Monday, March 30, 2015

More flying please

April is almost here.

My airline, like many regionals, is having a problem with having enough qualified pilots in the RIGHT seat. First Officer attrition is higher than Captain attrition as First Officers on the bottom of the list are bailing for other Regionals with a shorter upgrade time. The often repeated "chasing the upgrade" race.

Upgrade times at airlines are very fluid. The posted upgrade times are whenever THAT guy chose to upgrade. For example lets look two pilots. Bryan hired March 30, 2007 and Chris hired March 30, 2008.

Years go by and Bryan is a senior First Officer with a big vacation planned this year AND a baby on the way. He knows he will need time for both. The CBA at his airline states upon reaching Captain all vacation must be rebid as a Captain instead of a First Officer. Since he's a senior First Officer he can hold the best vacation weeks during summer. Most junior pilots get January-February vacation followed by August-October.

A vacancy bid is opened and Bryan could hold Captain. He decided to bypass for quality of life. Chris puts the bid in and gets the award. Suddenly "upgrade" time drops by 1 year....even though it's somewhat artificial.

Every airline has First Officers who choose not to upgrade.

Today I had a 777 First Officer on my jump seat. He's been at my mainline partner for 25 years. He works 9 days a month as a First Officer and enjoys great quality of life. He can hold narrow body Captain on anything in the fleet. He's staying a First Officer due to quality of life.

That said.... I hope to be Captain soon.

In the meantime I will be content in "making" Captain pay as my airline is paying First Officers double time for picking up extra flying.

My strategy going forward will be to bid low time lines with a lot of days off with the plan to pick up extra flying on days off. It's a gamble as there could not be extra flying to be had....but I'm a betting man.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

So what's going on?

March has been busy. I turned a year old (now 38!) and will celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary tomorrow.

I had two really great trips this month. I purposely bid overnights in the Bahamas. Aside from my first 4 day trip, my only other overnights were in the Bahamas. It was like a paid vacation!

My flight arrived at noon and left the next morning at 7:30 AM. I had a great crew and we treated the overnight as a vacation. We had lunch and beverages at the hotel before going out and exploring and enjoying local food and beverages.

Looking forward things are bumpy for my airline. We are shrinking...and fast. I'm hoping to upgrade soon, but not holding my breath.

I did test the waters by applying to other regionals. Within 35 minutes of applying I had a phone call from a recruiter from a regional looking to set up an interview. Within 5 hours I had another phone call from a second airline offering a class date stating I have plenty of experience and could upgrade within 2 years.  Both would mean cutting my pay in half and having to commute. I will ponder it, but will likely not go.

Over the years I've enjoyed very good quality of life by living in base. I've spent countless and valuable extra time with my family I could not have had if I commuted. That has come as a sacrifice as I would have been a Captain elsewhere. It's a price I had to pay and glad I did.

Things might change soon though as my wife was given notice that her job of 13 years will no longer exist locally come the end of the year.

Being a pilot I can live just about anywhere and commute. Since she is the primary bread winner (till I upgrade) we are considering a move. She's a DNA Forensic Scientist (with a Masters degree if anyone knows a great gig opening!) so she has a job in demand, just not much locally.

That's all for now. I don't want this site to go stale. I will try more updates soon.

Monday, March 16, 2015

I'm still here

If you are seeing this then you correctly typed www.geekinthecockpit.com instead of geekinthecockpit.com. I'm working on getting both working.

I've moved the site to blogger. It's free. The last host was costing me $130 a year. Pricey for a blog.

I'm still a senior albeit disgruntled First Officer. The upgrade time was 7.5 years. I hit 7.5 years next month. I doubt I will upgrade before fall.

More later. A lot going on outside of flying right now.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Well isn't that special

Day 3 of a 4 day. So far I've only done one of my original flights. Weather has dessemated my schedule.

My original trip was decent but got back at 9PM on Saturday. It was just a single leg in. I had no desire to sit in a hotel all day on a weekend. I traded into a new trip that finishes at 3:30 PM Saturday. It was a 3-4-2-5 trip. Better.

This winter has been brutal.

