Saturday, May 6, 2017

Bizzaro trip

I'm on day 3 of a 4 day.

I'm supposed to be a FL 360 headed to the hub. Instead I'm on my couch.

The unraveling of my trip started on day 1. It was supposed to be a quick 2 hour turn and a long flight to Canada.

Weather caused a huge reroute on the first leg. I flew this leg.  On final, about 700 feet AGL, to the out station I encountered a flock of birds. Several birds impacted the windshield. Crap. I glanced over at the engine gauges...all reading normal.

Landed uneventfully. This would normally have been a minimal delay. I called for a bird strike inspection to get the ball rolling. As time went on I could tell something was wrong. Sure enough the contract mechanics at the airport were no longer certified for the Embraer 175. The could take a computer based training course and be certified in 30 minutes. For whatever reason that didn't happen. My airline Maintenance Operations Control was not happy. Being late in the afternoon there wasn't time to fly mechanics down and get the flight out same day. Flight cancelled. 76 passengers would not be getting to where they wanted because of birds...and lack of the local mechanics to maintain their currency.

After about an hour we had hotel for the night.

Mechanics were flying down on the last flight of the night and the aircraft would be ready for the morning.

For reasons beyond me I was scheduled to ferry to plane back to base...without flight attendants or passengers. Bad choice in my opinion...but I don't run the airline.

The mechanics cleaned off the bird residue and the aircraft was ready at 9 AM. One of the two morning kick off flights cancelled. They are flown by a much less reliable feeder that is prone to cancellations. We should have flown the flight as an extra segment...but again I don't run the airline.

It was my First Officers leg. We decided to have fun and did a max power takeoff. The takeoff roll was under 1800 feet. From zero to 126 knots (145 MPH) in 1800 feet. Up, up and away we went. Sustained 5000 feet per minute through 15000 feet.

In and done. My First Officer picked up the first two days of my trip as overtime. It was scheduled for 10 hours but paid 20 (due to a shortage of pilots my airline is paying double for all extra flying!). Due to the cancellation all he did was one leg down and one leg up. He got home 8 hours earlier and only flew 2.4 hours...but paid for 20. He won that day.

I was scheduled to deadhead to my next overnight. I was originally supposed to fly to the overnight late that night on day 2. But the bird strike through everything off.

On the deadhead I caught up with a Flight Attendant I had not seen in two years. We were going to the same hotel.

Long overnight. The rest of my crew (original Flight Attendants and a new First Officer) flew in late on day 2 and were at a different hotel.

The morning of day 3 I woke up and, for reasons I can't explain, didn't check my schedule and just headed to the airport. The weather was nice all over.....why assume there would be an issue.

I was alone in the hotel van as the rest of the crew was at a different hotel. I got to the gate 50 minutes early. I relaxed and caught up on news. I saw my flight number on the departure board at the gate. All was well.

Out of the corner of my eye I see an aircraft approach my gate....but it's not a Embraer 175. Uh oh. I check my schedule. Equipment change. I assume I'm deadheading. Nope. I was reassigned to ferry another 175 to another hub later in the afternoon. Ugh.

I call and get a new hotel as the aircraft was down for maintenance and the flight was 7 hours away. I later learned the new First Officer did the same thing...arrived and saw the change.

At 1:45 PM the First Officer and I boarded the hotel van and headed back to the airport. Ferry was scheduled for 2:$5 PM.

At 2:30 PM we hopped in a rusty 1980s era Ford Van and rode to a hangar.

There was a major flight control computer issue after power up. Mechanics came on board....hit buttons...ran test...and cleared the error.

At 3:40 PM we taxi'd out. Ferry flights rarely go on time.

My leg. Another max power takeoff. Fun.

Landed and pulled into a gate at 5:37 PM. My First Officer (on overtime like the first one) ran to catch a commute flight at 6:10 PM . I had a deadhead back to base.

