Monday, August 31, 2009

1500 ...almost

First...the reason I haven't been posting is due to the hours spent installing a new floor in my house. We went from this:

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to this:

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My wife and I installed more than 600 square feet of flooring over the last week. When I say installed....I mean we were on our hands and knees installing it. Ooof. Lots of work.

Friday I had afternoon airport standby. I had hoped to not get an overnight so I could work on the floor Saturday morning (I had afternoon standby Saturday as well). Well I got an overnight. The longest overnight I have had in a while....15 hours! Booo!

The entire crew consisted of people on airport standby. The Captain gave me the outbound leg. The flight was just one hour each way.

The outbound airport runways are installed in the typical cross fashion. One east/west runway and one north/south runway. The winds were out of the northeast at 4 knots. We were coming in from the east. I told the Captain to ask if we could land on runway 27 instead of 36. Doing so would save a few minutes and allow us to fly straight in. The tower allowed it. Nice.

There was no ILS on this runway so I simply briefed a visual approach. The runway is 8000 feet long. Even with the quartering tailwind we only needed 3900 feet according to the performance charts.

On final I noticed the wind readout on my MFD displayed a 25 knot tailwind. The winds on the ground were much lighter than in the approach corridor. I had to increase my descent rate slightly as the airspeed was 135 knots while the  ground speed was 160 knots. The tailwinds died down below 200 feet. I began my flare at 20 feet and chopped the power to near idle just below 20 feet. The wind was still pushing us down the runway. I set the mains down about 2000 feet down the runway. Immediately I popped the thrust reversers and began applying the brakes. The exit I planned on making in my brief was quickly coming up. I decided not to brake harder than needed (I hate when I'm a passenger and the pilots brake hard to make an exit....braking hard to avoid the end of the runway is okay though!) and told the Captain I would make the next one. Done.

The hotel was nice. They have Sleep Number beds. I don't care for them. Like a big air mattress.

For breakfast on Saturday I walked across the street to a small cafe that's more than 45 years old. My eyes were bigger than my stomach and caused my mouth to order the "Big Boys Breakfast". Yeah. I somehow ate it all.

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I then spent the next few hours in my room updating my manuals and watching episodes of Diggnation. Fun day. Not.

The van was set for 1:55PM. The inbound plane was 15 minutes early. We only had 19 people going back with us. That combined with a beautiful day outside allowed us to leave 10 minutes early. Nice.

The skies were clear in base. On final the Captain made a very interesting approach. He had been doing the normal fuel saving techniques for the entire flight. Turning final I noticed we were really high....but it didn't concern me as we were on a 10 mile final. I then noticed he had the thrust levers idled and they had been for the last few minutes. He was managing the energy and gliding in. This can't always be done as airport congestion/weather/you name it typically causes us to do 180 knots to the final approach fix then slow down.

He was a good deal above the glide slope until we reached 1000 feet. He never added power until right above 1400 feet the plane was at flaps 30 with the gear down. Nice.

With such a smooth approach one would think the landing would be awesome. Well the combination of a very light plane (again just 19 passengers) and a gusting crosswind caused the plane to float a bit. He was easing it down perfectly when the gust died down....plop went the plane.

After parking, I was released right away and my wife picked me up. I often state how awesome my wife is......I'm a lucky man.

My wife and I spent the evening laying more flooring. I checked my schedule for Sunday and was assigned morning airport standby. My line is afternoon airport standby. I haven't done morning airport standby in months. For the first time in a long time I had to set an alarm clock at home. Boooo.

At 5:30 AM on Sunday my wife drove me to work. I signed in, checked the open flights and went to the quiet room to sleep. There were no open flights to cover and all the morning flights "appeared" to be covered.

My slumber was disturbed by my phone vibrating on my chest. A First Officer called in sick after flying into base. The next flight left in 30 minutes. By contract I have 45 minutes to prepare for a I was in no rush.

I walked out of the quiet room and saw a Captain I know. I asked if he was flying to Fargo. He said he was and asked if I was going with him. Yep.

I grabbed by bags and stopped off at Dunkin Donuts. Coffee was needed. Java in hand I went to the gate.

The gate agent told ME to tell the flight attendants that she was sending the passengers down. Hmmm. I asked if the flight attendants were ready? She again stated she was sending the passengers down. I replied back to her that she should call or walk down and verify the flight attendants were ready. She then gave me a glare and turned around.

As I walked onto the plane I saw my favorite flight attendant Peggy standing in a dark plane. No power. They were not ready. I told both flight attendants what the gate agent had planned. The front flight attendant called the gate. I applied power to the plane and went out for the preflight.

By the time I got back the Captain was on board. I took my seat and began setting up the plane. I quickly noticed something wrong with my side. The FMS wasn't working.

The plane I fly has dual FMS (Flight Management System) units installed. Only one is required. Most regionals have just one installed as they are quite expensive. The plane is built around the FMS. I could only get to the ACARS side application, but no navigation/performance data. Grrr. Call to maintenance.

While waiting I chatted with the Captain and the front Flight Attendant. The front Flight Attendant was itching to go. When she heard we had maintenance she got a little bummed.

The Mechanic arrived and quickly added the FMS to the maintenance log and placed an INOP sticker on the unit. We pushed out 20 minutes late.

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With no FMS my "needles" were yellow showing cross side data (Captains data). Also of note is the green FMS1 showing I am using his FMS while the arrow is pointing to my side showing my flight director is being used.

With just 24 people on board we were able to climb to FL410. This helped save fuel and time. Being so high we can get more direct routing. The weather at the outstation was low enough to require an ILS approach. I haven't done a "real" ILS approach in a month or two. I miss the "magic" of the runway appearing from under clouds/rain/fog.

We pulled into the gate 18 minutes late. After loading up 70 passengers, we pushed out 23 minutes late.

Takeoff weight was 74000 pounds. I haven't flown a plane near max weight in a while. The Captain briefed the takeoff, making note that we were 7000 pounds over max landing weight.

The takeoff was normal. I could feel the weight of the plane on rotation and climb out. We were given three different heading changes between takeoff and 5000 feet. The climb out can be a little busy. Since I was hand flying, the Captain (Pilot Not Flying) sets the heading bug. He also takes care of the radio as well as any other button,switch and lever. He is busy. With each heading change I would turn toward the heading right away even though it had not yet been bugged. I feel very at home in my plane. This comes from time in the plane (about 950 hours) and my total time flying (I will pass 1500 hours tomorrow).

We were up against headwinds as high as 90 knots on the flight back. The winds normally don't get this high until winter. With such high winds I couldn't make up the time.

I brought my lunch on this trip....a Lunchable with mini-hot dogs. I don't like cold hot dogs. I decided to try and warm/cook them using sunlight and windshield heat. It kinda worked.

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After lunch I joked with the Captain that I was assigned airport standby from 6AM until 2PM and that I would stop working at 2PM. Once 2PM was reached the plane was all his. He laughed.

The arrival corridor was busy. For a reason not known to me the plane ahead slowed down from 300 knots to 260 knots more than 90 miles from the airport. This caused ATC to slow us down from 310 knots indicated to 250 knots. So much for making up time.

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Winds were blowing right down the runway on my approach. I briefed a visual approach. With no FMS on my side, once I switched to the ILS frequency, I lost all navigational data on my MFD. We were cleared from 12,000 feet to 4000 feet. Being clear we sensed approach was going to give us a short approach. Already slowed to 210 knots by ATC I set descent mode at 210 knots and slowly opened the flight spoilers to increase the descent rate. With a 40 knot tailwind we were being pushed way downwind. I called for flaps 1 and then flap 8 to increase the descent. Passing through 5000 feet we were given a turn to join final.

Approach told us to do 180 knots to the Final Approach Fix. Since this was a visual approach I asked the Captain to let me know when I reached the FAF.

Just under 2000 AGL I clicked off the autopilot. The landing weight was 64,000 pounds. I haven't landed a plane this "heavy" in a while. When the plane is heavier it doesn't float as much. I waited until 10 feet to chop the power. The mains touched down decently. Nothing spectacular...average.

The Captain took over an steered us off the runway. Once clear I noticed the clock....1:59PM. After we parked at the gate I told the Captain I was done. Ha!

My wife picked me up and we went straight to a home improvement store to rent a 100 lb roller to finish off the floor. After that was done we went out to celebrate being done by eating at an awesome Greek restaurant. Yum!

Today starts my 14 hour two day trip on overtime. Probably won't post until tomorrow night. I will likely be using Twitter tough (the Geek on the Go! section in the upper right hand corner!).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Nice way to start airport appreciation

Airline pilots for the most part are lazy. They like to work the least amount and get paid the most. I guess that's like every other profession I guess. Eh.

