Thursday, October 30, 2014

Seven years later

Yesterday was  the 7 year anniversary of my first day at my airline. In the last 7 years I've flown exactly 3966 hours and 36 minutes.

Before I started I naively thought I would fly close to 1000 hours a year. In reality with vacation, reserve and just life I've averaged around 566 hours a year.

I'm now topped out on First Officer pay. That means if I'm still a First Officer next year I get no extra monetary incentive.

When I started 7 years ago I made right around $24 an hour. Today I make around $43 an hour.

It's been rough. Many have had it worse.

I've learned a lot over the years. If I could give some advice to new airline pilots:

  • The roughest landings are on calm wind VFR days (as you don't try as hard).

  • Some pilots are just bitter, don't let it affect you.

  • Take something from every pilot you fly with...good and bad...learn something every flight

  • Flight attendants do more than serve coffee and give emergency demos....when the crap hits the fan they literally save lives.

  • There is a faint connection between the seat belt sign and turbulence

  • Airplane coffee all taste bad. I'd like to say it's an acquired taste...but I'd be a liar

  • Always set two alarm clocks. I've never missed a van time as I always have a backup

  • 95% of the time things go smoothly. You are prepared and trained for that other 5%

  • If the other pilot is doing something wrong. Speak up. Both of your certificates are on the line.

Not super deep thoughts. Just stuff I would have like to have told myself.

I've had a lot of ups and downs. Pun intended. I can't imagine myself doing anything else.

Each year I've said by the next I'd be Captain.'s to hoping.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Fooled them again!

I'm good for another year.

On the second day of my annual training I took my written exam. Not only did I score the top score in the class, I was the best pilot in the class! It helped that I was the only pilot in the class. The annual training is supposed to be conducted in classes of 10. Not sure what happened.

Because I was the only pilot my instructor filled in as the Captain for the simulator ride.

First day in the sim was busy. I was in the most unreliable aircraft in the world.

We started in San Francisco. Normal reduced visibility takeoff. Right at V1 as I lost an engine. Climbed out. Emergency declared, checklist run, brought back in for an ILS. Not just any ILS...the ILS to 19L.

San Francisco is surrounded by high terrain. The missed approach procedure must be executed percisely. If a pilot just flies straight ahead they will impact terrain and make the news.

Single engine ILS approaches really aren't too complicated. Once stabilized it's just like any other approach. The "fun" happens during large thrust changes....liked a missed approach.

We broke out right at mins. I looked outside and saw the runway. Right around 80 feet I heard, "Go Around! Go Around! Vehicle on the runway!".

"Go around, set max thrust, flaps 9!" I said as I pushed the thrust lever full forward. Things got squirrely fast as I had to make a left turn while counteracting the full thrust from just the left engine. It wasn't pretty but I made the turn and climbed out. Done.

Brought in again for the same approach. Vehicle was moved. Done.

More approaches including more single engine, flap failures and fires. Finished an hour early. Done.

Spent the rest of the day with my family.

Day 2 of the sim was my "check ride". Long time readers might know I'm a vegetarian. I was a vegan, but got tired of avoiding cheese. Airport food has cheese, chicken or both. I guess I'm a vegan who eats cheese ?

I said that to say this. I used to eat a (don't judge me) McDonalds Sausage McGriddle for breakfast before a checkride. That was my good luck charm. Worked for about 6 years. I choose not to eat them anymore.

Worry not I found a new one! It's called an Apple Fritter. It's full of fat and bad stuff....but no eggs!

apple fritter

I passed day one of the sim by eating one. Naturally I had one on day 2 as well.

My "checkride" was a line flight in real time from LGA to DCA. I had a different Captain who was also a check airman.

First though I had my oral. I've been studying for 2 months but was still nervous and iffy on a few questions. The examiner noted my shallow answers on a few things, but I met the standard.

The check airman I was supposed to fly with apparently didn't get the memo as he was late. Almost like a real flight I was delayed by 30 minutes. I had the aircraft set up when he arrived. If he had not arrived I would have lost my qualifications on November 1st. That meant I would have been off my next few trips with pay as it wasn't my fault I lost my qualifications.

Last year I chose to fly on my checkride. This year the Captain chose to fly. Kinda odd not flying on my checkride and I'd actually prefer to fly than be the non-flying pilot. Eh.

