Thursday, February 27, 2014

Doesn't matter how shiny the planes are...

There is a clause in my contract that allows management to cancel the scheduled pilot vacations in case of staffing shortages. This has never happened while I have been here (almost 6 1/2 years), but it's there. The company will reimburse the pilot for any non-refundable payments that had been paid.

I've blogged about the "pilot shortage"...and it appears to be coming more and more true. Below is an email from the PSA union to the pilot group.

Staffing Shortage Update
PSA management has recently taken a number of actions in an attempt to mitigate the pilot staffing shortage. First, management denied or canceled all Association leave for January, February, and March. Second, this weekend, management decided to hold four pilots at PSA indefinitely rather than allow them to begin a class at US Airways in March.

Third, management advised the MEC yesterday that it was canceling vacations for pilots bidding in Round 2 due to extremely short staffing in March. Section 7.H of the Collective Bargaining Agreement describes the responsibilities of pilots and the company when taking this action. As the shortage continues, further vacation cancellations may occur, so every pilot is encouraged to review the language.

Fourth, management has canceled selected recurrent training events—both ground schools and LOFT sessions—over the past week to mitigate the shortage temporarily. This move creates a number of contractual complications in the rescheduling of these events. Delaying training is also unsustainable as it creates further training backlog.

The MEC is concerned that management’s focus on fixing immediate problems will compound the difficulties of implementing new aircraft. Therefore, we strongly encourage PSA management to take a longer view, using realistic targets with a sufficient margin to allow for success. Attempting to operate on a razor thin margin reduces the chances of success during the coming year and is likely to deteriorate the working environment for PSA pilots. We mustn’t be the continued victims of improper planning.

The PSA pilots voted in a concessionary contract last year. In my opinion it lowered the bar for all regional pilots. That lowered bar was presented to the pilots of Expressjet and American Eagle (Envoy)...both voted it down in threats of being shut down.

I can only imagine the blow to morale to PSA pilots are taking now. They will soon make less money (concessionary contract) and now have to forgo their earned and planned vacations with their families.

Mind you this shortage they are having IS NOT due to growth from the 30 aircraft they lowered the bar for. This shortage is for their current fleet. Pilots are still leaving to find greener pastures. I can only imagine it will get worse.

It doesn't matter how shiny those new CRJ 900s are when you are stuck working instead of being on the beach with your family.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


On day 2 of a 4 day.

This is a 5-4-2-3 trip. I prefer having the trips front loaded with legs than do 5 legs on day 4. Don't get me wrong I despise 5 leg days, but I'd rather get them over with right away than kill myself on day 4 and go home exhausted.

That's one big difference between regional and mainline...the number of legs per day.

Takeoff and landings are the most stressful and incident prone phases of flight. Since, for the most part, regional pilots fly more legs per day, they have a higher chance of being involved in an incident.

I'm back with my line crew that I flew with the first week of the month.

The Captain took the first leg which was a longish 2 1/2 hour flight. I grabbed a veggie sub for the trip.

High winds at the outstation gusting to 37 knots but it was just 20 degrees off center line so not an issue for landing.

Descending into the area there was a Cessna 172 15 miles southwest headed for the same airport....just one runway. We were 35 miles away.

Initially we were going to follow the Cessna. I picked it up on TCAS and saw we were obviously travelling much faster and the distance was closing.

I'm paid by the minute. I'm okay with delayed vectors as an airline is no more important than a 172. The approach controller felt otherwise and vectored the 172 to approach from the southwest and enter a left downwind for runway 35. We were cleared straight in.

In and done. While taxiing to the ramp I saw the 172 on final. It seemed to take forever given the high headwind.

The next two legs were mine. The first was uneventful. The second though was actual "work".

Once in base we had a aircraft swap. I checked the RADAR and was surprised to see convective activity to the south. The weatherman said all the convective weather would be east of the airport. Bleh.

The flight was blocked for just 35 minutes. That's block time....from door close to door open. Most days its "over blocked". Quick flight.....most days.

Headed south we were cleared to deviate for weather. The approach controller at the out station appeared new as they gave very drawn out and repetitive clearances.

Below is the flight track. Normal routing is straight south to the airport.

