Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One last reserve day

Tomorrow is the last day of the month....also my last day of reserve for a while.

It's an interesting situation.

I'm on airport standby tomorrow. I sit at the airport all afternoon. I'm off on April 1st. On April 2nd I have a 6 hour overtime trip. On April 3rd I start a 4 day trip at my new domicile finishing on April 6th. Got it so far?

Tomorrow I am covering the afternoon/evening shift which is supposed to cover overnight trips. If I get forced into an overnight a few things happen.

First I will be Junior Manned as I have April 1st off. Junior Man means forced to work on a day off. I will get paid the greater of actual flying for the day or 5 hours, whichever is greater. Additionally I get another day off next month OR another 5 hours of pay. I would likely pick another 5 hours of pay, thus if I fly just 1 hour on a Junior Man day it could be worth as much as 10 hours of pay. Not bad.

Second if I am Junior Manned I will be forced into a 7 day conflict since April 1st would connect March 31st to both my overtime trip and my 4 day trip. I would be removed from at least one day of full pay.

So add 10 hours of pay + another day of flying off + that days flying pay.....suddenly things look kinda nice. I'm almost hoping I get Junior Manned. Day care is covered for Friday so the only inconveniences would be my wife taking my daughter to daycare and not me.

Assuming I don't get Junior Manned I've built up my schedule to almost cover to amount of flying I will be out due to my vacation.

I previously stated I told scheduling to remove me from all flying that touches my vacation week. That was 40 hours of flying dropped. Of that 40 hours, about 20 hours was to be flown during my vacation, so I will be paid for it. For the other's too money.

To help I added on 8 hours of flying to my first trip and picked up the overtime trip on April 2nd. Total of 14 hours of pay. I think I can pick up another 6-8 hours of flying sometime during the month. If I do it will be a very nice month.

When looking at airline pay scales it's really hard to get a good number on what pilots REALLY earn. The best is to simply take the hourly rate X the reserve guarantee. That's bare minimum. Of course if you pick up a few hours of overtime, it can greatly increase your pay. Picking up just 10 hours of extra flying a month for me, each month, over a year is more than $5500 due to the overtime pay rate.

One more day.....

Saturday, March 26, 2011

It was a dark and stormy night in the crew room

It was a dark and stormy night. I was huddled in a corner of the crew room hiding from crew scheduling. Ok not really. It was sunny, clear skies and I was hanging on in the terminal playing Tower Madness on my Ipad.....waiting on scheduling.

Flights looked to be covered. There was no Captain sitting airport standby with me. I figured I would be going home like I did the day prior.

My shift had started at 2PM. At 2:45PM I was called with an assignment to deadhead to another base to cover a Canada overnight. The deadhead flight was scheduled to leave at another terminal. I had just purchased a Starbucks Frappuccino.....a Venti no less.I didn't see this working.

I told the scheduler I would do my best, but I needed time to finish my lunch (as I called it), grab my bags from the crew room, print out my schedule, then make my way to the other terminal.

At 2:55PM I arrived in the crew room. My schedule only had the Canada flight. Yadda, yadda, yadda I missed the 3:05PM flight. I was now on a 4:20PM flight. I would have 30 minutes to connect to the Canada flight once I arrived. Fine.

After arriving I made my way to the gate. Delayed. The ILS at the Canadian airport was down...and would be for at least another hour. Due to weather we needed two alternate airports.

The Captain happened to be the same Captain who I am scheduled to fly with next month. He was on the phone with the dispatcher. Initially the dispatcher said we could go since we had two alternates. Problem....the fuel plan had 700 more pounds of fuel than the tanks can hold. Pass out gas cans to the passengers perhaps?

Delayed. Gate change. Delayed. Gate Change. Delayed. Gate Change. The passengers....mostly Canadians...were at least joking about the gate changes instead of complaining. One lady asked, "Is this the new airline weight loss program? Shuffling us between gates. At least there is no fee!" I replied, "Don't give them any ideas."

Another passenger, a teenage girl, asked about her dog. She was shipping her dog and was concerned about about it's health. I wasn't sure if she started at this airport or was connecting through. If she started here the dog had been checked in at least 4 hours prior...add in the delays and would be a good 8 hours. Wow.  I told her I would look for her dog when I inspected the plane and would let her know it was safe.

Due to the cold weather the dog wasn't loaded when I did my walk around. Thankfully a ramper advised the dog was on board during loading. The flight attendant let her know the dog was safe and on board. We finally blocked out 2 hours 20 minutes late. Overnight was originally 8 and a half hours....we would get 8 at best now.