At the gate I met up with two recruiters for my airline. I got the skinny on just how bad the shortage is. The deadhead left over an hour late.

I walked into my backdoor at 10:45 PM. I have a, hope to be quick, 2 hour turn at noon. Should be home by 4 PM.

So far this is day 4 and I've flown ONE revenue flight...the first leg. If today goes well I will have flown 3.

Bizzaro trip indeed.

Monday, April 10, 2017

One Year as a Captain

I've now been Captain for a year. I've flown roughly 450 hours in the left seat across two different aircraft. 

It's been a learning experience. I've had the opportunity to fly as Captain to Canada, Mexico and of course the United States. I've had the full range of First Officers from pilots right off IOE to pilots with more hours in the aircraft than I had. I've learned something from all of them. 

The biggest change has been of course the paycheck. It's ridiculous how much more Captains are paid versus First Officers. It's only mid-April, but I've earned more than I did my first full year at my airline. 

After 8 1/2 years in the right seat I learned how to be a great Captain and how to be a horrible Captain. It's an ever evolving role. 

I have never marginalized a fellow crew member regardless of how new they are or how wrong their comment/response is. I will offer and opinion and take their input, but never make them feel small. 

More days than not I do at least one pre/post flight. Even in the rain. Even in the snow. I've taken MANY First Officers by surprise when I tell them I will get the pre/post flight while it's heavy rain outside. At the end of the day it's my responsibility. 

I am not Captain because I'm a superior pilot. When I was a First Officer many Captains exhibited this aloofness...as they have been Captain for 20+ years. No, I am Captain because I applied to the airline before my First Officer did and passed training. That's it. No other reason. I never forget that fact. 

So what's next? Well 8 days from now I will welcome in my second (and FINAL!) child. If all goes well in fall 2018 I will start out in the right seat of a mainline aircraft. It might be sooner...I'm working on a way to get in the front door as well. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

A real line...but...well...I don't like it

Last month I held a pieced together line. This month I have a real line. The issue is...I don't like it. I work every weekend except one Saturday. So much for hanging with the family. Last month I had every weekend off except one Saturday.

Last month I flew in and out of Mexico and Canada. This month it's just Canada. It's still winter.

I have overnights on both coast of Canada....Calgary and Montreal. I prefer Montreal.

The term regional pilot is really being abused. Years ago it was a term for a pilot that flew a turboprop and made several stops to and from Hubs. Today it's vastly different.

This week I was sitting the Captain seat of a multi-million dollar airliner taking 76 people on a trip over 1300 Nautical Miles long. I flew across several regions. I began to think hard about the term regional pilot. It's now used as a label to get pilots to accept less compensation for a professional job. I won't get on my soap box....but the term...and the lower compensation need to go away.

Bidding for next month opens in two days. I'm going to bed lines with at least one weekend day off a week....then I'll just go back to reserve lines with weekends off....then any line I guess.

In April I will also pass one year as a Captain....so there's that.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Holding a line again...kinda

I couldn't stand another month of reserve. I could have held a line....kinda...back in December. I bid reserve to have part of Christmas off and New Years eve off. I could have held a line in January...but I bet I'd be better off on reserve...I wasn't.

For February I had enough. I bid almost every possible line including a composite line.

At my gig a composite line is made up of pieces of other lines and reserve days. The pieces come from flying dropped by pilots on vacation, reserve or other leaves.

I emailed scheduling the open sequences I wanted and they honored almost all of my request. I have every Sunday off and all but on Saturday off. Not too bad. That one Saturday is my only reserve day.

The gauranty is only 72 hours vs 75 hours for reserve...but I am able to add on more flying to this composite line much easier than reserve.

For reserve pilots, extra flying can only be done on days off. For line holders (including composite!), extra flying can be on working days as long as it fits in the FARs.

I've built up my line to 78 hours and only working one extra day. I hope to add more.

I will likely bid a composite again next month. I will be 40 next month. Time flies.

