Friday, February 08, 2008

eclipse craziness.

the christchurch airport has been closed due to an attempted hijacking. this means our C-17 will certainly not launch on time -- it was scheduled to off-deck in CHC at 1000 this morning.

what complicates matters is that there are 15 pax coming out of the south pole station via LC-130 this morning as well. they were destined to land at pegasus airfield at around the same time as the C-17, get off one aircraft, and get on the other -- and head straight on to CHC. they are what we call 'straight-thrus.'

if the C-17 isn't there to meet them, this complicates matters. do we have enough beds in mcmurdo (our maximum bed space is 1100)? do we have shuttle operations to support transporting them from the airfield back to town? if we're going to keep them at the airfield and have them wait for the eventual arrival of the C-17, do we have meals for them at the airfield galley? what about their baggage, if they do come into town -- does it stay on the baggage pallets or come off?

the whole business of sending people off the continent (redeploying them), whether from mcmurdo or south pole or a field camp, is a tricky one. at the end of any given season, there are a finite number of flights that have been agreed-upon, long before, by the military and the NSF. with each flight costing hundreds of thousands of dollars of USAP money, these numbers are not taken lightly. the aircraft have finite numbers of seat pallets on them. this year, in contrast to previous years in which a C-17 held 140 seats, we only have 126 seats per there is a shortage of usable seat pallets due to the war in iraq.

this means that each space is even more coveted, and flight manifests are even harder to build. hundreds of people have to redeploy over a three-week time period, and every single one of those people believes wholeheartedly that their redeployment date is a sacred, untouchable thing.

there's a definite science to manifesting people according to their priority level. top-level priority is any medevac. this brings its own set of problems. a medevac usually requires an attendant in the form of a flight nurse or flight surgeon. and if the patient is on a litter, that takes up the space of four seats. so a total of five people can potentially be bumped if a medevac needs to get out.

the next-top level of priority is someone who has been terminated. for obvious reasons, a recent termination is a potentially dangerous (at the worst) or mischievous (at the least) person. for this reasons, terminations have to be timed carefully, especially in light of possible weather or mechanical delays.

next in line is a patient transport, which is someone who is being sent north for medical reasons that are not dire. for example: earlier in the season, delaney took a soccer ball in the eye at close range. a week later, the pain was gone, but his vision was still blurry, so he went north to get a second opinion from an opthalmologist there.

next would be someone who has not been terminated, but has resigned voluntarily. getting this type of person off-continent is still a priority -- the longer they're around, the more resources they use (to put it in a mildly heartless way), without being productive community members in return. supposedly, several seasons ago, someone quit during winter but, due to flight schedules, remained on-station. he walked down the main hallway, borrowed a hammer from the housing office, returned to the galley, and attacked a co-worker with it. he was later apprehended back in the main hallway swinging the hammer and whistling 'mary had a little lamb.' ever since, resignations have been sent away as quickly as possible.

as far as those who rank at the bottom of the totem pole, there's a science to that too. when planning redeployment, everyone is asked to designate themselves as one of the following categories of traveler:

first available (FAA), which means just that -- put me on the next available flight home.
actual with flight priority -- I know what date I want to travel home, but it's not immediate. and in case of a delay in getting to christchurch, I want the actual flight to take precedence over total time spent in christchurch.
actual with hotel priority -- I know what date I want to travel home, and in case of a delay, I want the number of nights in the hotel to take precedence over the flight date.
open -- I have no idea what I'm going to do yet. I'll figure it out once I get to new zealand.
the most bumpable pax are those who work for the contractor -- raytheon polar services, as opposed to a grantee or someone who works for the NSF -- and who have designated themselves in open status. by definition, they're undecided, and so are the most expendable.

due to the fact that one can be bumped at any time due to pax prioritization, mechanical difficulties with the aircraft, or the threat of bad weather, USAP participants are urged from day one not to make any kind of expensive or hard-to-change onward travel plans. nevertheless, someone always does. a woman in the supply department was told by her supervisor upon signing her contract not to do this. she was told again repeatedly over the course of the season. so what did she do? once she learned of her redeployment date, she booked a flight from christchurch back to the states and then on to frankfurt, germany. for the next day. predictably enough, she got bumped to a later flight due to overcrowding -- and now has to eat the cost of making changes. silly woman!

yesterday afternoon we had a partial solar eclipse. the moon slid in front of the sun for several minutes. the skies and the water in winter quarters bay darkened, everyone rushed to a window or door to look, and I think I heard a dog howl.



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