His leg. Long flight. About 90 minutes from our destination our dispatcher sent us a message. Our second alternate went below legal mins. On top of that our destination would be closing the only ILS in two hours. The dispatcher recommended we make a fuel stop as we were flying over an airport served by my airline. The extra fuel was needed for the new second alternate. If we stopped for fuel we would not make it to our destination as we would arrive after the ILS closed.  The weather was AT ILS mins consisting over 1/2 mile visibility, freezing fog, and a vertical visibility of 200 feet. We started looking up for another second alternate.

Done. First alternate was just 100 miles away, we found another that was 250 miles out....but we could make it.

One ILS....we were number 6 in the conga line. Icing conditions began 4000 feet AFL. The approach lights came in sight at 300 feet AFL. Runway came into view at 150 feet AFL. We landed in freezing fog. Very low visibility. As briefed we exited on the first high speed exit. Slow taxi as the tower could not see us and we couldn't see much beyond the taxi lights.

Due to the ILS previously being down and the weather, the ramp was backed up. We waited for 30 minutes for a gate. Original arrival time was 9:40PM local. We blocked in at 12:10AM.

During the walk around I saw the dog in the cargo compartment walking around his crate. Glad he made it.

While in the crew line for Customs I saw the dog owner again. I let her know her dog made the trip just fine.

We cleared customs and were in the hotel van at 12:40AM. Hotel at 1:00AM.

Scheduled departure was 7:45AM. The hotel runs vans every hour. Scheduling wanted a 8:40 AM departure (they figured block in+30 minutes for unloading and clearing customs + 8 hours min rest). The Captain advised the hotel runs vans every hour. We would be on the 9AM van.

Hard beds. Dated, older room. I slept decently.

The next morning I was texting my wife in the lobby via Google Voice (free wifi only in the lobby...Google Voice means no roaming charges!). A passengers who was on my van that morning TO the hotel approached me, "They don't give you much down time eh?" I replied, "Just 8 hours." His mouth was open in awe. He then turned around and told his party about my little rest and how rough it must be.

I checked my schedule. I am on a 5 day reserve block. They built in flights to cover all 4 remaining days getting my back to my base at 11PM on the last day.

They scheduled me to fly back to the hub, deadhead to my base then ferry a plane to a maintenance base. A 11 hour duty day followed by a 22 hour overnight and more flying. I didn't see it happening. I got tired just looking at it.

On the van. We arrived at the gate to glares from the passengers. We blocked out 2 hours 10 minutes late. Still freezing fog and snow. Deiced. My leg. Away we went.

It's still winter in Canada.

Interesting thing about Canadian airspace. The 250 knots below 10,000 feet rule doesn't apply if you are cleared to a flight level above it. So at 7000 feet I nosed the plane over and began climbing to FL250 at 290 knots. Felt a bit odd...but fun.

Long flight. Tired. I made a decent landing.

I learned over the trip that I would not be flying with this Captain next month. He is retiring from my airline. Eh...could have been fun.

My next assignment was another deadhead. Full flights. Scheduling pulled me from all of the other flying. I was just deadheading home.

I missed two flights before I finally got a seat. This is what commuting would be like. Twelve hour duty day on 8 hours rest. Tired and beat.

All that went away when I got home though and saw my daughter. She always lights up when she sees me walk down the hall. The long duty day and short night didn't matter. I was home with my family.

I have three more reserve days this month. Then I am a line holder. I should hold a line (albeit commuting) for the foreseeable future.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Got what I wanted....a commutable schedule

As previously posted I will be a commuter for the forseeable future.

During bidding I wanted a commutable schedule (being able to commute to and from on a work day), work weekends (cheaper for day care as my wife has weekends off) and maximize my vacation. I got everything I wanted.

My line was built with 15 days off. I get paid for 88 hours but only fly 85 hours. The difference is a dead head leg on a single day trip. The line has the single one day trip and four 4 day trips. The single one day trip is only commuteable on the front end meaning I will have to stay the night.

The four day trips start at 3PM on Fridays and terminates at 6:45PM on Mondays. I should be able to commute up on Friday morning and I have at least 3 flights to commute home on Friday nights. Should be pretty easy.

The legs per day for the 4 day trip sequences are pretty easy. It's 3-4-1-2. Meaning 3 legs the first day, 4 legs the second day, 1 leg the third day and 2 legs the last day. I leave my base on day one and don't return until day four....which is what I wanted as I don't care for this particular base/airport.

Because of my vacation I won't fly 2 of the 4 day trips. I will get paid for one of them, but the other will be without pay. It's complicated, but this is what I asked for the maximize my days off. I hope to pick up extra flying to make up the difference.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Time to commute

This just may be my last month of reserve....shocking eh?

Next month I will have enough seniority to hold a hard line. The catch? I will be a commuter. After 3 1/2 years of enjoying walking from my plane and being on my couch 20 minutes later....I will have to walk from my another my my couch.

