Thursday, May 21, 2015

Text book windshear

On day 1 of a 3 day. It's a very easy 1-2-1 worth just 9 hours.

Day one was a late start with a 5:50 PM report time. I spent the day doing stuff around the house and reviewing my application for United. 

I arrived to the airport early. The two gates next to mine were full of passengers. All were being flown on another regional carrier for my mainline partner. The other regional is known for dirt cheap operation...and it shows. Both flights were very late. Passengers were all upset. 

Bravely I stood behind a computer and begin looking up information on my flight. Passengers see employees behind a computer as a sign that they can ask anything. I help the best I can.

I told them what I knew about their delays and their options. They were upset but appreciative. 

After my preflight I began setting up the plane. Forty minutes to departure and I had yet to see the rest of my crew. A little odd.

Thirty minutes prior I became a little concerned....but not overly so. I finished setting up the FMS, verifying performance and fuel....then headed back up to the gate.

There I found my crew. None of them had SIDA badges and there was no gate agent around. My home airport requires a SIDA badge (special badge issued by the airport) to access the jetbridge. Getting the badge is optional and can be a burden. 

I verified their IDs (since I had never met them before) and let them down. 

We boarded up and left a few minutes late. I took the leg down.....south of the border again.

A little bit of weather to work around. In Mexico airspace it's rare to have traffic around so getting approved for off course routing is easy.

Descending into the airport area we checked the weather. 

210040Z 17002KT 13SM SCT040TCU SCT200 27/M01 A3011 RMK 8/202 ISOL

We were arriving from the north. The plan was to join the VOR/DME arc from a transition and land on runway 17. It would be an short arc. 

Everything was textbook until we turned final. Tower advised winds at the surface were 350/4. 

There is a good amount of terrain around the airport. With a 4 knot tailwind things were fine given the very long 9000 foot runway.

I monitored my descent and speed and mentioned I'd be ready for the windshift.

It was night, but we could see the runway clearly.

Passing 1000 feet AGL we hit a brief, but moderate rainshower. I called for wipers. Wipers on I could again see the runway clearly.

Around 600 feet we left the rainshower and the bottom dropped out of the airspeed and altitude. This coincided with red flashing lights and "Windshear! Windshear!" over the speakers and in my headset.

"Escape! Go Around! Set max thrust......." I stated...just like the sim.

The airport sits at 6200 feet MSL. Thankfully we were lightly loaded as the little RJ gave it all she had to escape the windshear. We only lost 80 feet or so during the escape maneuver. 

Like I briefed we went straight ahead, climbed to 9000 and prepared to hold over the VOR. 

Tower advised we would continue outbound and do the VOR to runway 35. The Captain verified the procedure and told me what to do as I was hand flying.

"Intercept the 210 radial outbound and then left turn back in," he said.

Once established outbound I clicked back on the autopilot and took a breath.

Turning back in I noticed there was no VASI on this runway. The Captain programmed in the VOR approach into my FMS. With the approach loaded I had a pseudo glideslope to follow. Gusty approach, but with a quartering headwind. In and done.

Today is two legs back to a different city in Mexico. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Street Captain

This "pilot" shortage is getting more and more apparent.

I was recently offered to interview for a "Direct Entry Captain" position. You read that right...start over at a new Captain.

The airline in question is PSA. They are a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines Group. They, along with Envoy (formerly American Eagle) and Piedmont, perform most of the regional flying for American Airlines.

PSA has been on a huge growth spurt lately. New airplanes from the factory and, soon to be, aircraft from Envoy. PSA agreed to work for less money than Envoy....and Envoy is paying the price.

Direct Entry Captain positions are also known as "Street Captains". Here's how it works.

Say there are 1200 pilots on property. To keep it simple there are 600 Captains and 600 First Officers.

A Direct Entry Captain would be pilot number 1201. They would be junior to every pilot on property. For whatever reason PSA has run out of First Officers capable of upgrading to Captain. One of the many requirements to be Captain is 1,000 hours of Part 121 (airline) flying time.

Since I have almost 5000 hours of 121 time I easily qualify for that requirement.

This new Direct Entry Captain would be a Captain in all respects......except seniority. The Direct Entry Captain would likely be on reserve for years as First Officers above him on the seniority list upgrade. Additionally the Direct Entry Captain has no protection of his seat. If there is one displacement then they will very likely be pushed to the right seat until their seniority can hold Captain.

Who takes these Direct Entry Captain positions? Well those who are junior Captains looking for a change. Possibly a First Officer years away from upgrade at their current airline. Also those who are gamblers.

I am none of those.

For those who want to take the risk....good luck.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Under Pressure

Finally home after a grueling 4 day trip worth 24 hours. It was a 3-2-2-3 trip with all overnights south of the border.

Staying in Mexico means I have to alter what I bring. Customs in Mexico is very nonstandard from station to station. They have been known to try (and sometimes succeed) to fine crew members for bringing in too many electronics as they think the crew members are going to resell them.

I am a geek.

I normally travel with 2 Ipads (1 is an EFB), a chromebook, a nexus 7, Roku box, two routers and a Google Chromecast.

