Tag Archives: last leg

Min Fuel

We seem to be barely moving. For about the hundredth time in the last few minutes I check our airspeed and then look back outside at the Georgia countryside, seemingly fixed in place, visible through ragged gaps in the clouds below us. All three airspeed gauges in the cockpit agree; we are in fact moving, just not very quickly. I briefly contemplate bumping up the thrust levers but a quick glance out at our project fuel an landing number makes me dismiss that thought and go back to listening to the abnormal quiet as we creep eastward through clear skies.

It’s the last leg of a four day trip. All that waits for me, 200 miles away in Charlotte, is a two hour sit and then a deadhead home where I am done for a few days. The FO and Flight Attendant are also both done in Charlotte, but only have a quick car ride to their respective houses. The joys of being outstation based once again rear their ugly head. Despite the slow speed we are flying and the 20 minute sit we just endured by the runway in Montgomery, Alabama watching Navy BeechJets fly practice approaches, we are still showing landing 15 minutes early thanks to an early push in Montgomery and favorable tailwinds. I’ve got no place to be but for the rest of the crew, ever minute makes a difference.

Due to a new fuel saving program, we are now being dispatched with less fuel than ever before. The thought is that “extra” fuel we used to carry around weighed a lot and actually burned even more fuel to carry it around. Spread across a fleet of 50 airplanes doing 8 flights a day, 365 days a year, the numbers add up. Apparently. The company brought in an “expert” who explained all of this to a number of captains and management pilots. I came away from the session understanding the reasons, but wondering about the specifics. After two weeks of flying under the new program I’m still wondering about the specifics.

The immediate effect of this program is that if we are planned for a certain speed in cruise, our fuel load is based on flying that speed. Flying faster burns more gas, and while in the past with larger margins we could bump up the speed if we needed to (or felt we needed to), it is no longer always feasible. We are currently showing landing right at our minimums. I check the weather report at Charlotte, guess which runways they will be using and mentally add that into the fuel burn calculation. The number doesn’t improve so I leave the thrust levers where they are and go back to watching the world slide by.

15 minutes will have to do.

Pulling Strings

I’m the last one off the plane and into the heat of the jetway but manage to catch up to the rest of my crew as they get stalled in the crush of people trying to grab their carryon bags. Once clear of the jetway the four of us turn right and start hoofing it towards gate 17. Our departure time is rapidly approaching and our new aircraft is half a terminal away; all too typical of last flights of the day.

Minutes later we arrive at the gate to find an airplane but no gate agent. The agent soon appears from the jetway to tell us Maintenance is doing a tire change and they think they will be done in 15 minutes, which not surprisingly equates to more delays for us on our go home leg. With the paperwork in hand we head into the jetway to get away from the crowds and wait for the nose gear to be changed out. While we wait my FO and two FAs start a game of wheelchair bowling in the jetway. This almost ends in disaster when the chair all but dumps my FO on the ground. At that point they decide to stop, which coincides nicely with the mechanics finishing up their work. 10 minutes later our first passengers are streaming down the jetway and boarding the plane.

Departure time comes and goes with passengers still wandering onto the airplane. We finally get the paperwork only to have it taken back by the gate agent as more passengers and bags show. Meanwhile, leaking through the earpieces of my headset, I can hear a steady stream of aircraft calling ready to push back and taxi, all heading out towards the runway ahead of us. It’s going to be a long evening. A quick look at my phone’s weather radar shows a large mass of thunder cells to the west of Dayton moving east. As far as I’m concerned, the quicker we get going the better.

Finally the last passengers, in from Montego Bay, Jamaica, well tanned and with the slightly bleary look so common to people returning from vacation, stroll up to the plane. Their bags follow shortly and we get the door closed. My FO calls for pushback clearance, which we are given. Ramp also tells us that the FAA tower has requested we take off from the left runway instead the right one, which we had expected. It’s odd but I’m not complaining as it’s a shorter taxi and despite the line I could see stretching around the corner, it probably will get us airborn faster.

Before we even finish the push back ramp is calling us back to inform us ground wants to get us out right away and plan on jumping the line. With that in mind we start both engines and once clear of the pushback tug request a taxi clearance. It’s quickly granted and we head out to the exit of the ramp. Ground control tells us we are going to get right out and asks if we can take an intersection departure. We have the numbers for it and my FO lets the controller know that is fine. We are slightly puzzled as to what’s going on but shrug it off and get busy running the taxi and before takeoff checklist. Minutes later we arrive at the intersection they want us to use and are cleared on to the runway.

It’s my leg to fly and as soon as we are cleared to go I put the power up. We are full and heavy on gas due to the potential weather in Dayton so it takes a while for the plane to decide to start flying. Once up and running tower turns us back towards the northwest and home. The radar is showing a mess of dying thunderstorms ahead of us but it looks like if we head slightly east we should avoid the worst of it.

50 minutes later we are descending into the hazy murk below us. The sun is just below the horizon and the skyline is tinged with orange. Approach points out the airport off to our left. It’s barely visible through the haze but the beacon strobes clearly every few seconds. With it in sight we are cleared for the approach so I dump off the autopilot and turn for home. The runway clarifies itself out of the darkness and several minutes later we are (gently) thumping onto the pavement. The taxi to the gate is short and our passengers are quick to unload.

Walking out to our cars in the parking lot I mention to our FAs that we really lucked out in getting to the front of the line. Neither the FO nor I can figure out why it happened. A lightbulb appears above the head of one of the FAs and she explains that one of the passengers had made a comment about how she worked in the tower in Charlotte and she was going to call a friend to see if we could push us out quickly. It’s nice to have connected people on board on the last leg.