Monday, January 30, 2012

Whose Flight Is It Anyway?

Done with my awesome month of stellar 3 day trips. I loved the sequences. They were all the same...and easy.

Since I did the same trips, and thus stayed in the same hotels (at one hotel the exact same room each week....a little odd), I decided to pack my food for the trip.

Instead of eating out...and eating a lot...I brought my own. Each hotel had a microwave and fridge in the room. I packed along healthy choice steamer meals, oranges and my new favorite meals "GoPicnic" meals.

GoPicnic has a line of meals on the go that require no fridge, are healthy and all natural. They are mostly high in protein so I feel fuller longer. My favorite is the hummus and crackers followed by the turkey pepperoni. I buy them from Amazon for super cheap.

My no eating out worked...except for day two when I was one GoPicnic meal short. Eh. I tried.

Nothing terribly exciting on the trip. I had musical Captains as my regular Captain was removed from the first day and a half due to a 30 in 7 conflict.

On the last leg of the trip my Captain was flying and I was on the radios. Cruising along at FL380...all was great. I was just looking ahead at a contrail of an aircraft 10 miles ahead on the same routing. The use of GPS and FMS has made airways very compact. Sometimes it's neat...sometimes annoying as we go through the exact same air as a preceding aircraft...which might be a heavy.

Anyways I was just watching the contrail when I heard my flight number in my ears along with "contact center on 124.95". I didn't respond. It was repeated. I then looked over at the Captain and said, "Hey they want us on 124.95". He just said "yeah I know...remember I'm flying." Doh! I had flown the first 2 legs of the day and my mind was stuck in flying mode. Made for a funny moment.

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Off for 4 days. I start a truly crappy 3 day on Saturday. Just for comparison my 3 day this month was worth 20 hours and change. Only had a single 2 hour sit.

My next 3 day trip is worth 16 hours and has a huge 3 hour 20 minute sit. Just crap. I'm trying to trade it for a 2 day trip followed by a day trip. Hope it goes through.

Beyond that I was happy to hear a long time reader of this blog got hired at Expressjet. I met him once while on an overnight years ago. He built his hours the old fashioned way...getting flying in however he can. I have several friends at Expressjet and most are very happy. He's young and has 40+ years of flying ahead of him.

My airline hiring has slowed. I did see a new hire in the crew room the other day. They are easy to spot as they have super clean luggage, are quiet....and still own their souls. Ha!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Flying with the spoilers out

I got back from Hawaii on Thursday morning. All day Thursday I was in a fog.

Every year since 2008 I have gone to the North American Autoshow in Detroit. It's my annual pilgrimage. To be open...I go to about 5 autoshows a year....only a few different cars at each one. Eh.

Anyways the public show ended the following Sunday. I had a 3 day trip starting Saturday. Decisions.

Go Friday or don't go at all.

The loads on my airline/mainline partner looked great going there, but only marginal coming back. I had to get back.

I keep in touch with a lot of pilots I met while at ATP. They work for various other regionals. I hit one up to check the loads on another airline I could use as a backup. Marginal as well.

Marginal + marginal = let's go in my book.

To get there as early as possible I jump seated offline (offline = not my airline or mainline partner) to Detroit as the offline flight got me in 40 minutes earlier.

I hopped in a rental car (I love National Emerald Isle!) and was at the show by 10:10 AM. Great show.

By 1PM I was done. Headed back.

The offline direct flight back left at 3:10PM. I was sitting in the gate area at 2:00PM. No agent at the desk.

I checked in with my wife and played on my Kindle Fire.

Around 2:20PM a pilot walked up to the counter and set up camp. He was waiting for the gate agent. I was in plain clothes.

Panic set in. I politely asked if he was jump seating or deadheading.

For offline jumpseaters it's first come first served. He would get the jump before me if the flight was full.

Sure enough an earlier flight cancelled. My marginal flight was now overbooked. Crap. The agent arrived and gave him the jump.