Each month that I am available to work each reserve day I get paid for 75 hours. I could fly ZERO hours or 75 hours and get paid the same. Not a lot of money as most people get paid 160 hours a month. My current pay rate is around $35 an hour (not listing the exact figure to maintain my anonymity ;-) ) Each month I take home roughly $2600 in pay plus around $250 a month in per diem. This is all before taxes, 401K, insurance and union dues. Realistically I get about $1950 deposited in my checking account each month. Here's to all the great spouses who support poor  pilots!

If I happen to fly more than 75 hours during a reserve month then I get paid $35 an hour for each hour over 75 hours. To date I have never flown more than 75 hours in a reserve month. I have been paid for more than 75 hours in a reserve month though. How? Extra flying.

If I pick up extra flying performed on a day I would normally have off then I get paid straight pay plus an extra percentage. Unlike "real world" overtime I don't get time and a half.

With pilots on furlough I resisted picking up extra flying. I had to give in as I would like to help pay for our trip to Tokyo in October.

I put in and was awarded a 2 day trip worth 14 hours of flight time. Fourteen hours of flying in just 2 days is a lot of flying.

The trip consist of 6 total legs. All of them are pretty long which is a good thing. If it were 2 day trip with 14 hours of flight time and 10 legs (entirely possible!) I would likely not have bid it.

Since this is extra flying I will be paid at least 89 hours for the month as long as I am available each reserve day. The most I have ever been paid in one month was 95 hours when I actually flew just 79 hours (this was one of the two months where I held a hard line).

The total pay before deductions for this extra flying is roughly $600. Not too shabby.

I was advised of my extra flying when I signed in for airport standby today. Nice way to start 8 hours of airport appreciation.

Monday, August 24, 2009

FL400 in 20 minutes

Yesterday a flight crew of a regional airliner lost an engine on takeoff. They climbed to 1000 feet AGL and troubleshot the issue. They then secured the engine and landed safely back at the airport. Didn't see the news blurb on CNN? Yeah neither did I.

Due to this incident I was called while sitting airport standby to cover a flight. The Captain was the same  standby Captain I have flown with the last two months. Nice guy who used to train pilots on my aircraft.

When I arrived at the plane, the flight attendants were already on board. I noticed the cabin was cool, but there was no power. Hmmm. I opened the cockpit door and found a black overhead panel...yup no external power connected. There was however PCA attached. Odd.

I turned on the battery master and used the backup RTU (radio tuning unit) to call company and ask for external power. There is a 5 minute limitation on operating the aircraft using the battery master. This is mostly due to the cooling of the two CRTs. Once the call was made I turned off the battery master and went out to do my preflight. By the time I got back to the cockpit we had power. Nice.

On the flight out we had 63 passengers. The Captain was in a fuel saving mindset. Instead of climbing to our planned FL310 we climbed to FL350. This combined with a 3.5 degree descent angle saved 630 pounds of fuel.

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After pulling into the outstation we were informed we had just 14 passengers to bring back. Wow. With such a low count we were able to do a 20 minute turn. I had time to do my post flight, walk into the terminal, check my schedule, use the facilities, chit chat with the gate agent, get our clearance and text my wife....all without feeling rushed.

With just 14 passengers our takeoff weight was crazy low. I took a photo of the performance planning page while sitting at the gate waiting for boarding to finish.

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Takeoff weight was 54,000 pounds. Max takeoff is 75,000 pounds. Normal takeoff from this particular airport with a full load of passengers and no alternates is 70,000 pounds. I apologized to the Captain for the rough landing that I knew would ensue.

We were both in the fuel saving mindset. With that in mind we set the maximum flex takeoff temperature which allowed the lowest power on takeoff. This also helped reduce the initial climb rate which would have been crazy high if we did a max power takeoff. The initial altitude was just 4000 feet. Even with the flex power takeoff the plane climbed at 3500 feet per minute on the initial climb out.

Climbing through 3000 feet we were cleared to 15,000 feet. I was still in takeoff configuration meaning flaps 8 and takeoff power set. I was hand flying and trying to keep the plane at 200 knots while also trying to keep a comfortable climb angle. During a turn to the south I adjusted the trim a bit much and had a feeling similar to reaching the top of the hill on a rollercoaster. Nice.

The flaps were retracted and I asked for the autopilot while climbing through 13,000 feet. Our flight plan was set for just 300 NM from takeoff to landing. Wanting to save fuel the Captain requested FL400 for a final. We didn't think we would get the request as the arrival corridor is normally jam packed with aircraft. Somehow we got it.

I set the plane to climb at 2200 feet per minute while maintaining roughly 290 knots until passing through roughly FL280. I then set the plane to climb at 1700 feet per minute and set the speed bug to Mach .74. I could have set the plane to climb at 290 knots or .74 the entire time, but the plane does odd motions while climbing in climb mode. The plane will change pitch to maintain speed. It can be uncomfortable to the passengers as the plane pitches up and down in waves. By setting a constant rate (1700 feet per minute), the angle stays the same for the most part. I can make small changes to maintain speed.

On most flights the plane climbs between 500 and 900 feet per minute above FL300. Being so light I was able to have the plane climb at 1700 feet per minute all the way up the FL400.

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We were only up there for 3 minutes before we had to descend in order to make our crossing restriction on the arrival. I waited until the VNAV indicated a 3.5 degree descent rate before starting down. The initial descent rate from FL400 was 3400 feet per minute. With that descent rate I was able to idle the thrust levers and kept them idled from FL400 all the way down to 17,000 feet all while transitioning to an indicated airspeed of 300 knots. Nice.

With such a light takeoff weight, the landing weight was even lighter of course at just 51,000 pounds. The winds were right across the runway at 15 knots.

Even though I configured early and was stable I still bounced it onto the runway. Well not literally bounced, but it wasn't smooth/normal. I tried to ease it down like I normally do. Once the mains touched, for a brief second the plane settled, then the shock absorbers rebounded sending the plane up slightly. Right away the ground spoilers popped up pushing the plane back down onto the runway. When the plane is full the plane settles much easier without the rebound. The plane I fly is much easier to land when it's fully loaded than it is light. Thinking back I could have flared longer, but I was tired.

We were 15 minutes early. We had to wait for a few minutes for a gate to open. While the plane was stopped with the parking brake set, I made a PA letting the passengers know about the delay and that I was sure they were all awake after that landing. During deboarding we had the cockpit door open. One of the passengers stopped by and joked, "geeez the landing on XXXX airlines was much smoother". I turned around, smiled and shrugged. If you can't laugh you can't of the sayings I live by.

I am on reserve at home today with a 2 hour call out. Doubt I will get called. I then have three days off. Still working on a few blogs answering questions that have been posted.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

But my belt never goes off!

I've had the same belt for over a year. I have worn it through TSA checkpoints without "going off" hundreds of times. This morning it went off!

Both the Captain and I both beeped. Initially I thought it was my hotel pen in my pocket. The TSA screener advised it could be my belt. I explained it had not gone off the last time I walked thru this exact checkpoint last week. He shook his head. Belt came off. I walked through. No beep. I made a comment that the sensitivity was turned up too high. The Captain agreed.

The flight back was my leg. Takeoff weight was 64,000lbs. The Captain decided to not use Flex Thrust for takeoff. I didn't question why.

I set takeoff thrust and we began rolling down runway 4. The plane reached rotation speed of 124 knots in a little more than 3400 feet. At 400 feet I asked for heading mode and began a turn to heading 320. Being so light the climb rate was just over 3000 feet a minute. Fun.

One the arrival there was a bit of confusion over a crossing restriction. We were told to cross 40 miles north of the ABC VOR at FL240. When I tried to input the restriction into the FMS I got an error because there were 3 fixes prior to the ABC VOR. I only had one cup of coffee and just decided to use the FIX option and made a fix 40 miles north on the radial we were flying in on. Once set I used to "Range to Alt" bar (better known as the banana bar) to make sure I would make the restriction.

I'm very easy going for the most part. The guy I was flying with gets under my skin. Thankfully it was just the overnight and the legs were short. Some guys make this job harder than it has to be.

I recently had the following question presented to me.

This is a question related a bit to the smooth landings – is it normal for the plane to feel like the wings are rocking from side to side just right before the wheels hit the runway?
Sort of felt as if someone was jiggling it? Could that have been from crosswinds?
Weird question, I know – I have just been wondering about it for a while because it was pretty noticeable on at least two flights!
I have only noticed it on the type of plane you fly..

I have a longer post to the answer which I will post separately tonight or tomorrow. I am including this here because this situation happened to me this morning.

