June - August 2011

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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Whew, another summer is over! We are just coming out of our summer flying season and it was a corker again this year. MARC flew approximately 400 hours during this time period while Samaritan’s Purse flew approximately 300 hours. The Samaritan’s Purse flying directly affects our scheduling workload because we do all their scheduling. MARC’s 400 hours were flown to transport 530 passengers and 15,360 lbs. of cargo to multiple villages and many events throughout north and west Alaska. Several times this summer our planes provided support for activities which would not have been possible by commercial means. For camp flying, MARC flew 106 campers and staff to the Covenant Bible Camp in Unalakleet during May and June. We flew 62 campers to Tanalian Bible Camp in Port Alsworth and 31 campers to Kokrine Hills Bible Camp in Kokrine Hills during June & July. MARC was able to fly in the far north and east parts of Alaska this summer working through the Christian Pilots Association (CPA) which is based in Fairbanks. About 25% of our flying was into areas that the CPA could not support in the past because their aircraft did not have the range. This flying was made possible by the availability of a Kodiak aircraft belonging to Flying Under The Son Aviation Ministry (FUTSAM) based in southern California. It was an experiment to see what the demand was for our services in the Fairbanks area and for MARC pilots to gain experience with the Kodiak to determine how we might best use such an aircraft. The Kodiak was also part of flying 69 work team members belonging to 15 different work teams from the lower 48 and Alaska into Kokrine Hills Bible Camp. Using the Kodiak and Caravan, primarily, we were able to fly them directly into and out of the camp utilizing the recently completed runway saving them a 4 hour boat ride each way from/to Tanana. All of this flying was in support of some 25 different organizations and individual pastors and their families.
I thought I would take a portion of this newsletter to explain what I will be doing in Turlock for MARC. Scheduling involves pre-flight planning, flight dispatch, flight following and post flight administration. The pre-flight scheduling generally starts with a phone call from someone in an organization who needs a group of their people or some cargo taken from one village to another round trip. I then do a quick estimate of the cost of the trip to determine if we are cheaper than commercial depending on which villages are involved. Once we have determined that MARC can meet their transportation needs I ask them to fill out a flight request online at our website, www.marcalaska.org. They are also able to see the schedule on our website to see when we have pilots and aircraft available. Once they submit the request I receive and email with all the information and copy it into our Flight Manifest spreadsheet. At this point I do a more detailed estimate, and send them an email with the estimate requesting they confirm they want to use us. Once they return the confirmation we put them on the schedule. These activities take place anywhere between 2 weeks to 9 months prior to the flights. About a month ahead of the flights we send them a spreadsheet that we ask them to fill out and email back to us two weeks ahead of the flights. This provides us with the names and weights of the passengers/cargo and the contact names and phone numbers at all the villages involved (this is critical information needed by the flight follower). Up until this point my job has been to gather all the pertinent information that the other scheduler needs to create the Flight Manifest for each flight. This is another spreadsheet that goes to the pilot and Flight Follower. It has the information about the departure times and airports, flight times, arrival times and airports, passengers/cargo names and weights on each leg, fuel requirements and contact information for each fueling stop, a weight and balance for each leg – basically everything the pilot needs to fly the flight and the flight follower needs to do his job. Two weeks ahead of the flights the other scheduler takes this information and does the detailed planning for the flights which results in a completed Flight Manifest. The generation of a Flight Manifest can take anywhere from 10 minutes for a fairly simple Soldotna to Port Alsworth and back to a 2 days or more on a complicated flight involving 15 villages, four different airplanes and 4-6 days of flying. At this point we send out an estimate confirmation email with the final figures based on the detailed planning with a request that they send us a check for that amount. Then 2 days before the flights we provide the Flight Manifest to the pilot so he can plan the flights, load the aircraft with cargo as required, fuel the airplane and clear up any questions he might have.
On the day of the first flight the Dispatcher and pilot both review the crew, aircraft and weather conditions. Both must agree that all three are in limits in order for the flight to proceed. The crew and aircraft conditions are fairly straight forward so most of the time and effort is spent on reviewing the forecast weather and information pertinent to the airports we intend to fly into. If all is within limits the flight is dispatched. Sometime the weather will require a weather hold and if conditions don’t improve a flight postponement to the next day or a cancellation.
The Flight Follower’s job is to keep the pilot, passengers and village contacts apprised of how the flight is proceeding. This starts after the dispatch discussions which would require a phone call to the group contact person if the flight was to be delayed, postponed or cancelled. Once the aircraft takes off the Flight Follower uses a combination of four different flight tracking programs on the internet to track the aircraft. Using this information he keeps the village contacts apprised of the airplane arrival times so that the passengers being picked up can be ready. He also monitors weather and advises the pilots of any significant weather issues. For camp flying he also keeps the travel coordinator at the camp informed so that campers leaving can be ready and campers arriving can be met. We also provide this same service for all the Samaritan’s Purse flights. On the final leg home the Flight Follower calls the wives of the inbound pilots to let them know when their hubbies will be getting home.
Post flight administration is the last step in the scheduling chain. Once the pilots have turned in the Flight Manifest with the actual time and passengers flown the other scheduler enters the information into our donation request spreadsheet that calculates how much it cost to fly the flights. If we have not received payment we then send out a donation request letter. We then enter the data into the Donation Request spreadsheet that keeps track of organizations flown, estimated cost, donations received, actual flight costs, and the number of people/cargo flown. The Flight Manifests are then filed and the mission for that organization is complete.
All of these various activities are going on simultaneously: we do a quick estimate for one group, followed by a Flight Manifest for another group, followed by detailed planning for a third, flight following a flight for a fifth group and then doing the post flight administration for a sixth group. Then another group calls up and wants to change the place or time or people going. Unfortunately these changes can continue right up to the flight. Then an airplane will break and we have to come up with an alternate plan. Well I hope you get the idea – we alternate from relative calm to fighting fires numerous times a day. Staying ahead of the power curve requires about 2 ½ people in the summer so with two of us we generally fall behind. In the winter months about 1 ½ people are required so we can keep up.

Our plans have been somewhat altered by the necessity for Cat to have another back operation. It appears the fusion of L4/L5 vertebrae has moved the stress to the L3/L4 disc which has herniated. Also there is some arthritis and a couple of cists that is reducing the space for the spinal cord by 50%. Cat will have the L3 disc fused to the L4 disc on September 10. We are still planning to load up the moving van the week of September 19. Don and kitty cats will drive to Haines, AK on September 24-26 take the 3-day ferry to Bellingham, WA and drive to Seattle on 30 September. He will fly Alaska Air back to Kenai in the afternoon to pick up Cat and fly back to Seattle on 1 October. They then plan to drive to Turlock, CA arriving about 5 October. The plan is to unpack the van on Saturday 8 October: Lord willing.

With Much Love

Cat ‘n Don