I had 3 hours till my online flight and 4 hours until the next offline flight. Both were overbooked because of the cancellation. To make matters worse...a good amount of snow was to fall in about 2 hours.

Time to strategize.

I stood infront of a bank of departure monitors looking for a way out. I would be two legging it home.

Each time I saw a flight that I could make time wise I would check the loads from that city to my home. I finally found a way.

Of course I had no way of quickly checking the loads for the offline flight.

A flight was set to leave at 3:50PM to a city I could connect in. I quietly stood in the line to speak with a gate agent. Four other pilots in line. Thankfully one saw my crew ID around my neck and let me know they were all deadheading. Nice.

The flight was delayed. The new arrival time gave me 40 minutes to connect to my flight home.

Boarded up. I was in the jump seat. I always get the odd look from passengers when they see me in plain clothes turn left onto the flight deck instead of right into the cabin.

Before pushback they were overweight for takeoff by 300 pounds. Partially due to extra bags...partially due to me being in the jump seat. They worked it out but knew they had another problem...landing weight.

Their dispatcher gave them 1000 pounds of taxi fuel assuming there would be delays from the snow. The snow hadn't started. They only burned 300 pounds on the taxi.

Once at cruise they realized they were 1500 pounds over max landing weight. Ninety minute flight....out went the flight spoilers.

With the spoilers out and thrust levers up fuel burn increased did the noise.

Thirty minutes out and they were still 400 pounds over. They descended early and put flaps out in addition to the spoilers. Turning final they were finally right at landing weight. Done.

At the gate I thanked them for the ride and walked quickly to my next gate. Old airport....I had to exit and then re-clear security.

Walked on board with 20 minutes to spare.

Got home around 8:30PM.

Work the next day began at 7:10AM.

Day one was normal. Nothing too exciting.

Day two was normal until the hotel leg.

Weather at the overnight was crap. Given an alternate. Huge group of old folks on board who came off an 18 day cruise. They had a lot of bags. Way more than average.

For a full flight the average cargo load is around 2400 pounds. For that flight the weight was 2900 pounds. The extra 500 pounds plus the alternate meant we had to leave 1 passenger (an employee non-rev) behind. Before we left the gate we were 90 pounds UNDER max landing weight.

Captains leg. About 40 minutes out we realized we were 800 pounds over. This was due to a 110 knot tailwind. Time to work.

Early descent and spoilers out for us as well. With the tailwind we ended up putting gear out at as well. Delayed vectors and a few turns later we burned off the excess. Done.

Day 3 of the trip goes from the outstation to the hub back to the same outstation then back to the hub. I flew the first two legs.

First leg fine.

For the second leg we left the gate being 150 pounds under max landing. Tailwinds. Six hundred pounds over. I got to play the same game. Landed 50 pounds under max.

It was also my first time landing on snow in the new plane. The weather was :

28020G26KT 1 1/4SM -SN BR BKN006 OVC012 M01/M02 A2949

Landing runway 31. Slight crosswind while landing on snow. Mostly uneventful. The new plane feels different than my last, wobbly mains even in dry conditions.

I love my schedule this month. Easy 3 day trip. Just 3 cities and 10 legs! Next month my schedule is crap. I have 18 days off...but the trips are horrible.

Off for two days. I go in for an overtime day trip Friday then my last awesome 3 day trip starts on Saturday.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Questions Answered : Weight restrictions and fuel

Question : Yesterday I was on a flight from Houston to Omaha and apparently the ground crew loaded too much fuel.  Consequently, we taxied out to the end of the runway, but then sat off to the side while the captain ran the engines up to burn off the excess.  We probably sat there about 15 minutes, and I couldn't help wonder why on earth didn't he simply fly lower or climb at a slower rate instead of making us sit there.  Is this technique normal???


Yes it can be normal. Weight and balance is a tricky task at best..... aggravating at worst.

This is really good timing on your question as I've had 3 flights with fuel issues in the last 4 days. I'll write those blogs in the coming days. For now...I'll stick to the question.