My trip started on Wednesday. On Tuesday my trip started to fall apart. I had just one leg to the overnight.

Twenty minutes to departure and there was no Captain. I saw him name on when I signed in and know who he is....he just wasn't here. Ten minutes to go he arrived. There was an issue with him signing in.

Blocked out 20 minutes late. After deicing we took off 50 minutes late. My leg.

The outstation was reporting heavy snow, 1000 foot ceilings and 1/2 mile visibility, gusting winds and they were using the 7000 foot runway instead of the 8000 foot runway as the shorter runway had an ILS. We had two alternates.

The plane I was flying had no APU and only one operable thrust reverser.

I haven't flown much this year. The aircraft I fly is authorized to land with full or reduced flaps. I prefer reduced flaps as it uses less fuel, quieter and is easier to grease on.

With the inoperable thrust reverser, snow/ice covered runway and gusting winds I elected to use full flaps.

The performance chart for reduced flaps showed needing 5000 feet while full flaps needed just 3850 feet. Both figures excluded the use of thrust reverse and were for a wet runway with good braking.

If braking action was reported "fair" we needed 7620 feet for reduced flaps and 5830 feet for full flaps. The penalty for no thrust reverse was 2238 feet for reduced flaps (a total of 9858 feet) and 1350 for full flaps ( a total of 7180).  Basically if braking action wasn't good....we couldn't land.

I had not had a full flaps landing in months. I also haven't landed on snow in months. Good times.

By the time we arrived the snow was now light and the winds had died down. I still kept the full flaps.

The runway was not plowed well and still covered in patchy ice. The Captain called the runway 2 miles out. I looked up to see a sea of white. I faintly saw the runway lights and outline.

Ice and snow obscured most runway markings. Braking action reported good.

The full flaps made for a heavy feeling yoke.

I made a slightly firm touchdown with the mains and slowly lowered the nose on the pavement and began braking. I opened the one good thrust reverser just in case. We came to taxi speed with 3000 feet left.

Long overnight. My schedule on day 2 changed a few times. Finally settled with a 6:30 PM departure for me. The Captain I flew with was reassigned and earlier departure.

The snow had stopped. Left a few minutes early. My leg again. Arrived early. I was reassigned to a different overnight.

I met crew number 3 for the week. Very Junior Captain....barely senior to me.

In order to keep the streak of good landings going I took the outbound leg again.

During my preflight I found very thin frost on the left wing. The aircraft would have easily taken off with the frost....but regulations state the top of the wing must be free of frost.

The deicing team was no where to be found. We waited 20 minutes for them to drive out to the de-ice pad. We took off over an hour late.

The next outstation was bitterly cold. Just 2 degrees Fahrenheit! They had previously had heavy snow. The ATIS reported just the approach and departures end taxiways were open. Everything in between was closed. The runway was reported as having snow and ice again.

This plane had both thrust reversers. I planned another full flap landing. In and almost done. The parking area had over a foot of snow. The ground crew never cleared it. It made for an "interesting" post flight.

As my crew walked up the jetbridge  (at 12:40 AM!) I noticed I had two voicemails from Crew Scheduling. I use Google Voice and have all Crew Scheduling calls go directly to voicemail....it's part of my strategy. They don't pay my phone bill so there is no reason for them to call me.

The transcription showed they wanted me to have exactly 10 hours of rest and come back to fly another flight back to base. The contract states they must have positive contact meaning two way communication.

I was already tired. The drive to the hotel took 20 minutes due to snow. At best I would have 8 hours of rest. I declined to call them back. I knew it would not be just one flight back but another series of flights.

They called twice more...straight to voicemail. I got to my hotel room and was exhausted. As I laid down my HOTEL phone rang. I just picked it up and set it back down. I knew who it was. I wasn't interested. If I spoke to them there would be no negotiating, I would have to do the assignment they had.

I slept well. I woke up and felt great. The flight they wanted me to fly was staffed with a reserve flown in from another base. It would actually leave at the same time they wanted to fly it. No loss.

So far I am supposed to fly one leg into base, go home and come back tomorrow to finish my trip.

