Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Well that was not fun at all

The Airbus is a fabulous aircraft. I truly enjoy flying it more than any other plane I have flown. True I've only flown 5 different transport category jet aircraft...but the Airbus is my favorite.

For new readers I started with the CRJ-700 as a First Officer then the ERJ-145 as a First Officer, CRJ-700 as a Captain, ERJ-175 as a Captain, MD-80 as a First Officer and now the Airbus 320 series as a First Officer.

The Airbus is automated, quiet and spacious. When things go wrong the ECAM walks you through fixing many things.

On Christmas day I had three flights to complete before heading home.

I started in SFO with a flight to DFW in a 321. This 321 was legacy US Airways and only had about 5000 cycles on it. There was a MEL on the left generator. The generator was having issues and was taken offline. We ran the APU for the entire flight to take the place of the left generator.

We were full plus two jump seaters. One was a Airbus 330 dispatcher and the other was an Airbus pilot from Alaska.

Things were fine until we started our descent to DFW from 33,000 feet. Once the engines idled down things got "exciting". The RIGHT engine had a compressor stall. The ECAM stated the engine failed...but it was still making power. We followed the ECAM checklist. One action was to take the number right generator offline. The left was already offline. We were left with just the APU. If that failed we would be on the RAT.

Once the ECAM actions were done we were on one engine as the right engine was idled per the checklist. I made a radio call I never thought I would make...."Pan, Pan, Pan, Pan American 1198".

I advised ATC that we were on one generator with one engine idled. We were given priority to the airport.

I continued running checklist and preparing the aircraft. The Captain advised the Flight Attendants and Passengers. Everything seemed to be going smoothly.

Once on final the right engine somehow appeared normal. All the errors went away. We decided to land normally.

There were emergency vehicles on each end of the runway. Normal landing. The Captain went to full reverse on both engines. Both reacted normally. Once he came out of reverse....the right engine fully failed. Gone.

No exterior issues were noted. We taxied to the gate with the emergency vehicle escort. The plane was placed out of service.

The Captain and I ate the company sponsored Christmas Dinner then went to an Airbus 319 for the last PNS turn.

Thankfully those flights were normal. I like normal.

For January I bid reserve (versus a line) for the First Time since 2018. There's a strategic reason due to my contract. Basically I will get paid for 85 hours and only "work" 13 days. Of those 13 I only expect to actually work maybe 8. So far I've worked 4. We will see.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Cleared to fly for 9 more months

Back at my regional airline I had training events every year. For most of them it was a "bet you job event".

My regional airline used to be known for having above average pilots. Training wasn't easy...but it weeded out the weaker and average pilots. The check ride event was a single pilot event. The other pilot in the sim could not help, assist, recommend or comment. They could only respond to commands.  Even if they saw you were about to fail....they could do nothing. Not a positive experience, but you were on your game.

My last few years at the regional,  things changed to a crew checking event. They made training just how we fly. It allowed the crew to work together. Much better experience, but it did allow weaker pilots to be helped by stronger pilots.

At my mainline airline they have been using the crew training and checking for a while. It is train to proficiency instead of train to check. As long as you show a positive attitude and improve, the training department can retrain events within reason. They train and check every 9 months. This was no one gets stuck training in December every year.

Since most of my career is the "bet your job" style training, I still study and prep as though my job is on the line.

I started studying 6 months prior to the checking event. My studying involved reading the systems manual cover to cover twice (even though I would only be tested on just a few systems). I read the aircraft operations manual...twice. I reviewed every training scenario multiple times. I read study guides multiple times. I still felt I was behind.

I wasn't.

On my first day here 2 years ago (TWO YEARS MAN! TWO FREAKING YEARS ALREADY!) I was told that I could relax and I don't need to be stressed in the training environment as I wasn't at a regional anymore. They repeated that....several times. I just can't relax. This is my dream career and I came from an environment where one mistake could cause the sim to stop and the pilot to be sent home and given just one more chance to be nearly perfect or be out of a job.

Yesterday I had a 5:30 AM show time. I am glad I live just 4 miles from the training center.

The briefing and sim went very well. I was paired with a "seat filler" which is a person trained on the aircraft but it NOT a current line pilot. This can be a good thing as they do these training events over and over again. I only had one debrief item. We descended into icing conditions and I forgot to turn on the engine anti-ice until we had been in it for over 2 minutes. Not a huge deal, but it was an item.

Cleared to go back on the line for 9 more months.

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.