Thursday, December 31, 2009

Unexpected airport appreciation

I should be preparing for push back but instead I am sitting in the terminal...why? Delayed.

I'm feeling huge today. I brought my HP Mini 5101 Netbook and Microsoft 8GB Zune instead of my 15 inch Macbook pro and Zune HD.

For reasons I can't figure out, the inbound plane is running an hour late. I am supposed to leave at 1PM . The inbound won't be here until 1:55PM. Right now my flight is scheduled for 2PM. I'm a betting man and I am going to bet against leaving before 2:35PM.

Today is my day off. I picked up this 3 hours 40 minute turn on overtime. It was supposed to leave at 1PM and get back to the gate at 5:10PM. I could have been home by 5:45PM. Now I will be lucky to be home before 6:45PM.....thinking more like 7PM.

Today is the last day of the year. It's been good overall. I've once again cheated commuting by holding my base even though I am THE bottom guy. Next year....tomorrow...should be good. My seniority will rise given new guys coming in below me.  Starting tomorrow I have plain old reserve thanks to someone forgetting to bid.

I'm glad I was smart enough to bring my netbook along with me. I was thinking about leaving everything behind since this was *only* a turn.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Bose QC15 + UFlyMike headset....needs a little adjustment

Had a nice two day trip. Aside from missing a meeting with my wife, it all went well. The Captain was very shall I say.....quirky.

Over the last two years I have flown with almost every Captain at my base. I have a mental Rolodex on how each one operates. Captain Richmond likes to single engine taxi and use the highest flex thrust temp possible. Captain Holcomb however wants the APU running until the second engine is started, he could care less about saving the company money. Captain Wallwin is just here for the paycheck....he could care less about anything other than getting his paycheck. I could go on...but the point is I know how they operate and to fit into their world.

The Captain for my overnight was all over the place. Could never get a "fix" on how he operates. He isn't based at my base, he commuted in for an overtime trip.

The front flight attendant was very interesting. She started at my airline when I was still in junior high (I'm not incredibly old or young....32 years old). Before she came here she was at Eastern Airlines. We talked about Eastern Airlines, Frank Lorenzo and such. She told me before Eastern airlines went under she was making $37 an hour and an easy $50K a year due to work rules and such. Mind you Eastern Airlines went under in 1991. She said she just now got up to $33 an hour at my airline. I was shocked. I thought for sure Flight Attendants earned more than that. They deserve more as their job is often much harder than mine. She is happy though. She is perfect for the job. Quick witted, humorous, always thinking one step ahead and truly cares about the passengers safety and comfort. This was my first time flying with her and I look forward to flying with her again. Knowing I have a great flight attendant back there helps make the flight more enjoyable for me and the passengers.

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The overnight was short. On the way to the airport I saw our plane sitting in a hangar. This outstation has contract maintenance that does a lot of tire changes, oil changes and small work. Since it was likely in the hangar all night, as long as it didn't start snowing, we could get by without deicing.

Because that would have been ideal, it didn't happen. As the mechanics pulled the plane into the gate, it started snowing. The outstation has a really good de-icing system. They line up one truck on each side of the plane and go at it. The trucks are very high tech as the driver controls the steering  as he sits inside of a cab attached to an arm that's up in the air deicing the plane.

Once back in base I had a Captain swap. The next Captain and I were supposed to fly together twice over the last 3 days. The first time was Christmas Eve when the flight cancelled. The second time was the previous night when I was assigned a different trip at the last minute. When he came up I said, "Well Dave, I guess I can't avoid flying with you anymore." He laughed. I have flown with him only twice before. He is an incredibly intelligent guy. He graduated at the top of his class in Aeronautical Engineering. First time I flew with him he was incredibly quiet. Since then we have the normal chit chat.

The turn was just an hour out and back.

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So with this trip I have used my new Bose Quiet Comfort 15 headphones an UFlyMike setup quite a bit. The verdict? Pretty good. The QC15 + UFlyMike setup is quieter than my previous Telex 500 ANR headset. My biggest annoyance is the microphone. It isn't very clear. I know it's a tuning issue on my part. It sounds quiet muffled and tinny. Eventually I will get around to adjusting the bias on it. Is it worth the money? Well the QC15's are $299 and the UFlyMike with the TSO required ear phones are over $300. That's a good $600....ouch. Of course as a lowly regional First Officer I can't afford that. My wife who has a Master's in Forensics (she's a DNA Analyst) bought it for me.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Last minute change

I was sitting airport reserve. I was the ONLY First Officer available. Around 4PM I was assigned a 6:45PM overnight. This was a 9 hour overnight which was good as I would get back in time to meet up with my wife as she had a meeting at 9:40AM she wanted me to attend with her. Then at 5:45PM I was called for a 5:20PM departure. I had literally just finished dinner. I walked onto the plane at 5:58PM. The passengers began applauding (they knew I was a subsitute pilot). By 6:03PM I was in the cockpit pushing back.

My hat is at home. This outstation is COLD. Snow cold. I hate snow. Eh. Short overnight. When I get back I was assigned another turn. Won't get done till 12:45PM. Going to miss the meeting with my wife AND lunch with some family that flew into town. Not happy, but it's part of my lifestyle.

Below is a photo I snapped with my phone as the hotel van sloshed it's way from the airport.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

See you next year jacka*s

The Holiday season brings out the worst in people. This can be seen at any airport around Christmas. On Christmas day it can be down right ugly.

Last night I was assigned a simple turn. The flight (let's call it flight 5001) out left 5 minutes early. Nice ride. We arrived 5 minutes early and figured we would leave on time or early. It wasn't too be.

The outstation understaffed for the Holiday. After they parked us, they all left to handle an outbound flight thus no bags were being pulled off. The flight prior to ours (lets call if flight 5000) back to the hub was more than two hours late and would actually be leaving an hour after we left. This meant upset passengers who might miss their connections.

After my post flight I headed up to the terminal. At the gate desk was a gate agent being lectured by a male passenger. The gate agent was all of 26 years old, 5'5 and full of cheer. Nice lady. The male passenger was upset because he was going to miss his connection as he was booked on flight 5000. His connecting flight was to leave at 8:30PM but was currently showing a 20 minute delay. My flight back to base, call it flight 5002, was scheduled to arrive at 8:50PM...the same time as the his connecting flight. Got it so far?

Well the passenger wanted his checked bag checked THRU to his final destination (hoping it would arrive the next morning). This isn't allowed as passengers must PLAN to fly with their bags. Airline's aren't allowed to intentionally fly bags without the passenger aboard. It's an old...but required...rule. He complained that bags fly all the time without passengers due to fault of the airline screwing up. True, but again airlines can't intentionally separate a passenger and their bag.

The passenger then said why can't the airline just rush the bag over to the connecting flight that night. Well since there was ZERO minutes between our scheduled arrival and the delayed departure....not possible. He went back and forth with the agent while I quietly stood next to her checking my schedule and other bits. I looked up and saw a growing line of passengers who also needed help. I looked at the passenger and stated, "Sir she has explained the rules to you at least twice. She has given you the choice of getting on my plane and you will have to collect your bag and attempt to make the connection OR you can stay here and get a flight out in the morning. The ball is in your court." He then attempted to play the game with me about his bag and such. I cut him off quickly. "Sir the agent has clearly stated the rules. If you have a problem with the rules feel free to contact the FAA." Under his breath he said the infamous, "We will never be flying this airline again." In my head I replied, "See you next year jackass." With that I asked passengers behind them if they had an easy question not dealing with seating or tickets I could help them. While the agent helped the male passenger I worked the line. Everyone behind him had been patiently waiting and all had simple questions.

The male passenger decided to ride on my flight. The agent stated twice that he would have to collect his bag in baggage claim and either carry it on to his destination or get a hotel and catch a flight in the morning. The airline would not give him a hotel and would not deliver his bag to him if he failed to collect it. This was all noted in his file.

Once I was on board I warned the flight attendants about him.

Boarding started and the second passenger on was one I had helped at the gate. They had a service dog and wanted to pre-board. No problem. They were sitting in row 12. Problem. They have to sit in a bulkhead row with a service animal. The flight attendant advised them of this and offered them 1A and 1B. I then offered to take their boarding passes and go up to the gate to get them rebooked. It's not in my job description, but I have not and will do my best to never forget that the passenger pays my paycheck.

On my way up was a family of four I had helped and told their bags would NOT fit on board. The wife said "my bag always fits" earlier and she walked right by me again. By the time I got back to the plane she was walking back off the plane. Her bag didn't fit. Cause of all of this she cost us a good 5 minutes as boarding STOPPED while she walked from the back of the plane to the front to drop off her bag. It takes a while on a single isle plane.

We left 15 minutes late in the end. My leg. I decided to make up as much time as possible. I climbed at 305 knots and cruised at Mach .81. Approach helped out a bit by giving us the runway closest to our gate. There was a catch though.

The arrival brings us in at 12,000 feet. Field elevation is 700 feet. Altitude at the FAF is 3200 feet for a 5 mile final. We were given a descent to 11,000 feet. The told to expedite descent to 4000. With 4000 set in the altitude preselect I used the VS wheel to spin it down to an initial 1800 feet per minute. Once descending I deployed the flight spoilers fully....then called for flaps 1....then flaps 8....slowing to 200 knots I called for flaps 20. I then spun the wheel over to 3300 feet per minute. Yeee haw!

While descending approach turned us on a base and called out "traffic, 12 o'clock, 757 at 3000". I saw him. Wanting to avoid a TCAS advisory I reduced the descent rate to 1200 feet per minute.

Once clear we turned final. The ILS was turned and the PAPI was in sight. We were still very high. "Gear down, Flaps 30" I called as I turned the autopilot off and nosed the plane over.

Passing thru 2000 feet I called flaps 45. I was on glide slope as I reached 1100 feet. What a ride. For the first time since 12,000 feet I added power.

Calm winds. Landing weight of 63,000 pounds. I adjusted the trim to 7.5...just below the 7.7 I used for takeoff. I had it trimmed so  I had to apply very slight pressure forward to go down. The touchdown was perfect. We cleared the runway with 2 minutes until our scheduled arrival. Not too shabby.

The male passenger made the connection. It ended up leaving at 9:30PM. No idea if he picked up his own bag.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tis the season

Fifteen feet above me is a terminal full of passengers yelling at gate agents (who all smile and politely restate what the policy is). Then there are passengers swearing they will never fly my airline again (I'm sure I will see them in the Spring....and Summer..and next Winter). I feel bad for the passengers as many will be sleeping in the airport or paying crazy amounts for a hotel room.

Bad weather days cost the airlines millions. The flying public thinks airlines love to just cancel flights. Nothing can be further from the truth. When weather goes bad airlines have to figure out how to get the right crews with the right airplanes in the right city all while respecting crews duty and rest requirements. True nightmare, especially if an airline has more than one fleet type.

