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Feet Wet…

March 3rd, 2006 · 5 Comments

I experienced something new today. For the first time as the pilot of an aircraft, I looked out the window to find nothing but water for as far as I could see.

Recently, my airline completed the process of retrofitting our entire fleet with the equipment required to operate over-water out to 250 nautical miles. Prior to that, we had been limited to routes that would take us no further than 50 nautical miles from shore, due to the fact that our aircraft were not equipped with personal life vests (among other things). Until recently, our route structure never required much over-water operation. But with the price of aviation fuel skyrocketing lately, our bean-counters (as we affectionately call them) have determined that by retrofitting the fleet to allow more direct routing between cities in Florida and our destinations along the East Coast and Gulf Coast, we can save millions (yes millions) of dollars per year.

Today, our flight from Long Island Mac Arthur Airport (commonly referred to as Islip, ir ISP) to West Palm Beach (PBI) took us to the South-Southwest along the shores of New Jersey, Virginia, and North Carolina until we were abeam Wilmington, NC where the Eastern Seaboard diverged from our track to the Southwest.

Out over the Atlantic we headed, “coasting-in” only as we approached West Palm Beach from the east to land on runway 27R. At the point our flight was furthest from shore, we were just shy of 200 miles away from land. Before just a few weeks ago, our route would have been over Virginia Beach, direct to Jacksonville, then direct to PBI. That dogleg would have added almost 100 ground miles and fifteen minutes to the trip. So as you can see, the more direct route over the Atlantic definitely saves fuel, which in turn saves the company money.

As I said before, the ability to fly more than 50 nautical miles from shore helps us straighten out our routes in the Gulf of Mexico as well, as is shown in this track of one of our flights from Orlando (MCO) to Houston, Hobby (HOU).

Our old routing would have arced us North and West along the coasts of the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Again, by being allowed to take a more direct route over the Gulf of Mexico, we save distance (and therefore time and fuel which of course equal money) from the round-about (though decidedly more scenic) routing we used to be required to take.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 All the Hardways // Mar 4, 2006 at 1:50 am

    Ah, that explains why the flight attendants were showing us how to inflate our life vests during the safety demo on my flight to PVD! I never realized that before you mentioned this in your posting, that WN didn’t previously have life vests!

    The direct routing definitely will save the company money, but I wonder what that does to the plane’s weight and balance?

  • 2 GC // Mar 4, 2006 at 3:34 am

    Short answer: There is a negligible effect on weight and balance.

    Long answer: Each life-vest weighs just a bit less than a pound. One per-seat equals about 145 (137 pax seats, 4 cabin crew and 4 cockpit crew seats) additional pounds distributed evenly throughout the aircraft.

  • 3 Aviatrix // Mar 4, 2006 at 5:00 am

    Thanks for your cautionary words. Do you think I’ve adequately altered the posting?

  • 4 John // Mar 6, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    That’s cool that you guys get a short cut now that you have the required equipment for over-water flights.

    Not to be a wet blanket (no put intended), what are the odds of that equipment actually being put to use “in the unlikely event of a water landing?” When I look at the safety information card (and I DO read it on every commercial flight), I always find pictures of a 737 floating in the water to be, well … wishful thinking.

  • 5 GC // May 24, 2006 at 6:04 am

    When the flight-attendants say “unlikely,” on a flight between PHX and LAX, you can pretty much bet that you’ll hit a ditch before having to ditch.

    Of course, were I to have a dual-engine flamout on that route, the FIRST thing I’d go for is the Salton Sea.

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