Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Needed: A few good pilots....with 1500 hours or more

Summer is just starting, and it looks ugly for staffing.

Everyday...every single airline has cancelled flights for something completely controllable. No pilots.

More often it's not enough Captains. I find this odd as my first day here they said they "only hire Captains". Zing!

It's only going to get worse as Captains and First Officers are bailing for other airlines. Some are going to JetBlue, Virgin America, Spirit and US Airways. Others are going corporate  while a few are leaving the industry all together.

Maybe this "pilot shortage" is starting to show up after all.

My airline can't get enough pilots in the front door to balance out how many are leaving through the back. On average 20 pilots a month are leaving my airline, while rumor is barely 10 are being hired. Of those hired, not all are passing training.

The busy summer schedule is just ramping up. This could get ugly quick.

There is no quick fix. At present if someone wanted to fly for an airline and had zero hours it would take at minimum 2 years to get enough time, and that's if they flew just about everyday for those two years.

I forecast (based entirely upon my Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and second major in Sociology!) that my airline will shrink. We will get bigger planes and fly them with less frequency.

Instead of flying to Little Rock 8 times a day with a 50 seater, we will fly there 4 times a day with a 76 seater.

I'm not moving on just yet. Some of my friends have bailed to Virgin America and are happy. The thing is they commuted to my airline, so commuting to Virgin is still a commute, but with better pay. I'm content driving to work and driving home....for now.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Moved in

All moved in to the new house and out of the old. Even though we moved just 5 miles away, it feels like we moved 100 miles away. Our house has been a sea of cardboard boxes, Styrofoam and plastic bags. Exhausted but happy to be in a new place. Back to work on Sunday.

I did get another 2 day back to back schedule for July. I start late Sundays and finish late Mondays. I then go back late Tuesday and finish mid-afternoon on Wednesdays.

Before June I never bid 2 day back to backs. I kinda wonder how long I could have held them. Finding a 2 day back to back that starts on Mondays that is compatible with daycare is a little hard, so I will be content with working weekends until I can hold 3 day trips again.

For now gonna watch Little Einsteins in my media room with my daughter. One hundred inches of Little Einstein.....gonna get some coffee first.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Declaring an emergency

Most pilots go their entire career without declaring an emergency.

Supposed to be an easy two day trip. A 3 and 3.

I met the Crew at the gate. Inbound aircraft was running late.

The crew was new to me. The Captain was very laid back. I made my normal, "No paperwork, no news" motto of flying.

While boarding I politely asked the Flight Attendant, "When you get a chance may I have a bottle of water and a Diet Coke, just the can?"

She responded with, " I prefer if you get it yourself before boarding starts, I'm not your waitress."

Both the Captain and I were taken back. Really? Wow.

Our destination was forecast to be VFR and have no weather issues. We blocked out with 8800 pounds of fuel. Our minimum takeoff fuel was 8400 pounds.

When we lined up in position we had 8600 pounds in the tanks. Good to go.

The first chink in the armor was departure keeping us low longer than planned due to arriving traffic. Once clear we were up to FL350 which was supposed to be smooth. It wasn't. Down to FL330 which was smoother.

The tradeoff was burning about 90 pounds more per hour per side. The Flight Management Computer estimated landing with 1900 pounds of fuel versus the dispatcher planned of 2100. Not a big deal as it was supposed to be VFR.

Well nearing the airport the center controller started us down earlier than planned. The FMC showed arriving with just 1700 pounds. That got our attention. Request to stay high were denied.

I got the ATIS and was surprised to what I heard, "Thunderstorms just west of the field moving east." The airport was east of the storm.

My Captain whipped out the enroute chart and looked for an alternate. We didn't have fuel for an again...supposed to be VFR. He found one. I then advised our dispatcher of the weather, our fuel on board and planned diversion via the FMC.

"Be advised the storm is moving quickly toward the field. You might be able to beat it in. Descend and maintain 1600 proceed direct to the Final Approach Fix when able." said the approach controller.

Three miles from the FAF approach advised, "Microburst on the approach end of runway 21, heavy rain over the airport, Thunderstorm approaching quickly."

Just then the right fuel tank flashed amber. We were into our reserve fuel.

"That's it, tell him we are diverting" said my Captain.

"Approach we are diverting, minimum fuel." I stated.

"Turn left heading 340, climb and maintain 10,000" said approach.