RADAR on aircraft is very different than the RADAR seen on TV...and below from Flightaware. RADAR on aircraft gives a slice of the weather. The RADAR on aircraft sees horizontally  and through a somewhat narrow field. RADAR on TV can see a full 360 degrees and multiple sources can be combined for a great picture of the situation.

Headed south I didn't like the look of the cell north of the airport. The weather was moving north east. Rather than try and go east and possibly get caught up in the weather I decided to fly west.



We had enough fuel to fly around for an hour and still return to our departure airport.

Once on a westbound heading we were handed off to a military approach controller as we were nearing their airspace.

I used my eyes outside and the onboard RADAR to fly around the weather.

Weather at the out station was decent. Winds were 12 knots out of the north but variable ceilings between 400 feet and 600 feet.

There was no ILS to the north, just a RNAV GPS approach. The MDA was 1000 feet MSL which is 400 feet AGL.

Back with the seemingly new approach controller and level at 4000 feet. We were headed to an Initial fix but not an initial approach fix.

Between the initial fix and the Final Approach fix we could go down to 2000. We were given a quick vector and told to maintain 4000 until established. I saw this coming and began slowing and configuring early. Once established I quickly descended to 2000 feet from 4000 feet. There were 5 miles between the initial and FAF.

Leveled at 2000 with about 1 mile to spare.

At the FAF I descended to MDA. Once level the Captain called nothing...we were still in the clouds.

I went over the go around profile in my head. With the weather we had a modified missed approach clearance of heading 090 and 4000 feet.  Just before the Visual Descent Point I heard, "Runway in sight 12 O'clock."

I looked up and saw the misty covered runway lights.

With a press of my right thumb I disconnected the autopilot and followed the PAPI down to the runway....just one issue.

I raised my seat to make sure I'd have a good view to see the runway lights.

Since my seat was so high it changd my sight picture. I flared high...and then floated a bit more than I wanted. In and done.

The 35 minute planned flight ended up being an hour and 10 minutes. We were of course late. Luck was on our side as there were just 3 passengers going back. Fourteen minutes after the boarding door opened it was being closed.

Given the weather our takeoff alternate was the same as our destination. We did have two other alternates as well.

Mostly uneventful flight. With the weather we were given vectors and put in line of flights headed to the hub. Arrived on time somehow.

Aircraft  swap again.

The next aircraft arrived 14 minutes late with a mechanical issue. The left fuel tank gauge stopped working.....just showing dashes.

The mechanic was called. When the fueler arrived he came up and advised he couldn't fuel the aircraft as the refueling panel also showed dashes.

Hilarity soon ensued.

The Mechanic wanted to MEL the gauge. It's legal. There is a defined procedure for estimating the amount of fuel in the tank using fuel burn and time. The fueler stated he couldn't fuel unless he had a known quantity that was already in the tanks. Ninety-nine percent of the time the left and right wing tanks are within 100 pounds of each other. Not good enough for the fueler.

The Mechanic told us he told the fueler to defuel the plane and then overwing fuel with a known quantity.

The Mechanic went away to start paperwork.

The Fueler just sat there in his tuck for reasons unknown.

About 25 minutes later operations stated we were good to go and to electronically transmit fuel on board. Apparently no one was communicating.

The new solution was to "stick" the tanks and measure the fuel. Under the wings are Magnetic Leveling Indicating sticks. The "sticks" have magnetic floats. The sticks can be unlocked and dropped to measure the fuel in each wing. I get to do this about once a year.

As soon as I unlocked, verified and relocked the inboard stick the fueler walked over stating the panel was working again. Yes I laid hands on the aircraft and healed it. Ok so the fuel sensor was giggled into place by my hand.

Fueling started, the gauge was still MEL'd and things were going well....until the gauge stopped working again. Thankfully we had all the required fuel on board and most of the ferry fuel. Ferry fuel is extra fuel to be used to later flights. Ferry fuel is taken when it's cheaper to tanker it than pay for it at the next airport.

On taxi out the gauge started working again. We still complied with the MEL and periodically calculated fuel on board given the fuel burn. The gauge worked all the way to the out station.

We left an hour late...and arrived an hour late.

The Captain left a note for the morning crew...the exact amount of fuel in each tank.

Today is "just" 4 legs.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Another trip done

Had a fairly easy 4 day trip this week. Had a very nice crew and no weather or mechanical issues.

