Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Down under

I don't go down south often....down south being Mexico.

My airline doesn't do a lot of Mexico flying, but there is a bit.

I have nothing against Mexico per say. There are some security issues. The worst event went down like this:

The crew were all new to Mexico and didn't speak Spanish. They left customs and went to the hotel pick up area. A man in a unmarked van (which is normal ops in some cities) approached and said ,  " I take you to hotel." He went on to say the correct name of the hotel. The crew got in and away they went. The driver said he was going a different way. Since the crew had never been there before, they didn't know which was the normal way.

All of the van rides in Mexico are long as the airports are not near downtown areas.

After about 10 minutes the Policia pulled in behind and the lights went on. Behind the Policia was the REAL hotel van. We were not told who the van driver was the crew had been riding with. Since then procedures have changed. One being an escort with a bilingual airport employee to the van and a bilingual van driver. There's more...but I won't go into that.

My biggest issue with Mexico flying is the long sit time when returning to base. This is to allow the crew to clear customs. I have Global Entry so I speed thru. On this trip the time from the aircraft to the curb was 9 minutes. Never stopped walking.

I said all that to say this. I almost got stuck in Mexico for an extended period of time.

My 2 day trip was a 3 and 3 worth 8 hours 20 minutes.

The first turn was easy. The Captain I was with was flying it on overtime. Super senior guy. The pay disparity was eye opening. For the 2 hour 20 minute flight I was paid $96.57. The Captain was paid $366.91. He was flying on a premium pay day due to a shortage of Captains. Without the premium he still would have been paid $243. One day I will get that.

After the turn I was scheduled to keep the same aircraft for the flight to Mexico. I had 70 minutes so I left to get a snack. When I left the aircraft it was being powered by the ground power unit.

When I returned 30 minutes later the aircraft was cold and dark. No that's was hot and dark. The ground crew decided to turn off the external power and neglected to connect the preconditioned air. The lack of preconditioned air is an ongoing issue at my airline. Pilots complain.....Management "takes action"....nothing changes. Annoyed.

I turned the aircraft back on and started the APU. I'm a professional and refuse to sit in a hot aircraft and I will not subject my passengers to a hot aircraft. Boarding was scheduled to start in 5 minutes.

With the APU on, I turned on the "packs" then called to have the GPU reconnected. Reason being I was now burning fuel. I had not seen the release yet so I wasn't sure how much fuel we needed for the flight.

The APU on my current aircraft burns about 170 pounds per hour when providing air and power, 140 pounds per hour when providing just air, and 100 pounds per hour when just providing power.

Not a lot of fuel, but it can add up. I was using the APU for air only and using the GPU for power. This is perfectly fine per the manufacturer and my company.

Nice and cool I started setting up the flight. Even without the flight release I can pull the clearance and ATIS and have everything set up.

The Captain for the flight to Mexico was a very junior reserve guy. He's barely senior to me. He was coming in from a different Mexico overnight and had just an hour connect time (only reserves have short connects, line holders have longer connect times).

Once I was done I took a moment to check my phone when everything went nuts. Flashing lights, caution chimes and screens blinking. The APU failed and went offline. Additionally my airspeed indicator was showing faulted. Nice. Plane getting warm as boarding was almost complete.

I called first to have the air connected. I then called the mechanic.

The Captain arrived. He's very laid back, but also very strict when it comes to operating procedures.

I filled him in with what was going on. The ground crew was looking at us to disconnect the external power as they assumed we were ready to go. I was looking the ramper in the eyes when I shook my head no. He then looked at me and walked away. Unbeknownst to me he turned the external power off.

A minute or so later I noticed the battery voltage dropping. I checked and sure enough saw the external power connection at 0 volts. I quickly went to find a ramper to turn the power back on.

When the mechanic arrived things got interesting.

Mechanic - "Captain I need to power down the aircraft for a few minutes to reboot. Is that okay with you?"

Captain - "That's fine with me, but what about the passengers? Can they be onboard without power?"

Mechanic- "I'm not sure that's why I'm asking you."

Captain - "I'm not allowed to deplane passengers at the gate. I can no longer make that decision until the boarding door closes. You do what you have the power to do."

Mechanic- "So are you saying you want to deplane?"

Captain - "I can not make that decision."

This went on further. After about 15 minutes we were set to go. The GPU caused some kind of glitch that spiked the system and the aircraft took it offline.

Captain took the leg down. Easy flight. Most airports in Mexico has VOR or VOR/DME approaches. There are very few ILS approaches. VOR/VORDMES are pretty easy as most transition straight off the airway. In and done.

I speak enough Spanish to get by. I'm not fluent, but feel comfortable getting around.

This trip changed my packing habits as I couldn't bring any fresh veggies. The hotel room had no microwave so if I wanted hot food I had to go out.

The hotel didn't offer money exchange. Thankfully I had a few small bills. I found a cafe nearby and ordered potato and rice gorditas. Very good.

Long overnight. Before I went to bed I checked to make sure the inbound arrived. It did.

About 30 minutes later my phone rang. It was the Captain. The inbound came in but was down for a mechanical. The Captain side oxygen mask was inop. During the inbound flight the First Officer stepped back to use the lav. My company requires the remaining pilot to wear and use the oxygen mask. Well it seems there was some damage to the hose.

We would not be leaving in the morning.

Mexico has some special rules concerning aircraft requiring maintenance. As I understand it, only a Mexico licensed mechanic can repair an aircraft in Mexico. I've heard of my airline sending down mechanics (for medium to large repairs) who can only watch and supervise repairs.

I slept in. For breakfast I hit the hotel buffet. Not free, but very good with lots of fresh fruit.

We were scheduled to dead head out at 2:40PM, almost 24 hours after we had arrived. Fine.

We had a 1:30PM van time. I met the Captain and Flight Attendant I flew in with along with another Flight Attendant and a First Officer. The other Captain had left earlier as the station needed to open  the cockpit door and they had no keys. The Captain I was flying with was also called, but refused to go early.

Once at the airport the station asked if we could "ride the brakes" while they pushed the broken aircraft off the ramp as it was a small ramp and they needed the space. None of the station personnel were qualified to sit in the cockpit.  The Captain refused as it wasn't in his schedule. The time was 2:05PM.

I asked if he would be ok if we submitted the paperwork later to get credit for moving the aircraft. No engine needed to be started. Nope. He wanted it in his schedule or he wasn't doing it.

This was the last flight of the day for my airline.

The agent PULLED our seats at the direction of crew scheduling. If we didn't move the aircraft we weren't going home.

Phone calls were made. At 2:21PM the Captain relented.

I fired up the APU and set the aircraft up for taxi. We were pushed back about 300 yards from the ramp. We then hitched a ride on push tugs back to the departing flight. We boarded with 3 minutes to spare.

With the moving and shuffling I'm off until NEXT WEEK on Thursday for a CDO. Pretty easy month.


  1. Holy Crap! I can appreciate why you do not enjoy even the rare trip "Down There."

  2. Seems to me that Capt. "No" was a bigger detriment than being "down there" was.


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