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Air Mike Pacific Trip

Continental Sleeper 737 Around-The-World (with schedule)

Island Hopping with Air Mike

Brian Smith and I were mulling over the Continental electronic timetable on Christmas eve, when we found that service was offered from Honolulu to Guam by Continental Micronesia, in a B737-800, with five enroute stops.

Continental Micronesia, formerly known as Air Micronesia, is a former subsidiary of Continental Airlines.  Its nickname is "Air Mike", which doubles as their callsign. While completely controlled by Continental, its operations are autonomous. The airline maintains its hub at Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport in the US territory of Guam in the western Pacific Ocean. As of 2001, the operation was officially folded into Continental's mainline operations, officially making it part of Continental Airlines proper. While Continental Micronesia flights appear on ticketing systems with the regular Continental "CO" code, they continue to be known separately as "CS" at Asian airports and "CMI" with air traffic control authorities. (For example, Flight 2 is "CMI2" or "Air Mike 2" for the Guam-Honolulu leg, but "COA2" or "Continental 2" for the Honolulu-Houston leg.)

Flight 957 operates westbound on Mondays and Fridays, and for Christmas, our 14.5 hour schedule was:

Passengers had to celebrate Christmas before getting on the plane, because we'd cross the international date line as we headed to Majuro, arriving three hours later on the next day, in spite of only flying for five hours.  From Majuro, five more relatively short hops (60-90 minutes) gets us to Guam in the early evening.  While this flight may take two days on the calendar, for the crew it's a long single flight.   A relief pilot who is qualified as a captain is added to the crew so that rotation from the flight deck to the crew rest area can keep everyone within limits for duty time and rest.

On a pleasant Honolulu morning, the crew arrives early for a weather briefing and review with the dispatcher.   Because the first leg is five hours over water, we have to be assured of good weather at Majuro or Honolulu so that we can either proceed or return in the event of a problem.  Fortunately the forecasts are good, so we don't have to check alternates like Midway Island.  We carry extra fuel based on our cruise consumption at 10,000 feet, in case we have a depressurization and have to head for one of the two airports at 10,000.  Once our planning is complete, we head out for a preflight inspection, then board the airplane and begin setting up the cockpit while the passengers board.

We pushback promptly at 7:05, and have a long taxi to our departure runway of 22L.  After a final check, we are airborne at 7:20 am.

The weather is pleasant this early in the morning, and we are able to make a climb to FL340 even with our nearly full tanks.   After four and a half hours, we touch down at Majuro's Marshall Island International Airport.  Like all the islands we'll be visiting on this trip, the airport takes up nearly all of this atoll.

Since we didn't have any emergencies, we are "fat" on fuel, so our turnaround time is used to clean the airplane and reboard the passengers, with the first officer being relieved and the captain moving over to the first officer seat.  Soon we are departing and turning northwest for Kwajalein, rocking our wings at the ships below.

Our next stop, Kwajalein Island, is the southernmost, and the largest, of the islands in the Kwajalein atoll. The population of Kwajalein island is approximately 2,500, all of whom are U.S. staff. The primary mode of personal transportation is the bicycle and housing is free for all personnel. Eleven of the 97 islands are leased by the United States and are part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site (RTS), formerly known as Kwajalein Missile Range. RTS includes radar installations, optics, telemetry, and communications equipment which are used for ballistic missile and missile interceptor testing and space operations support. Kwajalein also hosts one of three ground antennas that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigational system.  Tourism is not permitted on the island, so the only folks coming and going are cleared personnel.
Our cruising altitude for this leg is FL340, and we end our one hour flight with a holding pattern over the NDB on the island to lose altitude before joining an RNAV approach to runway 06.  You can see the various naval vessels in the harbor as well as the multitude of space related facilities on or near the airport.  On the ramp is an Aloha Airlines jet that awaits a ferry crew from IFLC to repossess it.

As we head towards Kosrae, we climb through layers of clouds on our way to FL320.  The midday heat will soon be boiling up thunderstorms, so we are careful to find smooth air.

After we land at Kosrae, rain begins to fall as we taxi back to the ramp.

 A comparison of our position in FS and a GoogleEarth overlay shows how good our simulators are.  The first officer comes back forward and replaces the captain in the right seat.

Next stop is Pohnpei, in the Republic of Micronesia.  A favorite destination of surfers, Pohnpei has a population of around 35,000.  Another RNAV approach gets us down, and the rain continues, drenching our passengers and our fuel crew.  It does stop in time for our takeoff.

