back up plan in place is key. While I didn't lose my medical, I figured that going back to school was a good idea.

While I love being back at school, it unfortunately isn't exactly a high paying position. Worse still, while I love Halifax, they don't have a flight school really close by. That combined with the fact that there's a lot of work involved with law school (who would have thought?), it had now been 2 years and 4 months since I'd been flying.

It had been too long and I've been getting the flying itch bad.

I booked a check out at the nearest flying school which is unfortunately an hour and twenty minutes away. The staff at Greenwood Flight Centre were great. Getting back up in the air was really great as well, however, it was a humbling experience. I was rusty. But I managed to bring the plane back in one piece and the instructor didn't seem to scared - I have to say though, I thought it was a tad unprofessional when he jumped out and kissed the ground before I had even shut off the engine (kidding).

Friday, December 21, 2007

Air Cargo

I just finished writing a paper on Air Cargo Security and as a result I've been doing a lot of research on the topic. Although I didn't include this in the paper, I remember a story that was told to me by an employee at Air Canada Cargo a number of years ago.

They received a call from a well to do woman who was wondering if they would be able to ship her sailboat's sail from Toronto to Florida. Altough the sail would be rolled up, it was still quite long. The cargo employees checked out the specs for the different planes, at the time, the largest that Air Canada flew to Florida was the 767. They tried different angles, but this sail just wasn't going to fit in the cargo hold.

The cargo employees called her back to tell her the bad news. They couldn't take the sail. Now this wasn't quite good enough for this woman, she paused for a moment and then with an air of authority asked "Well, why can't you just use a roof rack?"

Now in her defence, I suppose it makes sense from her point of view, they use a roof rack for the space shuttle, why not for cargo?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Calendar Controversy

Just a quick follow up to the previous post.

Spain Complains About Ryan Air Calendar

Dec. 12, 2007, 11:18AM
Spain Complains About Ryanair Calendar
© 2007 The Associated Press

MADRID, Spain — Spain's government-run Women's Institute has labeled a 2008 calendar for low-cost airline Ryanair featuring bikini-wearing air hostesses as sexist and said it would be sending letters of complaint to Irish and EU authorities.

The institute, which defends women's rights, said that while the fact that the proceeds from calendar sales would go to charity was positive, the photographs "represent the stewardesses as sexual objects" and "reinforce discriminatory stereotypes."

"It is significant that that only women are used, in a sector in which there is a considerable percentage of men," the institute, which is part of the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, said in a statement.

The calendars show the hostesses _ one for each month _ posing in bikinis on or outside airplanes. They are sold on Ryanair flights and on the Internet for 7 euros ($10.27). Proceeds go to the Irish disabled children's charity Angels Quest.

"We're not talking about morals or nudity here, it's simply how women are portrayed," institute spokeswoman Maria Jesus Ortiz said. "If there had been men in the calendar, I'm sure there would have been no controversy."

The Spanish union of consumers FACUA raised the issue Tuesday.

Ortiz said the institute would send a letter of complaint to the Irish Embassy in Spain and to the European Union's gender equality group. Ortiz added that the institute was seeking legal advice on what further action it might be able to take.

Ryanair had defended the calendar, saying the hostesses had posed voluntarily and that it was for a good cause.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bring on the Sexy Stews? Ya Baby? - Huh?

Some of you may have seen an article a few weeks ago about Ryan Air Flight Attendants putting out a calendar to raise money for charity. The flight attendants are all scantily clad in aircraft related pictures.

Here’s Ms. October, Joanna from Dublin ensuring that the 737 is nicely polished.

(As an aside, how long do you think it would take to clean a 737 with just a soapy sponge?)

Now, as much as I like having a clean plane, these pictures have sparked a bit of controversy about the role of flight attendants, and more generally, women in aviation.

Traditionally, jobs in aviation were gendered. The men were the pilots and the women were the flight attendants and that’s just how things were, cause that's they way they've always been, sonny! Initially, flight attendants were nurses put on aircraft to ease the public’s fear of flying. It’s unfortunate to note that Ellen Church RN, actually approached Boeing Air Transport to be a pilot, but they wouldn’t let her and instead she became the World’s First Flight Attendant. If nurses fly, flying must be safe, Right?

Whether this was a ploy by airlines or an honest belief that having nurses to care for passengers in the hostile world of flying can be debated.

