Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Bus Driver Life

I am truly enjoying the Airbus. This is the first aircraft that I truly enjoy being on the flight deck. The Airbus flight deck is spacious and almost perfectly thought out. I appreciate how quiet it is and the room to stretch and spread out.

My trips have been all over the place. I have enjoyed a double overnight in Portland (I have family near by), 24 hours in St. Lucia (at an all inclusive resort!) and of course many...many...many trips to Bogota, Colombia.

My first recurrent training is coming up next week. I began studying 2 months ago....because that's who I am.

I haven't flown the NEO yet. I was assigned a LAX turn...but it cancelled 2 hours before departure. The NEO has fancy CPDLC (Controller Pilot data Link Communications)boxes and of course new engines. The CPDLC makes flying out of RADAR coverage more pleasant among other things. Right now when traveling over the Atlantic between the Caribeaan and parts of the Eastern US we use High Frequency radios for communication. The HF radios aren't clear and we are talking to radio operators and not controllers. CPDLC is like text messaging between controllers and pilots. I look forward to using it one day.

Beyond that life is great. My 2 year old is still giving me grey hairs. My 9 year old is itching to take another International Business class flight. My wife is finally enjoying the extra income I'm bring home. Long time followers know she supported me for years when I was a regional First Officer making under $40 an hour.

I plan on riding out the Airbus until I can hold the 787 right seat. At least 2 more years. Which is fine with me.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Just a few hours ago

This month has been interesting scheduling wise.

I started the month off with the first vacation without kids...since we had our first kid. We flew my mother in law to watch our kids while my wife and I escaped to Vegas.

In true pilot family style, she flew on a paid ticket on Spirit while I jump seated on my airline. We arrived and left Vegas within 30 minutes of each other.

When I arrived back home I found two cash out vouchers worth $90 that I failed to cash in. Lucky for me I had a 24 hour Vegas overnight two weeks later. It was like I won again.

My line for the month was originally a comfy 78 hours. Then my wife got an unexpected work assignment requiring travel. I had to trade a 26 hour 5 day trip for a 10 hour 2 day trip. I was down to just 63 hours. Not good for the budget.

I put my name in the proverbial hat for extra flying. I'm fairly junior so I don't often get the best assignments.

Saturday my family went to the Alliance Airshow. It was our first time in years. My pilot union sent out an email offering VIP tickets free. I signed up and was able to get enough for my family of 4. We had a fabulous time. While watching the show I was offered a very lucrative 15 hour 2 day trip.

The trip was a deadhead to Miami then deadhead Guyana to overnight then ferry a plane to Tulsa and a quick dead head home. Super easy! But I was enjoying the show so I declined it.

On the way home I was then offered a 1 leg to STL, overnight then 1 leg to MIA and dead head home. I was pretty tired from the air I declined it..

Sunday mid-day I was getting ready to take the family to Six Flags (we live 4 miles from Six Flags Over Texas...we go...a lot) when the phone rang. They offered a deadhead to San Diego, overnight and 1 leg home...worth 10.5 hours. Done.

I'm now up to 73 hours for the month. I think I can pick up at least another overnight this week to be back in the 83 hour range.

It's funny to think this morning I had no plans...then a few hours later I was walking thru the Gas Lamp district of San Diego.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Perks of Living in Base

I have been fortunate enough to live in base for most of my 12 years in this industry. Living in base means more time at home and, most of the time, a higher quality of life.

At my current airline being close allows me to pick up extra flying that commuters can't easily do. When flight crews run late the airline tries to cover that crews later flights with other pilots. They will try to get pilots from home, reassign another crew or at worst delay a flight.

Sometimes they have just 3 to 4 hours notice of a flight crew running late. That might sound like plenty of time....but it's not.

Report time is 1 hour prior. That brings it down from 4 hours to 3 hours to find someone. They have specific procedures in place to fill this type of flight. They normally start calling pilots on the "make up" list in seniority order. Pilots have to add themselves to this list. I list myself on everyday off.

I am still very junior. Over 80% of the pilots in my status are SENIOR to me. I get the crumbs most of the time for my line and makeup flights. Every now and then though....I get the good stuff.

My favorite type of makeup flight is a flight out and deadhead back the same night. I've done a few where they call me at 6PM for a 10PM departure to Vegas. Once I arrive in Vegas I am assigned to dead head right back. I fly there and sleep back....home with donuts for the kids by 6:30 AM.

The flight to Vegas is just over 2 hours. Due to the pilot contract I am paid 10 1/2 hours to fly there and deadhead back. Easy money..