Right now I am supposed to be at FL310. Instead I am in the crew room. The weather today has caused the airline to literally run out of flight attendants. There are no reserves left. My plane requires two. Right now they are trying to source one who is on the ground 200 miles away waiting to fly into base. That flight diverted after my base shutdown due to weather.

As I typed this my flight cancelled. Nice. Now to drive home in this crap.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Airlines Hiring in 2010?

For almost any business requiring a skilled worker there is a time period between when a new hire employee isn't useful. Each year, just prior to Lent, managers at Long John Silvers look at staffing and consider hiring. The Friday's during Lent are the busiest times for Long John Silvers. Years ago I used to work for NCR fixing computers in retail and fast food. Long John Silvers was crazy around that time.

Training a fast food employee takes just a few hours or days depending on the job. Back when I was at NCR I was sent to Dayton, Ohio for a week of training (8AM-5PM of mind numbing training). After that it was on the job training.

Airlines are similar, but unlike many professions they must attempt to use a crystal ball when it comes to hiring. If an airline bets correctly, they are properly staffed and flights go out on time. If they bet wrong, they are understaffed with tired, cranky pilots and flights will never leave the gate.

Training for my airline started later October 2007 and didn't officially finish until mid January 2008. Of course back then there were training classes of 10+ people coming in every two weeks. In addition my airline was training new Captains, training new First Officers in new planes and providing recurrent training to all pilots. In my aircraft training class were a mix of new Captains, new to the airline First Officers and new to the plane First Officers. I would never want to work in an airline training department. Never.

Airlines have to look at future bookings and the state of the economy to gauge staffing. They also look at historical data as pilots retire, quit, go on leave monthly. It's an art as much as a science in getting just the right staffing number.

I said all that to say this. A few airlines will be hiring in 2010. Skywest is hiring right now......for a whole 16 positions. Don't hold your breath though as the slots first go to United Airlines furloughs, ASA furloughs then everyone else. Sixteen whole positions.

GoJet airlines is hiring. I'm going to bite my tongue on my personal opinion of why this airline is in existence. Do your homework before heading over there.

American Eagle recently recalled all furloughs. Strong word on the street is even with all the furloughs coming back, they will still be short 60+ pilots. Hiring could start in spring.

Compass is interviewing for limited spots. One odd thing about have to pay for your own housing during training. Most airlines pay for housing during training. I think Trans-States is another airline that makes you pay for your own housing.

When hiring starts it's anyone's guess what the hiring minimums will be. With all the recent furloughs there are a lot of pilots on the street with 1000+ hours looking for work. One thing with flying is for many....its in your blood. It's a sickness of which only a few care to be cured from. Right after I was hired, a former 757 Captain who was furloughed from another airline came to my airline as a First Officer. I'm sure part of it was a paycheck/health insurance. I can only imagine this love affair was another part of it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Another year almost done

I thought I would fly a lot in December seeing as senior pilots take vacation and/or time out (flying 1000 hours thus far). Nope. I think I have flown 12 hours this month.

Bidding recently closed for next month. Some poor senior First Officer either failed to bid, or bid the normal airport reserve line I normally get. Either way I have a regular reserve line. I am 100% positive I will still end up doing a few days of airport reserve...but at least it won't be everyday.

My wife bought me the UFlyMike setup for Christmas. Right before we went to Japan she bought me a new set of Bose QC15's.  I tried the setup a few days ago during a turn. It was okay. I'm going to have to adjust the microphone bias a bit. They are for surely quieter than my Telex 500 ANR's. Almost as comfortable. Time will tell.

My time as the bottom guy will soon me over. Next year 10 First Officers will be below me. This isn't due to hiring, just movement of pilots. It will be nice to be able to bid and it mean something.

If anyone has any questions feel free to fire them my way at .

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Off all things ironic....I left people behind

Almost by design my last flight was weight restricted.

Weather at the outstation was horrible...the approach was 60 knot quartering headwinds from 2000 AGL till 300 AGL. Visibility was 3/4 mile in rain. Ceiling 300 broken. Winds were just 13 knots on the ground. Huge difference. Windshear in effect.

The whole approach had our airspeed varying by 10-15knots plus and minus. Captain kept extra speed to compensate. A very demanding approach.

The flight to the outstation was just 2 1/2 hours block. The flight back was estimated at 3 1/2 hours block. Normal fuel load for the flight for VFR conditions at base is about 14,000 pounds. Due to weather in base we needed an alternate. Closest suitable alternate also had a little weather...thus a second alternate. Total fuel load required....18,000 pounds.

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Here are a few limitations of my plane:

Maximum Takeoff Weight: 75000

Max Ramp Weight: 75250

Max Landing Weight: 67000

Max Zero Fuel Weight: 62300

The empty weight of the plane I was in including the crew and our bags is 44,631 lbs. With the planned fuel load of 18,000 pounds brought the plane to 62,631lbs. That leaves 12,369 pounds to work with. There were 62 passengers waiting for the flight. Those 62 passengers are assumed to weight 189 pounds in winter. Total weight of the passengers is 11,718lbs. All the bags and cargo that would be loaded in the cargo compartment was 2332lbs. Total weight 76,681 lbs. Way too much.

The gate agents and ramp crew took much longer than expected to get us out. We blocked in on time. We didn't taxi out until 25 minutes past departure time. Only 53 people could be accommodated. Prior to taxiing out I saw we had a problem. The total estimated weight of the plane was 75,189 pounds. The distance to the runway was fairly short. We had to burn 189 pounds of fuel before we could take off.

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In order to burn that much fuel in a reasonable amount of time we taxied with both engines and the APU running. Additionally the Captain used slightly more thrust while holding the brakes during the taxi. It took about 6 minutes, but we reached the end of the runway weighing 74970 pounds. My leg.

The rain was still pouring. The wind still gusting as I advanced the thrust levers to takeoff. At VR I could "feel" the extra weight of the plane. It lifted off the ground much more slugglishly than I am used too. Away we went.

Because we left so late it was doubtful we would arrive anywhere close to ontime. The headwinds were around 130 knots on the nose. On the ground, as I put in the flight plan, I initially made a slight error when I input performance data.

The FMS wants to know the winds at the top of climb, cruise and top of descent. With this data it can estimate the arrival time and fuel burn. On a long flight the winds can vary widely. I normally pick a cruise number in the middle of the flight. The number I picked when I first put in the data was 60 knots. The FMS assumed 60 knots during the entire flight. Once I saw how much extra fuel we would have and how early we would be I rechecked the flight release. Once I put in a more accurate 120 knots....the numbers looked more realistic.

Being so heavy we could not fly any higher than FL360. ATC requested that we climb to FL380 for traffic. We rechecked our performance charts. Unable. Down to FL340 we went. About 30 minutes later we climbed back up to FL360.

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Southwest 737 (like they fly something else!) flying 1000 feet overheard

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Once at cruise I began checking the weather in base. It was VFR and expected to stay that way. With that knowledge I decided to fly at Mach .81 instead of .78. This would burn more fuel, but would also cut down on the flight time.

In addition to flying the plane, the Captain and I are in charge of keeping the cabin at a comfortable temperature. On the ERJ the Flight Attendant controls the temp with a dial in the cabin. For some reason Bombardier decided to have the cockpit crew control the cabin.

Most of the time we don't hear a peep from the Flight Attendants if we keep the temperature around 27 degrees. The problem is the system doesn't work well when the plane isn't full. For whatever reason the system overcompensates when there are fewer bodies back there. With less than 30 people I normally set 29 degrees knowing that it is much cooler than that back there.

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Nearing base the weather was still VFR. Of the 18000 pounds we fueled up with, 7200 pounds was still in the tanks when I began the initial descent from FL360. As I crossed the fence on approach the fuel was down to 6200 pounds and the plane weighed 63,000 pounds.

As I eased the plane down with a 5 knots headwind it all looked good. The mains kissed the runway and I smiled. Then the CRJ decided to screw me as the plane slightly rebounded. The ground and flight spoilers all popped up which forced the plane back to the ground. Damn technology!

Of the 9 people we left behind, 6 were accommodated on another airline while 3 took a later flight.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Old man winter is here

Preparing for work is now more complicated. I feel like the little brother in A Christmas Story. I don't do cold. Not my thing. After I layer up I grab my hat, gloves, and ear clips (collapsible ear muffs). Again I don't do cold.

Along with the cold comes the winter winds. Anyone flying eastbound will likely notice a much faster flight than normal. Those flying westbound will notice the opposite.

Thursday I had a nice airport appreciation stint. My shift was 2PM-10PM. Around 5PM I checked my assignment for Friday. I was assigned morning airport appreciation starting at 6AM. I saw a problem.

If I did my full Thursday 2PM-10PM shift I would have exactly 8 hours before my 6AM Friday shift started. I live close to the airport but even then I would be home at the earliest at 10:30PM. By the time I got to bed it would be 11PM. Fall asleep maybe by 11:30PM. I would then have to wake up at 4:50AM to get ready to leave the house by 5:15AM to sign in by 6AM. Maybe 5ish hours of go and potentially work a 16 hour day?!?!? No bueno.

After a quick call to scheduling they assigned me a 6AM short call time. Meaning at 6AM I had to turn on my cell phone and, if they called me, report to the airport within 2 hours. Whatever.

That all became moot at 5;50PM when I was assigned an overnight. Another FO called in fatigued. I can't blame him.

He had a sign in at 6:45AM Thursday. He then flew a 6 hour turn. Once he got back to base he was assigned a 5 hour sit to fly a flight leaving at 6:45PM to an overnight. The flight would arrive at 8PM. That's a 13 hour + work day. Of course I imagine he had been up since at least 5:30AM.

I was assigned one leg to the overnight then three legs on Friday. The Captain was the same Captain I flew my recent sim session with.

The winds were very high up at altitude last night. Thankfully we were east bound. The 150 MPH tailwind was nice...until it became time to descend.

I had flown this route countless times. The approach center, that controls the outstation, request all inbound planes cross 35 miles out at 10,000 feet. No biggie. With the tailwind though the top of descent point came much earlier than normal. The VNAV computer advised my 3.0 degree descent point was more than 20 miles earlier than normal. Down we went.

The tailwind increased as we descended. From FL310 to 2500 feet I had the thrust levers idled. This saved fuel, but also heated up the cabin as there wasn't much bleed air to cool it down. Ever notice that sometimes the cabin of the aircraft heats up during a long descent? Reason...lack of bleed air.

In addition to idled engines I had to use flight spoilers to keep from exceeding MMO.

The temp at the outstation was -10 Celsius, calm winds, and clear skies.

The ATIS stated they were landing runway 20R and 20L. We requested runway 02R so we could go straight in. We got it.