I got busy quick. I advised our dispatcher that we were indeed diverting. I then told the Flight Attendant and made a PA to the passengers.

"If the tanks turn red, declare an emergency." said my Captain.

Climb power eats up fuel fast.

Passing 8000 feet we got the triple chime and red flashing lights, both tanks in the red. Low fuel.

"We are declaring an emergency. Low fuel. Requesting priority." I advised the controller.

At 10,000 feet we saw a huge storm ahead and requested 12,000 feet. We skimmed the tops.

The diversion airport was only 70 miles away.

Our dispatcher requested fuel on board again and altitude. We had 1500 in the tanks.

They quickly replied we needed 850 pounds to reach the airport. Comforting, but that was straight line. We had to make deviations for weather.

Once again I called the Flight Attendant and advised we had declared an emergency and would be on the ground in 7 minutes,and  we did not plan on evacuating the airplane. Flight Attendants have various plans when we declare based on time. With just 7 minutes they had time to tidy up the cabin and that's it. Since we didn't plan on evacuating there was no need to brief the passengers. For all they knew it was all okay.

I loaded up the FMS with the approach. Thankfully it was straight in to runway 29. Again reporting VFR. I tuned in the ILS and made it active so we would have a sense of where the glide slope was to stay as high as long as possible.

Once on approach I heard them giving holding instructions to various inbound aircraft, reason being....our emergency.

I picked up the runway 15 miles out. I advised the Captain we were above the glide slope.

Cleared straight in.

He made a great gliding approach. I saw several fire trucks standing by on the taxi ways.

Normal landing. When we turned off the runway we had just 700 pounds in the tanks. About 9 minutes of fuel.

Big sigh of relief.

Pulled into the gate and made a PA about just needing fuel and for the weather to clear.

Thirty minutes later we were on the way out. We had 4900 pounds of fuel. That was enough for our destination, holding for 30 minutes and another alternate.

Minor deviations. Easy VFR approach and done.


I asked my crew if they wanted food. They were fine. I headed up for a quick pizza.

Weather was still in the area for our flight back. Since we were so late we were pulled from the overnight.

My leg.

Climbing out I hand flew it up to FL210 as I worked my way around the weather. It's easier to hand fly than spin the heading knob and adjust the vertical speed.

Once clear I turned on the autopilot and took a bite of my now barely warm pizza....but not before snapping a photo of a beautifully ugly storm.


geetstorm1 geekstorm


I go back in a few hours for a quick turn....and fill out paperwork for the emergency.

Close on my new house tomorrow.

So much for , "no paperwork, no news."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

No More 5:20AM report times

Ugh....On my first 2 day trip of the month.

It's a fairly high value trip at 11 hours.

It's a 5-3 trip. Five legs on day one, 3 legs on day 2. I finish at 12:35PM on day 2.

Today started with a 5:20AM report time...on a Sunday! I contemplated trading it for something with a later start time, but I didn't want to drop the 11 hours down to anything under 10 hours. I kept it obviously.

I packed my bags and had them ready last night then took a shower. This morning my alarm went off at 4AM. By 4:20AM I was out the door.

Quick stop at McDonalds and I was off to the airport. By 5:10AM I was in the crew room signing in for my trip. Tired.

It was so early even Dunkin Donuts was closed. I thought to myself, "What kind of nut job wants to fly out at so early on a Sunday morning....I guess I will find out when we all leave."

At 6:00AM we pushed out 5 minutes early with 2 passengers on board. One was a non-rev. Contrary to popular belief airlines can not cancel a flight due to lack of passengers. I have flown empty before....rare...but it happens. Regional airlines are almost all "fee for departure". This means we profit the same full or empty. The major airline pays for the fuel and other items and they take the loss for an empty flight.

Weather. Storm moving in from the west. We had a lot of fuel on board. Holding short a flight in position asked to wait a bit for the weather and pulled off. We were told to line up and wait and take a look using our eyes and RADAR. It looked fine to us as we were headed west. Instead of a normal RNAV departure we were given an immediate heading of 090.

Normally we wait until 400 feet AGL to turn. We can turn before that altitude but it must be less than a 15 degree bank. Almost as soon as the wheels left the ground my Captain, who was flying the leg, began a shallow turn to the right. A few bumps during climb out. My coffee in the cup holder started splashing. I picked it up as my hand was a better shock absorber.

