Determining how to safely and efficiently operate into a new airport starts when a customer requests a flight. When involved early, schedulers and dispatchers can identify challenges and mitigate them before agenda planning gets too far down the road, said Chad Patnode, Pfizer’s flight operations manager. This is especially true for multi-day, multi-airport road shows.
The aircraft to be utilized is the focus of a 360-degree examination of the airport from the pilot’s and passenger’s perspective. This analysis, which should be a collaborative effort between schedulers/dispatchers and pilots, verifies that the destination satisfies the aircraft’s operational and logistical needs, from pavement classifications to catering.
Every airport is different, and essential information such as taxiway and apron weight limits are often not published.
“We call the airport manager and describe our mission and how many airplanes will be involved. We do the same with the FBO managers.”
Chad Patnode Flight Operations Manager, Pfizer
“We call the airport manager and describe our mission and how many airplanes will be involved,” explained Patnode. “We do the same with the FBO managers, and we have separate checklists of questions for each of them. It is surprising how many informational tidbits we get from these conversations.”
From curfews and gate codes to wildlife reports and after-hours procedures, they all contribute to safety and avoiding a headache for the crew and customers, said Patnode. “And if we have not been to an airport in two years, we do a complete review to see if anything has changed.”
Pilots of single-engine and light piston twins face special preflight considerations because they may not have the same wealth of data available to jet crews, said Mitch Papontos, operation supervisor for Wheels Up. To compensate, they must develop a set of personal minimums they can consistently and comfortably meet.
“It is important to consider obstacle [clearance] requirements because they can catch you off guard,” Papontos said. “Examine the terrain around the airport and each runway and figure out where you’d go in an emergency. Where are your outs? The answer may determine whether you should use that runway or airport, or whether you should look for an alternative destination.”
Planning a flight to a new international destination requires research that builds upon the operational and logistics topics examined for a new domestic airport, said Duke LeDuc, director of operations for UAS International Trip Support.
Start with the Covid-19 travel restrictions at the overseas destination and intermediate stops. “What steps must you take before arriving?” suggested LeDuc. “What tests are required for the passengers and crew (they are sometimes different). Which vaccines are accepted? If required, what’s your quarantine plan?”
Customs requirements are the logical next step. “When selecting a suitable airport, do not defer to the nearest big commercial airport. Select the airport that best satisfies the flight’s mission,” recommended LeDuc. “Considerations include VFR or IFR operations, control tower availability and its hours,” LeDuc continued. “Does it require prior permission or special training? Before conducting your risk analysis, carefully evaluate the surrounding terrain and the available alternates. Consider your AOG strategy and ensure a line of credit is available if a vendor doesn’t accept credit cards. And don’t ignore the political environment: conduct a security assessment as appropriate.”
No matter what type of aircraft you fly domestically or internationally, meticulous preflight planning is the key to safety.