Flight spoilers out full I could see that at, 250 knots, there was no way I would make 2300 at the FAF (glide slope intercept). I had been in this situation before. It was at this same airport, same situation....and it resulted in a go around as I couldn't slow down enough to get past flaps 20. Back then I was at 1500 feet AGL, doing 190 knots, gear down, flaps 20 and flight spoilers fully extended. Around we went.

This time passing through 8000 feet I reduced the descent rate, slowed down to 220 knots and then began extending flaps. It's slow down OR go down...not both.

With flaps 20, full flight spoilers and idled engines I had the plane descending at 2700 feet per minute.  I could see it making the 2300 at the FAF wasn't going to be an issue.

Lined up for 02R I could see a traffic taking off from 20R. Kinda odd seeing a plane takeoff in your direction. Additionally another RJ was lined up to land on 20R.

I touched down a little long, but nicely. The overnight hotel is my least favorite. The hotel is so large this give us maps to find our room. An easier way would be to design a better hotel.

The morning came quick. Thankfully we had the same plane as last night. Each time I get a new cockpit I go through a disenfecting process by wiping down every switch, knob and button I might press with alcohol swaps (provided by the airline).  The ground crew had (thankfully) de-iced the plane prior to our arrival. There was just enough moisture in the cold air to frost up the plane. Since there was nothing falling we had a very long (over an hour)hold over (how long we have until we have to deice again). We actually kept the same plane for all 3 legs that morning.

Due to the deicing the windshield was full of streaks from de-icing fluid. A quick call to operations fixed the issue with a window wash.

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The winds were still high headed south from base.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why airlines leave passengers behind

“Ladies and Gentlemen due to weight restrictions we are looking for 7 volunteers who have flexible travel plans to volunteer their seats for a later flight.” Words that send shrills down the spines of travelers.

If there are 50 seats on a plane, why can't all 50 be occupied? MLW or Maximum Landing Weight.

To keep it simple I am going to use the following 100% fictitious numbers.
Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW)=62000
Max Ramp weight: 62250
Maximum Landing Weight (MLW)=52000
Basic Operating Weight (BOW)=34000

The fuel burn between Boise and Santa Fe (our destination) will be 9200 pounds. The dispatcher planned on burning 250 pounds on the ground during taxi out of Boise. So add those together and you get 9450. Together with the BOW brings us to 43450 pounds. The weather in Santa Fe is ½ mile and overcast 200. Because of this we need a landing alternate. Due to a large low pressure system in the area the closest airport that qualifies that has staffing from our airline is Tuscon. The fuel burn from Santa Fe to Tuscon is planned at 6600 pounds. The weight...before any passengers and cargo is now 50050 pounds. We still need to be able to fly for an additional 45 minutes. That will take 1600 pounds bringing us to 51650 pounds.

Now this time of year the airline thinking the average adult weighs 190 pounds (in summer every passenger is assumed to weight 5 pounds winter coat...both physical and...well fat). Kids are assumed to weight 95 pounds.

On the flight today are 47 adults, 3 kids and 2 infants (infants weigh nothing). Total weight is estimated at 9215 pounds. The cargo weighs in at 1900 pounds. Total weight sitting on the ramp is 62765 pounds. Take away the 250 pounds of fuel that will burned during the taxi out brings us down to 62515 pounds. Five hundred fifteen pounds too much for takeoff. Before we can even depart the gate, 3 adults will have to be left behind. After removing 3 adults ramp weight is now 61945 pounds. But wait....there's a problem....we can't land!

The enroute burn to Santa Fe of 9200 pounds bring us down to 52745. Seven hundred forty five pounds too much. Thus we need to leave more people our case 3.92 adults..or 4 people.

Taking off 4 adults would reduce the estimated landing weight down to 51985. So our 50 passenger jet can only take along 43 people today.

Aside from leaving seven people behind the airline could leave behind about 1300 pounds of bags. The problem is the airline would have to pay a third party a hefty fee to hand deliver the bags to the customers. The cost has to be weighed (pun intended) too see if it's cheaper to leave behind people or bags. Most of the time people are cheaper.

It's been rumored that some gate agents will count some people as kids...even if they aren' get everyone on board. I can't say I have ever seen it.

When we get our computerized weight and balance it list adults and kids. The flight attendant also brings up a passenger count with adults, kids and infants. Most of the time the numbers are close or spot on.

Weight and balance problems can be very complex. If they are done incorrectly they can be deadly.

In 2004 Air Midwest 5481 crashed shortly after takeoff. The weight and balance planning used FAA approved average weights. After the crash it was realized that the plane was actually 600 pounds over MTOW and the center of gravity was too far after as well.

In my two years I have only been on a handful of flights where we had to leave people behind.

Thankfully my plane is a little overpowered and can take a full load. I have been in a MLW situation due to burning significantly less fuel than planned. The solution to such problems is to get help from ATC to fly at a lower altitude if possible. Throwing out drag early also helps. In one situation I had to fly at 8000 feet for the last 45 miles at flaps 20 with the spoilers partially extended in order to get under MLW. Loud...but it worked.

And I was told there would be no math.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Very interesting video

Taken at an airshow. Not so comfy with the wing scrapes on the runway....I assume they are re-enforced?

Click on the link below for the video (WMV file)

Franklin\'s Flying Circus

Original link

Friday, December 4, 2009

Always have a back up plan

During private pilot training pilots all go through the, "you just lost your engine, where are you going to land?" scenario. I had it done to many times. It's a non-event once you realize you're not going to just fall out of the sky. Of course I always had it done during VMC conditions. Sully had it during VMC conditions. This guy had it happen in real life (single engine plane) during IMC conditions. Not only did he walk away....but the plane wasn't damaged at all.

Cicero man safely lands FedEx plane outside Rome; no injuries

By Debra J. Groom / The Post-Standard

December 03, 2009, 12:09PM

Rome, NY -- A Cicero man is OK aftering ditching his plane in a field north of Rome this morning.

The Cessna plane owned by FedEx and being piloted by Peter May of Brewerton went down north of Rome near the intersection of Elmer Hill and Chmielewski roads. Oneida County sheriff's Sgt. Matthew J. Bauer said May, 46, had to think quick to figure out where to put down his doomed plane.

Oneida County Sheriff's Capt. Richard Antanavige said May was the only person on board and he was not injured. The plane was not damaged.

The Cessna C208B Caravan turbo prop was flying from Syracuse to Plattsburgh with 300 pounds of overnight packages on board. At about 7:45 a.m. at an altitude of about 7,500 feet, the single engine turbo prop lost power, Bauer said.

At the time, the plane was about 15 miles away from the airport at the former Griffiss Air Force Base. May radioed air traffic control with a mayday, Bauer said. While on approach to the Griffiss runway, the plane rapidly lost altitude and air speed.

"These factors made it apparent to the pilot that the aircraft was going to under shoot Griffiss and crash," Bauer said.

Upon dropping out of the clouds at about 1,000 feet, May decided to either crash land in Lake Delta just north of Rome or a less populated area west of the lake. May chose to land in the hayfield of the Von Matt farm.

"He had the good wisdom to drop the flaps,which gave him lift," said Vernon May, commissioner of aviation in Oneida County. "He did everything right."

May has worked for Wiggins Aircraft, of Manchester, N.H., since 1994. Wiggins leases aircraft from FedEx and supplies pilots for routes throughout New England, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. 

Assisting at the scene were Rome Fire Department, Griffiss Crash Crew and AmCare Ambulance. The incident will remain under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration out of Albany.

The aircraft will be partially disassembled and trucked to Griffiss, where the FAA will attempt to determine the cause of the engine failure.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My wife sat airport reserve with me kinda

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I've run out of movies to watch on Netflix while sitting airport reserve. Additionally I've watched all 231 episodes of Diggnation. A few months ago I was reading a book every two weeks. After about 7 books I got tired of reading. Yeah. Pretty boring now a days.

Sat airport reserve last night and tonight. The monotony was broken up for about 30 minutes when my wife passed through.

She is flying out to testify in a court case (she is a DNA Forensic Analyst for a private lab). About once a month she gets the call to fly out. She enjoys this kind of flying as she has a REAL ticket versus or normal standby. She also enjoys being able to wear jeans and a t-shirt instead of the required nicer clothing.

Don't think I'm going anywhere. Only 3 flights left. Everything is running on time. Because my wife is traveling tonight, if I get a flight I have to call the pet sitter to watch her dogs. Going to be interesting when we have a child to watch after as well.

The company my wife works for is holding the annual holiday party December 12th. I was assigned to work airport standby that day.

My request to swap my days around were all denied by crew scheduling. I could either call in sick or play my last card and burn a vacation day from next year. I chose the latter.

After filling out the proper form in the Chief Pilot's office I stopped by and dropped it off. Too my surprise it was approved within an hour. This does mean that next year I only have 13 vacation days. Small price to pay.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's that time of year

It's getting cold. I don't like cold. I was raised in the southern part of the United States and thus in a warm climate. Anything below 60 degrees is cold. Don't judge.

After digging out my long sleeve work shirt, long johns and gloves, I left for work yesterday.

Tuesday was a day off for me. I picked up a 2 1/2 hour turn on overtime. I used to not pick up such small amounts, but I would like  a little gambling money for a cruise my family is taking next month.

The plane had been parked at the gate for an hour or so. It was "cold and dark" when I walked into the cockpit. Thankfully the GPU was plugged in and working as indicated by a green "Avail" light on the overhead panel. After making sure various switches (such as the landing gear handle, flap switch and others) were in the right positions, I turned on the battery master and then checked the electric synopotic page to double check that the external power was indeed connected and was supplying power appropriately. With a push of a button the plane and cockpit came to life.

It was cold Tuesday. Outside temp hovered in the low 40's with light rain. The temp was just inside of a limitation requiring cowl anti-ice to be used.

During the taxi out the Captain turned on the left cowl anti-ice and shutdown the APU. The rain was very light and not sticking to the ground, so we were able to use a single engine. If the rain had been heavier and thus contaminating the runway we would have had to use two engines.

Before long we were rolling down the runway. Captains leg. Passing 136 knots I called for V1. Away we went.

We entered the clouds and the temperature began to drop. As long as we are flying faster than 235 knots we only need cowl anti-ice. Reason being ice doesn't tend to adhere to the wings at speeds faster than 235 knots.

Cowl Anti Ice works by using hot bleed air from the engines back to front of each engine to melt/prevent ice inside the cowls.

When the Cowl Anti Ice is active it reduces the available thrust as there is a higher demand for bleed air. It's very noticeable during a climb, not so during cruise and very noticeable during the descent.

There were reports of rime icing between 16,000 and FL200. We never noticed ice formation. The windshields on my plane are heated (for ice as well we to protect the glass from cracking). In order to check for ice I simply check the the condition of the windshield wipers as they are not heated.

