Here’s to hoping that this winter turns out to be as gentle as the winter of 2011-2012. We had Hurricane Irene in the fall last year, plus a pretty huge Halloween storm. But after that it was, well, smooth sledding all winter for Linear Air, the nation’s largest and most successful on-demand air taxi service.
This year the East Coast and the Northeast got hammered by another big fall Hurricane/SuperStorm – Sandy – and a couple of smaller late fall storms. So, shouldn’t we now expect the rest of this winter to be as mild as the winter last year? I hope. But I’m not betting that way.
Linear Air can’t afford to be unprepared for the challenges of winter flight operations. Summer has its own set of challenges for aviation companies, like hot, thin air that reduces how much weight planes can carry in certain situations. And Spring can be a challenging time because of the wild winds that often accompany it. But no season presents a more challenging set of environmental conditions for aviation companies than Winter.
You may think Linear Air, which flies four-passenger Eclipse jets between mostly secondary and tertiary airports so that our customers can avoid the time-wasting, hassle-filled big airport experience of traveling with the big airlines, could simply avoid winter operational problems by staying on the ground. But it’s not that simple. Yes, there are times each winter when we, like every other right-thinking aviation company, decide that it’s best to cancel flights and keep our planes and, more importantly our customers and our crews, safe on the ground. But the reality of being in business is that you have to provide your product or service pretty much all the time or you won’t stay in business very long.
In fact, in those rare occasions when we do have to shut down flying, we know that we’ll be extra-busying just as soon as the weather clears. So in addition to having to take care of our grounded planes during exceptionally bad weather (extreme cold, ice and high winds can damage planes on the ground) we also have to spring into action during severe winter weather to find ways to accommodate ALL of our customers – those stranded in mid-trip, those whose flights get delayed, and those likely to be impacted by the backup once we resume flying.
Obviously we can’t control the weather, so we have to do a great job of preparing for it in advance. That includes reviewing all of our customer service and ground operation plans. And, most importantly, it includes providing recurring training, new information and the best technology available to our flight and ground service crews. This year Linear Air began that process in the fall when our Chief Pilot, Joanna Love, sent out an email to all our pilots providing detailed winter flying guidance. They also were given very specific training to complete using Slide Rocket, our online training program.
One of Linear Air’s hallmarks – and one of its great strengths, we believe – is that we are committed to being a technology-enabled business. It is our corporate philosophy to use the latest and best advancements in technology to improve our business and operational processes whenever, and wherever possible, even if it’s not required by Federal Aviation Regulations. And that includes using the latest new technologies in the cockpit and in our training environment. That’s why each of our pilots is equipped with an iPad. And one of the many things they can do with their iPads is complete their training requirements using Slide Rocket. In simplified terms, Slide Rocket turns an ordinary PowerPoint presentation into a detailed, illustrated self-guided learning tool.
This year our pilots were required to complete their winter operations training modules and then pass a test over that material. Slide Rocket routed their test to Joanna, who had to approve each pilot’s test performance before they were cleared for winter flying.
All of our pilots also are required to monitor weather conditions prior to and during their flights. They can’t depend solely on company- or FAA-provided weather reports. They each are personally accountable for knowing the weather conditions in which they are scheduled to be flying. And simply watching the weather segment in the late evening local newscast on TV isn’t good enough. Our pilots’ iPads are great tools for getting the kind of advanced weather information they need prior to flying, even when they’re away from home or the office. Their iPads also are fantastic tools for getting extra weather information in the cockpit beyond what’s available to them via their plane’s radars, radios and other instruments.
Our pilots aren’t the only ones looking out for bad weather. We have a “dispersed operation,” which means that all of our customer service and ground operations people are able – and expected – to monitor weather conditions. That provides safety-enhancing backup to our pilots and schedulers. And sometimes it means having someone on the ground observing and reporting fast-changing conditions even before technology can spot and report those changes. Having our customer service and ground operations people inside the weather loop also means they can provide the latest and most accurate information directly to our customers. That means Linear Air customers won’t get the vague, often meaningless weather reports that often exasperate big airlines’ passengers.
So even if the weather outside this winter gets, at times, frightful this winter, know that our Linear Air team members are well trained and vigilant in looking out for your winter flying safety.
See you onboard.