So far.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sometimes it's good to be second

Snow and ice has really been an issue in the United States lately.

I was supposed to have of the second half of February. I didn't want to just sit around so I picked up two long day trips.

The first was last Saturday and went fine. The second was on Monday. I picked it up thinking I wouldn't actually fly. I am a betting man.

The forecast called for ice and snow. The flight was an early morning departure. I bet that the airline would cancel all morning flights due to the weather. My base has limited deicing capability as it doesn't snow much.

My contract states they have until noon the day prior to reassign me if the flight cancels. At 12:01PM if it cancels I am free and clear.

They reassigned me 10 AM on Sunday. The reassignment was a 10:55 AM departure was was just an hour flight each way. I would be paid for the original 6 hours. The kicker? I had a 3 and a half hour sit at a tiny out station before flying back.

I did my research and saw the plane I was to fly back would be overnighting so I wouldn't have to worry too much about being stranded. Fine. There was still a chance the reassignment would cancel.

Monday morning I woke up and checked the cancelled flights. Everything from 6 AM until 11:30 AM was cancelled save for 4 flights....one of them my new reassignment. So much for betting.

When I walked into the terminal area it was a ghost town. I expected a mass of passengers from the cancelled flights. Nope. Since they cancelled the day prior the only passengers were those whom slept in the airport or drove in that morning. There was no Captain yet assigned to the flight.

The flight attendant was waiting by the gate. I'd flown with him before. We talked about our "bad" luck. We both agreed that it was pointless to walk down to the aircraft until a Captain had at least been assigned. I checked the other 3 flights scheduled to go out, all were also awaiting Captains.

Thirty minutes prior a Captain was assigned. There was very little activity on the ramp as the majority of the flights had been cancelled.

I was shocked when I walked into the flight deck to find the aircraft powered up AND warm! A mechanic took it upon himself to start up the APU and warm up the aircraft. I thanked him and said it's rare to find employees that care.

We boarded up and blocked out 20 minutes late due to the late arriving reserve Captain.

It took over 30 minutes to deice. In places that get a lot of winter weather I've been deiced in under 8 minutes. Seriously.

Slip sliding down the icey taxiway. Away we went.

Small outstation. They had an ILS, but it was out of service. Normally not an issue. The weather on this day caused it to be an issue as the ceiling was reported at 600, but variable between 400 and 800 and just 2 miles visibility. The minimum altitude for the GPS approach was 600 with 2 miles visibility.

The Captain was flying and briefed the approach. It would be tight.

On vectors. Another RJ identical to ours was first on the approach. I watched them on TCAS. As we turned final I saw the TCAS target begin climbing.

"Hey I think they are going around." I told the Captain. We had approach on COM 1 and tower lower on COM 2. A few seconds later we heard them report a go around on COM 2 as they didn't see the runway, runway lights or airport environment (there are more crtieria, but that's the short version).

They requested the approach lights be turned up. Turns out they weren't turned on at all.

Our turn. The tower confirmed the approach lights were on full intensity.

We leveled at 600 and I saw brief spots of the ground. I peered out the window for the approach lights. Nothing.

Three miles from the runway I saw nothing but white. The VDP (Visual Descent Point) was 1.5 miles from the runway. The VDP is the point where a normal descent can normally be made without any abrupt maneuvers. Trying to land after the VDP normally results in an unstable approach.

Two miles out I saw nothing. We had the fuel for one more attempt before heading to the alternate.

Then I saw the strobes.

"Approach lights in sight, continue." I stated.

"Continuing." said the Captain.

With the lights in sight we can continue to 100 feet above touchdown zone elevation.

About 500 feet or so we saw the runway. In and done.

The other RJ came back around and landed 8 minutes later.

Since we were late we had just a 2 hour sit.

The airport "cafe" isn't set up for real food. All they had were frozen items one could buy and microwave. Ah the life!

We blocked out 18 minutes early. No deicing needed. Quick flight.

Airport operations were busier now. Still an icey ramp. Landed 35 minutes early but due to ramp congestion we blocked in on time.

All in I flew for 2 hours and get paid for 6. I still came out ahead.