The role of flight attendant continued to evolve, but not necessarily for the better. In the 1960s and 1970s, in the U.S. and most of the world, the airline industry was regulated. This meant that airlines were told which routes they could fly and what price they could charge. Therefore, on the busy route where there was ‘competition’, airlines had to charge the same price as each other and had to find different ways to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Suddenly, flight attendant uniforms became a lot more revealing. “Come fly with us, our flight attendants are sexier!”

Today, the uniforms have generally grown to reflect a more conservative professional image. In fact, here are the Ryan Air Calendar flight attendants in their work uniform.

Except possibly for Hooters Air. They’ve since ceased operating however, apparently their revenues were sagging.

Around the same time as deregulation, there began a slow change in the segregation of men and women in the business. Women were becoming pilots and men were becoming flight attendants. Airlines have realised the important role that flight attendants play in airline safety. Although they are responsible for front line customer service, their presence and professionalism has saved numerous lives in aircraft accidents, such as Air France flight 358 in Toronto where the crew got the passengers out of the plane in just a few brief minutes.

This recognition has not been without a struggle. Passengers can be extremely rude to crew members and often offer little respect. They are still sometimes simply looked upon as wait staff in the sky. So, is this calendar a step in the wrong direction? Will this discourage young girls from wanting to have a career in aviation? Will this slow the already too slow trend of more and more women becoming pilots? Or, is it just a silly calendar for charity?

I have mixed feelings about it. I’d like to think that I’m relatively progressive and open minded and some fun pictures for charity will not diminish the public’s perception of flight attendants and women in general. I’d like to think that there can be an appreciation of femininity without ignoring professionalism. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking?

Personally however, while I don’t think the Ryan Air Flight Attendants are unattractive, I find the following pictures far more appealing. It’s happening a little slower than I’d like, but I’m glad to see that more and more women are becoming pilots. More on that in a future post dealing with much more important issues than uniform styles.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Few Corrections

I'm hoping I won't have to make too many posts like this, but in the Aviation Industry, things are always changing and there's always more to learn. Until a few years ago the A.I.P. was in loose-leaf paper form and every few months you'd get sent amendments to change. My book is not in loose leaf form, so corrections will have to be made on this site.

In the book in discussing the vision requirements for the medical, I mention that "the refractive error must fall within +/- 3.0 diopters." Although I do mention that you can often work with your doctor and Transport Canada to have particular conditions waived, it should be noted that this is possible for this situation. One reader mentions that they're on a waiver as their vision is well outside this limit (3.75 & 4.5).

In the section on Air Canada Jazz I mention that they are a wholly owned subsidary of Air Canada. This is no longer the case. ACE - Air Canada's parent company owns 20.1% of Jazz. The rest is owned by shareholders in the Jazz Air Income Fund.

In the section on Sunwing Airlines, I mention that Sunwing owns 3 737-800s. As of today, Sunwing has 5 737s listed on the Transport Canada Canadian Civil Aircraft Register.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Back in the Day: Part III

This is the third e-mail that I sent out after starting on the Conquest. It would have been sent out roughly the middle of January 2003:

Being the newest pilot at Skyward, and the lowest seniority F/O (First Officer) on the Conquest, I got stuck being on call for both Christmas and New Year's. However, seeing as I waited for so long to fly, this really didn't bother me.

At first, with the way the scheduling of nurses and planes was going to work out, it looked like I was going to get Christmas day off, then fly a lot for the few days after that. However, everything always changes and at 7:30 pm on Christmas Eve I got a page saying that I was going to have a flight from Thompson to Winnipeg Christmas morning at 6 am and I was to be at the airport at 5:45am. I don't think I've ever gotten up that early on Christmas morning!

We got to the airport and started getting our plane ready, a short while later the nurse showed up with the patient, it was a little girl who had broken her arm and her mother. They were going down to Winnipeg for a specialists appointment. The girl had set up a slide on the edge of her coffee table, then ran and jumped on it, but unfortunately it fell off and she broke her arm. Both the little girl and the mother were apprehensive about flying, so the nurse told them that Captain Steve had been flying for over ten years. Thankfully she left out that First Officer James had been on the job for just over a month! So when I went in to bring the passengers out, the little girl asked (in a really cute voice) "Are you Captain Steve?", "no, I'm James, the co-pilot" I replied. "Oh" she said, sounding really disappointed. "But," I added, "Captain Steve's in the plane right now getting it ready, you'll get to see him really soon." She was happy to hear that. Not the first time a girl had wished I was someone else! :p

The flight to Winnipeg was nice, the radio's were quieter than usual as most airlines had cancelled some flights on Christmas day. All the Air traffic controllers would wish you a Merry Christmas when you changed frequencies and the weather was pleasant as well. We arrived just as the sun was coming up and got a great view of the city, we could just imagine how much wrapping paper was being ripped open at that very minute.

