Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

29 March 2007

Problems and more problems...it never ends

No, I haven’t been posting lately. Some have told me they check my blog every day for updates, so I feel kind of bad. There are always good excuses why we bloggers don’t post. I won’t bore you with mine other than to say that I put a lot of time and effort into each post, and I haven’t had a whole lot of spare time and effort lately.

The helicopter needed the equivalent of open-heart surgery. Our mechanic was working overtime. Adding to that, being out here in the epicenter of Nowheresville makes it hard to get things done when you don’t have the proper tools.

It was weird, too, because I had just been bragging that in the eight months we’ve had the ship down here, and the 100+ hours it’s flown, we have not had a single, solitary problem that has put us “down” for longer than about one hour. Which is pretty incredible for any helicopter. And ours had been a pretty reliable bird up until that point. Not that it’s become unreliable, but helicopters are horribly maintenance-intensive devices.

I had hoped to have a mechanic from the factory come down to assist in the surgery. But you know how that goes. We were on our own. Needless to say, things did not go well. Let’s just say that Mr. Murphy and his laws were in full effect: Whatever could go wrong, did. But things got done, we buttoned ‘er up, and the post-maintenance shakedown flight went well. In fact, the ship flies noticeably better now! (The degradation of flying quality had been slow and subtle, and I didn’t really notice anything was amiss for a while.)

…And then we got grounded again. But not because of maintenance issues.

To fly a foreign-registered aircraft (which ours is) in Honduras, one must have the appropriate permit. If you are only staying for a short time, you can procure from your airport-of-entry a permit good for one week, renewable. Since we planned on keeping our helicopter here for a while, we sought and were issued a six-month permit. But this had to come from Teguc. (That was an ordeal in itself, you may remember).

We started the renewal process more than a month prior to expiration – we thought that would be sufficient time. Wrong! This is Honduras. Our attorney in Tegucigalpa kept assuring us that we would have our permit before the current one expired. We didn’t. Suspecting the usual foot-draggin delay, I tried to get the Roatan airport to issue me a one-week "temporary" just-in-case permit to bridge the period between the old and new ones, but was met with a stone wall of resistance. "Oh, we cannot do that," the man in the Flight Plan office said. "You already have a valid permit." Well yes, but it will expire very soon. "Well I cannot extend your six-month permit. That must be done in Tegucigalpa." Uh-huh. Whether he was being deliberately uncooperative or just extra-careful in his duties, I could not tell.

One of the problems is that nobody wants to actually act or do anything in Honduras; nobody wants to take responsibility and nobody wants to go out on a limb. It is a nation of paranoid scaredy-cats who will only do things if their boss approves. Trouble is, every boss has a boss, and up the line you go!

So my permit expired on Monday and here it is Thursday and I do not yet have my new one. Oh, they keep insisting that it’s “been issued,” but it hasn’t. There are always little complications…typos…wrong signatures…the guy who was supposed to sign it didn’t come to work today…blah blah blah. But it’s “been issued.” I was assured that I would have it on Tuesday for sure. Then Wednesday, absolutely! Then today, no doubt about it. But it is already going on noon as I write this and there has been no word. I don’t like being a pessimist, but if I get this permit today I will be very, very surprised.

The worst part is that we have some (four) guests in Roatan that had intended to bring to our cay just for the day today. As you may know, there are no flights from Roatan to Guanaja (no boats either). First you have to go to La Ceiba, the Atlanta of Honduras (San Pedro Sula is Dallas), change rinky-dink planes and then come up to Guanaja. The airlines say there is no demand for direct service from one island to the other.

My boss gets understandably aggravated at the lack of cooperation from the government. “We should just take the damn helicopter back to the States,” he growls. But he doesn’t mean it (at least, I hope he doesn’t). “They don’t seem to care how much good you try to do.” The sad thing is, that part is true.

Sure, I’ve done fifteen medevac flights, airlifting seriously ill people (and some not-so-seriously ill people) down to the mainland for treatment that is just not available here. We’ve made the helicopter available to Guanaja as a public service. We’ve taken up photographers from national magazines so they can get incredible aerial photographs of our beautiful islands for their articles that will promote tourism and development here (see the May or June issues of Sport Diver and Islands Magazines). All of this FOR FREE. We do not ask for nor expect any remuneration or compensation. My boss does it because he is an incredibly generous man. But to the people in government in Tegucigalpa this simply does not matter; they just do not care. Tegucigalpa is not concerned the least little bit about the flyspeck Bay Islands. We are the bastard children of Honduras.

It is tough, frustrating and ultimately disappointing when you try to apply our United States standards of behavior and even thinking/reasoning to those in power in third-world countries. It just doesn’t work.

Which, come to think of it, could be the national motto here. “Honduras: It just doesn’t work.”


Hal Johnson said...

Sheesh, Bob, you've had a hell of a time of it lately. Life in paradise obviously comes with a price, especially when you're trying to get things done. I hope the permit comes through pronto. What a crime it would be if someone dies because you can't fly the helicopter. I guess, considering what you've been through of late, I'll have to forgive you for not updating your blog. That's a bummer in itself, since holding a grudge is so satisfying.

David said...

Hate like hell to hear of any airplane (and some Pilots) being grounded. Especially for stoopit schtuff.
Yeah, I check the FH1000 about everyday. It sucks when there isn't a new post but that just makes it all the better to read 'em when they come along!
What was the medical emergency with the 1100?

Bob Barbanes said...

Hal, miracle of miracles, the permit FINALLY came in at 2:45 this afternoon. I'll be damned. I honestly think they were holding it up just because they...you know...could.

David, I don't like to get too technical in the blog, but I guess the comments are fair game. 1) The collective arm (lever that raises and lowers the swashplate) was rubbing on the isolation link - gouged the arm pretty good. Bunch of bushings with too much play. 2) Lateral bellcrank from servo to swashplate was wore slap out. Had to disassemble just about the whole control system up there. Getting it back together correctly was the trick! 3) Nagging fuel filter light. Kept cleaning it but it turned out to be a 4) Boost pump had been failing and finally went south completely (the pressure drop was causing the filter to assume it was bypassing). Had to completely defuel the ship - and you know how much fun that always is! All of the work was done on our elevated wooden pad which is basically on the beach. Not exactly primo working conditions - hardware that gets dropped goes through the planks and gets lost forever in the sand below. You takes what you can gets. Oh yeah, and 5) the 30 year-old glue that's holding the floatbags together was only rated for 25 years evidently. I plug one hole and find two others.

I'm happy to report, the patient is doing fine. I think I'll go out and fly her this afternoon - just because I can now.

La Gringa said...

Bob, I'm so happy you got your permit and that your baby is well again. I so completely understand your frustration.

I read all the time of the frustrations the various charitable groups have when they are only trying to do good deeds and everything has to made so difficult for them by the powers-that-be.

It's not like you were asking for special privileges. You submitted your renewal a month ahead of time. What a shame it would have been if someone had died while you were waiting for your permit.

"It is a nation of paranoid scaredy-cats." Ha, ha! That's so true. No one can make a common sense decision.

Don't think it's only the Bay Islands that are the "bastard children." I think the whole country is that way to a certain extent.

Anyway, I'm glad things are looking brighter for you now.

brendan said...

Hi Bob - the same thing happened to me recently, and some other (veteran) collective arms I have show the same sort of damage. I'd be really pleased if you or your mechanic could suggest how to avoid this problem recurring by better bearings or bushings. We can preflight to detect but the trick is longevity, ay? Enjoy your blog bcleddy@xtra.co.nz (we've met)