I was landing runway 8. The winds on the ground were reported 320/05. The winds on approach were 070/20. Big difference. I watched the winds come around passing through 200 feet. This is when I had to correct the heading and compensate for the changing winds which went from a headwind to a quartering tailwind. I worked the yoke all the way down to the ground. The wings were slightly rocking left and right. Nothing major, but visible.

Due to the tailwind and light landing weight (61,000 lbs) I floated more than I liked. I touched down 500 feet shy of the end of the touchdown zone.

As soon as we finished the parking checklist I called Crew Scheduling. I was released right away. Nice.

The lack of photos lately is directly tied to me forgetting my camera. Will be sure to pack it tomorrow.

Friday, August 21, 2009

No airport standby tomorrow!

Tonight I was pretty sure I was going home. Around 5:50PM I was called and assigned a 6:45PM departure. Nice....but it was an odd situation.

The original crew was arriving 17 minutes later than scheduled. The ETA was 6:27. The overnight was scheduled for 10 hours 5 minutes. The Captain and I couldn't understand why they were taking away the overnight. Both pilots were commuters. It was out of our control.

The flight was short. To a city I stayed in last week, but at my least favorite hotel....The unComfortable Inn. Eh.

I was in the cockpit and had the plane setup by 6:05PM. Then I just sat there and played around on my HP Mini netbook....Twitter'd a bit.....relaxed.

Due to late connecting passengers from my mainline partner we didn't push out until 7:10PM. The original crew blocked in at 6:26PM. They could have easily flown the flight. Instead they all get to buy hotel rooms/go home.

The city I am in has two hotels. A new location next to a river in the downtown area. Don't care for that one, but it's better than The unComfortable Inn next to the airport. I have a 10 hour overnight. Only good thing about this hotel is it's a 2 minute drive to the airport and they have a free breakfast.

As of now I leave tomorrow morning at 7:00AM and land back in base at 8:10AM. I have no further flights assigned to me. If all goes as planned I will be released for the rest of the day. This will be nice as Microsoft is having the Zune HD at a local Best Buy for a preview/demo. I'm still on the fence between Zune HD and Ipod touch. Eh.

I'm working on improving the commenting system. I know I personally hate having to log into blogs in order to leave a comment. I'm working on having a system where readers can use an existing account elsewhere (like Facebook,Myspace,Twitter etc) and just click to log in. Much easier.

For now....The unComfortable Inn.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Does it help to get trained at a big name flight school?

Flight schools don't issue pilot certificates. The FAA does. The FAA could care less where a pilot recieved training. As long as the pilot meets the standards imposed by the FAA examiner, they get the certificate. The proof is in the pudding.

When people choose schools, they do so for a multitude of reasons. There is no perfect school. The quality of the education and access to resources can make one school more attractive and arguably better than another. I could get my MBA from Montana State or The University of Chicago. The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business is a (if not the) top learning instituions to get a MBA. The tuition cost are indeed higher than Montana State. I bet, on average, that graduates from the University of Chicago are more well rounded and prepared than those from Montana State. A similar argument can be made when it comes to flight training.

I  did a lot of research before selecting a flight school. Weeks were spent comparing local schools/instructors with national "big name" schools. It's true I could have spent less money to earn the same certificates, but I wanted a quality, well thought out program that fit my needs. ATP fit my needs.

At the time I was working a 40 hour a week cubicle job, troubleshooting software for a Point of Sale company. I worked 7AM to 4PM Monday thru Friday. Three days a week I would leave work and train at the airport from 5PM till whenever. On Sundays I trained all day. I finished both the private pilot and career pilot programs in 10 months.

ATP had the resources to make sure I had an instructor and required resources (classroom, computers, aircraft etc) each time I drove to the airport. In my 10 months of training there was only 2 occassions where I didn't have access to a plane at the scheduled time. Both were due to other students checkrides going longer than planned.

ATP training is very structured, just like my training at the airline. The checklist used at ATP (which seemed like overkill at the time) are guess what....just as tedious as the checklist I use everyday. The transition was easy.

During my training I met the owner of ATP, just once. He was a great guy. We had a nice conversation during my turn at flying the Cessna Citation. Several months later when I met him again (after being hired to be a CFI) he remembered my name and the details about me and my family. He isn't this rich guy who owns a lot of planes and wants to relax on his yacht while other people run this business. He is deeply involved with day to day operations. He makes sure no expense is spared when it came to safety, mantanence or training.

I did take the ATP Regional Jet Course and went on (after being hired by my airline) to go instruct the course. Guess what? The training in that course is just like training at the airline.

While training at ATP does cost more than similar training at a local/smaller flight school, the training, equipment, and access to resources make up for it. In my opinion at least. I've seen people price out the same training offered at ATP and come out $3,000-$7,000 cheaper. That's a lot of money no doubt. But there is truth to the old saying, "you get what you pay for". Just visit a few pilot forums to see the stories from people who got ripped off by flight school X, or were overcharged (by dragging out the training) by flight instructor Y, or having trouble learning because the flight school keeps changing aircraft (going from a Piper to a Cessna to a Diamond isn't good when you're just starting out). It happens.

In full disclosure I am not and have not been paid/compensated by ATP for anything I have written on this blog. I'm just discussing my own opinion and experience while going there.

With that said, ATP recently posted a new video/commercial.


I didn't get the reduced rest overnight

I have said many times in this blog that rushing gets you no where fast. When at work I practice that rule. I need to start using that in my personal life as well.


This morning my wife and I left the house at 5:15AM to catch a 6:30AM flight. Flying is like driving to the store for us.....just another mode of transportation. But of course today isn't just another normal day....


I have gotten lax about preparing for a personal flight. This morning showed me I need to prepare for personal flights the same way I do for my work flights.


My wife work up at 4:30AM. I stayed in bed. She has three dogs that I don't care to interact with. If I stayed in bed then she would get to them in a few minutes.


Just past 4:50AM she was out taking care of her dogs...I rolled out of bed.


First stop was getting my computers ready. I copied over several video episodes of Diggnation to my netbook from my server. We were just going out for a day need for a full laptop.


I then got my clothes out of the dryer and turned on the iron. Time 4:58AM. My wife was busy feeding her dogs and getting ready herself.


While the iron was warming up I began searching for my employee ID, cell phone charging cable and GPS for the rental car. I was done ironing at 5:09AM. I still had not found my employee ID. I stashed my netbook and cables into my mini messenger bag and slipped my shoes on. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my ID.


We rushed out the door at 5:16AM. I tossed my bag and items into the backseat and drove away. Halfway to the stop sign I reached around my neck like I always do when heading to work to make sure I had my ID. I didn't feel it. Turn around.


I ran back inside to hunt for the ID. Not in sight. Once back in the car I saw it around the strap on my messenger bag. Nice.


Now we were 4 minutes late. We reached the employee lot at 5:38 AM. I saw the employee bus approaching. I still had not learned my lesson from 20 minutes prior and rushed myself and wife out of the car and across the lot. Once seated...another missing item. My cell phone.


As soon as I realized it was not in my bag or on my belt the bus pulled away. Crap. I told my wife to go ahead and go through security and I would meet her at the gate. At the next stop I got off and walked the 1/3 of a mile back to my car. I searched for my phone, which of course was in a black case......which was hopefully somewhere inside my car. Oh yeah I have a completely back interior. I searched and searched. No phone. Crap. Time is 5:49AM.


Figuring it is in my driveway I get and my car and start driving to the terminal. I then remembered my prepaid cell phone I carry for my side business. I grabbed it out of my messenger bag (glad I packed it in there last week!) and called my wife. We discussed our options. I then had a bright idea...have her call my cell phone to see if it was in the car. She did...and saw her phone number pop up on my radio screen. Thankfully my blue tooth was phone was in my car...somewhere.


I answered and told her to go to the gate and that I would princess park (parking right at the terminal) and meet her at the gate. Parking at the terminal is expensive....but I had no choice. I had put myself into this situation.


Once parked I turned off my car and called my phone again. I saw was under my brake pedal. Nice spot.


I cleared security and headed to the gate. Time 6:05AM. Flight made I needed coffee. We boarded the flight at 6:20AM. I wore my ID around my neck to make sure the flight attendants know I am here if they need me. I don't always wear it as they can also look on the passenger manifest to see I am a crew member. Today was different.


After I took my seat the crew prepared the cabin. To my astonishment and disgust a man across the aisle wasn't complying with the simple request to turn off his Iphone. Not airplane The reason? The FAA says devices have to be off....they don't mention “airplane mode”. The flight attendants enforce the FAA policy that electronic devices must be off. Don't be an ass...just turn it off.