Minor MEL for an ice detector. Took off runway 13 with the Whitestone climb. That's a procedure I'd done a few times in the real aircraft.

Normal flight otherwise in real time. Minor en-route issues. Landing runway 19 with an LDA approach. In and done. No issues. Very easy checkride.

After that we did all the crazy stuff. Deicing, taking off on a contaminated runway, purposely flying too close to a mountain and having to escape, severe turbulence, heavy wake turbulence up high and low, stalling the aircraft high and low.

The low stall was very eye opening. It was modeled after the Colgan 3407 accident. I was flying in icing conditions, full flaps, at MDA and told to just let the aircraft stall. It's a very demanding recovery as the aircraft was just 400 feet AGL, slow and low. An aggressive recovery will cause a secondary stall.

The high altitude stall was also interesting. The aircraft dropped over 1000 feet before a recovery was complete. Being so high and slow means a very graceful recovery or a secondary stall followed by the stick pusher activation.

After that we did one more landing. On very short final the Flight Attendant call button rang followed by a baggage fire warning. Yep she was calling to report a fire in the baggage compartment that spread to the cabin.

Emergency declared. I made a full stop, heavy braking rollout and the aircraft was evacuated.

Now I'm off for 2 days. Easy 2 day on Wednesday. Day trip on Friday and I start a new month on Sunday.

Long live the apple fritter.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do I smell funny? Or just bad luck.

Last year on the day of my check ride the Captain I had been training with called in sick. I was going through an entirely new training program. A test pilot of sorts. Up until that point no one had passed. The first two crews failed.

I was a little stressed going into the sim with a check airman as my Non Flying Pilot. Thankfully I passed.

This year I am in the first group to go back for the second part of the new training program.

I got an email last month to show up to a specific room at 8 am. This morning I arrived at 7:50 am to an empty room. This is odd as for the last 7 years there were always pilots whom arrived before me.

I thought I was in the wrong room. After checking my email again I confirmed I was in the correct room.

Seven Fifty-Five came...still just me. I was getting worried. Eight o'clock came and still no one. I went out to the break room and asked if any of the folks were there for day 1. One person instructor.

Turns out I was in a class of 2, but the other pilot had not arrived. We waited......and waited....and waited. Nothing.

As luck would have it the Captain I was supposed to be in training with...and fly with....resigned effective today.

So once again I will be flying with a check airman. Odd luck eh?

One perk...we finished way early today. Oh and I have a decent sim time....8 AM show on Saturday and Sunday!

Monday, October 20, 2014

I forgot what commuting was like

A few years ago I was forced to commute. I hated it. Going from gate to gate, checking loads.....looking for my name on the standby list. Lots of time in jump seats.

I flew up to another base for a Union event last week. My Union held an event at a restaurant for pilots and their families. The gathering was an informal gathering to allow pilots face to face time with Union reps and have their families be able to ask questions as well. Good turnout.

Getting to and from is my own responsibility. The Union pulled me off the 2 day I had and of course I get paid for it. The Union pays my airline who in turn pays me.

The event started at 5 PM. With full flights and weather I took the 8:50 AM flight up. I was able to get a real MIDDLE seat.

To get home I initially planned on a 7:25 AM flight home. I'm stayed at an airport hotel. I woke up at 4:30 AM and saw that the 6AM flight looked possible. Walked over and by the time I got to the gate it was impossible. I then walked 20 minutes to another airline. Once I arrived the flight was delayed by an hour. I then walked back to my mainline partner. The next flight went out full with a mainline jumpseater.

Next was my flight. Looked bad again. I had no where I needed to be until 3 PM. I had zero desire to sit in a jump seat anyway.

The other airline flight scheduled to leave at 6:50 AM was delayed till 7:22 AM. I mistakenly thought it as 8:22 AM.  So I ended up missing that one as well.

I'm stuck with my backup backup....Spirit. They have a very nice website for airline crews to list for flights and it shows availability. Most airlines require offline air crews to fill out a paper form or list at the gate. I've used Spirit once before. They aren't the most comfortable airline, but it beats sitting in the airport.

There were a few open cabin seats. I was able to score a "Big Front Seat". Nice ride.

Over the weekend I traveled to Fort Lauderdale for a national union event. Getting there was easy as I scored a real seat (middle of course).

Getting back was difficult.

First issue was all my fault. The hotel had no airport van service. We were told to use one specific company and they required 24 hour notice. Well I tried to make a reservation just 12 hours in advance. I thought the website let me and printed off my reservation.