The ground crew could have legitimately loaded the correct amount of fuel, but then conditions changed. Most fuelers are good so I will assume that's what happened. I will attempt to explain a flight where the "right" amount of fuel can be the "wrong" amount of fuel.

I will use the following numbers:

Empty weight:

Max Ramp Weight: 61000

Max Takeoff Weight:60750

Max Zero Fuel Weight: 51610

Max Landing Weight:54578

Empty Weight: 38500

Those are the easy weights. Issues come up with short runways or airports near terrain. Just because a plane can takeoff weight 60750 pounds doesn't mean it will be able to every time.

So in the original question "why on earth didn't he simply fly lower or climb at a slower rate instead of making us sit there" ya go.

Let's take a look at airport with short runways and terrain (buildings). This flight will take place in the winter.

Winter operations cause performance penalties just like summer operations. The reason? Ice......and the need to get rid of it.

I will use the following weather:

KLGA 240051Z 17012G18KT 1/2SM R04/6000VP6000FT -RA BR OVC020 03/01 A2956 RMK AO2 SFC VIS 2

Low vis...rain and windy.

I'm going to keep it really simple (even though it gets incredibly complex when taking into account wind, pressure and temp). Runway 22 is in use for takeoff.

The flight has 58 passengers. Their weight is assumed to be 10324 (178 pounds each). Before boarding begins all are assumed to be an adult.

The 2 hour flight is expected to burn 6500 pounds of fuel

The FAA required 45 minute reserve fuel weights 1500 pounds

The destination weather is marginal. The alternate requires 2300 pounds of fuel. Total of 10,300 pounds of fuel.

So lets add it up....20624 pounds of fuel and people...add in the empty plane weight of 38500 equals 59124....leaving 1626 pounds to spare. We haven't looked at the runway performance data. My airline has big fancy computer program for this. The engineers look at accelerate and stop distances along with terrain avoidance (and all the other FAR required performance data). For runway 22 runway we are limited by the climb performance to avoid terrain. Max takeoff weight is 59800. Not a big hit....950 pounds.

Now for you fellow airline pilots I'm fully aware credit (thus more weight can be carried) by taking into account headwind, temp and pressure. But....let's keep it simple.

As of now everyone can go.

Boarding completes...the plane pushes back and heads to runway 22. Then it happened. Snow. New performance penalty. A hefty 900 pounds.

New max takeoff weight is 58700. The plane left the gate weighing 59800. The dispatcher reworks the alternate. A new one is found that only requires 1300 pounds of fuel. The flight is soon as they shed 900 pounds. At this point fuel is the easiest thing to shed.

Offloading fuel is expensive. The fuel can't go back into the ground (for airports with ground refueling) or just any fuel truck. The fuel must be offloaded into a separate container to avoid contamination. Often cheaper to burn it.

Thus the plane will sit somewhere on the airport property with both engines running and the APU shed that 900 pounds. Taking off and flying lower isn't an option as they are too heavy to takeoff.

If the snow had started before they left the gate they would have likely left behind people or bags.

Believe it or not people are often cheaper than bags. People can be bought off at the gate. Their bags goes on to their destination. If the person goes but the bag stays the airline pays a very hefty fee to have the bag hand delivered to the person.

Hope this answered your question. I truly hate math so I tried to keep it easy. That's all for now...more blogs over the next few days.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vacation done...

Had a great vacation on the Island of Maui. Getting there was easy thanks to open flights. Getting back...not so easy.

My wife and daughter had real tickets both ways. The return flight started filling up a few days ago. The day prior it was overbooked. Another airline cancelled a flight and thus filled up the flight with my wife and daughter. I could still jump

PHOG is a fairly small airport. The main runway is 6995 feet long. Not terribly long for flights to the mainland. The biggest plane I saw there was a 767-300.

Honolulu has several more flights to the mainland. I figured once I got there, I could easily hop on my mainline partner or any other airline and get home.

It would have been nice to be on the same flight as my wife and daughter, but if I was in the jump seat I wouldn't be able to help out so we decided I should at least be comfortable for the long flight and head to PHNL.