The flight left on time. One flight attendant felt a little sorry for me as I was sitting in a middle seat next to another large guy (hmm did I just call myself large?) and told me after takeoff I could snag an exit row aisle seat. Sometimes it pays to wear my ID.


For now on I'm going to treat personal flights just like work flights. I don't rush for them because I prepare ahead of time.


Time to relax, remember those who are no longer here....and enjoy our day.



Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Unique Problem: Family life and being a pilot

Right now my immediate family consist of my awesome wife and myself. Soon there will be a second officer...but for now it's just us.

My wife has the "real" job. Many regional First Officers either live at home with the parents or are married to someone who has a "real job". Thankfully her job pays enough to pay all the bills and then some. I pay my car payment and student loan.

Her job, for the most part, is a typical 8-5 job (although she sets her own schedule and works 6:30AM-3PM. With my airport standby shift I work 2PM-10PM. Family time can be a little hard, but we manage.

Today a unique problem cropped up. My wife is a DNA Analyst for a major labaratory. She has to testify in court cases from time to time. Tomorrow is one of those times. This morning a District Attorney called her and advised of the court case being held tomorrow.  My wife  is flying out tonight and won't be back until late tomorrow night.

Although we don't have kids, my wife has 3 dogs. Since I am on airport standby I could easily be sent out on an overnight or multi-day trip. Who's going to watch the dogs tomorrow if we are both gone? She gave a heads up to our pet sitter that we *might* need her tomorrow.

My wife's flight leaves at 7:30PM. If I am still here then I will hang out with her at her gate before she leaves. If I get sent out on an overnight then I will have to call/email the pet sitter so she can stop by tomorrow.

When we have a second officer things could get really interesting.

For now...airport standby. Bids came out next month. I was awarded the same afternoon airport standby line. I have just one partial weekend off.

My wife the non-rev guru

My wife and I spent the weekend up in the Northwest. Getting there was pretty easy. Getting back? Not so much.

Before we left home I had a bad feeling about getting back. The flights on my mainline partner were all full/overbooked. The other airlines we had used in the past were all full to cities where we could connect to my mainline partner. I had no idea how we would get home. My wife is the optimist and wasn't worried. She never is.

We had a great weekend with my in laws. The main point of the trip was to replace my mother in laws aging computer. She bought the computer when my wife and I first met seven years ago! The computer was giving her lots of issues and needed to be replaced. I set her up with a 20 inch Imac with a wireless keyboard/mouse and an Apple express wireless router. She will have a much easier time now.

Monday was a bad day for non-rev travel. Not a single non-rev passenger got home on my mainline partner Monday. They all (30 of them!) rolled over to the Tuesday morning flight. Monday night my wife and I began looking for ways home. We listed on the Tuesday morning flight, but it was already oversold. Hmmm.....time for a plan B. I sent out request to friends who fly for various regionals to check loads on mainline flights.

My wife loves the freedom nonrev travel gives her. She has non-rev'd on three other airlines other than my own. She has become quite the non-rev guru. On this trip we would both be non-reving on a new airline.

I used my union website to figure out the proper jumpseat procedure for myself and then used my airline website to see how to ZED for my wife. Each carrier has their own way of doing things. One funny thing is that none of my friends at other airlines know how to jumpseat on their own airline. I have no idea how pilots from other airlines jumpseat on my airline. The reason? Well I, like my friends, use the airline software (which already knows who we are) to list.

We planned on trying for the 6AM flight on my mainline partner first. Then if that didn't work I would jumpseat and my wife would ZED on another airline to connect to a flight on my mainline partner.

My wife used hotel points for a hotel room close to the airport. We caught the 4:30AM van (I welcomed my wife to my world). I bought my wife a ZED pass from my airline while she checked in at the other airline “just in case”.

The 6AM flight on my mainline partner went out full. I couldn't jumpseat due to weight restrictions. No big deal as I wouldn't have left my wife behind anyway. Off to the other airline.

I gave the gate agent the required documents and she listed me on the flight. My wife and I were pretty sure we would make it on, but not positive. On my airline and my mainline partner I can see actual loads. On other airlines I can only get an idea. Yeah.

Thankfully they weren't full. We both got exit row seats (on opposite sides of the plane). Once on board I made a left turn to the cockpit and asked the Captain if it was okay with him if I rode in the back. They were a very nice crew. We chit chatted for a bit and then I went back to take my seat. The flight was fine. The cabin crew was MUCH nicer than the average cabin crew on my mainline partner. It was a nice change.

Once arriving my wife and I made our way over to the next gate. We missed the flight we wanted to get on by 10 minutes. Things worked out fine though as we got first class seats on the next flight.

I started traveling on a 3 day trip last Thursday. I arrived home on Tuesday. I slept in 3 different hotel rooms and 2 nights in my in-laws house. It was good to sleep in my own bed again.

Today is Wednesday. Bids for next month close at noon. Hope I get my usual afternoon airport standby line. I start a airport standby stint for 5 days today. Good times.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hot N Sweaty....but not in a good way

Day 2 of my 3 day trip was supposed to be super easy. Just 2 legs for a total of 3 1/2 hours of flight time. Yeah about that easy part.

The inbound plane was delayed. It left the gate 10 minutes late. Further delays were caused by an equipment restriction.

The APU on the aircraft was INOP. There mechanics followed a procedure which limited the aircraft speed and altitude. The max speed under the procedure was 220knots. The max altitude was FL230. a turboprop. Due to the slow speed the inbound was going to be 30 minutes late. They could have (and in my opinion should have) followed the procedure that allowed the plane to fly at max altitude and speed. Unfortunately they never consulted me.

While waiting in the gate area I played around on my netbook. On the trip I brought two computers, my 15 inch Macbook Pro and my 10.1 inch HP Mini 5101 netbook. I am still working on getting the netbook up to speed as far as being able to travel with it alone. I got more than a few looks when I went thru security with two computers.

Eventually the plane arrived. The ground crew connected the external power and PCA  (pre-conditioned air, needed especially since here was no APU!). After the passengers and crew were off we made our way on board.

With the PCA connected the cabin temp was down to a decent 79 degrees. This was of course without 70 warm bodies on board.

Passengers began boarding and after all were on board the temperature rose to 88 degrees. Not comfy, but there was a stream of cool air blowing from the vents via the PCA. Then it happened.

Without warning the ground crew pulled the PCA off. Immediately the Captain got up and went out to see why and have it reconnected. The ground crew had it reconnected within 4 minutes, but the damage was done, inside temp was 90 degrees. There was no way to cool is back down.

We coordinated with the ground crew to pull the air off again and prepare to start an engine. Everything was in place.

They pulled the air and within two minutes gave the signal to start the right engine (which powers the right pack which cools the cabin). As soon as the Captain hit the start button (opening the start valve), the pressure dropped. No rotation. We tried again. Dropped. The ground crew went to find another air cart. Temp still hovering at 90 degrees inside.

Second cart connected. Same issue, as soon as the start valve was opened (via the start button) the pressure would drop. The PCA was reconnected. Temp holding at 91 degrees.

Third cart connected, PCA pulled off. Same issue. Temp too high inside, time to deboard. 70 mildly sweaty passengers happily got off the plane and were happy to feel the 88 degree air OUTSIDE the plane.

The ground crew (we only had 2 of the 6 rampers as the rest were working other flights) left to handle another flight and source out a fourth air cart. I stood at the main door to cool down.  Ten minutes later they found another air cart. This one sourced from Southwest Airlines. Surely their cart could handle a CRJ. The Captain and I climbed into the 94 degree stuffy cockpit and ran the checklist while they connected the air cart. The PSI was reading a solid 50 on the ECS page. The other 3 carts never went higher than 38 PSI. Thankfully the engine started without issue. Problem? The cabin was showing 100 degrees!

I monitored the cooling of the cabin. If I just set the temp all the way down the pack would freeze and no air would come out. I put the right pack in manual mode and set the output at 6C (42F). The CRJ is an international plane built by Canadians and thus uses Celcius. I have converted everything to Farenheit thus far in this post. Once the pack was steady I headed back to the cabin to cool down. The cockpit gets very little air until the left pack gets pressure (via the left engine).

Once the cabin cooled to 80 degrees (about 15 minutes), we began reboarding. Amazingly most of the passengers were very understanding and pleasant. This after being delayed in a warm and balmy aircraft.

After they were all on board the cabin temp rose, but held at 82 degrees with cool air a flowin'. Time to go!

We pushed out 2 hours late. My leg. On taxi out the cockpit hung around 88 degrees. Ugh. Finally the left engine was started. Relief.

I wrote in big numbers "220" on my notepad and put it on my yoke. The number was to remind me the max speed is 220 knots. Even with that my mind worked in the normal mode.

