Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"N8201H taxi to gate 2...."

Tower: "November eight two zero one Hotel, taxi via Charlie to gate two, this frequency."

Me: "Via Charlie to gate two with you.....ah, November eight two zero one Hotel requesting progressive taxi instructions."

Such was my arrival at TTPP the international airport of Trinidad/Tobago.
The tower proceeded to guide my around the back side of the terminal to gate two.
There was no marshal with bright wands to guide me so I was wondering how to park a Mooney at an airliner gate. I decided to turn half a circle so I could simple taxi away later but the tower had other ideas.

Tower: "November eight two zero one Hotel, please park on the center line."

Me: (Craning over the dash to see the lines painted on the asphalt) "Roger, eight two zero one Hotel."

I paused for a minute, then shut off the radio and went through my mental shutdown checklist: "Lights off, Radio off, Elevator trim neutral and off, Mixture, Mags, Master, take the key OUT."
I climbed stiffly out of the airplane after the 2 hour flight, it had come right on the heels of the 4 plus hour flight from Manaus, Brazil to Georgetown, Guyana that morning. I was in Trinidad to pick up David Gates and hurry him over to Guyana for a church dedication. I walked around the airplane and took a few pictures simply for the strangeness of the parking area.

A quick look around convinced me that I would need some help. There were no doors open to the terminal. I grabbed my folder of airplane documents, locked the door and went looking for a ramp worker. I found one right away and he was super helpful, taking me all the way to the Port Health office, my first stop. He asked one question that I didn't understand though "Do you have an agent?" Of course I didn't, I had no idea why I would have an agent. He also warned me that I would need a nil cargo manifest, but I brushed it off and went into the office. Immidiately that same question again "Do you have an agent?" I explained what I needed to do and the men at the desk looked confused, then one of them asked
"Did you spray the airplane?"
"No" I said, "this is a small passenger plane, not a spray plane." More confusion....
"But did you spray the airplane?" "Where are you coming from?"
"Oh that is an endemic country, you need to spray the airplane."

Ding, light going on in the pilot's head....they have a regulation here about this, this is the Port Health office after all.

"OK, can I go spray it now?"
"No, you mean you didn't spray it before you opened the door?!"
"Well, no, I opened the door and came here, I didn't know about spraying."
"Well can I go do it now?" I said
"You are supposed to spray it with that stuff there, who is in the airplane?"
"Nobody, I came alone. Can I buy some and go spray it."
"Oh we don't sell it."
Now I was really stumped, I couldn't get my papers stamped till I did this, and somehow I was supposed to know about it and have bought the stuff somewhere else. I thought I had hit a dead end. So this is why I need an agent hmmmm....
Suddenly the whole mood of the men changed..."Hey look, I'll go spray it for you, just come this way."
Off we went to spray the airplane. When we returned they started stamping my papers. There was confusion about how many each office would need. Some for Port Health, some for Customs, some for Immigration and one for me. They all had to be stamped. I hit the next dead end, "Ah I don't think I have enough of these General Declarations..." "Could I pay you to make some copies?"
"Oh our copy machine isn't working, maybe immigration can."
"Ok then I'll go to immigration and come back, that is my last blank copy...."
THUD! the man's stamp pressed wet red ink all over my last copy.
"Ahhhh that was my last blank one.....!"
"Oh" blank looks....
"Oh we'll fix it..."

I wandered off to find immigration with masking tape trying to cover the mistake on my last blank. Finally I found the office and went to one of the desks to explain my situation. Before I knew it the masking tape was gone, replaced by real white-out and I had 10 new copies. The lady wouldn't let me pay anything. Then I couldn't get into the PH office again, their doorbell didn't work it was locked. I had to flag down a high up immigration supervisor to let me in. After an hour I had all the paper work done and I was ready to find David and file a flight plan. I was painfully aware of the fact that I didn't have a cell phone and I didn't know where he was. I started working on the flight plan problem. I guess that I would have to taxi across the runway to the GA ramp to file a flight plan but I wasn't sure. Finally an AGENT showed up and offered his services for $150 plus the $100 landing fee. I talked with him in Spanish and convinced him that I didn't really need help except to leave the building and to find David. He graciously let me use his phone only to discover David's phone was turned off. Finally he found David for me and we got everything straightened out. I had arrived at 12:30 and I think we were finally off the ground at 4pm. All we ended up paying was the $14 landing fee and thanking the agent. I have no desire to park at gate 2 ever again.

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