This past weekend I picked up two make up trips worth 21 hours, but I was on the flight deck for just 6 hours.

The first sequence was a deadhead to ATL, fly the same plane to LAX...stay the night...then deadhead home on Sunday worth 10 1/2 hours. Once I arrived in LAX I simply deadheaded right to DFW instead of staying the night. I was still fully paid 10 1/2 hours even though I didn't stay the night.

Sunday afternoon I was offered a 8:44PM departure to Austin then deadhead back the next day...again worth 10 1/2 hours. Austin is only an hour long flight. I was in the Austin hotel by 11 PM.

I debated taking the same aircraft back at 5 AM being home by 6:45 AM.....but I didn't want to be a zombie Instead I took the 6 AM flight and pulled into my garage at 7:35 AM. In 3 days I was paid 21 hours for just 2 legs where I was at the controls...only one of which I decided to fly. Good living.

Beyond that life at my airline is good. My "bet" years ago to start hitting job fairs, volunteering and networking paid off by beating my flow date by a year. That year allowed me to get based at home. If I had lost the bet...or just waited to flow I would be commuting for over a year. That would be less money, less time at home and more money spent (on commuting hotels, crash pads etc).

There are lots of perks to living in base.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Everything finally aligned

Non-rev travel is a fun way to see the world.

When I was pretty new my wife and I took an awesome trip to Tokyo. We enjoyed First Class suites for the 14 hour flight to Tokyo. Those seats together cost more than I made that year as a First Officer flying a CRJ. Because I worked for a wholly owned subsidiary it was less than $200 each.

Since then we have traveled on hundreds of flights Domestically with each other and our children. My nine year old has been on over 350 flights including 5 flights "across the pond".

Of those 350 odd flights less than 15 have been in a premium cabin. A few of those were mileage award seats and a handful were non-rev. The reason being my airline requires non-rev passengers to be at least six years old to sit in a premium cabin.

My oldest is a very experienced traveller. She knows how to clear security, find the gate and, most importantly, find the nearest emergency exit.

She's been asking forever to travel in International Business Class.

We finished a huge (17 people total) extended family vacation last Saturday.  Monday we headed to London. We had just a backpack and a very small (fits under the seat) carry on. That's it.

To increase the odds of sitting next to each other we first flew DFW-PHX then PHX-LHR. He had seats next to each other on the 777-200. She was beyond excited.

After 9 hours we walked off the plane just before 10 AM Tuesday morning. We took a few hours nap in a hotel then went to explore the city on a very sunny day.

Wednesday was rainy so we made the best of it.

Thursday morning we headed back to LHR and got lucky again with Business Class Seats next to each other on a 777-300 to DFW.

Ten hours later we were home. Being frequent travelers we are both Global Entry. The new biometric Global Entry scanners are amazing. They just took our photos and knew who we were. From plane to curb was under 8 minutes...with most of it being walking.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Oh The Places I Will Fly

Ever since I started flying, it has been mostly domestic...and easy. There were a few cities in Colorado and Mexico that had terrain, but none were really difficult.

With my new status as an "international" Airbus pilot at my current airline, I am trained to fly into very difficult airports with high terrain, multiple escape procedures and very special qualifications. Pilots in the "domestic" status only fly to the contiguous United States, Mexico and Canada. Booooring.

My first trip into a high terrain in an Airbus was into Bogota, Colombia. The airport elevation is over 8000 feet. High altitude means less power made by the engines and thus worse performance. If the terrain around the airport was flat....that would be no big deal. Bogota is surrounded by rising terrain in all directions.

The high terrain and altitude make for spectacular thunderstorms...even late at night.

I'm from Texas. I'm used to thunderstorms, but generally when the sun goes down and heating is lost...the storms die down. Around Bogota that is not the case. Gigantic storms are very common this time of year. The model of Airbus 319 my airline flies into Bogota is very new (most are under 4 years old) with multi-scan RADAR. The multi-scan gives a fantastic view of the weather compared to conventional single scan and tilt. 

The Bogota airport has multiple RNAV arrival routes that keep aircraft safely away from terrain. When there's weather over the arrival then it's all up to the pilot to navigate safely. For whatever reason controllers outside the United States don't intervene as much for weather. They assume the pilot knows best. Take that how you will.

Of the 4 times I've been to Bogota, only one has been smooth and deviation free. The other three have involved navigating storms and terrain. The airport has always been clear but the arrival and departure routes were not. I am very comfortable with Bogota now.