We were soon in the clear. We knew that we'd have issues coming back to the airport though.

Arrived to find our gate occupied. It was another regional that does flying for my mainline partner. They've had reliability issues lately. Lot of late flights. So many that my airline has been called in to cover flights.

Delayed. Ground stop at the hub. After 55 minutes we blocked out. We were at max weight for the longest runway in question. I deal with various weights for takeoff. There is the maximum structural weight (the most the plane can weigh), the runway limit (to be able to accelerate to V1 and abort), and climb limit (get to VR, pop an engine and take off avoiding obstacles.) We were runway limited.

Our books state I must use a maximum power takeoff (as opposed to normal reduced power takeoff) and perform a static power setting (holding the brakes while revving up the engines to takeoff power). Up and away. Given a long route for weather.

After about 10 minutes one of the arrival gates opened up. We took it. Then it happened. Weather got horrible at the hub. Holding.

We had a decent amount of fuel. I pulled the power back early but it wasn't enough. After 6 laps in the hold, about 25 minutes, we hit bingo fuel. At bingo fuel we had enough fuel to reach our destination, fly to the alternate and fly for 45 minutes. At bingo we had to head toward the hub or divert. We diverted.

Our alternate was only 10 miles away. I pulled out the charts and briefed my approach. Easy landing.

Ironically our alternate was the same airport my next turn was supposed to serve. That flight and the return flight cancelled.

Once in another flight from my airline diverted as well. We were on a hard pad and not a jet bridge.

Initially my Captain wanted to keep the passengers on board as it would be just 45 minutes. The problem was a storm was moving toward the airport. The airport personnel stated once the storm arrived they would be inside and unable to deplane passengers. With that news MOST passengers got off. The only passengers on board were unaccompanied minors.

Unaccompanied minors are the responsibility of the Flight Attendant until we reach our destination. There were 3 on board today. Girls ages 8,10 and 12. It was easier to keep track of them on the plane than in a crowded terminal.

An hour an forty minutes later we left. Quick flight. I attempted to grease it on....and did so...twice. Apparently I kissed to ground once...pulled back just a little too much and kissed again. Not a big deal.

Plane swap. With the cancelled turn we had just one flight left.

Blocked out 47 minutes late. Climbing out, both the Captain and I began to really feel that 5:20AM report time.

Getting tired.

Winds at the out station were high at 260 at 18 knots gusting to 30 knots.

The long runway is 7300 feet long and is runway 17. I've only used to long runway. The short runway is 5300 feet long and is runway 30.

I planned on using 17 as it was longer. My Captain brought up using 30. It was only a 40 degree crosswind. The performance charts stated I needed a 4200 foot long runway to safely stop. I pondered and agreed. Runway 30 was a straight in approach.

My adrenaline was up as it always is during gusty landings. It's a rush seeing the "short" runway ahead as I hand fly a plane with 48 people on board at 141 knots.

No nonsense approach. Around 40 feet the gust dropped and the sink rate increased rapidly. I brought up the power and pulled back a bit while kicking the nose over to the right and adding left aileron. Like butter.

Once down I quickly applied maximum thrust reverse and moderate braking. We were at at taxi speed with a little over 2000 feet to spare ahead.

The feeling after exciting landings is hard to describe. Kinda euphoric.

We climbed into the hotel van with a few passengers from our flight.

Once at the hotel I was starving. Headed to a restaurant next door. While in line one of the passengers from the van walked in. He asked if I was eating solo and asked if I wanted company. For the first time ever I had dinner with a passenger. It was a nice change.

Tomorrow starts with a 5:10AM van. Once done I come back Tuesday afternoon at 2:30PM and finish at 2:30PM on Wednesday....a much better start and stop time.

No more 5:20AM report times for me......until the next time I see a high value trip....but then that will be the last time.....until the next time.  Ha!

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Somewhat normal 3 day trip. Interesting crew...boring flights...which was a good thing.

I closed on my current house last Friday. The Real Estate market is very good right now. We profited more than I make in a year! Being conservative we are going to put away enough to survive for a year.

I start a 2 day trip tomorrow. Another 2 day trip Tuesday and then close on my new house Thursday. Move in Friday. Then start another 2 day trip Sunday night and then I'm off until the following Sunday.


More when I have time.