Around the World

Miles flown for stories
2014: 345,636
2013: 330,818

Tales of an Aircraft Mechanic

sometimes you just have to dive in! Photo: Kris Hull

Sometimes you just have to dive in – Photo: Kris Hull

Working for an airline might seem prestigious to most on the outside: a job filled with adventure and travel, with good perks. However, like with most things, reality if very different. For the past nine years, I have spent my time working as an FAA-certified and licensed Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic, or A&P. A&Ps are the lifeblood of civil aviation in the United States.

In short, we are tasked with ensuring that all aircraft in the US are maintained in an airworthy and safe manor. It is not very glamorous, but it sure is fun! I obtained my A&P license by attending an FAA-approved course for two years at a Washington state community college, and then I entered the aviation workforce with gusto and drive, ready to conquer the world; or so I thought!

A NAA PBJ-1J under restoration = Photo: Kris Hull

FAA A&P mechanics can work on anything, including this PBJ-1J under restoration – Photo: Kris Hull

Throughout my ten years in the aviation industry so far, I have worked for four companies; two for a year or less, and the other two for four years each. I have had the opportunity to work on everything from the diminutive (yet mighty!) Piper J-3 Cub up to the newest member of the 747 family, the 747-8. So sit back and enjoy reading this while I recall some of the adventures (or misadventures!) I have had over the past several years!

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Flying First Class…On a United Q400

United Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 at Durango - Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

United Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 at Durango – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

As a Silver Premier member with United Airlines (their lowest-level elite tier), getting a complementary first class upgrade happens almost as rarely as spotting a unicorn.  In a year and a half of being an elite, I’ve gotten two first class upgrades.  Recently, upgrade number two came in an unlikely form; on a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400.

That’s right, folks – United is offering a first class cabin on planes with propellers.  I caught my upgrade on a quick business trip from Denver (DEN) to Durango (DRO), Colorado.

All of United’s Q400s are actually operated by Republic Airlines, one of many regional carriers for UA.  They are configured with 71 seats; seven in first class, 10 in Economy Plus, and 54 in economy.  As to be expected on a regional plane, “first class” really only meant a wider seat, more legroom, and a free beer.  Well, we got some pretzels too.   Continue reading Flying First Class…On a United Q400

Visiting (New) Britain and (New) Ireland in One Day on a Air Niugini Q400

Boarding P2-PXS at Jacksons Domestic Airport. Photo by Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter.com

Boarding P2-PXS at Jacksons Domestic Airport – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

So, while Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea, or PNG) may not be a holiday treat, it is certainly better than it has ever been since independence.  If you want a tropical holiday, you are going to have to leave the ravenous guard dogs and car jackings of Moresby behind.

Being a huge WWII nerd, I figured my best bet was to head out to either Kavieng (on the island of New Ireland) or Kokopo/Rabual on the island of New Britain. Both of these islands were invaded by the Japanese in 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese, however, did not hold on to them long, I will cover that in a later article, because first I have to tell you about the fun one can have at the domestic terminal of Jacksons International Airport.

The airport is chaotic, and there is no air conditioning. To keep machetes and buai out of the terminal there is pre-screening before the sterile area. Check-in opens at least three hours prior to departure to deal with the seemingly-unending lines of people going back from Moresby to their home villages, and the infinite tonnage of excess baggage.

But it all ends up being worth the hassle.

Continue reading Visiting (New) Britain and (New) Ireland in One Day on a Air Niugini Q400

In-Flight Review of Westjet Encore: On Board Their Newest Q400

Westjet Encore Bombardier Q400 C-FENY at North Peace Regional Airport (YXJ) in Ft. St. John BC, under a beautiful blue sky.

Westjet Encore Bombardier Q400 C-FENY at North Peace Regional Airport (YXJ) in Ft. St. John BC, under a beautiful blue sky.  Photo: Howard Slutsken | AirlineReporter.com

This was going to be a great day for AirlineReporter.com’s Canadian “Senior Contributor.” That would be me!

I was flying with a new Canadian airline in a brand new Canadian-built plane, traveling from a major Canadian airport over some stunning Canadian landscape, and visiting the headquarters of one of “Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures,” which happens to be a major Canadian airline. The Flight Attendants might have made it even more Canadian by greeting me at the plane’s door with a Timmy’s “Double-Double” and a hockey stick. That didn’t happen.

Translation? I’m flying with Westjet Encore on a Bombardier Q400 from Vancouver (YVR) over the Canadian Coast Range and Rocky Mountains, and visiting Westjet’s base in Calgary (YYC). I’ll leave it to you to find out about Timmy’s.

Westjet Encore began flying in late June with two 78-seat Bombardier Q400 NextGen turboprops. Since then, five of their initial order of 20 Q400s have been delivered, and they have options on another 25 planes. Westjet Encore augments Westjet’s Boeing 737-based route structure with regional flights of distances up to 700 miles. That’s about a two hour flight time for the Q400, but most destinations are 60 to 90 minutes apart. Having the Q400 in the fleet will give Westjet the flexibility to fly to new destinations, add additional frequencies to current destinations, or “right size” the service throughout their network by swapping 737s with Q400s. The Q400s are pretty quick, with flight times within 10-20 minutes of a 737 over these short distances.

The first destinations included Nanaimo, BC in the west, and as far east as Saskatoon, SK. As more planes come into the fleet, Encore is adding  destinations and continuing their expansion eastwards. Encore brought Westjet service back to Brandon, MB in September, a destination that previously couldn’t support WJ 737 service. This YYC-YBR flight is currently Encore’s longest, at a bit under 2 hours. In addition to adding direct regional flights to the Westjet schedule, Encore will look to keep travellers “in the family” by providing connections to mainline WJ flights, and those operated by codeshare partners. Encore is also part of the “Westjet Rewards” frequent-flier program, and shares facilities with WJ at common destinations.

Continue reading In-Flight Review of Westjet Encore: On Board Their Newest Q400

Test Run: Alaska Airlines to Fly Q400s at Home in Alaska

Alaska Airlines Bombardier Q400 on proving flight in Juneau, Alaska - Photo: AirlineReporter.com

Alaska Airlines Bombardier Q400 on proving flight in Juneau, Alaska – Photo: AirlineReporter.com

Alaska Airlines (AS), through their wholly-owned subsidiary Horizon Air, recently announced that they would deploy some of their Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 aircraft to the State of Alaska.  While Dash-8’s have long been a fixture in Alaska Airlines’ pacific northwest network via Horizon (I was flying them within Washington as a child), this marks their first major deployment up north.

Why would AS begin flying Q400s in Alaska?  For the same reasons other carriers have moved towards regional jets and turbo props – operating costs, frequency, and flexibility.  On the operating cost side, Q400s are extremely efficient, particularly compared to the Boeing 737-400s that are a mainstay of the AS fleet in Alaska.  Bombardier estimates savings in examples like this to approach 40%.  From a frequency and flexibility standpoint, more flights on a smaller plane can meet passenger demands, maximizing load factor while increasing service frequency, to the benefit of passengers.

Continue reading Test Run: Alaska Airlines to Fly Q400s at Home in Alaska