Until this week the rest of my "international" status included flights to the Caribbean, Bermuda and Mexico. Beautiful but nothing exciting. I wanted something different.

I volunteered to be trained to fly into Toncontín International of the most challenging commercial airports in the world.

The airport is in the middle of city 0f Tegucigalpa. The city is surrounded by close in terrain. Prevailing winds require landing with a tailwind or making a very tight turn to avoid terrain. The runway is 6000 feet long.

In order to get qualified I had to ride in the jump seat on a flight in and out of the airport while a check airman sat in my seat. I get paid the same as if I was flying...easy money. I would love to have taken a video, but it's not allowed. There are plenty on youtube. Many are "exciting". There's been more than one accident recreation by the National Geographic channel.

The day before the trip I read all my airline and aircraft documentation on the airport. There is a lot.

My airport restricts only Captains for arrivals into the airport due to the tight left turn required. Not much of the airport can be seen by First Officers in the right seat. Captains have fly in twice with a Check Airman. First Officers can only takeoff.

On the flight down the three of us spent over 2 hours briefing the approach, landing and contingencies. My airline made its' own RNAV visual approach to runway 2. Normally aircraft make a localizer approach to runway 20, then circle to land runway 2.  This is what the 757 used to do at my airline. Due to terrain descending away from the aircraft while turning final it made for an optical illusion that the aircraft was high...causing very unstable approaches. The RNAV visual approach built into the FMS fixes this.

The Airbus can be coupled to the autopilot and fly the descending final approach until very short final. This helps avoid the tendency to raise the nose...especially when the GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System) is screaming "sink rate, sink rate" and "whoop, whoop pull up" as it thinks we are going to hit the ground.

All the reading and discussion still didn't prepare me for what I saw. It was intense.

We were assigned the localizer 20 circle to land runway 2 as expected and briefed. The Captain flew the approach to a fix just north east of the airport then turned right to go downwind for the runway 2 approach. The Check Airman quickly reloaded the FMS for the RNAV visual to runway 2. Everything was great until turning base when winds and possibly a FMS issue caused the plane to be far inside of the desired turning radius.

Flying 180 MPH the Check Airman told the Captain to turn right and fly to be outside the home improvement center (a local Home Depot if you will that was part of the briefing and very easy to spot). I had a great view of the runway but more impressively the close and rapidly rising terrain.

The Captain flew right then banked hard left while descending to line up with the runway. Landing on runway 2 only allows for 5100 feet of pavement due to a displaced threshold.

My airline has a policy that if the main gear isn't on the ground by the first 90 degree taxiway...a go around must be commenced.

This was the second trip to the airport for the Captain. Even with the issue of being close in and needing to turn out he made an awesome landing.

Here's a shot of the Airbus at the gate. You can see the runway in the background. Not too long ago local automobile traffic was allowed to cross the runway when not in use. After a horrible accident...the road was closed.

There's been several accidents and incidents here including an Airbus going off the end of runway 2 and down into the city.

Fairly quick turn and we were headed for Miami. Only 40 passengers so takeoff performance wasn't a factor. It's common to need extra flaps and full takeoff power to be able to take a full load of people, cargo and fuel. The Check Airman stated Dallas bound flights often have to stop for fuel as they can't carry enough with the cargo and passenger load to safely takeoff.

The departure was uneventful.

Nice overnight and the next day was just the Captain and I flying from Miami to San Pedro Sula then to Dallas.

I took the first leg. I've never been to San Pedro Sula but wanted something new. We were delayed 2 1/2 hours due to maintenance...which was annoying as the flight didn't get delayed until AFTER we arrived to the gate even though the plane had been on the gate for three hours.

Normal flight over Cuba then down to Honduras. This airport has rising terrain but only on 3 sides. I flew the RNAV visual to runway 4. I left the autopilot on for most of the approach and enjoyed the view. The approach goes right over a mountain ridge and kept the aircraft 1000 feet above it while descending. Easy landing.

Quick turn and we were Dallas bound. Long flight and home late.

Being signed off for Tegucigalpa means I will likely fly there often. I plan on bidding so I will get paid extra for flying there. It's complicated...but it should work out. At worst I will get a line with just Tegucigalpa flights...which won't be horrible as they are just 2 day trips or turns.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

My schedule is just a proposal

I am 3 for 3 having my schedule majorly disrupted.