Chuuk (also known as Truk) lagoon is another of Micronesia's incredible undersea phenomena. The giant lagoon is almost 40 miles in diameter and reaches depths of 300 feet. Aside from the sheer beauty of the undersea coral reef beneath the clear water, the bottom of Chuuk lagoon is the final tomb for more than 100 ships, planes and submarines--the legacy of a fierce World War II battle between the Japanese Imperial Fleet and Allied carrier attack planes. Unfortunately, the weather makes for a bumpy NDB approach amid thunderstorms and towering cumulus clouds.  The arrival wakes up the captain, who comes forwad to take his chair back from the relief pilot.  After a short wait to take on fuel and hope for better weather, we launch into rain and boiling clouds.

Finally, it's our last leg, and the field (Guam International) has an ILS!  The thunderstorms are lessening but the high humidity makes for poor visibility, so the ILS is welcome.

After a night of rest, this aircraft will fly the reverse route tomorrow, keeping otherwise uninhabitable islands in touch with the world.

Notes:  Scenery shown is for FS9 from DBWSim (search for DBWSim on AVSim.  Pohnpei scenery not recommended due to serious performance problems).

Around the World in a Continental BBJ

I've been wishing to take longer trips on VATSIM with Virtual Continental.  However, I've been spoiled by my PMDG 737 and haven't wanted to spend the $$$ to get the 747, or to buy one of the (in my opinion) lesser/dated airplanes like the PSS 777 or the Level D 767, particularly as I expect that I'll bite the bullet for FSX later this year.   The problem with the 737s is their limited range, based on fuel constraints, that make long non-stops impossible.   But, as it turns out, there is a solution.   Boeing created the Boeing Business Jet by taking a 737-700 fuselage, mating it with a 737-800 wing and undercarriage, and converting the cargo space into additional fuel storage.  Though they targeted this airplane at the high-end private market, several airlines have added them to their fleets through purchase or subcontracting.   Lufthansa offers JFK-MUC service for 48 pax on a BBJ daily through an arrangement with Privatair, in an arrangement that allows for lie-flat seating.  British Airways recently jumped on the "Club Service" bandwagon by offering the new seats on 747 and 777 trips.

So, I thought to myself, if I ran Continental Airlines, I'd look at my large fleet of 737-700/800s and realize that all those crews would be capable of crewing  BBJ or BBJ2 models with only a two-day "differences" course, and I'd try and pursue some of that high-end money.  I'd offer non-stop service from EWR, IAH, and LAX to desirable and seasonal destinations, offer a luxury experience for 25-40 passengers and charge a premium price.  I'd market the exclusivity of the product, and wouldn't have to worry about disrupting mainline revenue.  Now, how to make the announcement and capture attention?  I dream...

Daily Aviation News

Virtual Continental Inaugurates Luxury Sleeper Service With Round-The-World Trip

AP by Kim Possible - Today Virtual Continental Airlines announced the beginning of a new class of service exclusively targeting high-end business and leisure travelers.  Using the Boeing Business Jet 2 (BBJ2), a 737-800 modified by trading cargo space for added fuel, and outfitted with a deluxe interior, the service will be used to provide direct and seasonal service to destinations favored by businessmen and vacationers.  Virtual Continental is kicking off the service with a flight around the world, to generate interest in the offering.

Captain Timothy Metzinger will lead the crew on the round-the-world trip.  "This is really an exciting development for us here at Virtual Continental", he said, "and it really in some ways returns to the early days of air travel, when flying was a 'big deal' experience, and there was a high level of service and romance to travel.  Having fewer passengers means more personal service, higher comfort, better food, and a much lowered stress level.  It's fun for the crews, too, as we get to visit destinations we'd not normally see unless we 'upgraded' to the larger airplanes.  We expect that this service will be extremely popular with the high-end customers, who previously would have chartered an airplane for these trips."

The luxury begins when one arrives at the airport.  A club lounge with dedicated security screening awaits customers, who merely have to check in, turn over their baggage (a generous baggage weight allowance is standard), and be screened.  Once on the 'safe' side of the security checkpoint, passengers may enjoy the amenities, which include spa and massage therapy, a full bar and food service, and a quiet space for semiprivate sleeping.  In fact, customers may request limousine service, and have the luxury start at home.

The Lap Of Luxury

But it's the aircraft that really sets this service apart.  With sitting/sleeping 'nests' placed in rows almost six feet apart, passengers experience a level of comfort previously unimagined in airline travel.  Each seat has dedicated In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) capabilities, high speed internet access, and heat and massage.  The cabin includes a small lounge area as well, with couch seating for passengers who wish to mingle.