Being overtime for both the Captain and I, we wanted to make as much money as possible. I am paid "block or better" meaning the scheduled flight time or actual, whichever is greater.

On the flight out we had a 65 knot tailwind. Even flying at just Mach .75 we were 10 minutes early. This was due to the tailwind and the leg being over blocked.

During my leg back we left 5 minutes early. I climbed at the planned 290 knots. Leveling off at FL240 (normally FL300 but turbulence was moderate above FL260) I planned to fly at Mach .75 which equated to about 310 knots indicated. The 65 knot tailwind was now a headwind. As soon as we leveled off ATC slowed us down to 250 knots. This was great for us as we hoped to make a few extra bucks by arriving after scheduled arrival time.

On the arrival are various speed and altitude restrictions. I have flown this arrival more so than any other. But it's been a while since I've flown it during the winter.

We were in the clouds from FL210 down to 11,000 feet. With the cold temps and the slow speeds on the arrival, the cowl's were on. I used the flight spoilers a bit (thrust levers were idled) in order to meet two of the restrictions. Normally I am able to simply idle the engines and meet the speed and altitude restrictions.

Descending out of 10,000 feet I can normally dial in 1700 feet per minute down and hold 250 knots. Not so with the cowls on. The STAR required 210 knots. Anything more than 1000 feet per minute was exceeding 210 knots. I needed drag.

Initially I called for flaps 8. I put the plane in descent mode at 210 knots. This was only giving me 1300 feet per minute. Descent mode can be a little wonky. The plane will pitch up and down to meet whatever speed is set. There is a little more to it than that, but that is the basic operation.

I could "see" what the controllers plan was on the TCAS. There was a plane 5 miles ahead at 5000 feet that was just turned for a base turn. I had 4000 feet to knock off and somewhat quickly. Out went the flight spoilers. Not fully...just partially.

Then came a call to reduce speed to 180 knots. It's go down OR slow down. Not both.

I put the plane back vertical descent mode at 500 feet per minute and called for flaps 20. Once slowed to 180 knots I increased the descent rate.

Passing through 6000 feet ATC turned us toward the airport on a base turn.

"Airport in sight, " I advised and the Captain passed it on to the approach controller. "Cleared for the visual,".

The ILS was dialed in. By 1400 feet I was at flaps 45 and slowing to approach speed. Still light rain and near freezing temps.

When it's not cold, 60% N1 will hold approach speed almost regardless of landing weight. With the cowls still on, that was too much power.

Everything worked out to a decent landing. A passengers even stuck his head into the cockpit door during deboarding to thank us for the nice landing.

The planned block time was 2 hours 25 minutes. I flew 2 hours 20 minutes. Eh..I got paid for 5 minutes I didn't really work. Kinda.

As many know I don't get paid my hourly wage during the pre-flight or post flight. The only time I get paid when the cabin door is closed AND the parking brake has been released. In all I was at work for 3 hours and 55 minutes and was paid for 2 hours 25 minutes. Still not bad. More money than I would have if I stayed at home.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

1000 hours later

I thought I was simply doing a short overnight. The plan was to sign in at 6PM and head out the door at 8:30AM when I got back. Why do I make plans?

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The flight last night involved a married Captain and Flight Attendant. I had flown with each before seperately. One joke about being a pilot is "if your FIRST wife isn't a flight attendant you SECOND wife will be,". They both met at the airline and got married not too long ago.

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What happens when the flight plan hasn't been filed or I make an entry mistake requesting it

Push back was set for 6:45PM. At 6:42 PM all but two passengers were on board. We were the last flight to the outstation for the night. The gate agent radioed down to the jet bridge agent that she was going to hold the flight for the two remaining passengers (she must have been in a holiday mood). They made 6:45PM exactly...with McDonalds in hand. This is important as the closest McDonalds was 18 gates away! That'sa good 5-8 minute brisk walk. These people made us late because they wanted McDonalds?!?!?!?

I passed the 1000th our in a jet last night. Knowing this ahead of time I took the leg out.

During the climb out ATC asked us to climb at 320 knots versus the normal 290 knots (after clearing 10,000 feet of course). I complied initially. During the climb I noticed the estimated arrival fuel number dropping.

A "comfortable" arrival fuel number is 3000 pounds. Clearing 16,000 feet it was 3200 pounds. Out of FL210 it dropped to 3090 pounds.

ATC stopped us at FL210 but asked that we keep the speed up. Hmmm.

Our final altitude was FL 370. The early stop was due to a slower 737 ahead at FL230. Adding to the problem was a stream of other aircraft climbing fast behind us. We were given 1000 foot step climbs to FL310. We then hung out for a while as the 737 turned out of the way, but there was traffic from the other direction causing a conflict. Arrival fuel was hovering at 3000 pounds.

Finally 30 minutes after takeoff we were cleared to FL370.

The airport was landing runway 26. We were coming in from the west. The Captain had not yet been to this airport before. He studied the airport diagram and I briefed him on a few odd things about the ramp area.

Clearing 12,000 feet on the descent I briefed a visual approach. The localizer approach was loaded up in the FMS as a backup.

Passing 4000 AFL we called the airport in sight and were cleared for a visual approach. The airport was at my 2 O'clock and about 4  miles.

I clicked off the flight director and straightened up for a proper downwind entry. Passing 210 knots I began calling for flaps.

Turning base at 180 knots and flaps 20 everything was looking good. The VASI wasn't visible, but I was 2000 AFL and about 5 miles out. Looking good.

After I called for flaps 30 I turned final and called for Flaps 45. Almost like I planned it I was right on the VASI.

Winds on the ground were 280/12. At 900 feet there were 320/25.

At 500 feet the Captain called, "on speed, sinking 600", meaning my speed was fine and I was descending the plane at 600 feet per minute.

Just like I have done at least 100 times, at the 50 foot call I began reducing power and correcting for the diminishing crosswind. The mains touched down at the 1500 foot markers. Just an average touchdown. We pulled into the gate at 8:20PM local time. Right on time.

I was the only crew member who had been here before. I told the rest of the crew that the hotel was close, van almost always here on time and that breakfast is awesome....if they have it out in time.

When we walked outside there was no van. I have most of the hotels I stay in stored in my phone. Five minutes later the van arrived.

The rooms are of the better hotels. Full kitchen....not that I have ever used it. I checked my changed. Scheduling added on a turn once I get back in the morning. After sitting around for 90 minutes. So much for plans.

At 5:10AM my peaceful slumber was disturbed. Time to get up.

I headed down at 5:30AM for a 5:45AM van. The air did not hold a scent of warm food as I exited the elevator. Sure enough no food. There was coffee and a few cold items. Coffee, banana and yogurt started my day.

Winter has begun it's trek. It's cold enough to warrant  not only my jacket, but gloves as well. Haven't had too deice yet. Sure it's coming soon.

We loaded up and pushed out 5 minutes early. The winter winds have arrived. The headwind on the nose varied between 70 knots and 110 knots. There was a fairly decent ride up at FL380.

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We pulled into the gate 10 minutes early. Due to being so early I now had almost 2 hours before my next turn. Down to the crew room where I went (where I started this blog).

The Captain of the next flight's name looked familiar. Couldn't place him. The sight of his name didn't make my blood pressure rise, so  I didn't think he was hard to get along with.

About an hour prior to departure the plane had arrived. Off I went. Once on board there was just the a flight attendant. I know I had flown with her before. After a minute I remembered her.

We chit chatted for a bit. She was interested in my vacation to Tokyo. She is half japanese and grew up there. Soon after the Captain arrived...once I saw him I remembered him. Quiet guy...really senior...easy to get along with.

He gave me the leg out. Short flight. About 45 minutes block time. En-route we discussed cars, computers and politics. Thankfully we had similar opinions.

The outstation has a VOR about 5 miles south. In the past I would simply tell the FMS I wanted to cross the VOR (part of our flight plan) at 3000 feet. Always worked. Today it shot back a "Check FLT Plan Alt". Eh...I would wing it.

The descent worked out fine. I truly feel at home in my plane. Clearing 10,000 we were vectored for a right downwind. Once again I clicked off the flight director and did a true visual.

The runway was 16. Winds were 180/15G25. I planned on keeping a 5 extra knots for the gust. The gust didn't come into play until 10 feet...when I had almost no thrust set. A quick thrust addition and forward push on the yoke and it all worked out decently.

I had not been to this outstation in months. Had no idea they were installing a new runway. It had been so long in fact that I forgot the door code for the jet bridge door.

One of the most difficult parts of my job is getting through the door leading to the ramp. Some airports have key locks (I carry the key with me). Many have electronic combination keypads. None have the same code. Many times I get locked out as there is no code to get out on some...but there is to get back in. This morning in fact I got locked out. I had to shine my flash light thru the window to the flight attendant to come open the door for me. It's worse when it's raining/snowing/really cold.

Forty minutes after arriving we were heading back. Go home leg. Captain flew fast.

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We ended up arriving 10 minutes early. Released right away. Off for two days. I picked up 2 hours of overtime on Tuesday.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Working on holidays

So far I have had every Thanksgiving with my wife. Luck really. I've been on reserve Thanksgiving this year and last year. Never was called to fly.

I am on airport reserve on Christmas this year. Eh.

Seems like there will be some movement for me seniority wise soon. There was an announcement of additional flying recently which spurred some upgrades and additional positions.

Right now I am the bottom guy. There will soon be 10 more slots open for my position. I am hopping all those 10 will be junior to me. That combined with Captain positions could me people above me leaving as well. I will find out in a few weeks.

Hoping for the best.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I love what I do

Every now and then I get the question...."is it worth it?" It being giving up my high paying, 8-5 Monday thru Friday job for the exact opposite. Well for the most part for me....yes.

I had a great support system prior to starting down the journey of becoming an airline pilot. I had a stable work history, college degree, money in the bank and a extremely supporting wife. If I were single, just out of high school/college, living on my own....I would likely have a different answer.

I don't think I could have supported myself on what I made the first two years. Heck I know I couldn't have. My quality of life would have been much lower. Now that I am on third year pay I should pull down $35K next year before taxes and per diem. Not a lot of cash really. The Assistant Manager position of the gas station down from my house starts at $34K. All about perspective.

Today is my Monday. I work the next five days. Yep right through Thanksgiving. My wife is very understanding. We are penciling in a trip to Vegas in December to make up for Thanksgiving and Christmas. All about perspective.

My last trip Saturday was really nice. It was on overtime.

The flight left at 5:20PM. For reasons I still don't know my Captain didn't arrive to the plane until 5:10PM. By then I had the plane set up and he literally just had to sit down, sign for the plane, close the door and then collect 3X my pay.