Now I really am taking the rest of the month off.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

That was sporty

I've been off a lot this year. Between my work with the Union and being senior.....I haven't spent a lot of time in the flight deck. February is almost over and I project to fly just 25 hours.

A good two weeks was spent on vacation. I took my family to Florida for a week.

We spent 3 days at Universal, 1 day at NASA (where we watched the SpaceX launch scrubbed with 2 minutes left!), 2 days in Clearwater at the beach and two more days in Orlando going to science museums. A long time.

Right now I'm sitting in a hotel in Florida on a 3 day trip. It's a 3-4-1 trip. It was originally a 4 day but I was pulled off the last day for Union work.

Day one started with a 3:50PM report time. I spent the morning taking my car in for a software and hardware update. I love my geeky BMW I3, but it's having minor issues.

Around noon I noticed there was no Captain on my trip. The original Captain couldn't commute in so Crew Scheduling had to find a replacement.

When I signed in for my trip there was a Captain assigned, but he wasn't scheduled to arrive until 10 minutes AFTER scheduled departure time.

I walked onto the plane to see two mechanics in the flight deck and the Flight Attendant sitting in the cabin.

"Whatever broke, I didn't do it!" I said to the mechanics.

"Of course it was you, you RJ pilots are great at breaking stuff....great job security" one of them said jokingly.

They were just there finishing up a periodic check. They were making sure all light bulbs in and out of the plane worked, fluid levels were good and general check up.

I told the Flight Attendant about the tardy Captain. The gate agent came down and we agreed to not board until the Captain actually parks. No reason to have passengers sitting on the plane waiting.

I began setting up the flight deck, printing the release and everything else so once the Captain arrived it would be quick and easy.

Departure time was 4:35PM. He parked at 4:40 PM 20 gates down. Boarding was almost done when he walked on board at 4:55 PM. At 5:04 PM we blocked out. He thanked me for having everything ready to go. He took us out.

Quick up and down flight, just 25 minutes off to on. Quick turn, just 8 passengers for the return leg. Super light weight meant great performance. We reached rotation speed in less than 2000 feet.

Being so close in we were inside the approach corridor. The Approach controllers had nice rows of flights spaced out and we popped up in the middle. He vectored us around, sped up other flights and slowed others down. We merged in. In and done a few minutes late.

That Captain left and another one arrived. He's fairly senior and wasn't happy about being reassigned due to weather. Blocked out a few minutes late. Still my leg.

Headed east we had a 150 knot tailwind at FL370. Zooming.

Being winter I wasn't expecting much in the way of storms. We checked the weather on the release and it mentioned rain but that's it.

Right before I began the descent the controller warned of level 2 returns. What?!?!?! Our on board RADAR showed clear air. Being night we couldn't see much out the windows.

Thankfully there were small holes from cities that gave a hint of  where the weather was. Minor vectoring. The lower we got the more clear the on board RADAR showed the weather.

Weather at the airport was 20014G19KT 10SM BKN036 BKN050 OVC065 19/17 A2980. Landing runway 17 which is 7004 feet long.

I briefed the approach. The controller brought us out a little wide to avoid a cell.

On final we were in moderate rain. I could see the runway 9 miles out. Winds were from 220 and were a stiff 45 knots at 1800 feet.

"The ATIS made no mention of rain. I'm going to plan to use full reverse just in case." I said to the Captain. Our performance flip cards stated I needed just 4000 feet of pavement to stop on dry while 5200 on wet. Neither includes the use of thrust reversers. I like to play it safe.

At 500 feet the winds were still a stiff 30 knots but the rain had let up. I touched down normally just as the gust picked up. Ailerons into the wind with my right hand I put the thrust levers into full reverse. We slowed to taxi speed with 2000 feet left.

Pulling into the gate the rain came in heavily. We had just beat the rain. While nice...I still had to do the postflight.

Today is four legs followed by an 18 hour overnight with one leg in. Wednesday will be a waste of a day in a hotel as I get home at 9PM.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Moving

This site will soon be moving host. So for a day or three it might show unavailable. Sorry for any problems.