Wednesday, February 3, 2016

It's Over

In theory I'm done sitting in the right seat of a regional jet. I flew my last flight yesterday.

I am supposed to start computer based training for my next aircraft next Wednesday. In reality I've been studying for a month.

My last turn was uneventful. The Captain was hired just 6 months before me, but has been Captain for almost a year. Timing is everything.

For now I will post the first photo of my "old" plane. I'm looking forward to the view from the left seat.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Fog

I’m currently sitting in a very comfortable business class seat on a 777. The nose is pointed toward home. 

This is my last full month as a regional First Officer. I start training as a Captain next month. That day can’t come soon enough.

Being a Senior First Officer has it’s perks and negatives. The perks are I get to fly the trips that I find most desirable .For the most part I work only when I want and where I want. This month that meant late starts on Wednesdays and early finishes on Saturdays. This is really what my wife wanted. 

Ideally being in the top 10% I’d be flying day trips. Due to a myriad of things beyond my control, all I can pick from are four day trips.

The first trip of the month was all up north. This week I flew all down south. South is preferable in the winter as it means warmer temps and less of a chance of having to deice.

The trip started okay. Flying with a very senior Captain I’ve flown with before. When I say senior I mean it. He was hired 30 years ago and has enjoyed the life of a Captain for 29 of those years. He’s very set in his ways and tends to ignore input from First Officers. 

Contrary to the belief of new hires, if things go wrong on the flight deck both pilots do a carpet dance (AKA head down to the Chief Pilots office or FAA questioning). I take my tickets seriously. I refuse to put up with foolishness. I make Captain decisions and recommendations even though I sit in the right seat. I don’t step on toes, but I don’t take it and deal with it either. Most of the time this isn’t an issue. With this guy it is.

Several times over the trip I had to repeat myself as he ignored things I stated previously. This could have been my takeoff briefing, aircraft condition, weather ahead or just about anything else I discussed. It was tiring to say the least.

Today is day 4. It started with a 3AM wakeup call for a 4AM van for a 5:05AM departure. Early.

We arrived and hoped to get the 3 legs done quickly before deadheading home. We were flying in and out of an airport where we used to have a base, but it has since closed. 

It was very foggy outside with just ¼ SM visibility. Enough for takeoff but not to return. When I finished my preflight I was stowing my jacket when the Captain asked ,”Hey what’s the minimum oil we need to start an engine?” I replied, “8 quarts…...how much do we have?” 

“Yeah I think that’s right, let me look it up.” he stated. I knew I was right….he likely knows I’m right...but he’s looking it up? Why ask? 

We were about 1 quart low. The crew that brought the plane in last night likely knew it was low, but failed to let anyone else know. Delayed. 

There aren’t many mechanics around at 5 AM on a Saturday. I let the station manager know via the radio. The Captain, sitting right next to me, asked if I would let the station manager know. Yep.

He then called our operations and got the ball rolling on getting a mechanic. ETA was 6AM. I again let the station manager know. 

We only had 50 minutes to connect to the next flight. Since we had no base, there were no reserves to call to staff it, they would simply have to delay the flight. 

Then things got worse. Weather at the hub was ⅛ SM. I was supposed to fly three flights and then spend 2 hours sitting around until my deadhead flight. After returning to base I planned on rushing home, packing a backpack, and heading back to the airport to catch a flight over to Detroit for the North American International Autoshow. I go every year. As planned I’d get in at 10PM, hotel by 11PM meaning I’d be awake for 20 hours. That was all in question.

The mechanic arrived early. Again it was just oil. Weather at the hub was ¼ SM mile and expected to improve. Surprisingly there was no CAT II approach. We could still takeoff and at worst head to an alternate. At best the weather would improve. We are allowed to takeoff if the weather is below mins now BUT expected to improve by the ETA.

I asked the Captain if he would like to board since it was just oil. He declined. He wanted to wait until the oil was done. Fine.

Oil done. I asked if he wanted to board. He declined. He now wanted to wait until the mechanic was done with the logbook. 

Finally all done. The weather was holding at ¼ SM. He said he wanted to send a message to the dispatcher about the weather. Earlier he called….now he uses text. His commute flight home wasn’t until 2:30 PM. He had no hurry. Ten minutes later he said we could board. Boarding started. This is about 45 minutes after the oil had been completed. If we had boarded then we would have been in the air by now. 

The dispatcher called the station. She wanted to delay the flight as weather had dropped back to 1/8SM. And so it began...ground stop for an hour. Then another hour….then another hour.

At 9:20 AM weather was up to ½ SM. Another airport close by was at ¾ SM.  After letting the Captain know, I asked if he wanted to at least board. Not yet. Fine.

I was beginning to get tired. All hopes of connecting to my deadhead flight and getting to Detroit were gone. I asked a buddy who works for Delta about a direct flight from the hub I was flying to. He said it looked decent. Going direct meant I’d have to wear something in the suitcase of clothes I’d been toting for 4 days, but at least I could see the show.