I chose the leg out Mostly because I figured I set up the plane, I wanted to fly it. It has been a while since I flew a fully loaded plane. We took off just a few hundred pounds shy of MTOW. There is definitely a difference felt. The plane had one minor mechanical issue, the slats were only operating at 1/2 speed.

The winter jet stream hasn't arrived yet. At FL 370 we had just 10 knots of wind acting on the plane. Normally its over 80 knots this time of year.

The landing weight was also just shy of max landing weight. My plane seems to be "easier" to land when heavy. Sure enough I rolled it on nicely.

I haven't been to this airport or hotel in months. A lot has changed. The rooms are now all fancy which is nice....except for the thermostat.

When I walked in the room it showed 69 degrees. It felt much warmer. I turned it all the way down to ran for 5 minutes and showing 64 degrees. Liar. I turned the fan mode on. Warm all night.

It was a short overnight. Just 10 hours between arrival and departure. Of those 10 hours, 9 are considered to be rest. Of those 9 hours, 30 minutes were spent in the hotel van. Another 10 were spent talking to and from the room. So really just about 8 hours of rest. Of course I need at least 30 minutes to get 7 1/2 hours. Unfortunately I can't sleep on demand. I really got about 6 hours of sleep.

Due to the light winds the flight computer estimated we would be 45 minutes EARLY. Nice. I get the full scheduled flight pay or greater. Since we would be early I would end up getting paid for 45 minutes of work I didn't do.

The flight was fine. No issues. The previous MEL for the Slats 1/2 speed had been fixed by contract mechanics.

More photos to come. Recently reinstalled Mac OS X and Windows 7 on my Macbook Pro. Still getting all the regular programs back in place.

And yes I do love what I do and wouldn't change a thing.....well okay...more money....and longer overnights.....but that's about it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Yearly Sim Ride

Sim time is expensive. In order to get the most bang for the buck the sessions are often non-stop.

This was my third visit to the simulator. My first was my initial training. About a year ago I had my probation ride. This year I just had flight training.

I arrived at 10:30AM and met the Captain I would be flying with. This Captain is an IOE Captain that I flew with just once when I first started. Nice guy who has a true passion for the job.

The instructor then arrived. He let us know what the ride would entail. We would do the following:

- Low vis rejected takeoff

-Low vis takeoff involving a RNAV departure

- Stalls

- Two engine ILS

- Localizer approach

- GPS approach

- V1 cut

- Wind shear training

- Single engine ILS

- ILS PRM approach

- Anything else he felt like throwing in

The Captain was flying first. It took me a bit to get used to the visuals in the simulator. The simulator is full motion, but even then during turns on the ground people can get queasy. I am not immune.

During the first takeoff, just prior to V1, the speed stagnated....we had encountered wind shear. I called "abort, abort, abort" then pushed the yoke full forward while the Captain applied full reverse, max braking and steered with the tiller. I then notified tower that we were still on the runway. Textbook.

The next takeoff was normal. Standard RNAV. We then were vectored off for air work. The Captain did a departure stall with a 20 degree bank and an arrival stall with flaps 45. This was followed by steep turns. I then took over and did a departure stall with a 20 degree bank, arrival stall with flaps 45 and a clean stall. The trickiest stall was the arrival stall recovery as the plane was totally out of trim when the stick shaker went off. Lots of nose down force needed as the plane was trimmed for flaps 45 and thus nose up. When I added full takeoff/go around power it was quite a work out. This scenario is similar to how Colgan 3401 went down. If the Colgan 3401 crew had added full power....the might still be here.

We then headed to Memphis. Memphis airport is used a lot for training. Captain was flying. After approach advised vectors for ILS to 18L he continued and advised of a 747 nearby. I missed the call direction. Approach kept talking and said "Break Fedex 939 heavy cleared for the ILS 18L approach be advised regional jet 2 miles 12 o'clock." Just as I called back for the traffic the entire plane shook violently. We were in hard IMC. I looked down and saw that we were upside down and The Captain quickly idled the engines and turned the plane back upright. We had hit the wake turbulence from the 747. Wow. We were then given new vectors.

The first approach was an ILS to 18L. At 10 feet tower called the go around. After going missed we were vectored for a GPS approach to runway 9. GPS approaches require a little extra briefing than other approaches due to required RAIM. We went missed again due to a 747 taxiing out on the runway.

We were quickly vectored for a localizer approach to 27 with a circle to land runway 18R. This is a Captain only maneuver. Once he landed we came to a full stop. Time for a V1 cut.

Right at V1 we lost the right engine. Flameout. After I ran all the checklist (I think there were 3 total) the Captain then flew a ILS single engine. Done....for him.

My ride started with a reduced vis takeoff. During climb out...just 300 feet off the ground I hit wind shear bad.

I announced "Escape" and jammed the thrust levers full forward and then place both hands on the yoke. During wind shear the only gauge that gives accurate data is the RADAR altimeter. Airspeed, altimeter and VSI all get data from probes. Those probes are being fed a huge rush of air with changing pressure. The artificial horizon is also useless.

I pulled the nose up. The Captain then began calling out basic calls, "280 feet, sinking." I pulled up more. "280 feet, rising". I held it. "250 feet, sinking." I pulled up more. "320 feet, rising." I held the angle. "500 feet rising.......700 feet climbing.....1000 feet." By then we were out of it. It was a very violent maneuver. Really got my heart racing.

My first approach was a GPS to runway 9. At 20 feet the tower called the miss. The plane briefly touched the ground. I pushed the thrust levers up and announced I was going around. I pitched up and noticed something wasn't right. I forgot to hit the TOGA buttons on the thrust levers. Hitting the TOGA puts the plane in go around mode by raising the command bars, activating the missed approach in the FMS and (if applicable) disconnects the autopilot.

I hit the TOGA buttons. The rest of the missed approach was fine. I was quickly vectored for a localizer approach to runway 27. All approaches had a 15 knot direct crosswind.

The trick to a smooth approach in the CRJ is all about pitch. The weather was right at mins. Once at MDA the Captain called the approach lights. I then waited till VDP and disconnected the autopilot. Before looking outside I smoothly pitched over the nose to 1 degree nose down. I then looked outside. No PAPI/VASI was available. I pulled the nose up a bit much and had to quickly correct it to keep from busting stabilized approach and causing a go around.

The landing was a little long. I firmly put the mains down and stopped the plane.

Next up was a V1 cut.

Back when airline hiring was high I taught the ATP Regional Jet Course. During the course I taught many V1 cuts.

V1 is a speed where the takeoff can no longer be aborted. It's a must go speed. A V1 cut involves losing an engine right at V1.

In my plane the engines are fuselage mounted. The yaw created by losing an engine isn't as severe as wing mounted engines, but it does yaw.

Right a V1 there was a rumble quickly followed by flashing lights. An engine had failed.

I smoothly used right rudder and aileron to correct the yaw and keep the plane on centerline. This entire time the nose is on the ground. Once the plane was stabilized I slowly rotated the nose off the ground and added a little more rudder as the friction from the wheel was gone. Once again I forgot a call out. I was supposed to announce to "set max power". The Captain backed me up and said it. I then climbed up and flew the standard profile.

Once all the checklist were done I was vectored in for a single engine ILS to runway 18L.

Single engine landings are done at flaps 20 instead of 45 (less drag). The auto pilot was on until glide slope intercept.

The pitch angle is much steeper (nose high) with flaps 20. When the runway was called in sight I looked outside and lowered the nose to what flaps 45 looks like. Wrong. Back inside I went and simply followed the glide slope until 100 feet and then looked back outside. Everything was fine till about 80 knots when I got a little crazy with the brakes and veered toward the side of the runway. It wasn't a smooth correction, but it was done.

We then headed to Philedelphia for an ILS PRM approach. An ILS PRM approach requires extra reading and briefing. ILS PRM approaches are required when two runways are closer than 4300 feet and both are used during IMC condition. During the approach I was given a descending breakout manuever. The breakout is called if another aircraft on approach gets too close. There is no profile for the breakout....just gotta fly the plane.

At roughly 2100 feet I head, "flight 393 breakout, descend and maintain 1800 turn left heading 270". I clicked off the autopilot and smoothly descended and turned. I had to ignore the flight director as it was still setup for the ILS. A little confusing. Once established I cleaned the plane up.

The instructor then said we were done.  He said both of us clearly did our preparation work and that most of the time he has to use every second in order to get the requirements done. Not needed with us. No one was coming in next so we were able to use more sim time.

We then got to do the "Miracle on the Hudson." Lined up on the same runway as "Sully" I took off and then flew the same departure. Weather conditions were the same as that day. Right at 3800 feet I lost both engines. Of course we knew this was coming. We then glided...for a long time. Same path as the Airbus. The Airbus has a much better glide performance. We made the same turns. Teterboro was right in front of us. We could have made it no question. Instead we made the same turn and followed the Hudson all the way down to the water. Nearly the same spot again. I'm not second guessing the actions of the crew. In the heat of the moment who knows maybe we would have made the same choice.

Next was a scary eye opener. We headed to Aspen. Aspen is an airport where crews must be specially trained to fly to and from. Even though the CRJ700 is quite powerful, up there it's not.

We lined up for takeoff doing something we would never do...max weight takeoff of 75000 pounds. We did start the APU so we could have max power to the engines. My takeoff. I elected to stand on the brakes and apply max takeoff power. A jack rabbit start. Didn't do much as the air was so thin that when I released the brakes we just started rolling. With 2000 feet left it was clear we wouldn't reach V1. I called the abort and literally stood on the brakes with the Captain. Even with max braking and reverse we went off the end of the runway. Wow.

We then discussed the session. I was dinged for missing two call outs. He did say that I flew the profile fine and took care of the situation, but the call outs were required. Beyond that he said I did very well. Both the instructor and Captain said my V1 cut was one of the best they have seen. Nice.

I am all done with the simulator for another year. Next year will be a real check ride. Going to prep a little more next time. I don't like making mistakes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rumors....take them with a grain of salt

From the day I started at my airline I have been enjoying the craft that is the rumor.

Pilots, for the most part, gossip. Rarely a day goes by that a rumor isn't overheard or told to me. Some start with, "I heard from a gate agent in Newark that we are going to be flying non-stop to New Orleans," or "Did you see that they are painting new lead in lines for XXX aircraft. That means we are getting them."

Airline employees are sometimes the last people in the chain to "know" something. Sometimes I find out new information about my airline from CNN or Reuters.

Lately lots of rumors are going around about the shifting of flying from one base to another or from our airline to another regional carrier. I can't think of any major airline that depends on just one regional carrier.

Delta used to use Comair as their primary regional carrier until Comair went on strike in 2001 costing Delta millions. For 89 days Delta had to scramble to cover flights. Most were cancelled. Including yours truly. Not good. Since then Delta has taken on many regional carriers. They shift flying almost at will.