The next morning I was out front at 4:25 AM waiting for the van. The scheduled pick up was 4:45 AM. At 4:40 AM I happened to glance at my print out and noticed the pick up date was October 20th. I looked at my was October 19th!

Months ago I installed the Uber app on my phone. I have never used the service. Thankfully there was a driver in the area. She dropped me off at the airport at 5:20 AM. Since it was my first ride it was free!

My mainline partner had several direct flights. Problem was they were all full. Spirit to the rescue!

The flight was overbooked by 5. There were 2 cockpit jump seats. Another offline pilot was in line behind me. When he heard it was overbooked and there was already a Spirit jump seater he got annoyed and started to leave. The agent told him that a lot of passengers miss this flight, but he still left to try another airline.

Turns out she was right. I got a window seat in the back. I would have preferred a jump seat as legroom is incredibly tight on Spirit.

I'm off for the next 3 days. I have my annual training starting on Thursday.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Where is Geek?

Busy last 10 days or so. I did an easy two day trip, then a one day trip and then I hopped on a plane to Fort Laurderdale, Florida for the ALPA Board of Directors meeting. Should be able to work on a pervious post and have it up next week.

This Board of Directors meeting is a bit over the top. The first morning I was here was eye opening. Delta, United and Alaska EACH had $4,000+ breakfast spreads for their members. My union was more fiscally responsible...we chipped in for Dunkin Donuts.

More later.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Everybody off!

Day 2 of a 2 day. My last 2 day was bad...arrived after midnight on day 1 when I was scheduled to arrive in the 10PM hour. Day 2 wasn't much better.

This's just as bad.

It's a very easy 3 and 1 two day trip worth 8 1/2 hours.

The first turn was fine. I took the leg out. Flying near Chicago so it wasn't normal, but it was fine. Once we neared the outstation.....well actually 150 miles before we neared the outstation....we were brought down low....16,000 feet low. We were then passed from Approach Controller to Approach Controller. I think we went from Moline Approach to Rockford Approach to Madison Approach. All because Chicago Center is still down.

My leg. Stiff direct crosswind. Nice landing.

Quick turn was quicker as we were late due to the rerouting.

Madison clearance wasn't getting any clearances from Chicago center. Instead they filed minimal clearances to get us out of the area. Once out, another center would give us a full route clearance to the destination.

In our case we were given direct Rockford direct Moline direct destination and to maintain 10,000 feet. In reality we knew we would not be going direct and at 10,000 feet, but that's what we had to plan for in case we lost communication.

Fuel tanks were topped off. A contingency fuel stop was planned. Away we went.

We stayed low at 14,000 feet until clear of Moline then up to Flight Level 360. No fuel stop needed. In fact we had 2400 pounds of extra fuel on board. Still below landing weight.

Now most pilots would fly faster to help get the passengers, whom are already late, to the hub as quickly as possible. The guy I'm with loves his paycheck down to the minute. He flew at slightly slower than planned Mach. I brought it up, he said he'd like to save the fuel. I asked if he understood we had 2400 pounds more than needed including a hefty buffer. He did. No change.

Once on approach frequency we were assigned the runway furthest from the gate. This would be a 10 minute taxi for most Captains, but a 15 minute taxi for this Captain. I asked for a runway closer in. Approved. The Captain looked at me and said, "I guess you don't want me to make any money eh?"

I told him I just wanted to get the passengers in as quickly as possible and to get to our overnight at a reasonable time.

In and done. Quick turn. Called the wife. Captain left to get food. Boarding started.

The Flight Attendant asked for the APU to be turned on as the cabin was getting warm. No problem. If I'm hot I fix the issue. I used to wait for the Captain, but most appreciate coming back to a comfortable cabin.

The aircraft was operating on GPU (Ground Power Unit which is attached to the jet bridge) power.

I verified all the switches were in the correct position. I then started the APU. That's when the craziness started. All screens but the EICAS went dark. The cabin went dark. Crap.

The GPU had dropped off line. The APU failed to start.

I turned off the APU, deselected the GPU and tried again. This time the APU started, but there was an audible clicking noise from the circuit breaker panels.

"Turn on the emergency lights." I told the Flight Attendant.

He did.

I then studied the overhead panel. Something wasn't right. With the APU on everything should be powered. I tried basic troubleshooting. Nothing.

