The Patients, the Pilot, and the Politicians

A Beechcraft Baron similar to the one used by Quest Diagnostics. (From Wikimedia Commons).

Every night a pilot from Atlanta makes a round-robin cargo flight to Albany GA and Dothan AL, then continues down to the coast to load cargo from Panama City FL, Pensacola, and Mobile AL before returning home. He used to fly a single engine Beech Bonanza, but now pilots a Baron, a twin-engine, 190 kt fast mover.

On really rough weather nights I’ve watched vicariously through as he scurries away from lethal skies and diverts to any safe harbor. His cargo is your lifeblood, literally, but it’s not worth dying for.

He makes that flight each night because during the day in each of those cities patients had blood drawn at their doctor’s office. The samples that will tell the doctor the life and death stories of the day’s patients are whisked away to a large laboratory near Atlanta for processing overnight.

After taking off from Gwinnett County Airport near Lawrenceville, GA at 6 PM or so, the solitary pilot returns to his home base about midnight.

Centurion C210
A Centurion 210; not your ordinary Cessna.

I was alerted one night that a plane I’d flown to Houston and back, a Cessna Centurion 210, had a gear collapse at the local Panama City Airport. I knew the plane well.

Unfortunately, shortly after the only runway was closed the Quest Diagnostics Baron approached the area, attempting to land. I turned on my aviation radio and heard the “850”, as it’s called, being told to hold, circling, while airfield crews attempted to move the damaged Centurion off the runway.

PFN 2007
The original two-runway Panama City Airport, circa 2007. (Click to enlarge)

And that’s where the politicians come in.

Local Panama City politicians felt obliged to close down the Panama City airport with two runways (formerly known as PFN) and relocate to a larger facility, again with two runways. The new two runway airport, KECP, looked great in an artist’s rendition.

But artists don’t build airports. The reason why the second runway was not built is not a subject for this blog posting. What is the subject, is that promises made to the citizens of Panama City were not promises kept. And on that night as “850” circled overhead, there would be real consequences for the political decisions which had been made.

Once construction began on the main 10,000 ft long runway at the donated site, all mention of the second runway was forgotten; not by the local pilots, but by the local politicians and the land company.

Second runways serve important purposes. They are usually called “cross-wind” runways. I’ve landed many times on the cross-wind runway at PFN, and I’ve also been on Delta flights that used that runway when the wind across the main runway was dangerously high.

Cross-wind runways are not only a safety factor for overbearing wind conditions, but also provide an alternate landing site in case the main-runway is closed due to an aircraft being stuck on the runway.

That night as “850” was trying to land to pick up the day’s tissue samples from the Panama City area, the main runway was closed by the broken Centurion, and there was no backup runway. The pilot circled Panama City until his fuel became critical, and then he flew on to his next  stop in Pensacola.

So all the blood drawn from patients in the Panama City area that day missed the trip to the Quest Diagnostics laboratory, due to a promise made but not kept.

But I suppose that is hardly news. Rather, it appears to be deeply woven into the very fabric of politics.







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