Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Este Bueno

For January my line consisted of all day trips except I had two overnights. Both overnights were two day trips.

My first overnight was supposed to be last Thursday, but I was pulled off for some union work. It was nice to be in the union office for two days as I was able to totally redesign the newsletter. Much more eye appealing and readable.

On Saturday I still had one two day trip worth 9.5 hours. The trip is a 3 and 3 with an overnight south of the border.

The line Captain called in sick. I've only flown with him once this month do to my trip trades and calling in sick. I learned long ago when I'm the least bit stuffy, to call in sick.

The Flight Attendant for my two day is familiar to me. Her I have flown together a few times and we got along great.

A reserve Captain was assigned. A very junior Captain. Most junior Captains are a joy to fly with as they remember what it's like to be a First Officer AND they are still getting used to their seat so they are more agreeable. Not this guy.

Normally I run the Before Start checklist while boarding is being completed. This is useful as sometimes we catch errors in paperwork, the logbook or aircraft equipment during the checklist. With the boarding door still open things can be fixed.

Before the first leg I had completed all my flows and we were both sitting their quietly. I asked if he wanted the Before Start checklist. He declined and stated he does not work for free and would not do the checklist until the door was closed and the parking brake dropped. For those that don't know my pay doesn't start until those actions are completed. The pay stops on the other end.

It takes at most 90 seconds to run the before start checklist. Ninety seconds!

So we both went back to sitting in silence. The door was closed and like a machine he suddenly started moving and doing things....almost in a rush. The plane had several MEL's. A real gem. The left pack (ours) didn't work, there was a lot of paint missing, a passenger sat on an armrest and broke it, and some how the leather seat back of a seat was ripped. We reviewed all of this..........................after the door closed. Thankfully nothing needed to be addressed.

Blocked out on time of course. Taxied out 7 minutes after blocking out. He took the first leg.

Uneventful. I had the next two legs. Same story, no checklist outside of the parking brake.

Once the brake dropped at the out station during the first turn he again "clicked on" and began moving. Rushing like before. After he was done he called for the checklist. It was completed then I reviewed the electronic closeout information. There appeared to be an issue. We were carrying HAZMAT but had no paperwork about what we were carrying.

Normally all this stuff is done with the door open. With the door open station personnell can come on board to answer questions and bring documents.

I advised the Captain that I believed we had an issue. He agreed and asked me to call the Station. Well since the door was closed....most station personnel took off for smoke breaks, knitting and sleeping. We had to ask the ramp crew via inter-phone to find someone and ask if we needed paperwork for the HAZMAT. Several minutes later we were told no paperwork was needed. The HAZMAT was a biological substance but there was no dry ice involved. Fine.

Normal leg up. Arrived to my new gate. My mainline partner has shaken things up in my base. There used to be just my airline providing regional lift in my base. Now there are two other airlines. More flights were added, but gates were taken away due to construction. This has all lead to no extra gates. If one flight runs late then the next flight for that gate will be just dominos.

After twenty minutes we parked. Running late I grabbed a decent Hummus and Veggie wrap and headed to the next gate.

Blocked out on time.

Off to Mexico.

I'd been to this overnight several times. Getting into this airport is a little easier than others as there is less terrain to deal with.

As with most airports in Mexico there is little to no RADAR coverage below 17000 feet. Thus IFR flights have to be staggered out. As luck would have it we were leading the pack.

I listened to the ATIS and heard runway 14 was in use. I verified the FMS was setup correctly. I then set up the VNAV guidance for the crossing restrictions.

Then I waited. And waited. Finally I asked the Captain to ask ATC for lower. We were 80 miles out at FL370.

"Unable due to crossing traffic." stated the controller. It's rare to see other traffic in Mexico. It's very sparse. I slowed down in preparation for the descent.

A few minutes later the traffic crossed under us. Now we were just 55 miles out.

The chart below is real. It's not terribly hard to figure out the airport, but I blocked out most details to continue to separate my airline from my blog.



It was doable, but it would be tight.

I idled the engines and spun the vertical speed down to 3500 feet per minute and deployed the speed brakes.

I had planned on crossing the NUTZZ fix at 10000.

Passing FL200 I realized I would still be high. Out went the first setting of flaps.

Mexico has speed limits. In the United States I could be screaming down at 320 knots all the way to 10,000 feet. For this airport I had to be below 250 knots by 16,000 feet. I had to shallow my descent.

Even at 15,000 feet I didn't think I would make it. Down went the gear. With the gear down I had more drag so I could increase the descent rate.

We crossed NUTZZ at 14,000 feet.

I clearly saw the airport as we crossed the 12.0 DME fix and joined the DME arc still at 10,500 feet.