I looked up the jump seat procedures for Hawaiian. Not terribly hard.

Hawaiian flies 717's between the islands. They had flights almost every hour, sometimes twice an hour, between PHOG and PHNL.

I decided on the 3:43PM flight which would give me 2-3 hours to find a way from PHNL to the mainland.

After asking for a ride from the Captain I took my seat for the short hop.

Once at PHNL I took a bus over to another terminal where the mainland flights were located.

Thankfully I was able to get a real seat on my mainline partner for the flight home.

During pushback the APU shutdown...plane went dark. Thankfully it restarted. No delay.

For some reason we landed 15 minutes late. Originally my flight was to land 20 minutes after the flight with my family. Not a big deal.

I'm debating making my annual trek to the North American International Auto Show tomorrow. I've been every year for the last 3 years. Pretty tired.

I go back to work Saturday morning for my 3 day trip.

Finally....a shot from the house where I spent a week in Kapalua. was.......Legen-----dary

Monday, January 9, 2012

Why do airlines change gates? Why is my flight delayed ? My friend is at the airport and says the weather is fine!

I've been wanting to write this for a while.

Every now and then airlines change the gate for departing...and arriving flights. This isn't done for fun. It causes a lot of headaches.

Let's just look at two gates call them gate 10 and gate 15

Flight 290 is scheduled to leave at 8AM from gate 10.

Flight 042 is scheduled to arrive at gate 10 at 8:20AM. The same plane is to leave from gate 10 at 8:55AM.

Flight 831 is scheduled to arrive at gate 15 at 8:25AM. The same plane is to leave from gate 15 at 8:55AM.

Flight 290 has a mechanical issue at 7:55AM. No ETA yet.

Flight 042 lands at 8:10AM and is told to hold for gate 10.

At 8:15AM Flight 831 lands. ETA for flight 290's repair is 8:45AM.

Flight 042 is sent to gate 15. All the passengers waiting for the next departure at 8:55AM are sent from gate 10 to gate 15. Additionally all the baggage handlers are alerted as Flight 042 has connecting passengers. Baggage handlers have to go to gate 15 to get the new bags. Additionally the handlers have to bring the bags for the outbound flight down from gate 10 to gate 15.

After the baggage handlers are alerted the fueler, caterers, cleaning crew and flight crews must be alerted to the gate change.

Flight o42 pulls into gate 15 on time at 8:20AM.

Flight 831 pulls up and is told gate 15 is occupied and there are currently no open gates. Hold.

The same alerts go out for flight 831. Meanwhile flight 290 is waiting at gate 10. Every minute of delay cost money as that plane is scheduled to do other flights and the flight crews are scheduled to fly other flights.

Some joke that changing gates is our "Passenger fitness program" as they walk from gate to gate. Trust me flight crews hate gate changes just as much as passengers as we know all the behind the scenes stuff has to work just right. Sometimes it's flawless...more often than not it's not.

Airlines plan for the best...clear skies, perfect planes and perfect passengers. Sometimes things just go bad.

It's not always a mechanical issue that causes a delay.

Hey passengers....some of you treat my aircraft like a dumpster. You leave all kinds of crap stuffed in the seat pockets (even though the flight attendants pass by several times for trash), you let your kids tear up magazines and leave bits all over the floor, you are just messy. Not to mention sometimes people "toss their cookies" and don't always hit the bags.

The worst I've had was a family of 5 sitting in a row. Mom was holding a baby. Kid one next to the mom. Two other siblings across the aisle. One kid vomited. Then another. Then the mom....onto the baby she was holding. No one hit a bag. It all hit the seats...the walls...the floor. Bad. Delays.

And when weather happens....again more gate delays. When pilots/gate agents state it's a ATC/Weather really is an ATC/Weather Delay. Your "friends" might be at the airport you're flying to and it might be BEAUTIFUL. But it might be really crappy a few miles away on an important airway/route to the airport.