During the climb I still called for "flaps up, speed 250". The Captain came back with "Max 220" and set the speed. This is why there are two of us in the cockpit.

The only good thing about having a max speed of 220? We climbed like a bat out of hell. I turned on the autopilot very early, around 8000 feet, as I was annoyed having to climb at a slow speed.

The plane leveled off at FL210 and that was it. It seemed like time stood still. I would look down at my MFD, see an airport, find it outside and the look elsewhere for a bit. A few minutes later I would repeat the same thing, the airport seemed to have not moved!

We were enroute to a base other than my own. I don't care for this other base. I joked with the Captain that I get Tourettes syndrome whenever I fly there.

I prepped myself for the arrival. Between the runway and the gate I have to use three different frequencies. One for ground, one for company and one for the ramp, which is controlled by another airline. Annoying.

Each controller along the way inquired as to why we were flying so slow. We told each one our max speed was 220 knots. Entering the terminal area we were vectored around quite a bit. The skies were very hazy. While on downwind we were advised to look for a 737 at our 1 o'clock and 4 miles. Then 1 o'clock and 3 miles. Then 2 miles. We never saw it. Finally just told to join the localizer. No problem.

The 737 was 2 miles ahead landing on the same runway. I never saw it until it touched down. My turn.

The winds were a little gusty. I was lined up for runway 10. This airport was launching planes off runway 32 which crossed my runway. The outbound planes would takeoff and turn left. A little unnerving seeing an airliner coming toward you.

The landing was uneventful. My second nice one in a row.

Clearing the runway the annoyance started. I called ground. Told to taxi toward the gate. Called company. Told the gate is open. Getting close to the gate I called the other airline which controlled the ramp, told to come in on the west line and hold behind another gate. We made it in. The flight was blocked for 1 hour 45 minutes. The flight took 2 hours 5 minutes. Mostly due to slow 220 knots.

I was hungry. We would be getting to the overnight at 10PM (at best) instead of 8PM. I needed food. I hurried around to a McDonalds. I didn't want was my only option. McNuggets in tow I hurried back to the plane. We had a whopping 7 passengers. Seven. Wow. I scarfed down my McNuggets as I assumed we were leaving soon.

Stomach full of grease and chicken parts a new problem arose. Center of gravity. With such a light load we had to move all the passengers to the front of the cabin to keep from being aft heavy. Even then the ground crew had to move bags from the aft cargo to the front cargo. We started an engine and pushed out an hour after blocking in. Why did I rush again?

Taxiing out was just as annoying as taxiing in. Lots of radio frequency switching. This time I tuned 5 different frequencies before we took off. The flight to the overnight was to a city just a few miles from the previous overnight. Again we were limited to 220 knots. We had a (thankfully) light headwind. The Captain made a beautiful approach and did the best job he could landing the very light plane. The landing weight was just 50,950 pounds. The lowest speed card onboard was 50,000 pounds. The next highest up was 54,000 pounds which is what we used. Even on speed, the plane floated for a bit before the Captain just had to set it down on the runway. Somehow this late at night both of the gates my airline uses were occupied! Did they not know we were coming? After waiting 5 minutes we pulled in, two hours late.

We all were tired. We were on duty for 8 hours instead of the scheduled 6. All the heat and problems had taken a toll on us. Thankfully the Hyatt has awesome beds. After calling my wife I hit the bed and slept wonderfully.

One problem with this job is sleeping in a different city every night. On the first overnight I woke up and had no idea where I was. I had a small panic attack. I had to use the GPS on my phone to figure out where I was. Kinda scary.

This morning I woke up nicely. The van time was set for 9:40AM for a 10:40AM departure. The breakfast at this hotel is very nice. One problem, they ran out of coffee. Coffee is a "no go" item with me. If I have no coffee...I won't go!

I ate breakfast with Peggy, (again my favorite flight attendant) while discussing my plans to head out of town for the weekend. She was worried about the coffee situation as well and checked on the coffee twice for me. Thankfully they brought coffee right before the van time.

The van...wasn't really a van. It was a Ford 500 sedan. This hotel only has one van. Another crew (from my airline) had a 9:50 van. For whatever reason they ordered the taxi for us (a 4 person crew) and gave the van to them (a 3 person crew). The other flight attendant joked about how tight the back seat would be since none of us are small in stature. I jokingly asked her if she was calling me fat.

We were all on board the plane (which arrived early) and ready to leave 40 minutes prior to departure. We actually pushed out 5 minutes early! My leg.

This plane had no MEL'd items. Nice. I was assigned one leg in bound, a 2 1/2 hour sit, then a quick 2 hour turn. I was set to be done at 5:05PM. My plan was to join my wife for a 6:20PM flight. Could be close. During the sit time I planned on driving home. Eating lunch then having my wife drive me back. This way she could later use my car to drive to the employee lot (saving on parking fees!) and meet me at the gate.

Since I had plans I flew a little faster than normal. Almost as though it were planned ATC gave us the runway closest too our gate.

The winds were blowing 040@16G24. Landing runway 2. Everything was kosher till about 10 feet when I chopped the power. A quick gust came pushing the plane up and left. I goosed the power and managed the smoothest landing in a while. Mostly due to the headwind I think.

We blocked in 12 minutes early. Twenty minutes after blocking in I was in my car headed home. Once home I checked my schedule. The turn was was downgraded to a smaller aircraft. I quickly called crew scheduling. There were no other First Officers on reserve available for the rest of the day. The contract states they must give me an assignment right away or release me. I checked before calling and there were no uncovered flights. I was released. Awesome!

My wife and I were free to leave early. Unfortunetly the first flight we tried was full. Well not really. There was one open cabin seat (for my wife) and the cockpit jumpseat. The flight was too long for me to want to sit in the jumpseat so we passed. Good thing we did as the next flight allowed us to snag seats in First Class where I am now. The plane has onboard Internet. Nice!

Headed to the Northwest for the weekend.

Tired. Slept very well last night. The Hyatt has awesome beds. I was supposed to do 3 legs today. First leg was mine. After that my next turn downgraded to a smaller plane. Released. Wife and I at the airport now trying to get up to the Northwest. I will write up a nice long blog on the flight. Yesterday was a VERY rough day.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hmm when did the CRJ get a vibrating seat?

My 2:25PM departure left the gate at 4:40PM. Two hours late. I was in a good mood as I had a nice crew. My favorite flight attendant was on the trip. She is the nicest lady in the world and takes care of the crew as though we were her kids.

The damage to the wing was only surface damage, but it took a while for it to get signed off by a mechanic.

The first leg out was the Captains leg. I hadn't flow in almost 2 weeks. Sitting back was perfectly fine with me. Being 2 hours late there was no way we were going to make up the time. He climbed at a high speed and we flew a little faster than normal but only cut 5 minutes off the 2 hour 40 minute scheduled block time.

I was hungry when we pulled into the outstation. This airport has extremely long concourses. The area we park at is kind of isolated. No food nearby. There used to be a Chinese food place that gave flight crews huge portions, but it closed down. We were scheduled for a 30 minute turn. The walk to the food court is literally over 200 yards. Thankfully I had the post flight/dash to get food/stop by the mens room/prepare the plane for the next flight thing down to a science.

After running the parking checklist I stood in the cockpit doorway and thanked the passengers. They are the reason I am here. Once they were off I took my time with the post flight, no issues found. I then briskly walked all the way down to the food court. I ordered chips and guacamole (I love guacamole!) and made my way back to the plane. After stopping by the mens room I used a computer in the gate area to check the schedule. Being so late I was wondering if our overnight would be given away. Nope still there. The reason? There are no other crews available to fly it. Nice.

I stashed my dinner and began preparing the plane for the return trip. When I finished there was still 5 minutes to spare. Nice.

The return flight was nice. Coming into the airport area they changed the runway twice. Initially it was a runway close to our gates, then it was a runway far from our gates and finally it was one in the middle.

With all of the changes I turned off the flight director and and did a pure visual approach.

I configured the plane a little earlier than normal as I haven't flown in a while. By 1500 feet all the checklist had been run.

The winds on the ground were 040/15 and I was landing on runway 8. At 1000 feet the winds were 020/30. The nose was pointing a good deal to the left of the runway but the plane was tracking straight to the runway. At 500 feet all was looking well. The controls did feel a little stiff. I looked down and noticed I had the trim up to 7.4. A little high. With my right thumb I lowered the trim down to 7.0. Better. I began straightening out the nose at 20 feet and adding left aileron. I noticed I was a bit left of centerline. There was too much correction in. Thrust levers idled at 10 feet. I eased up on the yoke and left the plane drift more towards centerline. I held off the main gear for a few seconds and made a surprisingly nice landing just slightly on the upwind side of centerline.

