The snow is now coming down in heavy curtains of white, just as it has been for the last few hours, and quite probably the last few days, weeks and months. This is Buffalo after all. I’ve spent the morning sitting in my hotel room catching up on some paperwork and watching the flakes drift by my window with the backdrop of parking lots and shopping malls behind them. I guess I should be happy that at least the heater in my room worked.
The van ride over slick, mostly plowed roads behind us, we’ve now readied the plane and loaded aboard 49 passengers for the long flight down to Charlotte. The paperwork is calling for 200 mile per hour of headwinds the whole way as well as moderate turbulence. The crew that brought the airplane in departed up the jetway with a sarcastic “have fun” as a goodbye. Lucky them. As the main cabin door closes and I settle into my seat I look out at the wintery landscape reflected in the terminal windows and realize it’s going to be a long afternoon.
The gate here is one where we start up and taxi out instead of the usual push back with a tug. It’s probably just as well as judging from the condition of the ramp I doubt a tug could get enough traction to move us. I get the ok signal from the ramper to spin the right engine and reach up to engage the starter. The FO dutifully hacks the clock to note the time. 80 feet behind us several bleed valves open and close to direct air from the APU into the air turbine starter. The core slowly starts to rotate, followed shortly thereafter by the outer fan.
With everything looking good I glance up at the overhead panel to double check the ignition is armed and then move the right thrust lever from shutoff to idle, introducing fuel into the spinning engine. In theory the fuel should be ignited by the starter, combust and exit out the back of the engine, spinning a turbine along the way which in turn powers the fan on the front of the engine which sucks in more air for a self sustaining process. Except there is no light off. Instead raw fuel is being vented out the back of our engine into the cold air behind the plane.
After several seconds of wondering what is going on I pull the thrust lever back to shutoff and turn off the ignition. I let the starter spin the engine for another 30 seconds to ensure all the fuel is vented out and then shut that off as well. I then look over at the FO and shrug. He shrugs back. Thankfully there is a checklist for this sort of thing because otherwise we probably would just sit here shrugging at each other for a while.
The checklist run, we try again using the other ignition system. This time the engine lights off with no problems. The second engine follows shortly thereafter and we are ready to taxi. Deice operations are done by a third party contract company so after getting a clearance from ground we taxi over to where the deice trucks are parked and give them a call. We are their only customer at the time so we are quickly swarmed by all three trucks.
As soon as we tell them we are configured they start spraying, one on each wing and one on the tail. Deice and anti ice normally takes between 15 and 25 minutes depending on the amount of contamination on the airframe and the skill of the deice crew. Today it take 4 minutes for them to spray Type 1 deice fluid and then coat the airplane in slimy Type 4 anti ice fluid. Neither the FO nor I can quite believe they are already done, but looking back I can clearly see a greenish tinge on the left wing. The FO reports the same on his side.
It takes use a few minutes to reconfigure the aircraft and then we start the long taxi to the end of the departure runway. The snow is still falling but visibility is good. The taxiways are not cleared and we rock back and forth through the ruts left by previous aircraft. It’s bumpy, but looking up at the leaden, snow filled sky I realize that it may be smoother bumping along down here than it’s going to be when we get up there in just a few minutes.