Most commercial pilots, from the 747 captain to the freight dog and flight instructor, have something that most private pilots lack: ground support (did you think I was going to write something like “gumption”?). Today, the professionalism of a charity and the generosity of an airline gave me a taste of that.
The quality of the ground support can vary, from an airline’s huge dispatch operation and legions of ground crews to the aspiring instructor stuck behind the dispatch desk or working line at a flight school, but in all cases, there’s someone to call who can help out and provide support — to help with scheduling, find another plane if you’re stuck, maybe check the weather while you’re fueling, help push a plane, etc. We private pilots don’t usually have that — if you’re stuck in Kalamazoo with a bad piston (or a head cold), you’re stuck, period. If you’re lucky, the FBO will call you a cab to take you to a motel until you can sort things out and cash in enough of your retirement savings to get home.
Today, I had a chance to see what it was like having high-quality ground support during a volunteer Hope Air flight. I’ve already written about one part of my flight out to North Bay to pick up the patient and escort. By the time I got them back here to Ottawa for their early-afternoon appointment, I had already spent 4:30 in the air battling IMC, turbulence, heavy rain, and an 80-knot low-level jet from the south/southwest, all hand-flown (I don’t have an autopilot). When I started slurring words talking to the London FIC during the layover here in Ottawa, I realized that I was unsafe and grounded myself from the return trip (the rain and lowering freezing level at North Bay was also setting off alarms) — but now what? I had on my hands a father, son, and case worker who were planning to be home in North Bay for dinner. I thought about putting them on the bus (a long ride home), but then I decided to call Hope Air on the off chance that they could help.
Within 20 minutes, the problem was solved. Hope Air called Bearskin Airlines and managed to get three seats donated on the 4:30 pm flight back to North Bay (all the major airlines donate seats to Hope Air, but Bearskin was the most direct). Wow! It was an amazing feeling having ground support to watch my back and a generous airline to help out. Commercial pilots shouldn’t complain too much or take their ground support for granted.