The Captain was new to me and very nice....but kinda lazy in the flight deck. He would arrive 5-10 minutes for departure or just sit there and play on his phone. Not once did he pick up a clearance via voice or ACARS. I thought for sure when we had a quick turn he would do something productive while I was out in 30 MPH winds with an air temperature of 15 degrees on a preflight. Nope. Not once did he program the FMS. He just waited for everything to be done. More than once I had to tell him to call for the flight release to be brought back to the flight deck as he forgot something. It was good Captain training for me.

I took a few photos on the trip Once again I flew through O'hare. He had never been there before as a Captain. I rarely go through there but knew enough to help him out with taxi procedures, runway expectations and general operations.


The top three photos are of frozen Chicago. All taken above 10,000 feet in non-sterile cockpit environment. cockpitgeek20144 cockpitgeek20143 cockpitgeek20142


I don't care for how the O'hare airport operates. I do appreciate the variety of food options though. I was able to score a vegan salad and raw bar!



On one of my flights there were two crying babies. My Flight Attendant apparently didn't care for babies given the note on the bottom of the passenger count "form". There is an official passenger count form, but I only see it a few times a year from new Flight Attendants. Most of the time the count is written on the back of a napkin. cockpitgeek20140

Friday, February 14, 2014

Not one easy leg today

Started with a 5:00 AM van.

First flight was booked full. Ten minutes prior to departure I kept hearing a flight attendant request bell going off. The aisle was full of passengers and the Flight Attendant couldn't get to the passenger. The problem was a "passenger of size" was trying to recline his seat forcefully and broke the recline wouldn't stay upright. Our operations decided to take the seat out of service to keep the schedule going. The passenger was removed.

The Captain worked on the paperwork and asked me to secure the seat. Securing the seat means pushing the seat back forward until its flat against the seat bottom cushion. I then use the seat belt to secure it in place. Not hard. I've seen it done before.

Well when I pushed the seat back forward the seat recline mechanism arm that was broken was  shooting straight back into the knee space of the seat behind. Thankfully I had that passenger stand up. The metal piece wasn't removeable. Guess what happened next? We removed the seat BEHIND the broken seat from service as well. Because of one passenger breaking his seat, another is being left behind.

My leg. One of the Air Cycle Machines (we call them "packs") was inoperative. This meant we had to fly much lower than normal. Lower burns more fuel and tends to be bumpier.  Blocked out 20 minutes late. Deiced and away we went. Light to moderate chop most of the flight. The flight was heavily over blocked as we arrived just 5 minutes late.

Next flight was really short, 80 miles. Clear and a million, but a front was coming through. Really rough winds. I had to work the yoke quite a bit to land the aircraft on the runway and in the touchdown zone. The gust were random and strong. Happy to be done.

Quick turn. Gusty takeoff.

Back at the hub the winds were also high and gusting...and from the complete opposite direction than when we left just an hour prior. It was the Captains turn to have to work it down to the runway.

We landed 25 minutes early. Normally a good thing. Well today our gate was occupied. We waited on the ramp for it to clear. I noticed a huffer art attached....meaning they had no APU. We waited...and waited...and waited. Total air time for the flight was 20 minutes. We waited 45 minutes  for a gate. Finally assigned a new gate.

My crew was supposed to have 90 minutes between flights for a break. We only had 50 minutes. I grabbed a veggie burger and fries and headed to the aircraft.

I did my preflight and set up the plane. I then devoured my lunch.

A passenger got on board and confirmed our destination. The Captain stated, "Yes mam, non stop!"

As we were preparing to leave I jokingly told the Captain, "I'm getting worn....I'm only reading these checklist ONE time each, if we divert...too bad."

Blocked out on time. Bumpy takeoff due to winds.

Short hour flight. About 25 minutes out I pulled up the weather with the ACARS unit.

"Hey Phil, we got a problem." I said and pointed to the screen. The winds were a direct 90 degree crosswind at 340 at 27 gusting 34. Our crosswind limitation is 30 knots.

"You have to be kidding me." He replied.

No alternate fuel was on board. There was another airport  just 60 miles away that we serve where the winds would be right down the runway.

I used the second radio to call the tower to verify the winds. They were holding at the 90 degrees and 34 knots. Short discussion and we were diverting. Things got busy fast.

