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.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Better...and worse...but mostly better

I'm settling in quite well to driving to work again. I don't miss commuting at all.

It's nice to not have to stress about what assignment I will get which would directly affect when I would have to leave home to catch a flight. Now I can just drive. No matter what I get....I can drive...just 15 minutes away.

That said my current base is growing. I would have been more senior if I had stayed commuting. This is a temporary pain. By next March I will have 50+ pilots under me. For now...I work Thanksgiving.

The flying has been fine. I've flown to both Canada and Mexico so far. No emergencies or major issues yet. I'm still disgruntled with my company....but there are very few regional pilots that love their company.

I passed my 9th year last month. I got a decent pay raise. I'm currently at $84 an hour. It sounds like a lot....but a good friend at Delta on the 717 gets over $200 an hour as Captain...and his plane holds maybe 20 more seats.  It's still a lot of money.

Next March I hit the big 4-0. Forty years old is a big deal as I have to get an FAA medical exam every six months instead of every year. I can skirt the rule by getting a medical BEFORE my 40th birthday and thus can wait until my 41st for my next one. The rule is roughly any medical AFTER turning age 40. Hey I can save $70.

I'm flying with a lot of new hires. My airline has majorly increased new hire pay.

My first full year as a new hire I made $31,000 all in. Now new hires make $60,000. More than double. Good for them....but man they will never know the struggle.

I will make another "How much does a regional pilot make after xxxx years" at the end of the year. This will be a hybrid year as I began getting Captain pay back in April.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Aim to exceed

I'm currently in the Motor City on my second (and should be final) IOE trip.

The first trip was just under 10 hours. I need at least 15 to finish as I am a transitioning Captain. When I was a new Captain I needed 25 hours.

The first trip was fairly easy. I was thrown to the wolves right away with a 28 knot gusty direct crosswind landing. I am happy to report crosswinds in the 175 are much easier than the CRJ.

I was quite nervous when I went through my initial Captain flight in April. Now it's just natural.

The first IOE Captain said I was doing very well for how little time I had in the plane.

This new IOE Captain said he'd sign me off after just the second flight, but I only had 12 hours total. It's a great feeling to exceed expectations.

I won't say I'm an excellent pilot, I just prepare well and have a well thought out way of flying.

Tomorrow it's one flight to the HUB and then to Baltimore. I plan on taking a series of buses and trains to the National Mall in DC. It's a 20 hour overnight and I don't plan on spending it all at the airport hotel.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Another Type Rating

Back at home. Simulator training complete.

The training wasn't "easy". I didn't feel stressed until the check ride (Maneuvers Validation in AQP world). It was normal, but odd to feel relaxed until that point.

The training was very different than my previous two. The training was NOT set up for new hires. A lot is skipped over and is assumed. My partner struggled the entire time, but also passed.

While in training a pilot I met up with many years ago (thanks to this blog!) was also there. Turns out he is an instructor for the same aircraft, but a different airline. Aviation is a small world. Nice chance meeting. I'm sure we will cross paths again.

For now I have two weeks off! Normally this would be great, but after being on the ground so long, I really want to fly. The timing works out well though as my wife has to travel next week for work. Since we have zero family in town, we both can't travel at the same time so it's nice that I'm off until the 14th and she comes back on the 13th.

In theory this should be my last new aircraft until I get picked up by the majors. Hopefully.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

One week down in the simulator

Starting week two in the simulator for my new aircraft.

Partially because I have 5000 hours airline time and partially because I'm a geek....it's gonna very well.

My sim partner isn't having such a relaxed time.

My new aircraft, ERJ-175, is much more advanced than my last. At the end of the day an airplane is an airplane, but mastering the technology is a whole different story.

In the past I would fly a non-precision approach via the "drive and dive" method. It wasn't very accurate, and required a lot of work.....but well....it's how it was done.

The ERJ-175 has VNAV and can calculate a Flight Path Angle to have a constant rate of descent. Due to a myriad of issues I can only use the VNAV to the Final Approach Fix. From the FAF inbound I have to use FPA. Not terribly complex, but it must be done. I get it. My First Officer does not.

I feel bad for them, but they actually chose this aircraft. They could have gone to a more basic jet, but for whatever reason they chose the 175. The 175 is a lot of aircraft for a new hire being their first jet.

This week I have 3 simulator events then a Manuvers Validation then a Line Operating Experience ride. The MV is the actual "check ride" while the LOE is another phase check.

So far I'm feeling very well. There are some quirks to the 175 I don't like (I have to push down on the tiller to steer and the seat doesn't go back as far as the last jet), but overall it will be better than commuting.

More later.