Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It's been a while

I haven't been posting as much as I used to. I've been pretty disgruntled with my employer and thus don't like to think about it more than I have to.

This week I bid a trip that transited the east coast for a change. The trip included a JFK turn.

I haven't been to JFK in 4+ years. It's a busy airport with a lot of International carriers. I was pilot monitoring for the leg inbound. It was VFR at the airport, but we were assigned the VOR/GPS 13L approach for traffic flow purposes.

Most know that LGA and JFK airports are very close together. It's impossible to have a straight in approach to runways 13L/R as it would cut right through LGA airspace.

We were vectored over the top of LGA at 13,000 feet. We were  9 miles in trail of an Emirates Airbus A380. ATC vectored us in a descending right spiral. They snuck in an AeroMexico Connect Embraer 190. Fine with us as it gave more space between us and the Airbus A380.

The approach is fairly simple. We were told to maintain 3000 until established and cleared for the approach.

Soon after the clearance we were told to slow to 170.....then 160....finally 150. The AeroMexico Connect plane was not following the speed clearance it was given so it backed things up. Beautiful clear day.

There are "lead in" lights installed for pilots to see the turning path to the runway in low visibility. Still it was a severe clear day.

After passing ASALT we descended to 1500 which is required per the procedure. I could see the E190 ahead and lower. Passing the Canarsie (CRI) VOR we descended to 800 feet. I still saw the E190 ahead and the airport to my right. I mentioned to the Captain that "AeroMexico seems to have lost the airport." They were very low and had passed the 13L centerline.

Tower came on frequency and told AeroMexico to turn right heading 130 and asked if they saw the airport. They said they did....the turn to final was well below 500 feet. They didn't get wings level until passing the threshold. We were close behind and thought for sure we or they were going around. In reality it should have been them as they appeared to be very unstable.

We were on short final while they were still on the runway. Tower told them to exit the high speed and continue on Bravo. No answer. Tower gave the command two more times before getting an answer. They were clear just in time for us to land safely.

It was a tricky landing as winds were 200@15 which is a pretty decent crosswind for a turning approach.

Even though English is the official language of aviation around the world, it is not the first language for most pilots around the world. This is very apparent at any International airport. I'll be nice and say that ATC is staffed with very patient people. They often have to slowly state request multiple times and hope to get an intelligble answer.

We were 30 minutes early thanks to an overblocked flight. I found some lunch and took my time eating.

The leg back was mine. We were only number 8 for takeoff from 13R. Easy takeoff and departure.

About 40 minutes into the flight the Flight Attendant called and stated an overhead panel fell down on to a row of passengers. Thankfully no one was injured. Lucky for us we were headed to a maintenance base.

I landed 40 minutes early. Gate occupied by what I thought was an aircraft from my company. When I heard them call for push I realized it was indeed an aircraft I had personally flown many times.....but has since been given to another airline to fly. That really burned me inside even though I have no control over it.

The panel was fixed and we had one more leg to the overnight.

Today is 5 legs including a turn to an airport with just a 4800 foot runway....it will be my shortest runway at my airline yet.

Friday, June 26, 2015

I don't like MGM

Finally done with a 4 day trip. I don't like 4 day trips.

This month I'm paired with a super senior Captain. He's number 14 in seniority and is 64 1/2 years old. He's been a Captain for over 25 years.

I've flown with enough 64 year old Captains to know I don't want to be a 64 year old Captain. This is generalizing but most are forgetful, very tired and are just here for the pay check. Customer service is very low on their list.

I slogged through the first two days just fine. Tons of annoying things....to many to list.

Before we left for the overnight I mentioned there was a lot of weather in the area as I was looking at the RADAR. He wasn't concerned.

Descending into the area we were greeted with a wall of lightening out the front window and a sea of red on the RADAR.

He was flying. I switched to approach and overheard the approach controller telling another RJ about the gusting winds and the report of severe and moderate turbulence from an aircraft on final.

There was no way through the wall of red. We got vectored north. The Captain wanted to "give it a shot". I advised I was not comfortable with the weather and wanted to head to our alternate. He gave me a "really?" look and agreed.

The other RJ reported being beat up pretty good and decided to head back to ATL as they were low on fuel.

I checked the weather for our alternate. It was also bad with Thunderstorms. I then scanned the en-route chart for somewhere else we could head to that was in range and had our airline on site. Finally found one. Away we went.