Think I'm done with my soap box. The big point is....when delays happen....roll with it. Yelling at a gate agent...being rude to a flight attendant or posting a rude comment on twitter/Facebook will get you no where fast. non-stop flights....directly with the airline. I call people who book on sites like Expedia , expidiots. If something goes wrong and you book with the airline...they help directly. If you book with Expedia.

If you must have a connection...give yourself time. If you are connecting thru Chicago in the winter...don't book a 45 minute connection.

If you are flying on a regional jet there's a 95% chance your carry on bag won't fit. The bins are smaller. Blame Embraer and Bombardier....not the flight attendant. And don't you dare say, "it always fits"....because it won't. Just leave it in the appropriate area.

K...gonna put my soapbox away for a while.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A new short record

This will be short. More later.

On day 2 of a 3 day. Great 3 day trip. Great crew.

Started early with a 5AM van. First flight was nice. A whole 3 passengers on board. I'm sure the profit was gone as soon as we deiced.

Arrived early. My leg. VFR at the hub, but low clouds were quickly rolling in. Just an hour sit. In that hour vis went down to 1/8th a mile....100 foot cloud deck. Ouch.

Weather at the next outstation was 200 1/2. Sounds good but the ILS is out....and the approach lighting system was below mins.

With the low vis at the hub and the out station. Delayed. Pushed 50 minutes late with a whole 7 passengers.

Vis was still 1/8 mile but the RVR was we could takeoff...but no return. We had a takeoff alternate and two destination alternates.

Headed to the outstation. I briefed the GPS approach to runway 4R. In range the Captain got the ATIS...4R closed. Only runway was 29....a 5200 foot runway.

I have landed on a Piper Seminole.

My shortest in a jet was previously 6000 feet....6080 to be exact.

The performance chart showed I only needed 3100 feet. Of course I don't land at the end of the runway...I land in the touchdown zone...hopefully the 1000 foot markings....leaving 4200 feet. Sounds great....but I'm not Chuck Yeager.

I briefed the GPS 29 approach. I stated I would plan on using maximum reverse and brakes....and probably plan to turn off at the end.

Then more news from the Captain....winds were 190@15G20. So now I had a gusty crosswind and a short runway. Yeah this is looking great.

Eight hundred foot ceilings. Once we broke out I went visual. I stayed right on the VASI till about 150 feet then "ducked under" as landing as assured.

Around 30 feet I began to "kick" the nose over and align it with the runway. Traveling 125 knots I didn't mess around with trying to "grease" it on. I planted the mains...or thought I did...turned out somewhat soft...most likely due to the wind.

Heavy on the brakes and maximum reverse. The very light plane slowed down quickly. The Captain called "80 knots" with 1000 feet left. Exciting.

My new personal record....for a short runway.

Leaving was even more exciting as we were full. The performance charts showed we were 100 pounds under maximum takeoff weight for the runway.

Captains leg. I called rotate with maybe 1000 feet left. Exciting.

By the time we got back to the hub it was 700 and 10SM. Quick turn and out to the overnight.

Nice overnight. Tomorrow starts with a 5AM van. I go to the hub...back to this outstation and back to the hub. I then finish at 2PM....and off for a while. Vacation.

Time to watch took me quite a while to get my Roku box is incredibly geeky as the Roku box can't click "ok" for the hotel wifi. I carry a small Asus hotspot router that takes in the hotel wifi and then shares it with my own personal SSID. I have to connect the Asus hotspot router to the hotel then connect my Ipad to the Asus hotspot. I then use my Ipad to click "ok" to agree to the terms and conditions. The hotel wifi approves my router which then means anything to connected to the router is approved. Quite geeky and not for the faint of geek.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

"I flew with a bunch of nut jobs"

Felt better on Friday afternoon so I figured I could fly my 2 day trip on Saturday. Saturday morning I was good to go.

This was originally a 4 day. Due to scheduling changes by my mainline partner every flight after the overnight changed. I get paid for it all, but don't have to fly it. Nice eh?