On the way back to the base, the flight attendants let us know about a piece of metal carpet trim that was sticking up in the aisle which could cause a safety hazard.

When we pulled into the gate and finished the checklist the Captain called a mechanic. I thanked the passengers and was happy to hear many comments about the smooth/nice flight and landing. I never get tired of hearing attaboys!

Thankfully the mechanics/rampers/ground crew all wanted to get us out to our overnight. We were the LAST fight to leave. We were still running nearly 90 minutes late. It's amazing how fast people work when they have a desire to be home. Just 30 minutes after we pulled in we were being pushed out! Carpet fixed!

During the push out the Captain started the left engine. Once started we both heard and felt a vibration that wasn't present on the last two flights. The vibration gauges won't appear until both engines are started. He started the right engine which felt normal. Once the vibration gauges appeared the left engine showed .6 while the right showed .2. Both in the "green" range.

Taxiing to the runway the left engine dropped to .4 vibration. Better.

On the takeoff roll to vibration gauge surged higher and went to 1.0. I was expecting a master caution light if it went past 1.6. Didn't happen. I announced "V1, rotate" and we climbed into the sky.

We were all tired. Long day. Being so late at night ATC gave us a clearance to FL310 very early. En route the vibration gauge for the left engine rose to 1.3...but held. Again still in the green.

Forty-five minutes after taking off the Captain landed the plane at the outstation. We were supposed to arrive at 10:40PM. Due to all the delays we landed at 11:50PM. We officially blocked in at 11:54PM. Same day we could do.

We used to stay at a nice downtown hotel in this city. The downtown area is a little seedy. A number of flight attendants from another base complained loudly enough and caused the airline to change. No one from my base complained. The old hotel had free breakfast, an awesome gym and an entire room just for crews to hang out and relax. The room had a fully stocked (free!) snack area with soft drinks, coffee, cereal, crackers, chips, candy, milk and more. There was a computer AND printer with Internet Access.  It was awesome! The new one has NONE of those. Not a single perk beyond a decent gym. The new hotel is also further away from food. I'm sure we will be stuck here for at least a year. At least the hotel tonight is my second favorite hotel, The Hyatt Place.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Not a good way to start a trip

As soon as I signed in for airport standby my phone rang. Not wanting to waste my cell phone minutes for work, I didn't answer. I knew what they wanted. I had a flight.

Crew scheduling tried calling me 2 hours prior while I was at home and OFF DUTY. I had no obligation to answer the phone...and didn't. Any voicemail left while off duty doesn't constitute official contact, so I ignored it. I did check the uncovered flights and saw a 4 day trip open. I'm only good for 3 days.

I called back from a gate telephone and confirmed my assignment. A flight leaving at 2:25PM. Hmmm okay. I have 45 minutes minimum to get ready for a flight. The reason they called earlier while I was off duty was to let me know about the flight. If I knew about the flight and it left late they could point at me. No thanks. I told the agent I would do my best to get the flight out within 45 minutes. Done.

Next to me at the gate was my favorite flight attendant. She is the nicest flight attendant at my airline. She is just an awesome person in general, very motherly like.

I went down to the plane and chatted with the Captain. He was flipping through the MEL book. Not good. Thankfully just a burned out bulb for the lavatory occupied sign. I then stowed my bags I went out to do my pre-flight.

As I walked toward the right wing something didn't look right. There was paint missing on the flap fairing. A lot of paint. Like something hit the wing.

I finished the preflight and told the Captain.We both then went out and inspected the damage. Something hit it. Likely on the ground. Another call the maintenance.

No way we were leaving at 2:25....or 2:45. At 3PM we were told the mechanic estimated a 4:15PM repair time....maybe. With that news I grabbed my laptop bag and went up to the terminal....where I am now.

Once I get back on Saturday I plan on leaving with my wife that night to go to Oregon to visit my mother in law and help her get a new computer. Should be fun.

I really hope my airline starts hiring again and brings back the furloughed pilots. It's not a good thing to have zero reserves available during a normal week. There was no bad weather this week to cause delays and thus staffing issues. Normal operations. For now.....I have an hour until the next update time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Republic is Hiring?

Bryan Bedford, Republic Airways Holdings CEO, stated Republic Airways IS hiring pilots and flight crews. I find this highly suspicious. Take it for what you will. Interview starts about 1 minute 48 seconds in.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I'm staying put again

For the third time in a row I have weathered the displacement storm.

The final bid came out today (due out yesterday). Just like on the preliminary result I am staying put. This is only due to one person above me choosing to move to a different base on the same aircraft while another pilot is moving into my base on my current aircraft creating a one for one swap. No pilots displaced into my current status.

I really thought the third time was the charm. My wife and I discussed the real possibility that I would be come a commuter. Thankfully it didn't happen. I do feel bad for all those who will be forced to now commute across the country. It could just have easily been me.

That's all for now.  I am spending the day trying to install Mac OS on my new netbook. So far...not going very well.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I haven't actually flown in August

So it's August 10th and I haven't flown yet. I've gotten as close as the cockpit door.

As normal I have airport standby this month. I had my 2PM-10PM shift Wednesday last week thru Saturday. Yesterday I was on at home reserve. On Thursday I would have flown, but I called in sick. I made it all the way to the airport, signed in and then realized my sinus pain wasn't going away. After about 10 minutes I realized I am in no condition to fly and made the call. On that day I was the only First Officer available. The flight I was supposed to fly was flown by two Captains instead. In fact I have seen at least 5 Captains fly as First Officers due to a lack of First Officers over the last few days.

Friday I had another chance to fly. There was a long overnight open. I had plans on Saturday to meet up with a friend who was flying out of my base at 4PM. The long overnight got back at 4PM. No bueno. I called a buddy of mine who was already flying a trip on overtime and asked if he wanted another overnight and more overtime. He did. Awesome. So I went home without flying.

Saturday I spent a good 2 hours catching up with my best friend from high school. I haven't seen her in over 10 years. While perusing Facebook a few months ago I came across her name. Yadda yadda yadda we planned to meet up and thankfully it all worked out. After she left I did get a call for an overnight. I was given 2 1/2 hours notice which is kind of annoying as I could have just as easily been at home. Again I was the only First Officer available.

When I looked up the flight info I noticed the plane was currently down for maintenance and has been down for hours. Hmmm. I kept an eye on it. The ETA for the repair was pushed back to 10 minutes prior to departure. Yeah. I made my way over to the plane 40 minutes prior to departure. The plane had power and PCA (nice), but there wasn't a mechanic in sight. I chatted with the Captain for a few minutes before heading back up to the gate area. Sure enough the repair ETA was pushed back again. I helped a few passengers with questions (the gate agent was very busy with answering questions about the new delay) while keeping an eye on the repair and flight status. The flight was to leave at 7:10PM. New time was 7:25PM. Another First Officer walked up with his wife and kid. He was flying out to an overnight and trying to non-rev his family home. He had hoped to get them on my flight instead of the later flight. I then let him in on the news. Not good news mind you.

A few minutes before 7PM I noticed the flight had cancelled. I quietly showed the gate agent the bad news on the computer I was using. She sighed and went back to her desk. I felt bad for her as she had to rebook 70 passengers who most likely ended up staying in a hotel for the night. There was one more flight that night, but it was already full. The First Officers family had to either fly to a nearby city and drive or stay the night in the hub. The joys of non-rev travel.

Sunday I had a 2 hour reserve call out. Never got called. Good times. Off for 3 days. Still waiting on the final displacement results.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Questions Answered: Hotels for overnights

I was wondering what type of hotels they give for your overnight stopover? I heard that on international routes they get 5 star hotels for crew members, what about on regional airlines & domestic routes?

Does it includes free food or its up to the crew to pay for it?

Hotels.....some are awesome (Hyatt Place!)...some are not so awesome (Comfort Inn).

While on a trip all hotels are paid for by my airline. The union stipulates what level of hotels the airline is allowed to place crews in. The airline must try to select hotels with a gym for example. Some hotels have amazing work out facilities (Marriott's and Hyatt Place) while others have old, worn out, rusty pieces of metal.

Depending on the length of the overnight the airline must attempt to select hotels with food/activities around. For short overnights the airline must attempt to select a hotel close to the airport to reduce drive time and increase rest time. For longer overnights the airline must attempt to select hotels located around places to eat and entertainment. Notice I use the words try and attempt. Yeah.

I will say 99% of the hotels I stay at are very nice. There are pilots and flight attendants that review hotels and work with the airline on which hotels to use in each city.

Staying in hotels used to be exciting for me. Now....not so much. I have gotten used to just leaving without having to sign or pay. When I travel with my wife it feels odd to "pay" for a hotel room...even though most of the time we use we don't really pay.