This morning I had reserve at home....2 hour call out. I was called at 7:40AM for a 9:40AM report for airport reserve. While on the bus I discussed the shifting of flying with a Captain who was called in for the same assignment. He seems to think that the flying won't be shifted. His reasons make sense. Hope it holds true as if the flying is shifted my seniority might not be able to allow me to be based here anymore.

Each time I get frustrated with being so junior I think about all my friends who are commuters. Some by choice some forced by seniority. Either way they commute. So far I have enjoyed 2 years of living in base. The pilot who was one junior to me has been commuting for 11 months. Things could always be worse.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Status Quo

Sitting in the crew room. Seems as though the great news about recalls isn't so great.

The recalls at Trans States was predicated on that airline getting additional flying from United. Yesterday it was announced that Expressjet (who currently flies for Continental) will get the flying. All of the recalls Trans States sent out were all cancelled. I feel bad for those guys. Crazy emotional roller coaster. Hired, Furloughed, Recalled and Re-Furloughed. Ouch.

There is a sign that Delta Airlines is thinking about hiring. Yeah the REAL Delta Airlines.

For a long time they weren't allowing updates via the application site ( Within the last few days they are allowing updates again. The mins are crazy low....even I qualify! Of course mins are just that....mins. Competitive qualifications will be much higher. It's a good sign though.

Bidding is up for next month as well as next year. The results for next months schedule should post on Friday while I am in the simulator. I also bid for next years vacation. All seniority based.

I should be working Thanksgiving. No big deal as it's just the wife and I here anyway.

A pilot friendof mine recently took a cross country that even makes me jealous. He is still working on building time (currently around 215 TT) . He was able to build multi-engine time with the following flight:

Little Rock to OK City, Denver, Fremont, Leadville, Aspen, Telluride, Salt Lake City, Lake Tahoe, Arcata, Oakland, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Phoenix, Sedona, Winslow, Santa Fe, Stephenville , Durant, and then back to Little Rock. He logged 39 hours of multi-engine time including several hours of IMC. He flew real SIDS and STARS. Truly amazing. Getting that kind of exposure prior to hitting an airline is a great asset.

Beyond that everything is status quo. Which in this industry is a great thing.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

After 2 years I still haven't learned to not answer the phone

'Unknown Caller" or "Unknown Name". Most people don't answer such calls. Heck my wife doesn't answer such calls. I do. When I have to.

When Crew Scheduling calls called ID is blocked. Never asked why. Just is.

I was supposed to do a 5 1/2 hour turn Friday. Friday morning at 8:08AM my phone rang. I saw it was 'Unknown Name'.....I thought for a second...then answered it. Then I heard the words, "Is this First Officer...." Crap.

The rules are if I confirm my assignment the night prior, nothing can be changed with the first flight unless they have positive verbal contact with me. No voicemails, emails, carrier pigeons. Positive verbal contact.

The agent was changing everything on me. Instead of a flight at 11:40AM I now had a flight at 3:50PM AND an overnight. I remarked, "I should have not answered the phone," He came back with "We were going to give you an overnight anyway, this way you have more time at home." Hmm yeah more time at home today, but tomorrow I don't finish until 4PM. Waste of a Saturday.

If I had not answered the phone I still could have made the overnight they assigned me. The difference would be the sit time. NOW I had a 2 1/2 hour sit between my turn and overnight. If I kept the previous flight it would have been a 4 hour sit time.

Of the 3 other crew members, I knew 2 of them. The Captain is a nice Norweigian guy while the front flight attendant happens to be my favorite flight it works out I guess.

Turns out 10 minutes prior to sign in they called to tell me the first turn downgraded to a smaller plane and they wouldn't need me until 9PM. The agent said he wanted to catch me before I left for the airport. Hello 10 minutes prior?!? I was walking off the bus at that point.

I stashed my bags and headed home. It was nice spending time with my wife, but I started getting tired. My wife remarked, "Doesn't this sitting around till late at night make you tired." I replied, "Yes, but I have no choice."

My wife dropped me off at 8:15PM. I grabbed my bags and headed to the gate. As I walked down the jetway my favorite flight attendant welcomed me on board. She is fairly senior but always in a good mood. Around my airline senior and good mood rarely go hand in hand.

The Captain wanted the first leg. Fine with me. We blocked out 5 minutes early. This Captain likes to save fuel. We did a single engine taxi with the APU shutdown. During the taxi I completed a cross bleed engine start using bleed air from the left engine. On short flights I have found most of the fuel savings is had not in flight, but on the ground.

We flew by the book. Nearing the airport he stayed high much longer than normal.

Being a clear night we saw the airport 40 miles away. Twenty miles away we were cleared for a visual approach.

Entering left base at 10,000 feet he idled the engines. he then glided in and used the drag from flaps and gear to reduce speed. He never added power until he called for flaps 30. It was a beautiful approach. He then kissed runway and taxi'd it in.

The hotel was nice. Nothing great.

Sixteen hours later I was back in the cockpit. I planned on flying fast. Clearing 17,000 feet though ATC had other intentions as they told us to maintain 250 knots. Eh...they foiled my plan.

Due to an approaching front though we had a 85 knot tailwind thus negating the speed reduction. Even flying slow though I greased it on 23 minutes early.

Seeing as I was off on Sunday, scheduling released me right away.

Sunday and Monday are my days off. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I'm on reserve. Friday I head into the sim.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wall of fog

My overnight went fine. Leaving in the morning (5:45AM departure!) required too much thought.

As we pushed out we got a unrequested print out via ACARS. The print out was weather in base from our dispatcher. Weather was below mins (1/4SM and 001OVC) . The previous forecast on which the flight was planned was a lot. We already had one alternate. But with the new weather, a second might be in order.

Since we had just pushed out and not moved we decided to stay put and work the situation. I pulled the weather in base and a few airports in the area, he looked up the FARs concerning when a 2nd alternate is needed. After a few minutes we had a plan, we needed a second alternate. I typed away on the FMS to send a message to our dispatcher to work up a second alternate. The Captain began taxiing.

We sat at the end of the runway for a few minutes before getting a print out with our new fuel burn info and alternate flight plan. Good to go.

Being a 5:45AM departure it's no surprise we were the first flight out. The departure controller must have still been sleep. The tower handed us off when we reached 4000 feet. I called departure a few times. No response. Back to tower. Told to contact departure again. No response. Back to tower. He cleared us to 15,000. Around 12,000 we were told to switch again and they picked up only to handed off to a center controller right away..

Our ACARS system is very useful. For airports with digital ATIS it can pull and transcribe the ATIS for us. In addition it can keep track of updates. This is useful in situations where the weather in constantly changing.

The flight was planned for 50 minutes. In that time span 6 ATIS updates came out. Weather was going up and down.

As we neared base we monitored to tower frequency for RVR reports.The FAA has a website to view live RVR reports here. The reports were touchdown at greater than 6000, midpoint 800 , rollout 800. Clearly half the airport was covered in fog.

Sure enough there was a low layer of clouds all over the area. Lined up with the runway we could see the approach lights 10 miles away. The control tower was above the clouds. It was a very interesting sight, photo worthy....but we were in sterile cockpit so no photographs allowed.

As we neared the runway we could see a thick wall of fog. After landing we were quickly inside the fog and could see maybe 100 feet in front of us. Just a few taxi lights.

The airport has ground RADAR which is great because the tower couldn't see us. After clearing the runway it took a moment to verify where we were. Taxiway signs were obscured.

Amazingly a few moments later we were in the clear. The fog was thick and patchy.

After parking at the gate I was released for the day. I took the morning to fix that flat tire. One hundred and thirty dollars later it was fixed. It seems the valve that snapped off wasn't just a valve but part of the Tire Pressure Monitoring System for my car. Nice. A whole days pay on one tire.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Too hard for one leg

Today was my first day back to the line in a little over a week. I had a 11:15AM report time for my trip. Even though I live just 8 miles from the airport, I have to give myself 45 minutes to get through the security portal and sign in. Since I had to update my manuals I figured I would leave an hour prior to sign in.

I'm almost back to normal as far as my health goes. Just a light cough. I headed out the door at 10:09 and began loading up my car. By 10:12 I was done.

Over the last few days the Tire Pressure Monitoring System on my car has been going off. I finally traced it down to the rear driver side tire. I had planned on topping it off today and getting it fixed when I get back tomorrow. I figured there was a nail in it.

When I walked around to that side of the car I was greeted by a very deflated tire. I quickly grabbed the inflator and turned my car on. I then thought there must be a hole. I grabbed a bottle of fix-o-flat. I screwed it on and pumped it in. Then it happened.

As I unscrewed the inflator hose the entire valve stem just snapped off. Out went all of the air. Time 10:17. Crap.

I quickly called crew scheduling. I let the agent know that I would likely not make the sign in time but I should make the departure no problem. I could have simply burned another sick day and been done with it, but I plan on saving my sick time for when I have a second officer of my own...I'm sure I will need it.

The agent said to keep him updated. The departure was set for noon. I got to work changing the tire.

For whatever reason Mazda equips the Mazda5 with a ridiculously complicated jacking system. Ugh. I've only had two flat tires in my life (not bad for 18 years of driving and 8 or so different cars). The last time was on the inner lane of a 3 lane freeway with a 60 MPH speed limit. Not the smartest idea to pull over there. Three scraped knuckles later it was fixed.

Having a flat in the garage is much more convinenent. At 10:40AM I was done. Problem...the spare looked very flat. With a quick check I found it too be at 25 PSI! Normal is 55PSI. While filling it up I called scheduling and told them I could make a 11:30AM sign in and that the flight would still leave on time. That's all he really cared to hear..."leave on time."

I pulled into the employee lot at 11:12AM. On the bus at 11:15AM. Cleared the security portal at 11:23AM and signed in at 11:25AM. Not bad.

After stopping by the crew room for my manual updates I headed to the gate....18 gates away. I walked onto the plane at 11:35AM. Boarding had just started.

I knew the Captain. He was my initial sim instructor. I stashed my bags and did my preflight. All parts accounted for I took my seat.

I glanced at the overhead panel. Something was off...or on rather. The IDG (Integrated Drive Generator) #2 had a fault light. Not good. Captain noticed it about the same time.

A few minutes later a mechanic arrived. Stated we would likely need to deplane. APU running. We all knew that resetting the plane would likely clear the fault light. Problem is we can't have passengers on a plane with no power. Ground power wasn't available.

The mechanic began looking at the circuit breaker behind my seat. I was busy programming the FMS. Then it happened. Everything went black. He pulled the circuit breaker for the main battery bus. WTF?

He pushed it back in. All kinds of warnings and bells went off associated with initially powering up the plane. The Captain and I quickly reconfigured the overhead panel for an APU restart and he started it up. Sure enough the IDG fault light was gone, but a new more minor one was here.

