Tuesday, February 13, 2007

To prepare for our flight this morning, I called customs, filed flight plans, checked weather (snowy and challenging, but safe), arranged arrival and departure slot times for both airports, called the FBO at our destination, picked up catering (okay, I just bought muffins, but still), had the plane fuelled, set up the cockpit, put hot coffee on board, chilled the cold drinks, ran through the "BEFORE ENGINE START" checklists and completed the other thousand tasks required to make the flight go smoothly and the passengers feel happy.

Then I called clearance delivery to get our clearance. I was given a full route, which I entered into our GPS system, and was about to head back inside our FBO to wait for my pax when I got a call on the radio.

"Your destination has a ground stop in effect at the moment, they aren't accepting any inbound airplanes for an hour."

So I waited for an hour. Fortunately my passengers didn't show up until 5 minutes before the hour was up, so they didn't have to wait long.

I called on the radio and talked to Pearson Clearance Delivery.

"Things are moving now, it should be another 5 or 10 minutes"

We loaded up the pax and I was about to start the engines when I got another call on the radio.

"You aren't going to believe this, but your 10 minute delay just turned into a 3 1/2 hour delay."

The snow at my destination, one of the world's busiest airports, was wreaking havoc with airline schedules, and everything was starting to go to hell.

I enquired about nearby airports and was told the same thing.

"The entire area is saturated with traffic, and controllers aren't accepting any new traffic for the next 3 1/2 hours"

I thought about ways some people would cheat the system to get airborne, like asking for a visual departure and picking up my instrument clearance in the air, or filing another airport as my destination and filing my actual destination as our alternate, then asking to go to our alternate instead. They might get lucky and wind up being squeezed into the air traffic control system, but they might not, and attempting to cheat like that would reduce the safety margin, which is unacceptable. I value my passengers, my job and my pilot's licence too much to intentionally do anything stupid.

I told my pax that it would be another 3 1/2 hours before we would be given clearance to depart, and they elected to cancel the trip.

So the pax deplaned and I got their bags from the aircraft belly so they could head back to their offices. I then called up customs and cancelled, then called the slot reservation people and cancelled my inbound and outbound slots for both airports, then cancelled my flight plan, then called the FBO at our destination to let them know we wouldn't be coming, then emptied the coffee / ice / newspapers / muffin boxes, then shut down the airplane and got the ramp attendants to remove the ground power unit (a generator on wheels that plugs into our airplane so we can turn on electrical power without draining our battery) and had them tow my plane back into the hangar.

This is only the second time in a year and a half that I haven't been able to complete a flight, and even though there was really nothing I could have done, I still felt bad.

I spent the rest of the day paying bills and doing paperwork before heading home to write this.

As I write this, the same snow system that affected our flight this morning is moving into my neighborhood. At least 5cm of snow has fallen in the last hour, and estimates for our overnight snowfall range from 10 - 50cm, depending on who you believe.

What do I believe? I believe I'll have some hot chocolate now, and sit and watch the flakes fall. They really are quite beautiful.

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