Since it was his leg he flew while I notified the dispatcher of our change in destination, reprogrammed the FMS for the new destination, pulled up weather, recomputed performance, changed the landing elevation for pressurization, made a PA to the passengers and called the out station we were headed to via the second radio to advise them that we were coming. All in about 5 minutes.

Gusty approach, but winds were right down the runway.

In and done. Time was 3:13PM. The dispatcher stated we would wait until 4PM to make any decisions. Everybody off.

The passenger who asked about the destination joked about it not being non stop while she walked off.

My crew was hungry. We walked into the terminal and sat down at a restaurant....a steakhouse. Not the place for a vegetarian. I wasn't hungry anyway.

At 4PM the winds were down to 340 at 22 gusting to 28. We had 2 knots to spare. Since we diverted to a nearby airport some passengers...actually about half...had found other ways home.

"Because I like you Phil I'm going to read all the check list ONE more time," I said to the Captain.

When I called to get our clearance I was told ,"Climb maintain 5000, expect Flight Level 240 in 10 minutes." I just laughed. The flight was 60 miles. We couldn't get to FL240 if we were empty. The dispatcher made a typo while filing.

We pushed back at 4:31PM. We only climbed to 10,000 feet.

Short flight. I picked up the ATIS 30 miles out. Winds were 340 at 27 gusting 35.

"Phil you're not going to believe this but the winds kicked back up to a 34 knot direct crosswind." I said.

He was in disbelief. We were banging up against a duty clock. Where ever we landed would mean we would be illegal to take off again due to duty regulations.

Thankfully we had 4000 pounds of fuel on board. We ran the numbers and figured our bingo fuel was 2300 pounds. Our alternate was the airport we just left.

I advised the approach controller we couldn't land. He let us fly an extended downwind to discuss options. We decided we would make our own hold at the final approach fix to see if winds would die down.

The Captain made a PA and told it like it was.

Each time we went inbound we'd ask for the winds. The winds in the area were odd as there was a smoke stack under our pattern that was gently blowing. The winds at 3000 feel AGL were just 17 knots.

The third time inbound the winds were 340 at 25 gusting to 30.

I immediately requested a visual approach. Cleared.

It was a smooth ride until about 1.5 mile final. Passing over a river I could see the rough water from the winds. We got kicked around a bit but the Captain really worked the yoke to make a very nice landing.


So we thought. A master caution went off for a bleed air subsystem. Another write up.

We thought we were done.

We then waited a record 32 minutes for the hotel van.


Tomorrow is just 3 legs....hopefully.


Thursday, February 13, 2014 pilots

I'm sure it isn't real...but it is funny. I'm sure it will get deleted so I took a screenshot.



Long day

Day 2 of a 4 day.

Day 1 was long. I had a 7:15AM report time. Instead of driving myself to the airport and taking the employee bus, I had a beautiful woman drop me off right at the terminal. I love my wife.

I met the Captain in the crew room. He used to be in the training center. He trained me on my current aircraft 2 1/2 years ago.

The arrow (Flight Director position) was pointing to my side when we sat down on the flight the first leg was mine. Quick 50 minute block time.

On the way down the controller apparently forgot about us as we flew 15 miles past the airport before he turned us back for the approach. Easy ILS down to 1000 feet. In and done.

Quick turn and and we were back in base for a 2 hour 40 minute sit.

For leg 3 we had a delay. The aircraft had a previous write up for a failed fire test for the baggage compartment indicator. It was reported as repaired. Just to make sure we tested the fire system....and the baggage compartment failed. Another quick test to confirm.....failed.

Mechanics were called. We could go without the baggage compartment fire detector.....if we left all the baggage in base. Not very customer friendly.

The mechanic tested it and of course it failed. After about 45  minutes we were good to go. Bad relay.

Blocked out 45 minutes late. The out station is located in flat desert type area. I've never been able to find the airport more than 9 miles away. Yesterday was no different.

Cleared for a visual, but told to slow to approach speed. We were behind a Southwest 737, but the tower wanted to squeeze two departures between us and Southwest.

The Captain made a few 'S' turns for spacing, but the Southwest flight made a very un-Southwest like landing....meaning rolling out and taking their time clearing the runway. Just one regional jet took off before we arrived.

Once on the ground we were dealt another blow.