After twenty minutes of discussion and writing we were pushing out of the gate 15 minutes late with one minor item MEL'd.

The Captain had been flying all day. He gave the leg to me.

During taxi my checklist calls for me to check the flight controls. In the CRJ there is no direct connection between the yoke and the control surfaces. Thus I am just making sure when I turn right that the Flight Control Synoptic page shows the right aileron going up and what not.

The controls felt fine and everything looked normal.

Cross-bleed (no APU) engine start complete it was my aircraft. At 124 knots I rotated the 59,000 pound plane with 29 adults on it into the air. Right away something didn't feel right. The controls felt jammed.

I wiggled the yoke a bit and the plane responded. I stated the controls felt very stiff. The plane had just come out of maintenance for having stiff controls. Not fixed. At 600 feet I called for the autopilot.

Thankfully the outstation was using a runway that allowed for a straight in landing. That combined with me flying a higher cruise speed meant I could make up most, if not all of the delay.

Somehow I made an incredibly smooth landing (light plane at 56000 pounds) while dealing with a decent crosswind.

While taxing to the gate a twin Cessna almost turned into the grass leaving the runway. Guess they were trying to make a certain

We pulled into the gate 1 minute late (still on time according to the Department of long as we block in within 14 minutes of scheduled arrival time).

Not my favorite overnight. There is a really good catfish place across the river. Hopefully tomorrow I will be off when I get back.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Being sick and a pilot

Back when I was a mere mortal I would go to the Doctor, take what ever test/prescriptions he wanted and wait to get better. Since I started flying I've had to be much more proactive.

Now each time I get sick I research what I think I have and possible drugs/treatments. I then go to the Doctor. Each time I advise that I'm a pilot and that I have to be careful what I take. Most of the time the Doctor takes the time and makes sure the drugs/treatments are FAA approved. Every now and then they state it's safe, then I check and it's not. Always double check.

This happened yesterday. I am finally getting over a cold/flu (I got the flu shot 2 months ago....yeah). I've had a cough for a few days. My first visit was to a non-urgent care center. The RN prescribed Benzonatate. I asked if it caused drowsiness/nausea. She assured me it didn't. Once I got the bottle sure enough it has three stickers referencing drowsiness/nausea/heavy machinery. No go.

Today I went to my regular (non-FAA) Doctor. Yadda, yadda, yadda they have no idea why I have a cough. I had a chest xray which came up with nothing. I was given a script for a mega-dosage of an anti-biotic (FAA approved) and sent on my way. Hopefully this does the trick.

I am keeping a log of all of my Doctor visits. I'm required to report them on my yearly flight physical. No biggie.

I called in sick today. I am feeling better now. I was assigned a two day trip tomorrow. This is a horrible trip for over time, but good for reserve.

My flight leaves tomorrow at 12:00PM. It's one leg to the overnight. The return flight leaves the outstation at 5:45AM Thursday (hotel van leaves at 4:45AM!) and I should hopefully be done at 7AM.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Halfway done with recurrent

Finished with half of my recurrent training. The ground portion was done as of 1:30PM Friday. The systems test was the same test from last year. I missed the same questions. At least I am consistent.

The first two days were all classroom based covering company and aircraft specific information. The last day we headed down to the cabin trainer (full size replica of the CRJ) to practice opening emergency doors and covering use of all of the emergency equipment.

The only thing I learned was that the ADG (Air Driven Generator) is always heated. This was there is little/no chance of ice freezing the prop when it drops out. Makes sense.

I finish the other half on November 20th when I head to the simulator.

While in training I saw the pilot one junior to me. She is based elsewhere. Haven't seen her since we were hired. She is getting ready to go out on pregnancy leave for the second time in less than two weeks. She kinda got a bad deal as she will be out long enough to require another recurrent training when she comes back. Doesn't make much sense to take her off the line for 4 days (3 days ground + her check ride) when she will be gone so soon. Oh well. She did fine. It's gotta be rough being pregnant and doing this job. Ooof.

Saturday my wife and I flew over to see my dad for the day. It's a 4 hour drive or a 40 minute flight. Since starting here I haven't driven too see him. Why fly when you can drive? I'm still waiting for the day he wants to fly somewhere. He has yet to use my benefits.

It was odd to have a Sunday off. I haven't had a Sunday off (not including vacation) in months. My wife and I didn't know what too do with ourselves. I get a month of Sundays off. Nice.

I saw online Skywest will be flying for AirTran. They are flying "at risk" meaning they get paid they pay for everything and hope the flight has enough passengers to make a profit. This is opposite how most regionals work. At most regionals the regional carrier pays for the planes and staff. The regional carrier gets a set fee for every flight regardless of how many passengers are on board. This is known as "fee for departure". I have flown several empty planes around where my airline made a profit. Good luck to Skywest.

Republic Airline Holdings is doing very interesting things. Not many I care for. One thing that really irks me is how they are handling the ERJ-190's.

Their current pay scale (seen here) for Captains goes up to 99 seats. The ERJ-190's have 100 seats. Rather than negotiate a new pay scale they are literally MELing (putting out of service) one seat on every flight. To make matters worse First Officers make the same pay if they fly 37 seats or 99 seats. This is scummy. I hope their Union (Teamsters instead of the more common ALPA) goes to bat for them.

Mesa Air Group appears to be in bad shape. They will soon lose their Dash flying for United. Their CRJ200 flying for United might also go away. When planes are parked...pilots are let go.

There is some good news to be had.

Trans-States in recalling furloughed pilots. As is American Eagle.

As far as my status at my airline. Everything is status quo.....which given the volatile state of the a pretty good thing.

Random photo below. Taken during one of the many test flights last month.

[singlepic id=407 w=800 h=600 float=center]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Recurrent Training

This year my recurrent training is 3 days long. I haven't learned much in the way of new information...which makes sense as I have been flying the plane for two years.

Everything is review. First day was company procedures, aircraft security and basic system review. Today was all systems review. Tomorrow we hop in a cabin trainer for a few practice items before taking a final written exam. I then have a 3 day weekend before going back to reserve. I hit the simulator on November 20th.

One interesting part of recurrent is meeting other pilots who I normally only see in passing in the jet bridge. In the room are 11 pilots total. Six are Captains. I have only flown with two of them.

When I first started at my airline, a few of my friends headed to corporate stating "corporate was safe". Well today Netjets announced they were planning on furloughing 500 pilots. Wow. Just when I thought the economy was on the rebound.

Below is a photo I took last month during all my test flight. Backing a plane into a hangar is a very interesting thing too watch. They have a scaffolding that surrounds the tail. Very little room for error.

[singlepic id=406 w=640 h=480 float=center]

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Heading to training

Nice two day trip. Got off to a rocky start though. When I walked onto the first aircraft, two mechanics were in the cockpit. They turned around and said, "I wouldn't even bother putting your bags down," meaning the plane is broken...bad. Thankfully the delay was minimal. We left 20 minutes late, but arrived on time thanks to the Captain flying a little fast.

The hotel was my favorite...due to an awesome breakfast. I did find something new to like...powered USB ports. I left my netbook charger at home. Thankfully the hotel has powered USB ports. Plugged my phone in....problem solved.

On the second day there were 3 legs. Two were mine. Once again on the second landing I was high. Not so high that the final approach controller came on the line, but the glideslope was barely visible. All turned out okay.

Today I head in for recurrent ground training. I start today at noon...finish sometime late tonight. I think I start at 8AM and finish at 5PM Thursday and Friday.

I got a nice $3 an hour pay raise last week. This brings me up to $37 an hour. This translates into about $33,000 a year before taxes and per diem. Not a lot of money. This is substantially less than I earned before I started flying. I've said it many times, but without my wife none of this would be possible.

I am going to have to force myself to update my logbook next week. I use Logbook Pro. Love it. I also bought the Airline Pilot Daily Logbook so that I could update it on the fly. Never really did that. I haven't updated my hours since July. My airline tracks my flight time for me. They show I have 990 hours of flight time at the airline and 1540 hours total time. I know I have a few more hours as their starting time for me is what I had when I interviewed.

Using Windows 7. Bought two copies of Windows 7 Home Premium. I find myself using Windows 7 almost as much as Mac OS X.

Posting has been infrequent lately due to my vacation (loved it) and now training. Should be back to normal sometime next week.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Back in the saddle...errr cockpit

Back from vacation. This month I have a straight reserve line. This means I have no idea what I am doing each day versus the last few months where I had airport standby.

My first day of reserve? Assigned airport standby! No biggie as I had to update my manuals anyway. That took a good hour. I then continued studying for my recurrent ground and simulator check coming up.

Around 5PM it was time for dinner. As soon as I took my first bite my phone rang. Assigned a flight leaving at 5:30PM.  I advised I just started eating dinner and would get there as soon as I finished. Long ago I learned it's not my stomach's fault that they need me right away. Once done eating I headed over to the plane.

The flight was supposed to leave at 3:50PM. Mechanical delays and a sick FO caused the new time to be 5:30PM. I arrived at 5:20PM to an empty plane. Hmmm.

When I stepped into the plane I noticed a slightly odd odor. Having not flown in a while, I assumed it was "normal".

The flight attendants arrived (also airport standby). They complained about the smell as well. Captain advised us all of where the smell was coming from.

Turns out there was still an issue. A passenger on the inbound flight had a medical emergency and urinated on the last row of seats which spread to the carpet. The seats are all leather, but the cushions were changed out anyway. The carpet was deodorized....but that's it.

We ended up refusing the aircraft. A few minutes later we were assigned a new aircraft....right next door.

At 6:45PM....almost 3 hours after scheduled departure...we pushed out of the gate. This was a great thing as another scheduled flight was scheduled to leave at the same time. We beat that flight out of the ramp by 2 minutes. They followed us the entire way. By being "in front" we would easily get parked at the outstation and taken care of first.

I was hoping the Captain would take the first leg so I could get my feet wet again. Nah he gave it too me.

Most of the flight was normal....right until the approach.

The assigned runway has an offset localizer. This is noted on the approach chart. Skies were clear and visibility unrestricted so I briefed a visual approach backed up with the localizer. I mistakenly forgot to brief the localizer offset.

The airport was surprisingly busy. There were 2 planes already on final. We were told to follow a Gulfstream who was number 2. Meanwhile a Cessna would be following us. Once the Captain and I agreed that we had the Gulfstream in view he called it. I then clicked off the autopilot and turned base. As soon as I turned I saw that I would be about 400 feet above the altitude at the FAF for the ILS for the runway. I began dirtying up the plane and slowing down. I crossed the FAF a little more than 200 feet high.

I lined up with the runway and before long was at flaps 45. The spacing between the Gulfstream and my plane appeared to be just over 2 1/2 miles. Decent. I then noticed the horizontal row of white lights to the left of the runway. I was still high!