I am also a vegetarian. I normally travel with fresh fruit (apples mostly) and veggies for the first two days (broccoli and carrots mostly). For Mexico I could bring none of that.

The first two overnights were fine. No issues in customs.

For the third overnight we were given a plane with an inop automatic pressurization system. This is a MEL I read about, but never thought I would encounter. Manually controlling pressurization is a taxing job. We have to manually control the outflow valve to release pressure in the aircraft and control the cabin altitude.

Captains leg down. It was a tedious job controlling the valve with a potentiamotor. The good thing was the field elevation at the destination was a lofty 7300 feet MSL. Cabin altitude at FL370 is 8000 feet. Pretty easy to modulate.

In Mexico passengers press a button before leaving customs. If it turns green they simply leave. If it turns read they have their bags searched. Flight crews can not press the button. It's some Mexican customs rule that every crew member have their bags searched by hand. Every bag. Every crew member.

Going through customs I had a liquor mini I purchased on the first overnight in my bag. A liquor mini! The agent pulled it out and set it aside. She then went through every other bag. Nothing else found.

I told her, in Spanish, that I forgot I had it. She said it's okay but to follow her. I knew what was coming next...a shakedown.

She asked for my passport and photocopied it. She then started typing up a form. I've heard about this form from coworkers. It's all in Spanish and is an admission of guilt and includes some type of fine.

All of this for a liquor mini that's well within personal use guidelines set forth by Mexican customs that was given to my airline.

A Flight Attendant had a 36 hour overnight and is a heavy smoker. Before leaving the US she bought a carton of cigarettes at Duty Free. The same station tried to fine her $200 for not declaring the cigarettes. Mind you we are not given ANY form in which we can declare anything. After over an hour they forced her to pay $100 and get the money from an ATM. She offered to leave the cigarettes with them. Not an option.

After about 10 minutes, which my crew only knew I was detained but not why, a man came in speaking only in Spanish. I picked up a bit but a woman came in and said, "You can not have this. We will let you go this time, but you can not have liquor, cigarettes, or cigars."

I left. I think they "let me go" because they felt I would have refused all fines/bribes and would ask to go to jail (other crew members have said the same). A judge must be called before someone can be arrested. They would not risk their jobs calling a judge to arrest a crew member for al liquor mini.

Truly ridiculous and a scar on the face of a beautiful country.

Shortish overnight in a beautiful hotel. Long van rides to and from, which is the norm as airports are all far outside of town.

Beautiful departure next to TWO active volcanoes. First two legs were mine. Lots of weather to contend with.

We arrived at the outstation late due to weather. The ground crew did an amazing job and we blocked out on time. When I called for taxi the bad news started.

Center was delaying our departure for 15 minutes. Not horrible. We taxied out and waited. Then more bad news....ground stop for 30 more minutes. We shut the engines down. I let the passengers know the bad news.

Eventually we left. We worked around the weather and made up a lot of time. We landed just 15 minutes late.

Pulling into the gate I was exhausted. 7 hours and 45 minutes of flying will do that to ya. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a bald guy.....a crew chaser.

A crew chaser is the guy you never want to see. Ours is a really nice guy....but he only delivers bad news. He either junior mans, extends or delivers drug test notices.

The Captain was sure the drug test was for him since we were both not legal for more flying. I knew it was for me. Sure enough it was for me.

For random drug test we must be escorted over to the testing facility at the airport. No stopping along the way. I really wanted to go home.

It took about 30 minutes. I'm paid for a whole 15 minutes.

I got home about an hour later than planned. I haven't done a full four day trip in months.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Missed it by that much

I missed the Captain bid by 7......just seven. I actually held Captain on paper during the vacancy and was displaced during the displacement bid. The only good thing is I'll be headed to a new aircraft.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Job Fair

Last Thursday I attended my first job fair.

The job fair was a large part of the OBAP (Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals). Contrary to the name, OBAP is open to anyone interested in Aerospace.

The event began at 7 AM Thursday so I flew up very late Wednesday night. To save money I slept in the airport. Kidding. I burned 4,000 SPG points for a room at a Four Points. I also used points for a rental car, though I could have (and maybe should have) used the free hotel shuttle.

I met up with a long time friend from ATP. He's at Jetblue now, looking for something bigger.

OBAP is much larger and more involved than I thought. They are huge on being a volunteer.

After some very informative morning sessions I waited for my turn in the job fair room. Entry was by seniority. Seniority is ruled by when you signed up. I signed up the week before....I had time to kill.

I chatted up some fellow pilots. Most were regional pilots but there were a few pilots just starting out.

When it was my turn my first stop was Virgin America. I did okay with the pre-interview. I feel okay about it. I then hit up Frontier and did horribly. I was tired at that point as I waited outside for 2 1/2 hours.

United was there unofficially. I spoke with a few United pilots who gave me tips on improving my resume. All said I have enough flight time, I just need to make myself stand out.

I left a little defeated as I hoped to land solid interviews. At least I know what I need to do to get an interview. I'll be attending the next conference in August. I plan to bring my A game then.

Still waiting on the Captain bid results.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I'm becoming a Princess

Seniority is everything in aviation. Seniority determines pay, vacation, schedules and overall quality of life.