As far as meals, some hotels offer free breakfast, dinner or happy hour o'dourves. Many offer free Internet. As part of the contract every hotel I have stayed in while at my airline comps any Internet charge which is nice as it cost them next to nothing. I have noticed the "nicer" the hotel....the less they offer free. Holiday Inn Express gives free Internet, free hot breakfast (I love their cinnamon rolls) and has an awesome showerhead (my wife bought me the same model for Christmas a few years ago). The Marriott has none of those. The Marriott does offer nicer beds, fancier rooms and really nice smelling lotion (my skin gets really dry while flying).

For each hour I am away from base I get per diem. Over the course of a month a typical line holder gets $350-$550 a month in per diem. This can really help get by during the first few years at an airline. Back when I held a line, I spent at most $230 a month while eating on the road while taking $400 a month home in per diem. I could have spent WAY less if I watched my spending and brought along more snacks/food.

I haven't flown Internationally yet for an overnight, just for turns. I do hear from the crews that do overnights in Mexico and Canada that most of the hotels are on par with Domestic. A few cities have the crews staying at very nice vacation resorts. Would be nice.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Preparing for a trip

Prior to flying for an airline, my wife and I were airline mile whores. No better way to say it. We craved airline miles. There was once a promotion where we would get 60,000 bonus miles if we flew 6 round trips between certain cities. At the time we were planning on going to Hawaii for a week in the fall. The price of a roundtrip coach ticket to Hawaii was more expensive than the 6 round trip flights between the designated cities. Not only were these 6 roundtrips cheaper, but we would have enough miles to fly FIRST CLASS to Hawaii. Nice. We did it. We took 6 day trips to see cities we likely never would have gone too. Another couple who were also mileage whores joined in as well. In the end we found a dirt cheap round trip fare to Hawaii for $350 round trip and thus saved the miles for use elsewhere.

Once I decided to fly for a living we stopped trying to earn airline miles. We now focus on hotel points. I am guilty in one aspect....I still get airline miles for my mainline partner for every dollar I spend on a certain household bill. I've earned enough miles for one free roundtrip ticket....who knows when I will use it.

My wife and I are planning a trip to Tokyo in the fall. Between the two of us we have enough hotel points for 4 free nights at a very nice hotel. I'm using my Starwood Points for two nights and then our Capital One Rewards points for the other two nights. Not too shabby.

This is will be our first time REALLY out of the country. We have traveled to Toronto, Canada and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, but they aren't REALLY out of the country. Anyone who has been to Tokyo and has any tips feel free to shoot me an email at Geek AT geekinthecockpit dot com.

The results from the displacement won't be out for a few days. Everything is done by hand. Even when the results are released, if I am displaced, I will have to wait a few weeks for a training date. Even then...I might not go if another vacancy/displacement bid is posted. The last two times I was displaced, I ended up keeping my seat. Here's hoping that happens a third time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Crowded Hub Away From Home

I just might be looking for a crashpad of my 'own' soon. This is a very candid look at crashpads. I bet most Americans have no idea what a crashpad is....even though they might be living next to one. This is a very well written article. For those who don't care to read the whole thing, I pulled out a quote that puts the whole regional flying thing into prespective:

The wife of a captain who stays at Sterling Park said she resents the situation, particularly his sharing a house with other women while she and their children live on the other side of the country.

"Sometimes I feel as though he's off to this life we know nothing about," the woman said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fear of career repercussions against her husband. "He kind of lives like a single person in a dorm. I don't know any of the people he talks about. I don't know any spouses or any family. There are no Christmas parties, no socializing."

She said it has been difficult for their children. "My little girl, she says, 'When is Daddy coming to visit us again?' I said, 'Daddy doesn't come and visit us. This is his home.' "

Here is the link to the story. There is a very interesting photo slideshow of a crashpad.

A Crowded Hub Away From Home

Regional Airline Crews Rest Uneasy In Crash Pads

By Sholnn Freeman

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 4, 2009

At first sight, the Sterling Park house looks like an ordinary split-level, complete with carport, backyard grill and freshly mowed grass. But instead of housing a growing suburban family, it offers accommodations for 30 pilots and flight attendants struggling to string together a few precious hours of sleep.

This is a typical crash pad for regional airline flight crews -- part of a subculture of boardinghouses jokingly referred to by those who use them as the world's largest illegal housing network. It's a makeshift arrangement for people who often have to travel cross-country from the cities where they live to the airports where their jobs are based. A few describe themselves as "somewhat homeless" and complain that they make so little money that they have to make crash pads their primary homes.

Regional airline pilots, whose employers pay much less than major airlines, say crash pads are emblematic of the dysfunction in the nation's air transportation system. They exist to fill a need for a cheap place to rest.

The house in Sterling Park illustrates their point. The interior is nondescript. The faded carpets, brownish wallpaper and secondhand furniture give rooms the feel of a low-budget motel.

Three upstairs bedrooms each hold two sets of bunk beds. Another upstairs room has two additional beds. The basement holds 16. There is little personality in the spaces, which evoke the austerity of military barracks. Storage bins double as nightstands, and some people drape the bunks with sheets to carve out a little private space.

The primary rules: Keep the place dark, and be respectful. With that in mind, people go to extremes: They might take a lamp into a closet to put on a uniform or use light from a cellphone to get dressed.

The aviation subcommittee headed by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to look at financial relationships between major airlines and regional carriers and the effect on safety. The witness list includes Philip Trenary, president and chief executive of Pinnacle Airlines, and Don Gunther, vice president for safety at Continental.

Owners of crash pads estimate that between 500 and 1,000 such houses exist in the United States. They can be found in Pittsburgh, Newark, Houston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chicago -- any place a major airline has hub operations fed by regional carriers.

Joe Williams, a spokesman for Pinnacle Airlines, parent company of Manassas-based regional carrier Colgan Air, said Pinnacle supports "the right of our pilots to live where they choose. . . . Some pilots choose crash pads, and some choose to move to the area where they are based."

But some industry analysts and labor officials say it isn't a choice; the need for crash pads is rooted in the financial woes of major airlines and traveling America's thirst for cheap tickets.

"The sad truth of this industry is that [air travel] has been and remains one of the great bargains for the consumer," said Bill Swelbar, a researcher at the International Center for Air Transportation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "When adjusted for inflation over the last 30 years, fares are down some 50-plus percent. And that just does not make for a sustainable business model. It doesn't make a model that allows them to compensate their people well, like they have in the past."

* * *

According to the Department of Transportation, the last six fatal commercial aviation accidents in the United States involved regional air carriers. The most recent was the Feb. 12 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 near Buffalo, which killed all 49 people onboard and one on the ground. Federal investigators have called it the deadliest U.S. transportation accident in seven years, and it offers a window into working conditions in the regional airline world.

Colgan operated Flight 3407, but Continental Airlines sold the tickets and draped the plane in company colors. The plane's co-pilot, Rebecca Shaw, lived with her husband in her parent's Seattle home, thousands of miles away from her pilot base in Newark.

On the night before the accident, Shaw flew to Newark as a passenger on a FedEx plane. Along the way, according to federal investigators, she told an inquiring FedEx pilot that she didn't have a crash pad. She also said there was a couch in the Colgan crew room at Newark "with her name on it."

The National Transportation Safety Board has yet to determine the cause of the Colgan accident. But investigators, congressional committees and other federal officials are delving into a number of problems brought to light by the crash, including excessive commuting by flight crews, industry hiring practices, corporate financial pressures and crew member fatigue.

"I think the accident should serve as a wake-up call," said Charlie Preusser, 30, a pilot who worked at Colgan in 2007 and lived in a crash pad in Albany, N.Y. "We are putting pilots in compromising situations. Airlines are being allowed to push pilots way too much."

However, Williams, the Pinnacle spokesman, said: "On average, Colgan pilots fly less than five hours a day and average 50 hours a month. It is a rare occasion to actually exceed seven hours flying and extremely rare to legally exceed eight hours."

While working for Colgan as a co-pilot, Preusser shared a crash pad with about seven other people. Most of the time, he slept on an air mattress.

At Colgan, Preusser said, he took home about $20,000 a year piloting a Beechcraft 1900D, a turboprop that flies 19 passengers, a load so small that the airline wasn't required to have a flight attendant onboard. As the first officer, or second-in-command, he seated passengers, conducted the safety briefing and checked seat belts before taking his chair in the cockpit. He generally flew up to six departures a day.

Today, half of all scheduled flights in the United States are operated by regional airlines. Pay rates are rooted in a complicated system dating to the 1920s and '30s that takes into account the size and weight of the airplane, pilot rank and even plane speed.