Another airline that flies for my mainline partner was having problems. They had a broken plane on the only gate we use...and another plane being fixed on a hard stand.

I tried calling operations...but they were too busy.

We parked about 50 yards behind the gate in a non-movement area and waited. The airport is set up for aircraft to taxi off the gate so they had no push back carts.

A few minutes later another flight from my airline arrived. They pulled in next to us.

After 20 minutes a set of stairs were rolled up to our plane. Finally hour and two minutes late.

It was a little nuts as passengers were walked across the ramp to the main terminal. A few minutes later the plane being fixed was ready.

They were loaded first. Then we were loaded. After we left the other flight from my airline was unloaded.

We left an hour and a half late. In fact we left 12 minutes before our final flight of the day was supposed to depart for the overnight.

Staffing is so tight there were no reserve pilots to staff the overnight flight. We were bumping up our maximum duty day under the new 117 rules.

Since we had a 7:15 AM report time and 5 legs we had to be finished with duty at 7:45 PM. We had to be off the gate by 6:15PM and in the air by 6:40PM.

Well we arrived in base at 5:15PM. We tried a quick turn but a passenger broke a piece of their seat. Another mechanic call. Thankfully it as a quick fix and we pushed back at 5:57PM and we left the ground at 6:09PM.

Decent 90 minute flight.

The out station was in Mississippi. Airports in the south tend to always have broken equipment. Sure enough the glideslope was out of service.

Weather wasn't horrible with a 700 foot overcast ceiling. I haven't shot a localizer approach in a real plane in years.

Vectored around a bit and put in the conga line. Around 700 feet AGL the Captain called the runway. From there it was an easy visual approach. In and done.

I may complain a bit every now and then on this blog, but understand this....I love what I do for a living. Flying isn't a's my passion. Even after the longest days with the worst weather and a grumpy crew....I still can't imagine doing anything else.

The line has been drawn

Yesterday another regional airline, American Eagle (soon to be Envoy), voted against lowering the bar further for Professional Airline Pilots.

Management demanded the pilots take concessions to "fly larger aircraft". This is ludicrous. Management wanted the pilots to fly larger more efficient aircraft (which generate more revenue) for less money than the currently make to fly smaller aircraft. Does anyone come to work expecting to make less money? No.

Management was very insistent that if the pilots voted concessions down the airline would be "Comaired".....liquidated.

I am very proud of the pilots of American Eagle (soon to be Envoy) of taking a stand. The corporation that owns the airline has $10 BILLION dollars in the bank.....yet they need concessions. American Airlines employees all came out of bankruptcy making more money. Asking for concessions is inexcusable. Especially given the lack of pilots willing to work for the low wages already paid by regional airlines like American Eagle. There are a lot of pilots out there who meet the requirements, but they are happy flying freight or private jets.

Below is a letter sent to the American Eagle Pilots by their Union.

Fellow Pilots:

The Master Executive Council of the American Eagle Pilot’s Union, the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA), voted today to reject management’s recent concessionary proposal. The company proposal would have given American Airlines Group (AAG) contract concessions in return for refleeting American Eagle Airlines with new Embraer 175 jets.

Company representatives made it clear that should the pilots and management fail to reach a deal, the company will not entertain future negotiations. Negotiators for AAG also stated numerous times that if a deal fails to be ratified, American Eagle Airlines will be downsized continually until it is small enough to liquidate.

Captain William Sprague, Chairman of the pilot’s union had this to say: “The vote today was about the future of Eagle pilots and the regional airline pilot profession. The pilots negotiated and signed a concessionary agreement during the recent bankruptcy, and management asked us soon after AAG exited bankruptcy for additional, significant concessions. Our pilots decided they were not willing to work for less than the company is already paying our peers. We will now begin the process of assisting our pilots in identifying alternative career options within the industry.”

During the coming days, ALPA will be working with the American Eagle pilots to help them find placement with other airlines. ALPA representatives will ask management for their timetable regarding the liquidation of American Eagle. Stay engaged as we move forward. The need for unity is more critical now than any other time in our history.

John Gardner, Chairman

EGL ALPA Communications Committee

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What's my time worth?

That last trip was tiring. I deiced more in that trip than I have all year. Deicing is a tedious process. I'm sure most know about deicing, but in case you don''s a messy job.