Even though I attempt to hide who I am and who I work for...quite a few people have figured it out. Bleh. Still safer to not blatantly post it.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

It's different from the left

The new year has come. I've passed 100 hours in the left seat so I'm no longer a baby Captain. 

Right now I'm flying the "hot" RJ. New hire pilots, and most will deny it, have SJS....Shiny Jet Syndrome. They want to fly the latest, most high tech, regional jet at the airline. Nevermind that the pay is the same regardless of what they fly. I fly the 175 not because it's sexy....or shiny....but because it's all I could hold seniority wise when I bid for my current base. 

Anyway I am flying with a lot of new pilots. When I was a senior First Officer I'd been around a while. Every Captain had been around longer than me. We knew "the game" and "the system".

"The Game" is how various airports work. Each time one flies to ORD and are level at 10,000 feet you are expected to go 300 knots until told otherwise. It's not written anywhere...ya just know it. Also every time one flies to LIT you WILL cross 35 miles (as opposed to the normal 30 miles) outside of LIT at 10,0000 feet. It's not written down...ya just know it...or will be told it. Finally it's useless to carry on a conversation flying east or west above Ohio....the center frequencies changes happen about every 2 minutes (exaggeration but it's way to frequent). It takes time to learn the game a the rules are changing...but having a working knowledge makes things easier.

I forget the new hires often don't know the game. I've had plenty slow to 210 knots 20 miles from the airport in class B airspace. I have to remind them that ATC expects 250 knots and all his planning is based on that unless otherwise told. A few have failed to descend properly when heading towards a class C airport without a formal STAR. Again...it's not a bad thing...I just forget as I'm used to flying with more seasoned pilots. I have to stay on my game more often.

"The System" is how my airline operates. I don't expect new hires to know everything. Things like which frequency to call for catering, which to call for a mechanics, which to call for ramp. Additionally how to deal with gate agents, rampers, fuelers and crew scheduling. The system is pretty rigid and rules rarely change It's very rare I have to look up a frequency for any airport I visit. I've been going to the same airports for 9 years. They are like second homes. 

So flying with new hires is like giving IOE. Which I think I might apply to teach. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cute Baby Captain

I'm currently sitting in a La Quinta in Indiana. I arrived at 10 AM via a deadhead from my base. I was called at 4:20 AM for this assignment. Departure time....6:15 AM....tomorrow of course. Waste of a day.

So far I have just over 200 hours as Captain, but only 60 hours as Captain in my current aircraft. The FAA requires new Captains (affectionately known as Baby Captains) to have 100 hours as Captain in type aircraft before being allowed full reign. Until I get 100 hours all my landing minimums are 100 feet higher and 1/2 SM longer than charted. So the average ILS is 200 foot and 1/2 SM....I need 400 feet and 1 SM.

Last week I picked up a Mexico turn on overtime. I've been flying to and from Mexico for 6 years and rarely needed an instrument approach.

A few hours prior to departure I checked the weather. It was 1/2 SM mile and 200 foot variable. It was expected to rise to 800 and 1 mile around the time of my arrival.

About 40 minutes prior to departure I had no flight plan. I called the dispatch office and reminded them I'm a baby Captain. They transferred me to the dispatcher working my flight. He said things should be fine. I asked for an extra 1000 pounds of fuel for contingency in case I had to hold for the weather. He had already given me 20 minutes of hold. The extra 1000 bought me another 10 minutes.

My First Officer was brand new to the airline, thus he had never been to Mexico. I told him I would fly down as Mexico is a little different than the United States. There are different speed restrictions, airspace requirements and dealing with non RADAR environments. Not major, but it would be better for him to watch before doing.

We were a bit delayed but finally left the gate. I headed down and flew planned speed to conserve fuel. I'd rather have more fuel and arrive a bit late than lower fuel and arrive early (and possibly have issues).