When they had arrived at the airport in Thompson, the mother had brought a big garbage bag full of presents to take down to Winnipeg. They waited in the office for a few minutes while the plane warmed up. Unfortunately she didn't tell either the nurse or myself about it when we got in the plane and the presents got left in Thompson. We didn't discover this until we hadlanded in Winnipeg. I felt pretty bad, although we made sure they made it to Winnipeg the next day, and the girl had already received a few presents, so she was still pretty happy.

Cities on Christmas morning are always nice as they're always deserted. There were very few cars on the road, but it also meant that all the restaurants were closed, we could only find a Robin's Donuts, so we had breakfast there, and when we came back to Winnipeg that afternoon, we had lunch there as well.

I flew on Boxing Day as well. We went to Cross Lake and back twice. We took lots of pictures the first time. The second time we went it was at night and we got an incredible display of the Northern Lights. It was easily the best I have seen before, and Steve who has been flying in the North for almost ten years said it was probably the best he had seen before. I tried taking a picture, but it just didn't do them justice.

I did a few more trips that week. We had a couple of days with pretty bad weather, and flying in them was tricky, but a great learning experience.

On January 5th I went to Rankin Inlet for the second time. I took the scheduled flight up, it was in a Cessna Caravan which is a great plane, but really slow, it was long trip up.

The next day we got a Sanikiluaq - Winnipeg trip. Sanikiluaq is located on the Belcher Islands which are in the southern part of Hudson Bay right near Quebec. Everybody on the radio was speaking french. It's well known for it's carvings of either bone or green rock (not sure what type) so we called ahead and asked the airport radio operator to call some carvers for us. As we landed, the weather started to deteriorate, so I think the carvers decided to just stay home cause no one came out. Oh well. I ended up buying a carving back in Rankin Inlet.

We got back to Rankin late that evening, and didn't end up flying again for 3 days. We had gone out to go take some pictures of the town when we got called on the radio phone that we had a trip to Yellowknife. This was odd, cause we usually don't take patients to Yellowknife from Rankin we take them to Winnipeg, even though Yellowknife is closer. This patient was a psych patient and the mental health center in Winnipeg was full (hmmm, what does that say about Manitobans ? :) so we took him to Yellowknife. The company doesn't fly there very much so it was really interesting to go there. With going to the Northwest Territories, I only have to go to the Yukon and Newfoundland then I have been to all the provinces and territories.

We had dinner at a nice hotel and was surprised to see lots of Japanese tourists. I thought Yellowknife in January was a strange vacation destination. However, it's apparently a fairly popular honeymoon location as the Japanese believe that the Northern Lights are a sign of good luck, and if you conceive a child on a night that the are out, it will bring the child prosperity and luck. (*Note: I have since found out that that is untrue, however, there still were a lot of Japanese tourists) It's for this reason that some hotels in Churchill and Yellowknife have hotel rooms with glass dome ceilings!

When we got back to Rankin there was a full fledged blizzard going on. When a Blizzard hits up there, not a lot of snow falls if any, in fact it's actually considered a desert up in the Arctic. What happens is the winds pick up til they are about 40 mph (70 km or so) and starts blowing all the snow on the ground. You can fly over the airport, look down and see it fine, but once you get quite low the visibility drops. The approach was crazy, the visibility was really low, we saw the runway lights right at minimums and the captain (Jeff) managed a great landing in really strong cross winds.

The blizzard stuck around for a few more days so we ended up staying in Rankin a day longer than normal. We need 1/2 mile visibility to take off and it was 1/8 th of a mile for most of the time. We were on hold for a Rankin Winnipeg trip by this time. So when the weather improved we were to go to leave for Winnipeg. And wouldn't you know, the weather improved, not at a sensible hour say around lunchtime, but at 3 in the morning! So we got a call to pack up all our stuff as quick as possible and hurry to the airport.Within 45 minutes, we were on our way to Winnipeg. We ended up back home in Thompson by about 3 in the afternoon, where I went home and went right to sleep!

I now have about 120 hours on the airplane and have learned an incredible amount of information. I still have lots to learn though. While my regular landings have improved greatly, my cross wind landings aren't very good "Sonny, did we land or were we shot down?" No, that wasn't actually said to me. But I like the challenge of always learning new things and it's satisfying to succeed at things that I've been working on.