My seat was busy coordinating the diversion with ATC, Dispatch and the station personnel. I worked up the fuel numbers and we had plenty. I advised my Flight Attendant and then made a PA to the passengers.

Landed fine. Once parked the Captain said he was done for the night as he didn't want to deal with the weather. It was only our second leg.

I checked the weather and MGM was clearing out quickly and there was nothing behind it.

The station personnel asked what the plan was. The Captain looked at me and said, "aren't you tired ? Don't you want to go to the hotel?"

I told him I was fine as it was just our second leg and, with the weather clearing out, I'd like to get the passengers home. He gave me another "really?" look.

He made a PA for the passengers to deplane and that we weren't going anywhere. The station personnel weren't happy as they'd had to stay very late giving out hotel vouchers and would have to move the aircraft as we weren't parked on our airlines gate.

I then asked the Captain if he would give it 30 minutes as the weather was indeed moving out (I showed him on my phone) and it would take over an hour to get a hotel anyway. He reluctantly agreed.

Sure enough the weather moved out. We boarded back up and eventually left.

Both our diversion and destination airport Towers had closed. Once we were close to MGM we heard the other RJ flight back. Landed fine. Tired.

We arrived at the hotel and given keys. We went to the rooms only to find they were occupied.  Our rooms had been sold to walk in guest. We all went back down and given new keys. Those rooms were dirty. All of them. We were then offered one dirty room, one smoking room and a suite. I gave the suite to my Flight Attendant. The Captain and I asked for a new hotel. Eventually given rooms next door. I hit the bed hard as it was 1AM. Van time was 6PM.

The next day the new hotel stated the original hotel would not pay for the rooms past noon. I was still tired. I left the original hotel know if they forced us to move we would have to delay or cancel the flight as it would interrupt my required rest. They eventually agreed to let us stay. This should have been the end of it. Later in the day the new hotel stated the old hotel wanted us to WALK over to be picked up for the hotel. There's no sidewalk between the two. I'd have to walk on a busy highway for about 200 yards to get there.

About 30 prior to van time I called back and asked to speak with the manager. I then  stated "this phone call is being recorded. I want to verify where you will be picking up the flight crew you left without hotel rooms last night?" The manager sheepishly stated they would pick us up at the new hotel.

I have never liked the MGM overnight. The best thing about it is the Hyundai plant tour.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Carrot is still dangling

I've been posting much less lately. No real excuse for it.

Every now and then my company updates the seniority list. The union does the same, but more often. Right now my seniority number is 1290. Two years ago that would have easily been a Captain position in base near the middle of the reserve list. Today it's a senior First Officer. Reason? Shrinkage.

Reason being pilots above and below me are leaving. The airline has parked or sent aircraft thus balancing the number of pilots to the number of aircraft. Very frustrating.

In the mean time I'm just doing my job. I did have an interesting and startling event a few weeks ago.

I was the pilot flying and had leveled off at 11,000 feet on the arrival to an airport. Departing aircraft climb to 10,000 feet. The TCAS screen showed traffic all around us which is normal.

A solid blue target appeared and showed to be climbing quickly. Within a few seconds the TCAS system turned the target yellow and announced "Traffic". We both looked out and saw the aircraft, a 737, climbing quickly towards us. We assumed it would stop at 10,000 feet. Moments later the target turned red and the TCAS said, "TRAFFIC, CLIMB, INCREASE VERTICAL SPEED!"

Instinctively I clicked off autopilot, pushed the thrust levers to the firewall and smoothly pitched up. During an avoidance maneuver the VSI arc will indicate the climb amount needed to avoid an impact with a green mark. It indicated over 2200 feet per minute. I pitched up until we were in the green. A few seconds, which seemed much longer, later it announced "clear of conflict." At that point I returned to 11,000 feet while the Captain advised approach we deviated due to a TCAS resolution advisory. They simply said ok and to contact a new frequency.

Our operating book states we MUST follow resolution advisories even if we can maintain eye contact with the offending aircraft. Better safe than sorry.

A few days later the Captain got a phone call asking about the situation, not from ATC, but from our own airline.

Most aircraft are equipped with FOQA computers. Flight Operating Quality Assurance computers monitor the flight and make note of anything out of the norm such as high approach angles, high speeds and odd maneuvers. The airline rep stated there have been a rash of RAs at this airport and they are looking to fix the issue.

I'm giving up predicting when I will be Captain. Instead all efforts are being focused on getting out and to a mainline carrier.

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 regional....as 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.