Getting more tired. I checked and saw that I was going to be illegal at 2:05PM. This was due to FAR 117. 

At 9:31 the ground stop was lifted. Half of the passengers had given up and left the airport. After getting the clearance we were told our window for wheels up was 9:58 to 10:02. 

Being on a regional jet is a plus sometimes as there are fewer passengers to board. We loaded up and taxi’d out at 9:50. The Captain turned to plane ontp runway 29 and I took over the controls at 10:00 AM. Away we went. 

Smooth air. Most of the early morning diversions were international flights. Since most were "heavy" it took a awhile to get the refueled and filed. I know at least one that had to be recrewed as the pilots timed out. 

I expected to be slowed enroute, but there were no delays. I made a decent landing and we went straight to an open gate.

The inside of the terminal was crazy busy. My deadhead flight was already delayed by 2 hours. I decided to try and go standby on an earlier flight that was delayed until my original flight departure time. It worked. I scored a business class seat. 

I walked off the plane at 3:05 PM. I pulled in my garage at 4PM. I then quickly packed a backpack, kissed my family and pulled out of the garage at 4:25PM. At 5:50PM I was sitting in a First Class seat waiting to depart for Detroit. 

After a nice dinner and a few cocktails the flight landed in frigid Detroit. 

The Autoshow was great. I arrived before it opened and saw everything I wanted in 3 hours. 

Glad it all worked out. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

I'm supposed to be on top right now

I'm bidding in the top 5% in my current status. Normally I'd be on top.

Years ago the top guys held cushy 18 day off day trips worth 85-90 hours. Life was good. Due to various reasons almost everyone at my airline is flying 4 day trips. Local pilots hate 4 day trips.

I got my top pick of the crappy 4 day trips. How crappy ? Well my line is under 68 hours. I get paid 72 hours (which is the contractual guaranty). In previous months I had lines as low as 50 hours. This sounds great as I get paid for more than I fly. It's not great though as I have just 14 days off. Years ago pilots had more hours and more days off.

Enough complaining. Winter is in full effect. I've deiced a lot lately. I used to bid Mexico flights in winter to avoid deicing, but a good chunk of the Mexico flights have been given to another regional.

I'm still slated to start training for my Captain seat next month. A new airplane and a new seat. My hopes of bidding out before I start are fading. I should still be able to bid bad to base before the end of the year though.

While sitting in the airport between flights a fellow pilot who recently upgraded stopped by. He mentioned his desire to never commute. He's staying at my airline until he gets picked up by my mainline partner. Family first. That's something I stressed in the past and I still agree with. My commuting stint should be short lived. Famous last words eh?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Airport Smart

Currently sitting at Einstein Brothers in the airport. Reasons being they offer free coffee refills...and I'm tired.



It's day 4. It's 7:09 AM and I've already been up for almost 4 hours. Today started with a 3:30 AM wake up for a 4:30 AM van for a 5:30 AM departure. The flight was just 98 nautical miles. Think about that for a second.

Most passengers also had to wake up at 3:30 AM. Or arrival time was scheduled for 6:20 AM. The 50 minutes block included anticipated deicing (didn't need it, mild winter), taxiing out, the flight and taxiing in. 

It's 98 NM....maybe 110 miles if driven on the ground. At even 60 MPH those passengers could have DRIVEN to the hub faster. Blah. I'm tired. 

I have 2 hours to relax before I head to Colorado for my last turn. It's a very unproductive 14 hour 4 day trip. I spent 30 hours on an overnight (known as a lost day as I only get per diem). Enough complaining.

My upgrade training is scheduled to start on February 16th. I am estimated to be complete with IOE mid-April. Most pilots finish before that. Seeing that I have flown the other jet before, it should be fine. 

I'm hoping that the next vacancy bid will be out before January 31st. If it is I plan (and hope) to be able to bid a Captain slot in my current base. It would be ideal. No idea if it will happen. 

For now I will enjoy my free coffee refills. When I was very junior I'd sit here for hours on airport standby. I learned then about both the free refills AND how it's cheaper to order a bagel and add egg than it is to order a bagel sandwich with egg and cheese. I don't care for cheese and by order this way (vs asking them to hold the cheese) I saved $3. I got coffee, egg and cheese bagel on cinnamon sugar (it's odd...don't judge) and a french toast bagel for the less than an egg and cheese sandwich cost alone. It pays to be airport smart. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Funny Numbers.....not so funny situation

Most of the time my little plane....barbie jet as I call it...can take all the passengers, bags and fuel safely from point A to point B.

Every now and then weather or a MEL comes into play and complicates things.

Right now I'm sitting in a Hampton Inn in a crappy city in no where anyone should live USA. I have one leg home tomorrow for Thanksgiving.

Last night, about forty minutes before departure, the gate came down and asked if she knew we were weight restricted....but one passenger. I said I wasn't and then took a look at the numbers. Sure enough due to low ceilings at the destination we had an alternate of flying all the way back to the Hub. It was a short one hour flight. The Captain was away getting dinner.