My report time was 4:30PM. My wife dropped me off at the curb and I signed in a few minutes early.

On the way to the crew room I passed the Captain who I flew with at the beginning of the month. We have the same line, but I traded 2 out of the 4 trips.

He said ,"Glad to see you're back, I can't believe you traded all those trips. You stuck me with a bunch of nut jobs!" I laughed and told him I'd see him at the plane.

Normal flight out. He said they put new hire reserves with him for all of the trips I traded out of. Most were okay , but a few were still new to the game and downright strange.

We were headed to a small airport where my airline is the only carrier. First time for me.

Night time. We spotted a beacon that we thought might be the airport. The controller vectored us off course for the descent. I had already briefed the approach. I assumed I would get another vector before getting a visual clearance. Nope.

"Airport 3 o'clock 5 miles report it in sight." was what we were told.

"I believe that's it...gonna be tight." I told the Captain.

We were on a heading of 300 for runway 14. The airport being 90 degrees to the right meant a quick chop and drop or a long turn to the left.

Chop and drop it was.

Steep right turn while I called for flaps to be lowered. I would never have tried this when I was new to the airline or the plane. I have 104 hours in the new plane and feel pretty comfy with it.

I was on centerline and stabilized by 1000 feet AGL. Firm but not harsh landing.

The terminal is at the far end of runway 14 so I just used light braking and no thrust reverse to let it roll near the end.

We blocked in 20 minutes early. Now an 11 hour overnight.

Hotel van was late. The driver got stopped by a police checkpoint looking for drunk drivers. She apologized. Not a big deal since we were early.

Nice hotel. Six o'clock van for the next day.

It took a while for me to be able to force myself to go to bed early...especially when different time zones come into play. Went to bed at 9:15PM.

For whatever reason I woke up at 3:45AM....and couldn't go back to sleep. Annoying.

Arrived at the airport at 6:20AM. TSA has an agreement to let flight crews bypass security. Nice.

Very windy outside...and cold...and rainy.

Preflight done....ears freezing. Note to self...pack ear muffs again.

Initial winds were 250@20G30.

The longest runway is runway 32. The next longest was runway 22. Problem...wet runway + crosswind + the need for anti-icing meant performance penalties.

Runway 22 had a 15 knot crosswind. Runway 32 had a 28 knot crosswind. Thankfully the performance data supported runway 22. The Captain briefed the takeoff. If we had to return (in case of an engine failure, fire or other emergency) we'd use runway 22 instead of runway 32. Even though 32 was the longest, it had the most crosswind component.

On the taxi out the winds 270@27G36. About equal crosswind but more favoring 22 still.

Holding short of winds....280@30G37.

Now runway 22 had a 32 knot crosswind while runway 32 had just 24 knots.

We taxied across 22 and then over to runway 32. Gusty takeoff and we were off.

Turbulent climb out but we broke out of the clouds at 10,000 feet. Smooth after that for a while.

The Captain was a bit worried we'd be extended once we got into base. Lots of "sick" calls on Holidays. I thought positive.

Arriving into base I pulled up the weather, gate assignment and crew assignment. Great weather, decent gate and no crew assignments. We were done.

Blocked in 12 minutes early. I headed outside and waited for my wife. While waiting my phone was scheduling. I didn't answer. Not required to since I'm not a reserve.

They left a voicemail stating they needed to cover a "quick turn" and if I didn't call back it would cancel. I didn't even consider calling back.

Lack of staffing on scheduling's part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

My wife arrived and I was home a few minutes later.

I'm off till Saturday when I start my January line. Simple 3 day trip.

My line for January was 4 three day trips. It's a 3-4-3 trip. Three legs on day one, four on day two and three on day three. Just 3 different cities. Not bad at all.

Because I have vacation I'm only doing 3 of the 4 trips.

Time for a nap, that early self induced wake up is catching up to me. If I had done that "quick" turn I would still be flying right now.

Oh and that flight didn't cancel.....they put a reserve on it.