I've been at my airline for 7 1/2 years....all in the right seat. This may change next week as I've bid for Captain. That's for later.

Lately I've been using my seniority to fly what I want to fly. Mostly this means long flights (for a regional) and as few legs as possible. I don't like flying more than 3 legs a day.....I've become a princess.

This week I have a 2 day trip that's a 5 and 1 followed by a dead head home.

I've flown with the Captain a few times in the past. He's quirky but fine.

The first turn was 4 hours total. He took it out. I then flew back to base. The third leg was a quick 70 nautical mile flight. We taxied almost as long as the time in the air. Up and down.

The fourth and fifth legs were his. I was beat on the flight to the overnight. Descending into the airport area we were cleared for the visual. Mostly clear skies. We did have a 20 second encounter with heavy snow at 3000 feet.

Once on the ground I was worn out. Over 7 hours of flying.

Day 2 is one short hop to the hub and I get to sprint to my deadhead which starts boarding as we are scheduled to pull into the gate.

Wednesday I will be working on union NewsBlast all day before hopping a flight to Vegas.

Thursday I will be walking around the OBAP career fair talking to major airlines hoping to score a new job. My eyes are set on United and Virgin America. Wish me luck on scoring a job OR at least holding Captain next week.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Always pack a suitcase

I'm currently sitting in a Marriott hotel in Alabama. I'm supposed to be cooking up scrambled eggs for my kiddo.

This week I picked up 10 3/4 hours of extra flying. Two day trips.  Five hours and a quarter hours was on Thursday and 5 1/2 on Friday. Thursdays trip went fine.

Friday started okay. The original Captain (who I was looking forward to flying with) and Flight Attendant called in sick for the trip. I had a reserve crew.

We blocked out on time. He took the first leg. Weather. Slight delays as Clearance was issuing reroutes to aircraft waiting to takeoff. Away we went.

Weather at the out station wasn't horrible with 1200 broken and 3/4 mile visibility...except it was a localizaer approach. We needed 1 mile visibility. Our alternate was our hub.

Getting closer the front was passing through. The visibility was 3 miles and winds shifted so we could use the ILS. Fine.

While being vectored for the approach the winds shifted again and we had a 10 knot quartering tailwind. Clouds were still low and the visibility was just 1 mile. We discussed it and planned on landing with a tailwind on the ILS was better than a headwind with the localized as we could go lower with the ILS.

In and done. This was the first of four legs. We planned for a quick turn. Once boarded we were told there was a "Call for Release" program in effect. This meant that the Center controllers needed to meter the aircraft arriving and would sequence us in. My leg. Up and away we went with a minimal delay.

Mild turbulence. In and parked close to on time. Plane AND terminal change.

Originally we had 50 minutes between flights. With the delays we had just 30. I've been around long enough to know when I need to slow down and eat.

I stopped by a Subway and snagged a Veggie Delight Chopped Salad. I get every single option which makes it a steal for $6.

Blocked out a few minutes late. No delays on the departure which was good as there was a huge line of weather moving in from the west. We were headed east.

Great tailwind. At cruise I ate my salad and chatted up the Captain. It turns out he was an Offensive Lineman for the University of Michigan. My wife went to Michigan State. I told him he went to the "wrong" school.

Choppy ride at FL310. We tried FL350...worse. We went down to FL270. Better.

Mild weather in Alabama. With the winds coming from 120 at 9 knots I figured they'd be using runway 15. Nope runway 33. Another tailwind approach. The tailwind through my planning off a bit and I had a firmish landing...which made my Captain laugh as my previous landing was butter smooth. "At least I know you're human," he replied as I had been flying very smoothly until that point.

Once at the gate and parked I whipped out my Ipad to send out a Union email. I then did my postflight and called for clearance. That's when the fun started. ground stop. The first delay was just 35 minutes. We figured it'd be best to board up and be at the ready if the ground stop was lifted. It wasn't.

The next ground stop was pushed until 9PM. My Captain had to be off the ground by 9:02 PM to be legal under FAR 117. He started his day earlier than I did.

After several phone calls we ended up cancelling. Long ago I learned to always bring a suitcase. Never assume you will always come home even if it's "just" a day trip.

I was being Junior Manned to fly the next day. At first it was a 8 AM departure and I'd be done by 10:30 AM. We were annoyed but content. On the way to the hotel they cancelled that flight and assigned us a 2 PM departure done by 4:30 AM. That annoyed us.....our entire Saturday was shot.

I had bought a box of eggs that morning as my daughter asked for scrambled eggs Saturday morning. Saturday afternoon was to be spent going with my family to a friends birthday party. I'd miss all of that.

The Captain had planned to be home last night to go to his kids soccer and baseball games. He'd actually gotten the day off of reserve to attend those functions. He'd miss all of that as well.

The Flight Attendant just wanted to commute home and sleep in her own bed.

For all of this I get 4 hours of extra pay or 200% actual flight time, which ever is greater. Given the short flight I will get 4 hours pay....roughly $170. Not worth it really. I do get another day off this month that I get to pick. Eh.