I reduced the thrust levers and pushed the toke forward. By 800 feet AGL I was on glideslope and on approach speed.

Somehow the stars aligned and I managed a very nice landing touching down about 500 feet beyond the 1000 foot markings.

We were late. Pulling into the gate I noticed ZERO passengers in the waiting area. Due to being so late, all of the passengers were accommodated on other flights. A very quick 16 minutes later the plane was fueled, programmed and pushing back from the gate....with just 4 people on, the Captain and the flight attendants.

During climb out, being so light we hit 5000 feet per minute sustained. Nice.

We were hoping to go fast and be done. Negative. We were slowed due to slower traffic ahead.

Just after 9PM the Captain began his flare to land the plane. Then the plane floated. This has happened to me many times. It looked like he was going to have a soft landing. It wasn't meant to be. With a jolt the mains contacted the runway once....and then again. We laughed about it later.

Being just 9:15PM when we pulled into the gate, I had 45 minutes of standby to sit out. Eh...I was never used.

Today I had a two day trip starting at 5:55PM. I will be heading to my favorite hotel for 9 hours. If it all works out well I will be done tomorrow at 12:30PM.

I then have recurrent ground training Wednesday thru Friday, off for a 3 day weekend and then back on reserve a week from today.

It's good to be back.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pilot's arduous 2-day schedule reflects demands on flight crews


Pilot's arduous 2-day schedule reflects demands on flight crews

12:36 AM CDT on Sunday, November 1, 2009

By ERIC TORBENSON / The Dallas Morning News

This time, he required coffee. And Doug Gibbs doesn't like coffee; he's more of a Coke guy when he needs a boost. So he dulls the taste with lots of cream.This Tuesday would demand maximum caffeine: a 3:40 a.m. wake-up call to ensure he was on a shuttle bus by 4:30 from the hotel to the Little Rock airport.

A first officer for American Eagle Airlines, Gibbs had to check in for the 5:40 a.m. flight to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport – the first of five flights he'd be in the cockpit for on a workday that wouldn't get him back to his Lewisville home until after 6 p.m.

That's not an everyday occurrence for Gibbs, who was on the second day of a two-day sequence that saw him making eight flights in 35 hours. But because he's paid only for the time when the plane is actually moving, he's got to work several such sequences each month to log enough hours to earn his $38,000 a year.

It's the accumulation of days like this over a month that has the nation's air safety regulator moving to change how often pilots can fly and when they must rest.

The proposed rules change comes in the wake of a February regional jet crash in Buffalo where the cockpit transcript showed both pilots were clearly tired, plus a string of small-jet crashes in recent years where pilot fatigue played a role. The Federal Aviation Administration's proposed rules are due before the end of the year.

This week speculation over whether two Northwest Airlines pilots may have been sleeping when they flew 150 miles past Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport brought more attention to whether pilots are overscheduled.

The Northwest pilots – in their mid-50s and with decades of experience – told regulators they were distracted by a discussion about pilot scheduling and denied being asleep.

While regional airlines have been in the FAA's spotlight, the Northwest incident demonstrates how concerns over pilot behavior go beyond the small carriers.

Both small- and large-jet operators have been scheduling pilots with decades-old limits that critics say haven't kept up with the economic pressures that airlines and pilots face today.

Under current scheduling rules, pilots can be at work – preparing for flights, actually flying and waiting to fly again – up to 16 consecutive hours. They can physically be flying a plane only eight of those hours.

Initial reports from the FAA's rulemaking process suggest that a pilot's duty day – the time at work – will shrink, but the amount of actual flying time allowed may increase, if the flights are scheduled during daylight hours.

"On one end you've got pilots doing long-haul international flights and on the other you've got guys slogging through bad weather in the Northeast on turboprops flying five or six times a day," said Bob Mann, an aviation consultant for R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, N.Y. "It's a tall order to make a set of rules to fit that."

The new rules will alter how airlines plan flights, force them to hire more pilots and potentially lead to unprofitable routes being eliminated.

Recent changes

Airline pilot scheduling has changed in the last decade for a host of reasons:

•Regional airlines try to keep costs low by maximizing the productivity of their pilots and using as few reserve pilots as possible.

•Pay cuts have prompted pilots to fly as much as they can to keep a standard of living.

•Many pilots choose to commute to their assigned crew bases because of high living costs, adding more travel time even before they punch the clock to start flying.

Compounding the problem for commuting pilots, recent cutbacks in airline flights have meant far fewer empty seats available. Consequently, some pilots have to fly a day in advance to ensure they make it to their crew base, lengthening their time on the road.

In the Buffalo crash, for example, the 24-year-old co-pilot had flown overnight from Seattle to New Jersey before starting her day.

The Regional Airline Association, which represents nearly all regional carriers including Eagle, has launched its own study of pilot fatigue that will also examine commuting's effect, president Roger Cohen said.

"There's been very little research in this area, and we need better science," said Cohen, who has been defending his industry's safety record since the Buffalo crash.

He also questions whether regional pilots are more prone to fatigue than their mainline counterparts.

"There could be more fatigue, but it may also be the opposite outcome," said Cohen. "Maybe the frequency of the flights keeps them more alert and active."

That frequency of flights is where regional pilots may have it tougher than pilots at mainline airlines.

Eagle has an average flight length of 350 miles compared with American Airlines' 900 miles. So, if they fly an equal distance, Eagle pilots will make about three times as many landings and takeoffs – the most stressful part of the job.

American's pilots have schedules that aren't easy to fly either, but with longer flights they can work fewer total days a month than Eagle's pilots do.

"I wish the industry would raise the bar on flight time and duty time rules, which hopefully is coming," said Gibbs, the first officer, over a lunch of chicken fingers at TGI Fridays at D/FW's B Concourse. He gets $1.75 an hour for food per diem, but "eating out three times a day can really add up." To save money, he often packs Pop Tarts (Frosted chocolate fudge or chocolate chip are his favorites).

Eagle seems to be a better place to fly than other regional airlines, Gibbs said, after comparing notes with friends at other carriers. "The safety and training programs here are top-notch," he said.

However, Eagle can't escape the declining economics of regional flying, especially as fuel prices rise. Eagle stopped flying 54 planes in June 2008; other regional airlines have seen their flying for major carriers cut and the rates they get paid reduced.

Living his dream

Despite the hours and disruptions to his sleep schedule, Gibbs said being an airline pilot is the job he's wanted since he flew in a 1956 Cessna 172 when he was 15 ½ years old and growing up on his family's farm in central Illinois.

"I love the freedom," he said. "I love not being in an office all day."

Gibbs, who's flown for American Eagle for almost four years, nearly got a job at Comair, which does regional flying for Delta Air Lines Inc., but Delta's bankruptcy filing in September 2005 scotched it. An extension program through Southern Illinois University got him in the door with Eagle.

In his first assignment, Gibbs was stationed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he and his colleagues dubbed themselves "Pilots of the Caribbean," which explains the skull and crossbones sticker on his crew-kit bag.

It's also where he met his wife, Iris, a sixth-grade English teacher, who, ironically, doesn't like flying though she's getting more comfortable with it – and with having her husband in the air all the time.

"It's hard on her, but she supports me," said Gibbs, who turned 27 last month but often gets asked by passengers if he's 13.

As a first officer on Eagle's Canadair Regional Jet, Gibbs' duties are basically the same as his captain's, though Gibbs does the "walk-around" of the plane before and after each flight to check its airworthiness.

Gibbs also serves as an elected union representative for the Air Line Pilots Association, which bargains for the 2,500 Eagle pilots. His union status allows him to talk to the media; everyday pilots – like his captain – cannot be quoted without permission from the airline.

Tough stretches

Pilots use their seniority to bid for flying and fly in "sequences." Gibbs and his captain flew a sequence of eight flights over two days Oct 19-20.

During this trip, Gibbs will do the takeoffs and landings on the outbound parts of the schedule; the captain will handle the inbound parts. They're fortunate: two cloudless fall days to fly to the cities on their schedule – Little Rock on the first day, Lubbock and Des Moines on the second.

The first flight to Little Rock nearly never happens. When a flight attendant closes the Canadair Regional Jet's door, a bolt snaps, and Gibbs gets out of the cockpit to assess the problem and call in maintenance. It is one of five mechanical issues he deals with among the eight flights.

The plane he's flying this day also lacks a functioning auxiliary power unit, a not-too-uncommon issue. It's not a safety concern, but the unit does help start the engines and can run the air conditioning on board. Passengers complain about the stuffiness on board the 70-seat plane.

Good news: Maintenance finds the needed bolt and fixes the door. It's fortunate for Gibbs and his passengers because it's the last one in stock and a Canadair Regional Jet a few gates away just snapped the same bolt. A little more than two hours after the scheduled departure, they're off to Little Rock.

After turning around and returning to D/FW Airport, Gibbs flies back to Little Rock – his third flight on day one – and hops on the employee shuttle to a riverfront hotel. He does two hours of phone work before grabbing dinner, and then turns in around 6:30 p.m. for as much sleep as he can get before his 3:40 a.m. wake-up on Tuesday.

The layover is longer than usual for Gibbs and his captain. Mann and other consultants say short overnight layovers for regional pilots contribute considerably to fatigue because they can't get adequate sleep if they're on flying trips that last four, or in some cases, five days. And rest periods can get eaten up by paperwork at the airport and traveling to and from hotels.

"At some point these regional carriers push productivity to a point where it's no longer gain but pain," Mann said.

Rocky start

Gibbs' first flight on day two starts with another minor mechanical problem; the plane's backup de-icing system was giving it trouble, even though there wasn't any ice in Little Rock.

Eventually the problem clears, and he returns to D/FW to then make a quick hop and back to Lubbock, just 243 miles away.

Back at D/FW, Gibbs has a three-hour wait until his final round trip to Des Moines. That's the frustrating part of the schedule; it allows a leisurely lunch, but he'd rather be flying and getting home sooner.

After flying out and back from Iowa, Gibbs is finished with his two-day sequence. If he's tired, it doesn't show in his greeting passengers or in his cheery public address announcements.

Gibbs heads to the employee parking lot and eventually back home. He'll be back in the air in three days headed to Pittsburgh.

If Gibbs wants to be a captain – which could ultimately boost his pay at Eagle to more than $100,000 a year – he'll be waiting for several years as the seniority list at Eagle isn't moving quickly.

If the FAA changes the rules on rest, it would likely mean regional airlines like Eagle would need to hire more pilots. That's potentially good news for Gibbs' career advancement.

However, if American Airlines can't make money on Eagle routes, it could cut more flights, reducing the need for more pilots.

At some point, Gibbs may have to make a choice to commute from D/FW if he wants a chance at being captain, though it would mean more time away from home.

Being a captain "is always a target that's off there in the horizon," he said. "This is all I want to do."