Don’t have a bunch of time…seems like when we aren’t flying there is endless planning instead, trying to keep abreast of the rapidly changing conditions.
When we are in San Juan, if we are at the airport FBO we have pretty good WiFi reception. The only cell reception I found was when I walked about 2 blocks from the hotel (not recommended by the security staff though) and found a spot on the beach where I got a couple bars. We have these Verizon Jetpacks that we can put in our windows in the hotel room that pick up cell and converts it to a local area hot spot. Those seemed to work better than our phones, but were very intermittent. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is as a pilot to not be able to flight plan without cell or internet. Essentially, you grab information when you can, and hope that it is current enough when you launch.
The other crew also flew to St. Thomas and St. Croix and had no comms of any type on the ground. They used a portable Iridium phone they were issued to call me back in St. Pete where we were getting duty rest to file flight plans for them.
The conditions are challenging without radar because without it, Miami Center will not issue a clearance and if you leave anywhere other than San Juan, you are forced to stay VFR below FL180 for nearly 180 miles westbound until you are within Miami ATC radio range. At that point, you are burning nearly double your fuel burn and there have been a lot of diversions and turnbacks due to people not having enough gas to make it to Florida. Those that do try to venture VFR to a pop-up IFR clearance then face the challenge of dueling with the traffic that departed IFR out of San Juan, and Miami can’t hear the VFR guys down low begging for clearance and higher as they watch their fuel consumption numbers. The good Samaritans at FL280 (the only altitude you are cleared to out of San Juan) are trying to relay clearances from the guys below to Miami and the frequency is just a complete mess. To the point that Miami put eight plane an hour metering into San Juan starting today. It is really and truly a mess and a lot of people are operating at the margins of their fuel reserves and safety.
One guy got busted yesterday for disregarding the airspace restrictions and he climbed into positive control airspace (above FL180) to the mid 30s to pick up his clearance. Miami was like “WTF…how did you get to the 30s VFR?” followed by “take down this number”. I ran into the guy at the FBO in St. Pete as I was getting ready to launch the other way toward San Juan. LOL…he looked like he was having a really, really bad day. “The worst day of my life” was actually what he said to me…
So it is very wild, wild west out there. If you are going to TISX or TIST you have to go VFR because there is no radar and this isn’t the type of airspace where you can do traditional non-radar movements (like oceanic stuff). It’s just too busy and too little comms capability. The night before last I heard a Reach airplane (I think that is a C-17 out of Charleston) come into the limited San Juan radar zone and as he was exiting east to go to TISX they terminated his IFR and the gal that was the aircraft commander was surprised by that. She was like “uh…we’d like to shoot the RNAV approach into TIST” and the San Juan radar controller was like “well, you can do whatever you want to do, but you’re gonna have to do it VFR”… And that was that.
Personally, given our relatively short legs on the Citation I fly, I’ve decided to only come back through San Juan, tanker fuel, and get a real IFR release instead of gambling on the VFR climb to IFR. My wild west days ended when I hung up my freight days…LOL…
Any-who…that’s what’s going on out here. Sorry I haven’t been able to participate on the site…I’m looking forward to coming home, but I’m being asked to stay another week to orient the relief pilots coming in in a couple days…so we’ll see. I’m really looking forward to flying that Su-33…!