About 80 miles out we were slowed to 180 knots. Quite slow. I called for one setting of flaps to increase lift and reduce the deck angle. Hard IMC. We were vectored around and slowed down.

Initially assigned a VOR approach to runway 11. Ceiling was 600 broken with 1 SM visibility. Mins for the approach were 400 and 1 SM. I was legal by 100 feet.

Brought in a bit high I configured early. Just 1 mile before the Final Approach Fix approach cancelled our clearance. The preceding aircraft went missed due to no runway in sight. They were going to use the ILS for 29....with a tailwind. Minimums were 250 feet (350 feet for me) and 1/2 SM.

Vectored around. I briefed the approach while the First Officer set up the FMS. Brought in a little tight which was fine as there were mountains all around.

Shooting down the localizer blind. One thousand feet AGL there was nothing but clouds. Same at 500 feet. Even though I'm a baby, if the runway environment comes into view I can go lower than 350 feet.

Four hundred feet my First Officer said nothing. My right thumb was hovering over the Go Around button. Right after the GPWS said "approaching minimums" my First Officer said, "approach lights in sight". I said "continuing" and turned off the autopilot. I looked up and could make out runway end terminating bars and the first 1000 foot or so of runway lights. In and done.

During the turn the weather got worse. ATIS was reporting 200 foot variable and 1/2 SM.

While holding short (no ILS critical area in Mexico...a little odd) we watched for arriving flights. We could see nothing until they showed to be 100 foot AGL on our TCAS. Flight visibility is different than ground visibility.....but still....it was tight.

The flight back was mostly normal. The STAR for the hub is a descend via meaning there are assign altitude and speed restrictions. My new aircraft is VNAV capable and has auto-throttles. But in order to make the restrictions everything has to be setup properly.

Getting close I asked my First Officer if he was aware of the restrictions. He said he was.

I give new First Officers a lot of slack. The great Captains I flew with did the same for me. Give them slack and let them solve the problem....but retain some rope so you can fix things if needed.

When the next restriction required almost 4000 feet per minute I finally intervened. I guided him through it (we needed full speed brakes for about 15 miles) but we made the restrictions...and he learned something.

For now I will attempt to find something to do. I have extreme doubts.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Heavy Snow

I'm currently enjoying the homeless shelter AKA one of our crew rooms. I am supposed to be flying a bunch of passengers back from Omaha, Nebraska right now.

This is day 4 of a lovely 5 day reserve assignment.

Ironically I had an overnight in the base I previously commuted out of. Today started with a 1:40 PM departure to Omaha. It's also the first real snow of the season.

The aircraft had just come in so the light snow that was falling was just beginning to adhere to the aircraft when boarding started. By the time boarding was complete the ATIS was reporting regular snow, not light snow. We got in line for deicing.

After about 40 minutes everything lined up and deicing started. Then a new ATIS came out....heavy snow. There are no FAA guidlines for holdover times for heavy snow. A holdover time is the time he aircraft should be protected by the anti-icing fluid. Even though an aircraft can LIKELY take off after being sprayed with deicing and anti-icing fluid, there are no guarantees.

Once I saw the heavy snow I called the deicier and told him he should stop and save his fluid. I made a PA to the passengers explaining in plain language the situation. They had been on board for over an hour at this point. The next update from the airport wasn't due for another hour. After discussing the situation with my dispatcher, company operations and my crew it was decided we would deplane the passengers (passenger bill of rights folks you're welcome).

After about 30 minutes the decision was made in operations to cancel the flight. About 20 minutes after that....an ATIS came out....light snow.

The flight could have been reinstated, but it wasn't. Instead I had a 5 hour break until my flight to the overnight. It should still go as the snow is getting lighter. The problem operations wise aircraft and crews are all over the place. My aircraft is supposed to arrive at 6:30 PM. Or departure is 8:05 PM. The problem is the aircraft has been sitting at an outstation delayed for 3 hours. Not sure when that crew will time out.

Winter is definitely here.