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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Getting In Front Of The Curve

There were still a few items on the old agenda.  I had to go back to Santa Rosa, get out of our rental lease, and move our household goods and the little family all the way across the country.  Furthermore, I had the second interview with Orion in Louisville.

I'm not sure about the sequence of these events actually occurring, but we got it all done, with help.  My mom had flown out to give us a hand again.  The rental agency was very upset that we were pulling out, but they were sympathetic and helpful.  They wanted to have good renters in this house, because they knew the owners were living in China for a few years, then coming back to live in the house.  We had fantastic references as renters.  They found someone to move in rather quickly.  It was a great house.

I called Mayflower and asked for the same driver we had on our move to Chico and he was available.  I needed to get back to work ASAP, but we had to get the cars to Florida.  I didn't want to drive all that distance with the baby.  Once again we experienced some good fortune.  One of the people I called when I lost the PacEx job was a USAir pilot friend, who happened to be coming to San Francisco with his wife for vacation.  When I talked to him about my dilemma with the cars, he said he would drive my Trans Am, towing Doreen's Toyota wagon from San Fran to Orlando.  Incredible luck.

After we got the moving van on the road, Doreen and I drove down to the hotel PacEx used near the airport.  I met my friend there, gave him the cars and we flew across the San Francisco Bay to the Oakland Airport in a helicopter.  Caitlin got her first helicopter ride at age 6 months.  From there, we flew to Denver on Frontier.  The management team at Florida Express had worked there before they started the new airline.  Then we flew on Frontier Horizon to Indianapolis, spent the night (used the drawer as a crib again) and then flew to Orlando on Florida Express in the morning.  All free flying, because I knew the right people.  This was very helpful.

Frontier Horizon was an alter ego airline.  I am not even going to open that can of worms at this time.  If you are interested, Google is your friend.

Florida Express had the same salary system that Pacific Express had in the beginning.  Captains, $32,000, first officers, $18,000.  One of the realities of moving from one airline to another, because of the seniority system, is that you always go to the bottom of the list and always start at the bottom of the pay scale.  There is no lateral movement.

Dixon knew about the Orion interview and was not happy.  I think he had stuck his neck out a little to get me a job, when the company really did not need or want another pilot.  He and several others I met, were telling me why I should stay at Florida Express.  They told me about what a great management team we had.  The top 3 guys had been together at Frontier, then went on to Midway.  From there, they rounded up financial support to start Florida Express.  We were getting in on the ground floor of an airline with great potential, according the them.  They reminded me of the pilots at FedEx and Southwest, who started with very little promise.  I was still concerned about the financial backing and decided to go to the Orion interview.  Louisville is one of the cities Flex flew to and I was able to ride the jump seat.

Florida Express was beginning to win my heart.  It was a passenger airline.  Orion flew for UPS's overnight parcel delivery service.  Overnight is the operative word there.  I had gotten to know lots of people in Orlando and it seemed like a really nice place to live.  When I went to the Orion interview, I had mostly made up my mind and I think it might have been obvious that I was not exactly desperate to fly boxes at night.  I did not get the job.  I was relieved.   The decision was made for me.

When there was no flying for me, Dixon wanted me to fly to the out stations and teach the agents there how to do the aircraft performance and weight and balance.  That was a challenge.  Trying to explain the effect wind has on the movement of a plane over the ground was nearly impossible for some.  I was never sure if they understood how their efforts could impact the safety of the flight.  It wasn't long before the company came up with a computer based method to calculate this stuff and it mostly took the agents out of the equation.  All they had to do was put in the passenger count. 

A few months later, I attended a meeting held for the pilots by our President and CEO.  I was finally going to see the top guy of the management team Dixon and all the others were telling me about.  This guy was smart.  He knew how critical pilots were to a start up airline operation.  Since we were not being paid the way airline pilots were typically paid, he had to cajole us and make us feel we were going to be on the ground floor of something with great potential.

This particular meeting did not impress me positively.  The CEO admitted that he thought he had started with the wrong airplane.  It had to do with the nature of the Florida Express route structure and the performance limits of the BAC.

With 3 airplanes, the plan was to depart all 3 at the same time going north to Norfolk/Richmond, Nashville/Louisville and Indianapolis. The problem was with the Indianapolis leg.  It was the longest leg flown by any airline with the BAC 1-11-200.  It was designed to fly many short legs in a day.  I think our block time for this leg was about 2 1/2 hours.  You may recall that our longest leg at PacEx was about 1 1/2.  

In the winter, the headwinds from the northwest caused a slow ground speed and there were occasions where the flight had to land at an airport short of the destination to refuel.  Mr. CEO explained that this was not economically feasible.  We could not afford to make many of these stops.

He explained that the guy who sells airplanes for USAir had told them the plane would fly fast and go far, but he did not tell them it would not do both on the same leg.  Any pilot would have known to ask more questions about that.  I was not impressed.  They obviously bought airplanes without consulting a pilot.  

So, now we go back to my conversation with Bob Dixon on the day I was hired, relative to the speed at which they were flying the plane.  I knew that the fuel cost for flying at the "barber pole", or maximum speed, would be prohibitive.  The range stretching aspects had not occurred to me at first, but it makes sense.  After the meeting, I was standing outside the meeting room and my old pal from Pacific Express, Jim, who ran the dispatch department and had gotten hired to do the same at Florida Express, walked up to me and said, "We could have told him that."  Exactly.

I knew that Dixon had a problem with just flying at 250 knots indicated, but that slowing the plane would probably solve the problem.  I had some old performance manuals for the BAC 1-11 at home and began looking for the solution.  I found the performance envelope for best specific fuel range on the airplane.  If you are a nerd, you can use the hyper link or you can accept my brief explanation.  For any given weight of an aircraft, there is a speed for achieving the best possible range.  The plane becomes lighter as it burns fuel and this speed changes accordingly.  The engineers and test pilots do lots of work in development and testing to determine what this speed is and then design some method to make it available and understandable to dumb pilots like me.

When flying a plane at its maximum speed, you are achieving that last little bit of increase in speed at a large increase in fuel burn.  To achieve max range, you must slow down a little.

I took some of the specifics of the MCO - IND (Orlando - Inianapolis) leg and worked some problems.  I was able to determine that by slowing down enough to take just 10 or 15 minutes longer, we could assure that the plane would have enough fuel to get to IND in a very high percentage of the flights.  I don't remember exactly what the number was, but it was almost 100%.  

I took my work to Dixon's office and made my case.  I explained that science and math proved that we would not be flying "behind the curve".  It took him some time to think about it and buy it.  He probably talked it over with some of the other pilots.  Soon he had someone create a table with cruising altitudes, and weights to provide the optimum speed for long range flying.  I earned my salary for several years with that one.

For the record, Gordy James, who had been the VP of Ops at PacEx once described the guy who sold airplanes at USAir in this way:  "He is the kind of guy, who will (rape) you in the (anus) and then try to make you feel guilty about it."

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