Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dropping the F bomb

It was supposed to be an easy day. Nine AM sign in. 9:30 deadhead. One flight back to base and done.

The dead head went fine. Once I walked off the jet bridge the craziness started.

The station manager stopped me and said, "Crew scheduling said everyone HAS to check their schedules BEFORE they get on the next flight." I said, "ok," and walked straight to my plane. We flew in on one plane and were flying out on another.

Clearly recorded on paper are the rules/procedures concerning crew contact and assignments. Once I have been given an assignment it can not change unless there is two way communication between myself and scheduling or my chief pilot. That's it. The station manager is not a crew scheduler. He is not a chief pilot. As soon as I walked away I became focused on safely operating my flight.

The plane had been in for scheduled maintenance. Sure enough things weren't perfect. The ACARS was inop....circuit breakers had been pulled but not reset. Taken care of. We loaded up the passengers and started the engines. New problems. "AFT CARGO SOV" status message and a "R PACK FAULT" status message. We called a mechanic. Yadda, yadda, yadda 30 minutes later we were out. The right pack cools the cabin, the left pack cools the cockpit. Interestingly enough the left pack wasn't really cooling the cockpit. Stayed around 80 degrees the entire flight. That temp plus the sun shining bueno.

After we pulled into the gate my Captain called to get released. He is also reserve. He was advised he had another turn leaving in 15 minutes. I would be his FO. He put them on hold and asked if I needed a lunch break. It was 12:05PM. I did. Done.

The flight was already delayed. I had not eaten since 7AM at breakfast. My plans were to do my simple deadhead and one leg in and  then go home and eat. No longer.

I grabbed lunch and headed back to the plane. The terminal was crowded. Didn't feel like finding a place to eat.

The ground air cart was connected but the cockpit was still hovering at 85 degrees. The cabin was 80 degrees...with no one on board. Cooling on the ground is normally done with cool air from a ground air cart. For whatever reason our carts....are horrible. When I fly on mainline the entire plane is very cool. Don't know why we can't use the same carts. Cooling can be helped by turning on a recirculation fan. Caution is needed as once people start boarding, if the fan is left on, the cabin temp will start to rise as their warm bodies and breath warm up the cabin. Circulating the air increases the air flow, but also the temp.

Not wanting to eat lunch in a hot cockpit, on went the APU.

Captain came down. I finished my lunch. People boarded. We pushed out at 12:40PM. Not bad at all. We could have both taken a solid 30 minutes eating out in the terminal. I did them a "favor" by eating in the cockpit while setting up the plane at the same time. I set the cockpit temp at 72 degrees fahrenheit . It never cooled below 80.

At 2:00 PM we pulled into the next out station. The ground crew connected external power....but NOT external air. It's summer's all or nothing. The APU was left on. During the turn I checked my schedule. Nothing else had been added. Yadda, yadda, yadda we pushed out at  2:30PM.

On the way back a message came over the ACARS that I had been assigned another turn. Once again it's not an official form of communication as it's one way only.

Hot cockpit and the previous delays were wearing on me and the Captain. I was tired physically. But not yet fatigued. I could see being fatigued if I had to do another turn.

After pulling into the gate the Captain and I both called to get released. Of course we were advised we had another turn. The flight was originally to be flown by a smaller plane. But they were OUT of pilots to fly the smaller plane and needed our plane and crew. I have been in this situation before. I would likely have been fine to fly to the outstation, but once there I knew I would be unfit to fly. I was off the next day. Even though I would loose money, I called in did the Captain. The flight then cancelled.

Last year several airline CEO's testified before Congress about regional pilot duty times and training. One stated that pilots at his airline can call in fatigued with no repercussions from the company. This is true at my airline except the damage is in my pocketbook.

Each month I am gauranteed pay of 75 hours based on being available each reserve day. The airline divides that 75 by how many days there are in a month. Each reserve day is worth 4 hours.

I only flew 3 1/2 hours yesterday. Since I called in fatigued, and thus didn't complete my duty day, I lost .5 hours of pay and it goes down on my permanent record that I called in fatigued on July 21, 2010.

There have been pilot staffing issues for a while around here....time to increase the number of pilots they are hiring.

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