My 3 1/2 years seniority will put me almost dead middle in the seniority list at my new base....but with enough under me to always be a line holder.

Also next month I have vacation. I'm taking my family on a cruise. In order to maximize my vacation I have to bid smart.

While bidding I have the option of telling scheduling to drop any trips that touch my week of vacation. This way I can turn 7 days vacation into a 15 day vacation or more. Of course I will only be paid for the flying that was supposed to be flown during that week....but it's more time off.

There is a little added stress as I have to make sure I have time to commute to and from my vacation.

Until now I have had at least 2 weekdays off to take care of my daughter. With me commuting, it might not be possible. This could raise our daycare cost. We will have to see.

It's exciting yet nerve racking bidding. I will know my entire schedule for April in a few days. So much for being on reserve....and living in base.

This new base is only temporary. I'm scheduled to be back in my base in the fall. Scheduling and equipment are being moved around. When I return to my base I should be even more senior.

The skies are looking brighter......

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Deadheads, short runways and crappy trips

It's the 10th of the month and I have already flown 16 hours. Doesn't seem like much, but I only flew 23 hours total last month.

February was good though as I will get paid for about 92 hours even though I only flew 23. In addition I was home more than not. Living in base means everything.

Several regionals are suddenly finding themselves short staffed. Mine is no exception. I've had more deadheads than nonrev flights this year. Deadheading is being on duty but flying as a passenger.

Last week I was assigned a trip as soon as I clocked in for airport standby. The odd thing was the trip didn't leave until 9:30PM. Being 2PM...that was a long sit. I made the best of my time.

Right before the trip I saw a buddy who is based elsewhere and commutes from my base. I was covering his trip. His grandfather was likely going to pass away that night so the dropped the rest of his trip to nonrev out to see him. Knowing that I was happy to cover his flying.

The crew was pretty good. One leg to a short overnight on day one, two legs on day two with a long (18 hours!!!!) overnight, day three was one leg to another base and a deadhead home for me.

All flights were on time the first two days. On the third day the flight was supposed to leave at 5:35 PM, arrive at 8:05PM and I was to deadhead home at 9:15PM. The 9:15PM flight was the last flight of the night. If I missed it I would be staying the night and would be junior manned to dead head home the next day. Additionally the next day I was planning on taking my daughter on a flight to visit my dad.

The flight out was delayed until 6:40PM. Late inbound. With a 6:40PM departure we weren't expected to arrive until 9:05PM. That would give me just 10 minutes to make my deadhead. Very unlikely.

My flight attendant was hoping to make the same flight as she commutes. We were on a mission.

The inbound only had 24 passengers. Our outbound had 6. We were all very efficient and blocked out 14 minutes after the plane blocked in. That's getting the original crew and passengers off, original passengers bags off, new crew and passengers on, new bags on, fueled, FMS programmed and clearance. Not too shabby.

Captains leg. He flew fast. We blocked in 30 minutes less than scheduled. I had nearly an hour to make my deadhead. No problem.

The next day I took my family to visit my dad. My 6 month (almost 7 month) old daughter has now been on 12 flights...something around 17,000 miles in the air. She travels well.

Tuesday I signed in for airport standby again at 2PM. I saw an open trip (No First Officer assigned) leaving at 2:35PM. The Captain was nearby and I asked if he was flying solo? He laughed. He stated he wasn't going to call crew scheduling as it's not his job. I agreed and stated I would wait for them to call me. I was the only First Officer available.

Right at 2:35PM my phone rang. I was already up at the gate. The scheduler "didn't know why" I wasn't already contacted. Whatever.

It was a 2 day trip. Originally a 2 day back to back. Same trip that starts at 2:35PM Sunday, finishes at 7:35PM Monday, then starts again at 2:35PM on Tuesday and finishes at 7:35PM Wednesday. This was the Captains line. The rest of the crew was reserve....his original crew all dropped the trip.

The first day was a little rough at 7 hours of flying. I took the first leg. I'd been to this outstation at least 50 times. The airport has three long runways (9000 feet) and one short one (6000 foot). I had never landed on the short one.

Due to the weather we were routed to come in FROM the north instead of the south. The airport was landing north. We were assigned the short runway. Hmmm k.

The skies were cloudy but the ground was dry. With the weight of the airplane the performance charts indicated we needed 3800 feet to land and stop. That assumes maximum braking and reverse thrust. Thus I had 2200 feet to spare. Of course we don't land at the end of the runway, but rather 1000 foot down at me 1200 feet to spare. At a 140 knot approach speed the plane covers about 240 feet per second. If I floated just 4 seconds things could get very interesting. I'm a great pilot, but no Chuck Yeager.

