Flying The Line

by Jim Hanson
Published in Midwest Flyer – February/March 2018

I wanted to see the Air Choice One operation for myself, so I asked company officials if I could ride on a segment from Mason City, Iowa to Minneapolis and return, so they made the arrangements. Here are some of my observations from those flights.

I have extensive experience in the Caravan. I’ve flown the very first Caravan to be certified on floats, and we’ve had the airplane on a lot of adventures.

Our original airplane was the “short” airplane, with a 600 hp PT-6 turbine. I’ve also flown the older “Grand Caravan (stretched models with a larger engine). All have been rugged and comfortable load-haulers. The Air Choice One Caravan was a new model, and while the airplane was familiar, this airplane had a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit and a nice interior. It also had more power, and TKS liquid anti-ice – a big improvement over the original de-ice boots.

I also wanted to view crew operations, particularly one of our “local boys,” Taylor Matz. Taylor obtained many of his ratings here in Albert Lea, Minnesota, then went on to Air Choice One as a First Officer with only 350 hours total time. As mentioned in the previous article, he said “I am so glad I learned and taught in an accelerated fashion… I could not have survived the airline ground school if I hadn’t!”

I also wanted to experience the ride in the newer Caravan; passengers have raved about the legroom.

I parked my car at Mason City, about 100 feet from the airline terminal, and for free! The airline counter staff checked my reservation, my photo ID, and then asked me to step on the scale; they weighed everything! (The scale said “260 pounds;” must be my notebook and two cameras!) I was then processed through TSA security, as when we reached Minneapolis, we would be inside the secure area. Friendly folks, no line, and I wouldn’t have to do it again if I was on a connecting flight on another airline.

I met Taylor, and he escorted me around the aircraft to take photos. He introduced me to his captain, Angela Abratanski. Angela started flying eight years ago in Florida, and has over 2500 hours of flight time. Of the four years she has worked in aviation, two years have been at Air Choice One.

I told them what I wanted to do on the flight, and promised not to interrupt their operation. It was interesting to watch the operation. When Taylor had flown with me in the King Air only 14 months and 650 flight hours ago, he had never been in a turbine airplane or multi-crew cockpit. He and Angela ran the cockpit checklist litany (a word I chose deliberately because it is described as “a prayer in which all can participate, a means of recognition and affirmation, a closing commitment to a mission.” That certainly describes the purpose of a checklist! A pre-departure briefing was made, and after engine start and taxi, the other required checklists were run quickly and efficiently. It was all business in the cockpit. It was Taylor’s leg to fly, and they smoothly handed over and affirmed control.

We climbed through several layers of cloud, and I noted that the TKS anti-ice was on. Not a bit of ice could be seen on the airplane.

After level-off and the aircraft was on autopilot, I asked questions. I noticed that they kept the prop at 1900 rpm, and asked if they ever reduced it. Taylor confirmed what Cessna had told us when we got checked out in the Caravan years ago… It doesn’t make any difference in cruise… It only changes the sound of the engine, so they leave it full forward.

I noticed that the twin G1000 displays indicated that we were very close to the top of the green airspeed arcs (170 kts indicated, or 178 kts TAS on this day), and showing 440 pounds per hour (65 gph). “That’s our Standard Operating Procedure; the way we fly them,” was the response. The leg is normally filed for 9,000 feet, where the true airspeed goes up and the fuel burn goes down, but we stayed lower, out of the wind and ice. The ride was smooth, and we actually ended up saving time and fuel because we avoided the delays of the arrival corridor for bigger aircraft.

The crew loaded the ILS to Runway 12R at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (KMSP), and briefed the approach, even knowing the chances were good that air traffic control (ATC) would change runways on them. It was fun to watch the automation of the G1000 – loading the approach, making the crossing restrictions, intercepting the ILS—but at the last moment, ATC did indeed change runways. Taylor and Angela handled it like the pros they are, setting up the new approach and conducting the brief for the new runway. Taylor made a squeaker of a landing, and after arriving at the gate, Angela said, “the pressure is on to see if I can beat that one!”

On the trip back, Mason City was reporting 11,000 broken, but from our position only 30 miles north, we were on top of a thin overcast. Rather than wait for the chance for a visual approach, they loaded and briefed an RNAV approach, but the display wouldn’t come up. After a short amount of trouble-shooting, they simply brought up the approach on an alternate display on the three-tube system, and wouldn’t you know it, the clouds parted and the landing was made. Angela equaled Taylor’s performance on the landing and we taxied to the gate. The loading problem was corrected on the ground by resetting the system.

All through the flight, I was very impressed by the professional conduct of the crew; just the right amount of collegiality and deference between the two pilots. I’ll fly with them any time! Someone at Air Choice One certainly is doing a great job on standardization and standards!

If you have been thinking about an airline career, Air Choice One is a good alternative to “time-building” to reach that magic 1500 hours. You’ll be earning money instead of spending it. If you learn in an accelerated fashion, you can be flying within a year after your first flight, and by the end of the two-year commitment, you will have turbine time, weather time, and experience in high-density airports. You’ll be GOLDEN!”

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