"The seats are more comfortable than my bed at home", said Metzinger, "and we've got a multimedia server similar to those found in hotels, with hundreds of movies and thousands of audio programs, as well as games."

Cabin service is upgraded as well.  The cabin crew of 4 means a 1:12 ratio of people to crew, compared to the 1:60 or even 1:100 ratios on mainline service.  There's no drinks cart, and no set meal time.  The menu is published before the trip, and passengers may choose their meals when they arrive at the club lounge.  There's enough extra on board so that changing your mind isn't a problem. The bar is stocked with the 'top shelf' of choices, and everything is free without additional charge.  "We don't allow passengers to become visibly intoxicated or unruly," Captain Metzinger said, "but that type of behavior is not something normally seen in this class of passenger anyway, so I'm not worried about it".

At the destination, a similar experience awaits.  Passengers either head to the lounge to await their luggage, or take advantage of complimentary delivery service, and proceed to their destination, with their luggage treated as cargo and cleared through customs and delivered separately.  Since there are no connections and limited passengers, Virtual Continental guarantees that luggage will arrive with every flight.

Kicking It Off In Style

To demonstrate the potential of the service, Virtual Continental has invited 48 journalists from the aviation press and major publications, including myself, to join them as we pick up an airplane in Houston and take it around the world, with stops in major Virtual Continental cities along the way.  Our visits will include Puerto Vallarta, Panama City, Rio De Janeiro, Lisbon, Tel Aviv, Delhi, Hong Kong, Honolulu, and Los Angeles.  This trip is designed to show the very long range of the aircraft, and a second European Tour is planned for next month.  Captain Metzinger explained that we would spend an extra day in Panama City so that the maintenance facility there can apply special markings on the aircraft paint scheme.

The first regular schedule for Virtual Continental Sleeper Service will be effective in March.

Fortunately, FlightSim lets me make my dream a reality!  First I needed a BBJ for my PMDG.  Avsim has a great package that is an add-on for the 700/800 models, called pmdg_bbjmil.zip.  This adds BBJ and military variants, works with the full PMDG (6/7/8/9) series, although you might be able to get it to work with just the 6/7 or 8/9.   The mod comes with a new load manager that lets you specify pax and cargo for the new models without affecting the old ones.

Then, I needed a route plan.  I wanted routes that would show the long range of the BBJ, land at cities serviced by Continental in real life, and that had the potential for interesting scenery.

Flight Schedule - Screenshots

Date and Time Estimated Flight Time Route of Flight
(click route for Google Earth display)
Add-on Scenery Comments
1/22/2007   KIAH NGP1 NGP BRO MAM CVM J25 GDL MMPR Puerto Vallarta Scenery
Puerto Vallarta AFCAD
1/23/2007   MMPR PVR UJ9 HUX J1 TAP UA317 BITOR MPTO Virtual Colombia Payware New paint job applied
1/27 1200Z   SBGL PCX2.DONA MORGA UN873 BENTU UA873 BAROK GANSU.GANS7A LPPT Lisbon Photoreal 4.1  
ISD Update
A stop in Rome, Italy, to visit some of the Captain's in-laws (who still owe him certain livestock promised as a dowry)
Ben Gurion Patch 1
2/3 1200Z 05:00 LLBG SOLI3A SIVAK QAA GRY UN318 VELAL G669 BUZ W23 SYZ G452 KER G452 ZDN A453 PAROD G202 ZB MAKOT J116 MT J138 MOLTA KIKIX.KIKI4C VIDP None found yet.  
2/4 2100Z 04:30 VIDP PUMO1D PUMOT M890 JAL R594 LLK W45 PPT A201 LSO A599 KMG G212 SL MEPAN A599 BIPOP A599 GYA NLG VHHH Thomas Kwong Hong Kong 2005b  
2/10 0200Z 01:30 VHHH NOMAN A461 AVMUP W16 OLIVA RPLL Phillipine FlightSimmers Group Manila Brief Stop for Fuel
2/10 1300Z 09:30 RPLL SID2 JOM 16E27 17E32 18E37 20E42 21E47 21E52 22E58 23E63 23E68 23E74 23E79 23N74 22N69 SYVAD.BOOKE8 PHNL None  
2/10 2300Z 04:45 PHNL MKK4 EBBER R577 ELKEY SADDE6 KLAX Cloud9 Payware  


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