Cleared for the visual. I clicked off the flight director and autopilot. No ILS for the runway thus no reason to use the flight director. It was kind of relaxing to be able to just fly the plane. I kept an eye on the VASI and flew the plane.

The runway was slightly bowed in the first 1500 foot. I made a firmish (but not jarring by any means) landing and quickly began braking and had maximum reverse thrust. Around 70 knots the plane passed the 2000 foot remaining marker. Done.

Quick turn. The third leg was mine. Low overcast skies at the outstation. Right at 250 feet the Captain stated , "runway in sight".  I still love the moments before landing in low clouds, wondering if we will see the runway/approach lights. It is a quick transition from looking inside at the instruments to looking outside and having just a few seconds to focus and land the plane. I floated a bit...nice landing though.

After another 18 hours (EIGHTEEN HOURS!) at the same overnight it was time to go. Just one leg home. What a waste of a day. Sit around all day for a single hour flight home. Eh. Crappy trip.

I'm assigned airport reserve thru Saturday. Sunday I have overtime. A week from tomorrow I turn 34. I have the day off....oh what to do....hmmmm.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Special Areas and Airports

Special Areas and Airports. There are a bunch of them. These Special Areas and Airports are normally designated due to unique terrain or approach procedures. In order to land or fly through these areas (for here on I will abbreviate Special Areas and Airports by using SARA) the crew must study the FAA/Jeppessen pages which typically have detailed photos and procedures. Additionally my airline designates some SARA's Captain only.

Last week on Friday, I picked up an overtime trip to such an airport. Only the Captain is authorized to takeoff and land due to the very complex arrival and departure procedures. Eh.

The flight almost didn't happen. The original Captain was stuck at an out station due to weather. While walking through the airport I saw another Captain eating lunch and gave him the heads up that he might be reassigned. Sure enough five minutes prior to departure he was reassigned.

Halfway there we began discussing the arrival procedures. At the present time weather was below minimums, but at arrival time the forecast was to be right at minimums. The weather forecasters earned their money that day. The ILS to runway 7 requires 3 miles visibility and that's exactly what we had. The airport is surrounded by mountainous terrain. The go around procedure involved a fairly steep climbing turn.

We had a quick turn due to being late. Just one runway. Only two taxiways were open (the first and last) and the field was non towered. During the ground time we discussed the departure procedure and the engine out procedure. We taxied to the end of runway 25 as taking off from runway 7 was too weight restricting due to terrain.

Being non towered we had to call for release. The cloudy skies prevented a VFR departure. I called the center hoping there was no inbound traffic. No such luck, a 737 was 30 miles out, but already on the approach. This could get interesting.

We were holding short of runway 25. The 737 was landing runway 7. If they taxied to the end we would be nose to nose (again only the first and last taxiways were open/plowed of snow). Before we could think further we had another problem. Fuel.

Prior to taxi we had deiced. Min takeoff fuel was 8100. At the time we were at 8200....with the 737 still 30 miles out. The Captain shut the left engine down and then asked our dispatcher if they could lower the min takeoff number (There was contingency fuel on board). The dispatcher came back with a min takeoff number of 7800. Golden.

The 737 was on a 10 mile final and made a position report. I made one stating where we were and quiered if they could do a 180 on the runway. The 737 stated it should be no problem. Good.

They landed and cleared the runway. Another jet was holding for the airport over a VOR to the west at FL200. Center released us first.

Our company departure procedure requires us to fly to the same VOR and enter a hold until reaching 15,000 feet. Once at 15,000 feet we can resume our flight plan.

Uneventful. After clearing FL200 the Captain handed the plane over to me.

The airspace around the hub was a bit busy even though the weather was VFR. The approach controller instructed us to head to an initial approach fix and join the localizer for the runway. A moment later the controller advised the localizer was out of service and cleared us to the same fix for the GPS approach.

Twenty miles away the runway was in sight. Fifteen miles out we were cleared for a visual. I clicked off the autopilot and flight director (since it was only showing lateral guidance it wasn't much use) and simply flew the plane. Decent landing. Four hours of overtime was done.

Saturday night I started a 3 day trip. It was a very easy 1-2-1 trip. One leg the first day, two legs on the second and one  leg on the third day. The legs were long though especially with the winter winds. The worst winds were on day two with a 180 knot headwind RIGHT on the nose. The final leg on day 3 was THREE HOURS LONG from takeoff to landing. Ugh. The legs were a little longer than normal also as the Captain and I have little in common and thus don't talk much. We get a long great, but have never found a common topic of interest. Lots of time was spent starring out the window.

All in for February I flew 23 hours and will be paid for 92. Not bad at all.