I told her I would see what I could do. The restriction was that we were landing weight limited. To keep things easy lets use the following:

Basic Empty Weight 40,000 lbs
Release Fuel: 6996 lbs
Minimum Takeoff Fuel: 6450 lbs
Maximum Landing Weight: 55,000 lbs

Actual fuel on board at the time was 7100 pounds. I immediately started the APU. I transmitted exactly 6996 pounds to the "load room". The load room is really a computer system that works out weight and balance. I then called the load room over the radio and inquired about the weight restriction. They stated they planned on 2500 pounds of cargo due to several military passengers. There were 47 paying passengers waiting.

My airline assumes each passenger weighs 184 pounds in winter (they weigh 10 pounds less in summer). Kids weigh 76 pounds. They were restricting it to 46 passengers due to all the cargo. Taking the above numbers they planned on a takeoff weight of 57,964 pounds.

En-route fuel burn + taxi = 2980 pounds. Taking a ramp weight of 57,964 - 2980 fuel burn = 54,984.....or 16 pounds to spare.

Taking things further the airline assumes each checked bag weighs 30 pounds unless it is marked heavy (being over 50 pounds) then they assume it weighs 60 pounds. My barbie jet overhead bins can't take normal carry on bags. The bags checked plane side are assumed to weigh 20 pounds. If the bag is able to be brought on board and stowed it weighs zero pounds. Keeping up?

The one passenger that was going to be left behind was going to his Grandmothers funeral. He had problems getting to the airport and missed his earlier flight. If he was denied boarding the airline owed him NOTHING.

We had no control over checked bags. We could "control" kids on board and valet bags that aren't checked plane side.

The Flight Attendant was very forgiving on bags being brought on. If they could safely fit she let them on. Nine minutes to push we got the final numbers. We were 240 pounds under PLANNED weight.

I called the load room and asked why the passenger wasn't on board. They stated they didn't want to take a delay. I looked over at the Captain and he said, "if you don't mind can you run up there and bring the passenger back with you." At this point we had 7 minutes.

I bolted up from my seat and sprinted up the jet bridge. There alone in the boarding area was a very upset twenty-something guy. I just pointed to him and said, "Hey, let's get you to where you need to be."

He was surprised as was the gate agent. She quickly began typing. Thankfully he only had a backpack. The Flight Attendant told him to sit where ever he wanted. The agent rushed down the final paperwork and we blocked out with 2 minutes to spare.

We weren't done though. We had a very short taxi and didn't use all the planned taxi fuel. I had to fly in fuel burning mode to make sure we were below 55,000 pounds on landing. With a shallow climb and early descent I was 100 pounds under while 20 miles out.

It's all funny math. The plane knows how much it weighs. On final approach I've had situations where I needed much less thrust than normal as we are lighter than we think we are. I've also needed much more thrust as we are heavier than we think we are. The low speed awareness cue is very telling. The margin between VREF and the TOP of the low speed cue (not stall speed!)  is normally 5-10 knots. Sometimes it's 1 or 0 knots. That's when we are heavier than we think we are. Nonetheless we have to abide by the funny numbers.

In and done. I then spent ALL day at a hotel. Tomorrow is a very early 4:15 AM van for a 5:15 AM departure and a 6:09 arrival. I'm then off until the 7th.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Seniority has it's privileges

Being a Senior First Officer is like having a REALLY nice Yugo. Yeah it's nice....but it's a Yugo.

Part of my seniority is getting just about everything I want schedule and vacation wise.

For December I got my 2nd choice of line. Out of more than 280 lines....I got my second choice. Not too shabby.

I combined the lazy December schedule with a lazy November schedule. I'm able to take more than 13 days off in a row without using vacation.

This will all change next year. I will be 10 from the bottom Captain wise....and commuting. Hopefully I can bid back to base as a Captain before Fall.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Eight Years Later

I passed my 8 year anniversary last week. Eight years! I thought I'd be close to 7000 hours total time as I figured all pilots fly as much as possible. Nah. I'm right around 5200 hours total time. I was hired with just 560....so in 8 years I've flown about 575 hours a year. Not a lot. Of course I've taken a good 16 weeks of vacation....almost 4 months. Plus I took a few months off when my daughter was born. Blah.

It's good I was awarded an upgrade as I'm topped out on the First Officer pay scale. Yep no more money for me until I upgrade.

I have been crafty in getting paid for more than I fly. So far this year I've flown 507 hours but have been paid more than $46,000 in non-taxable income (thus I'm excluding my per diem). That equates to almost $92 an hour. This is more than double my actual pay. The discrepancy is due to bonuses, overtime pay and "blood money".

The "blood money" was paid out due to my pilot group signing a new contract with the company. we agreed to concessions in exchange for new planes and a bonus check. It was a bad idea, but what's done is done. I get another payout when I upgrade to Captain.

I'm guessing I will hit training in February.....could be earlier. Posting should begin to pick up again. The last few months have been quite boring really.