Last week I was supposed to fly to Bogota from Miami. After arriving and being delayed scheduling wanted me to fly to Manaus, Brazil instead getting in 3 hours 3:30 AM central. I was supposed to arrive in Bogota at 12:20 AM central. I had to do a self assessment and call in fatigued. From my years of experience I predicted being fatigued a few hours into the Brazil flight. It wasn't safe for me to accept the flight.

Then earlier this week I picked up a Nashville overnight on overtime. It paid 10 1/2 hours for a simple 1-1 flight with just 2 hours and change flight time. Delayed for weather. By the time the plane came in I was reassigned without my knowledge (I left my phone at home). Ended up going home as they put a new crew on Nashville. The union is working with the company to get me paid since I wasn't aware of the reassignment and followed all the rules in the contract.

Last night I picked up a Las Vegas turn. It was a dead head there and fly back arriving at midnight. Due to a lack of pilots they were paying 150% to do that flight. I would be paid 7 hours or just over $ fly as a passenger and then one leg back. Easy right?

On the way back from Vegas the flight deck printer began printing a message I didn't request. It stated the Captain and I were to fly to Austin upon arrival in DFW. I wasn't expecting this. Austin is a short hour flight. I had a bunch of coffee on the way to Vegas to make sure I'd be fully alert for the flight to DFW. I decided I would do a self assessment on arrival in DFW.

Once on the ground I felt okay to continue as did the Captain. The passengers had been waiting for 3 hours and we were their last hope. I don't let outside influences affect my decision making concerning if I will complete a flight or not. That's an easy way to make a mistake. Last night I felt okay before knowing that we were their last hope.

Quick flight down. I rotated the nose into the air at 1:17 AM and smoothly touched the runway at 1:50 AM. If it weren't for Southwest and United ahead of us I would have landed at 1:40 AM.

Scheduling gave me 11 hours of rest in Austin before deadheading back that afternoon. I decided I didn't want to rest in Austin as I was still hopped up on coffee.

I arranged with scheduling to take the first flight out at 5 AM....which was the same aircraft I flew in.

I checked into the hotel at 2:40 AM. I cleaned up and rested in the bed until 3:40 AM. I then took the 4 AM shuttle back to the airport.

Since I live close to DFW I was at my kitchen table with donuts for the kids at 6:35 AM.

Due to extra Austin turn my pay jumped to Just over $2170...for one night of work. That used to take me almost a month to earn back when I first started at American Eagle back in 2007.

Off for a while now. I've flown A LOT recently.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Every year the flights get longer

First...I really enjoy my career.

I've been flying commercially for 12 years. Every year it seems my flights get longer and longer. Last night I flew the longest flight of my career....2228 Nautical Miles. I flew DFW to Bogota, Columbia.

This flight is on day 2 of a 3ish day trip. The first day was an afternoon start. I had been in Sacramento, California visiting family. I took at 7 AM flight to DFW...on the jump seat.

Landed in DFW just before 1 PM. I had a 1:47 PM report time. My inbound aircraft was running late so my first flight was already delayed.

Day one was DFW-DEN-DFW-MCO. I was scheduled to arrive at MCO at 12:28 AM. Due to weather and delays we didn't arrive until 1:18 AM. Walked into the hotel at 2:10 AM.

I met the Captain in the lobby for a 12:30 PM van. Day 2 was MCO-DFW-BOG. Weather in MCO caused a delay. Weather in DFW caused another delay leaving to BOG. It all began to pile on.

Bogota is a special qualification airport. The airport sits at 8360 feet MSL. The airport is surrounded by very high terrain. This time of year the area is known for tremendous thunderstorms. I decided to take the leg down.

I spent a good amount of time last week reviewing the charts and documentation for arriving and departing BOG. Scheduled block time was 5 1/2 hours. Plenty of time to review the charts further.

Sure enough there were gigantic storms all around the area. Unlike the United States, the controllers down south make no mention of the storms. It was up to us.

It took a lot of coordination and situational awareness to navigate the storms while descending into high terrain. We were off the RNAV arrival for large portions of the final segment.

On an extended base we were finally in the clear. I haven't flown the 319 since early May. It's much shorter than the 321...handles a little differently. Slight crosswind landing. Average landing. Due to higher altitude our true airspeed was much higher than indicated. Even with my normal braking and thrust reverse the rollout was longer and the brakes got much warmer than normal. I turned the brake fans on the taxi in.

Exhausted. I mostly remember the walk thru the airport and into the van for the hotel.

Twenty -two hour overnight. I head back to DFW tonight arriving tomorrow morning at 5:20 AM.