Airline bankruptcies since the 2001 terrorist attacks have also left a deep impact, driving down pay by 30 to 50 percent, according to the Air Line Pilots Association, the nation's largest pilot union. Senior pilots on the largest airliners earned as much as $300,000 a year. Those pilots saw their annual pay shaved to $170,000. In the regional world, $100,000-a-year captains dropped to $80,000. Those in the $40,000 range fell to $30,000. Now, first-year pilots in the industry can make as little as $20,000. Flight attendants make even less.

"It was a huge step back," said Paul Rice, first vice president of the ALPA. "Most pilots lost pension and a lot of contractual work rules that revolve around scheduling."

In the past, regional airline pilots would live "continuously hand-to-mouth" for a couple of years, building their résumés with the hope of being promoted to a better-paying captain's job, Preusser said. That captain's job, in turn, could be a launching pad to a better-paying position at a major airline. But those expectations have been disrupted by the economic downturn, which has led to steep financial losses and route and employment cutbacks.

"Unfortunately, now there is nowhere to go," Preusser said. "People aren't retiring; there is no movement. The present quality of life is substandard. And now it no longer has an expiration date."

Rice said executives at larger airlines have reacted to financial losses by handing regional airline contracts to lower and lower bidders, sacrificing pay and work standards along the way. Rice said the dynamic continues today. "Ultimately, the cost base at Colgan will be too high, and the cycle will begin again," he said.

David Castelveter, spokesman for the industry trade group Air Transport Association, said the sour financial condition of U.S. airlines has forced pay cuts for all industry employees.

"There aren't many more costs they can take out without grounding airplanes," he said.

The industry continues to lose money, he said, partly because of cheap ticket prices and fluctuating fuel costs. He estimated that major and regional airlines collectively lost $2 billion in the first quarter of this year.

Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the agency has no authority to regulate pilot pay and has no plans to address directly the issue of crew commuting. However, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt recently set up a rulemaking committee to examine government standards for pilot rest and maximum work hours, which have not been revised in decades. Babbitt has asked for recommendations from the panel, made up of industry and union representatives and experts, by Sept. 1.

* * *

For now, crash pads are an important part of the system for crew members who make little money. The average rental is about $200 a month. Some pads, such as the Sterling Park house, are used by men and women but have same-sex rooms. At the low end, pads specialize in "hot-sheeting," which lets a person rent a bed for a single night.

Listings can be found on Web sites that cater to commuting pilots and flight attendants, such as, which recently had 357 listings and says it has had 10,000 members since its launch in 1997. Fliers for crash pads can also be found on bulletin boards in airline crew rooms, but the best become known by word of mouth.

The experience can be akin to living in a college dormitory, except with less space and even less control over who else lives there. At Sterling Park, residents come from all parts of the country and work for at least three airlines, including Colgan, Mesa Air and United. A resident can spend as few as two days a month in the house or as many as 20.

Most wrestle with sleep issues and scrambled body clocks, the result of jumbled work schedules. A shift might start in the early morning and stretch into the night. Compounding this, residents say, is the tendency by regional airlines to switch these schedules around constantly, giving the body little ability to adjust to a sleep pattern.

The average age in the house is about 30. Some who live there have put their partying days behind them. Others have children and spouses. Many are involved in adult-level dramas usually played out via cellphone with people in other states -- which everyone else tries to tune out in order to sleep.

The wife of a captain who stays at Sterling Park said she resents the situation, particularly his sharing a house with other women while she and their children live on the other side of the country.

"Sometimes I feel as though he's off to this life we know nothing about," the woman said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fear of career repercussions against her husband. "He kind of lives like a single person in a dorm. I don't know any of the people he talks about. I don't know any spouses or any family. There are no Christmas parties, no socializing."

She said it has been difficult for their children. "My little girl, she says, 'When is Daddy coming to visit us again?' I said, 'Daddy doesn't come and visit us. This is his home.' "

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Great Airline That Didn't Make It

I have always liked Expressjet. They had high pay, great morale and a great contract. They weren't the first regional airline to try a run at running their own airline separate from their mainline contract. I had high hopes for them. When they were in operation customers raved about the service and amenities. Expressjet didn't compete with mainline routes, instead they connected cities that previously had no service, but needed service.

The planes were full, the crews were happy and the airport employees were happy. It could have worked....but high gas prices came at the wrong time. I will never forget the a Colgate toothpaste tube.

Here's a video about the marketing team that helped create the Expressjet brand.


CFI Renewed

*It's been reported to me that Google's Chrome browser is having problems displaying I've tested the site with Safari, Internet Explorer and Firefox. Will have to see what's up with Google Chrome.

CFI Renewal is done. Took me a little more than a month to complete the process. I used American Flyers to renew my CFI. They have a "pay once, use it for life" plan.

Since I sit at the airport....A LOT...I used all of that time to study and take the online courses. I learned a bit. I was surprised at home much I *forgot*.

I finished the course on Saturday. I called the local FAA FSDO this morning and made an appointment for 1PM. Previously I really thought I would have to make an appointment weeks in advance. Nope.

So more of the morning I relaxed and watched episodes of Diggnation. Around Noon I figured I should print out my 8710 form and my Flight Instructor Refresher Course completion certificate. Both were saved in PDF format.

For 20+ years I have been a Microsoft guy. Starting April 2008 I started using Mac OS X. I have come to love this Operating System....till today. For some reason every time I printed out my 8710 form about 1/2 inch of the left hand side was cut off. Hmm. I tried shrinking and luck. I tried a different printer. Same issue. It was now 12:20PM. I turned on a backup computer (I'm a geek...I live with 6 computers). The backup computer runs Windows XP and has minimal software installed (it's a gaming computer). I plugged a printer in. Needed a driver. I downloaded the driver. The HP driver took forever to install. Time was 12:25PM. Crap. Hmmm I could reboot my Macbook Pro into Windows 7.

Once booted into Windows 7 I plugged in the HP printer. The Windows 7 Operating System immediately installed the drivers (it's an all in one printer!) without me doing a thing. I didn't download any software...Windows 7 did it all. I then opened the 8710 PDF again and hit print. It came out perfectly. I flipped it over and printed the back. Done. At 12:29PM I was walking out he door.

This was my first time to actually meet with the FAA. All of my previous ratings were done with a designated examiner.

The FAA representative was very nice, but had zero sense of humor.

The meeting was very straight forward. He made sure everything was correct on my 8710. I forgot to include the fact that I was a Gold Seal CFI, so he added it for me. He asked if I was currently instructing. I told him no, that I worked so hard earning my CFI that I never wanted to let it lapse. He then asked about the plane I fly and if we fly to his hometown. In fact my plane does fly there. Then I attempted humor.

"If I ever get a chance to go home I will look and see if you are flying that flight." he said. "Well if I am you better run, my landings have been pretty rough lately!" I replied. Nothing. Not a smile. Not a chuckle. Nothing.

During my drive home I thought back at how much fun I had at ATP earning my ratings. I took the self paced course and finished the entire program (zero to CFI) in 10 months. Not really fast...but a pretty good pace. I miss flying for fun and actually being able to see the world up close and personal. My airline flies to a few smaller airports. Each time I see a general aviation plane I am quite jealous of the pilots. They are having way more fun than me (even though I am often having a blast).

Below are a few photos of my time at ATP.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Airline Management Secret Video

Some airlines pilots are not happy.

And the associated store:

Nice weekend

Had airport standby yesterday. I was never called. Today I was assigned reserve at home with a 2 hour call out. I started reserve at 6AM. Somehow I haven't been called. There are no reserve First Officers available today. It's mid-afternoon and I doubt I will be called. Monday and Tuesday are my days off so I'm not good for an overnight.

I spent the morning watching a movie with my wife. We then went shopping for a new TV for our bedroom. Didn't pull the trigger yet. Hard to justify spending $500 for a TV that we will only watch the news on (although seeing Robin Meade clearly is important too me).

I'm betting being so late in the day that seeing a movie at a movie theatre is a safe bet. I could be called out...but doubtful. I'm going to throw my uniform in the car just in case.

The displacement closes tomorrow. I'm willing to be money I will be displaced out of my seat. I am the most junior pilot in my status. They aren't displacing out of my status, but more senior pilots can displace INTO my status thus pushing me out.

I've agonized for hours over what to do. I have the choice of displacing to a lower paying status in base or the same paying status in another base....thus becoming a commuter. Still not positive which way I will go. I have until 11PM Monday night before the displacement bid closes.

The lower paying status in base would result in several thousand dollars less in pay over the course of a year. Big cut. Commuting cost will be at least $200 a month. Eh.

For to see Funny People.