The fluid used is very thick...gel like. The good deicers will keep the fluid off the windshield. Most though don't care or know how and douse the windshield. Once the windows are covered we have a dilemma; wipe away the fluid and leave the window full or streaks or live with the fluid and wait for it to slide off. Sometimes we have no choice and wipe most of the time though we live with it. During the takeoff roll the fluid streams up the windows. The fluid is still in gel form even climbing through FL280 with -30 degrees air temp. It's thick stuff.

That fluid gets into every nook and cranny. I've pre-flighted aircraft after they sat for hours on the ramp....hours still after being de-iced...and fluid still drips from the tail, gear, wings etc.

My next 4 day starts tomorrow. Pretty busy 20 hour 4 day trip as it's a 5-2-4-3. I don't like five leg days....but I do them every now and then as it's the only option.

For my trip next week I'm in a pickle.

Most of the time I have the same Captain the entire trip. I normally just check the Captain on the first leg. As long as they aren't reserve I assume the Captain won't change.

Well next week there is a Captain that I don't care to work with on the middle portion of the trip...about 12 hours of flying. I'm pondering trading out of the trip into one that starts a day earlier, but is worth 1 hour 50 minutes less. At my pay rate that's about $82. Eh. What's my time worth?


Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Unplanned four hour airport appreciation on day 2 of a 4 day trip.

This morning started with a 5:20 AM van ride. I say was a taxi for a reason I didn't question. It was snowing pretty good on the way to the airport.

My overnight was at a maintenance base. My aircraft just came out of a hangar and wasn't covered with too much snow. The winds were howling at 35 knots. The wind with a 11 degree Fahrenheit outside air temp made for a chilly pre-flight.

Back in the warm flight deck I began my morning routine. My flight was the second to leave. I had the ground frequency playing on the overhead speaker while I went through my morning flow.

A UPS flight landed on runway 32 and reported poor braking. Runway 2 was the preferred runway but was 1000 feet shorter and had a 20 knot crosswind component. Thus we needed 32.

The poor braking report combined with 3 inch snow drifts meant we couldn't use 32 either.

While the snow built up on the aircraft and the ground we heard the flight before ours report they were going to wait at the gate for the runway to be plowed.

Our boarding was already underway.

The Captain and I got busy looking at performance, weather and fuel. We had 7000 pounds on board, but only needed 5800 to takeoff. Good spread.

The aircraft now had snow accumulating on the wipers. So much for a clean plane.

Departure was set for 6:30AM. At 6:25AM the gate agent poked her head into the flight deck and asked if we were ready to go. She was oblivious to the weather and the previous flight still at a gate. We let her know it would be a while.

A while turned into almost 2 hours. Originally I had just 35 minute turn to head to the overnight. That was gone.

The first flight was fueled for an alternate and more taxi fuel than ours. The extra fuel turned into a burden due to the runway conditions. Lucky for us we didn't need an alternate.

We pushed back at 8:30AM. The snow had stopped so we planned on just Type I fluid to deice, we didn't think we needed Type IV for Anti-ice.

Part of the way through Type 1...light snow started. Type I does give limited anti-icing.....but not enough. I radioed that we needed Type IV as well.

Something happened during the Type IV application that required everything to be done again. Ugh.

Finally clean. Up and away we went.

Halfway through the flight the Flight Attendant called asking our ETA and that 18 passengers were connecting to Cabo San Lucas....and if we think the flight would be held as it was leaving 10 minutes after our arrival.

Here's the skinny on holding flights. Flight crews have zero power to call ahead and hold a flight. Gate agents have zero power to hold a flight. Someone in an office, likely far from the airport, has that power.

We did have a little luck as we landed on the runway closest to the terminal. That alone saved 10 minutes of taxi time. After we parked at the gate an airline branded bus stopped in front of us. The bus was for the Cabo passengers . The flight was indeed held for them.

I was reassigned a 4 hour sit to a new overnight.

Not wanting to sit at the airport for 4 hours I left.

I had time to go home and fix my wifes computer, let the dogs out, pick up lunch, drive to meet my wife at her office and eat lunch with her and go back to the airport in just 3 hours. With just an hour to kill I wrote this post in 25 minutes.

Up and away I go.

Oh yeah....I hate snow.