I turned off the APU and then left the flight deck to ask the rampers to pull the GPU power entirely as I felt that was causing the problem.

Back in the flight deck I tried again to start the APU. No dice. Not starting. We were now on batteries only. I turned all power off....but a few screens remained on. Electrical gremlins were playing around.

The emergency lights are for emergencies. It was night and without the emergency lights the cabin would have been nearly pitch black. The lights only last for 15 minutes max. It had already been at least 5 minutes.

Captain still not back from getting food.

"Hey Doug, make a PA and get everybody off the plane." I said.

Doug is very senior and is one of the top Flight Attendants at my airline. In fact he might be the top as far as service. He serves drinks with a linen table cloth and has an extreme attention for detail. Passengers consistently praise him even after a major delay. Basically he knows what he is doing.

In the middle of deplaning the Captain arrived quite startled.

"What's going on?" he asked. I explained. He questioned my deplaning the passengers. I again explained that there is an electrical anomoly going on as all switches were off but the aircraft remained powered. He looked at the overhead panel and tried the same steps I had. No change.

With all the passengers off a mechanic was called. When they arrived they seemed quite confused as it made no sense for the aircraft to be powered on with everything in the off position.

It seemed doubltful we would be taking that plane out. I collected my things in preparation for a swap or cancel.

After about an hour they replaced a relay box and used a portable GPU. Everything seemed normal.

Blocked out 2 hours late. Almost a 2 hour flight. Blocked in at 4 minutes past midnight instead of 10:05 PM as scheduled. Tired.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Not even close

Kinda tired. Day 2 of a 2 Day trip.

Yesterday was busy. My wife was out of town for work and was supposed to arrive at 4:30 PM. My report time for my trip was 4:20 PM. Not a big deal except we have a 4 year old in pre-school and there was weather moving in. Thankfully she took an earlier flight and arrived in time to remove any worry about us both being in the air at the same time. If she had taken her original flight she would have been late.

I had a meeting at my union office in the early afternoon. The Master Executive Council chairman confirmed me as permanent Communications Chairman (yay!). I left the meeting at 2:50 PM, rushed home and left for work at 3:30 PM. When I left my flights were all on time.

When I arrived the airport train system was having issues. I decided to walk instead of wait. Arrived to my crew room to find out my first turn had cancelled due to weather. I had a nearly 5 hour sit until my overnight flight.

Then my wife sent me a message that she was stuck in traffic. The weather was passing through. Her original flight was majorly delayed. Reports of downed trees and power outages.

My wife eventually made it home and the garage wouldn't open. I figured our power was out. Normally not an issue....but we both drive electric cars. No power means no charging. My car has a backup generator (BMW I3). Since I had a long sit I decided to drive home and she could use mine the next day.

When I got home the power was back on....but since I was home I decided to wait there vs at the airport.

Enjoyed an evening with my family until 7:50 PM. My 9 PM departure was still a go...ON TIME.

I arrived back at the airport at 8:15 see my flight delayed until 9:30 PM. The inbound aircraft diverted for weather.

The gate areas were jammed with passengers. I took a seat. Nine thirty became 10 PM. A couple sat next to me and was on the phone with family upset about the delay and stated "we're leaving at 10 PM so we should be there by 11:30 PM." I hated to be negative nancy but I told them I was flying the flight and we wouldn't "really leave" until 10:40 PM as the inbound was estimated to arrive at 10 PM. They were thankful, but annoyed with the news.

The inbound did arrive at 10:20 PM....with no where to park. Finally parked at 10:50 PM.

Gate agents were very busy. The inbound Captain who was also set to fly with me stated he needed food and left to go find some. I did my pre-flight and set up the aircraft. I met the Flight Attendant at the gate before I went down to the aircraft. I figured she'd be behind me to start boarding. I sat in the plane for about five minutes by myself. I finally went up to see what was going on. She had no ID badge (optional at my airline as it's airport issued) to open the boarding door. I let her in. Boarding started soon after.

Blocked out at 11:30 PM. I took the leg out as the Captain had been flying all afternoon.

Flew fast. Landed at 12:45 AM. Blocked in at 12:48 AM. Duty stopped at 1:03 AM. Set to arrive 10 hours later at 11:03 AM for a 11:30 AM departure. Short, but is much better than the old days (last year!) of 8 hours between leaving the airport and having to return.

Five legs today.