Since it was VFR and there was no terrain to worry about I shallowed the descent rate and put all the remaining flaps out.

We turned final and I was just 500 feet high. Easily manageable.

Finally crossing the 4 DME fix did the engines come out of idle.

Normal approach and landing from there.

Clearing customs in Mexico annoys me a bit.

Passengers press a button on a kiosk before leaving customs. A screen will pop up saying "extra screening" or more likely "free to go".

Crews don't get that luxury.

For reasons that have never been explained to me, Customs agents go through every single bag US airline crews carry. Every single bag. Right out in the open....on a big table.

Most Mexican airports are located on the outskirts of town. The cities are sprawling. This means long van rides. This van ride was "short" at 25 minutes. I've had rides as long as 50 minutes.

The Captain filled out the paperwork for the hotel.

Super firm bed as is the norm in Mexico.

Nice free breakfast.

One O'clock van time. At noon my phone rang, I was was a "wake up call". The Captain set it up but didn't tell us about it. Fine.

I was down in the lobby at 12:50PM. The Captain was already there. I greeted him and shortly thereafter the Flight Attendant came down. She asked if we were ready. I said I was, but the Captain said he wasn't. So the Flight Attendant and I just sat in the van. A few minutes later he came out.

Clearing customs on the way out was easy. His leg. We loaded up early, but the computer system wouldn't allow us to leave until 10 minutes prior.

For 15 minutes we just sat there. We could have run checklist...but we just sat there. Finally the onboard printer started printing out our close out data. Away we went.

About 30 minutes out I sent the in range message. The printer then spit out connecting gates for passengers and flight assignments for the crew. I was (happily)  surprised to see the Captain had no assignment. He said he dropped it.

Blocked in 10 minutes early. The Captain was in a hurry to commute home and left almost as soon as the door opened. The Flight Attendant and I were happy to see him go. He was just not the norm. Not friendly and not personable.

We cleared US customs and headed to our last turn. The next Captain was also reserve. A guy we have flown with a few times. Nice guy to work with.

Quick and easy turn to the place I was born. Last overnight for the month is done.

Next month I have vacation. With my bidding strategy I work just 8 days next month. I will likely pick up some flying though as that's too much time spent at home.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Questions Answered: How much does a regional First Officer make after 7 years?

Another year is behind me. Twenty-Fifteen was interesting. Last year I made this post after getting my W2. I'm using data for this post from my last pay stub of 2014. I might come back and revise this later.

In 2015 I flew 755 hours. My total compensation from my employer was $50,661.77. Of that $44,480.32 was taxable. The difference between the two is due to medical insurance  for my family (a hefty $4,605.72), employee life insurance ($170.28) and a special 401K contribution ($450.10). The numbers don't quite add up to other trivial items such as per diem and such.

Still the total compensation isn't horrible....but I'm now topped out in pay as a First Officer. In my opinion a Professional Pilot should be earning this in their second year...not in their 8th.

Taking to total compensation and dividing by the number of hours of flight equals just over $65 an hour. My pay rate for most of the year was just over $41 an hour.

Last year I made the comment that I should be Captain in the next 18 months. Things are very fluid....but I just might meet the deadline.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Breakfast is served

December is done. Twenty-Fourteen is done. The "How Much does a First Officer make" post is coming.

The last trip of the month was fun. I had my line Captain back and a senior Flight Attendant in the back.

The Flight Attendant was new to me. Throughout the week he kept asking about my diet. I mentioned once that I was a vegetarian. Over the first 3 days he asked if I ate eggs or fish or a number of other things. I eventually said if it has a face or brain I don't eat it.

The first two nights were in cold cities.

On the third day we were headed to the airport when the Flight Attendant made a funny observation. We were the anti-stereotype crew. The Captain was a woman, The Flight Attendant a man and myself a "black" pilot. He made a joke that "a woman, a black guy and a gay gay walk into a bar." We all started laughing.

The last night was ON the beach in Florida. I had hopes for warmth.....but I was let down. It was in the 50s. The Flight Attendant for the week lived there so he went home. The Captain and I headed to the hotel. She was tired so I went out solo in search of food.

Being Florida everything on the menu at the hotel restaurant had beef, chicken or most common was seafood.

I decided to make the trek to a cafe and bar that's popular with flight crews, but that I had never visited. They had one item on the menu that was ok with me....Nachos. I did order them without on odd look....I'm used to it.

The next morning was New Years Eve. Early morning 5:20AM van.

Left on time. Normal flight with my Captain flying while I was pilot monitoring.

About halfway into the flight the call button lights up. I answer.

"Are you two ready for breakfast? " ask the Flight Attendant.

"Um well we don't really want anything from the galley." I replied.

"I'm at the door, first up is the Captains meal, I will call back for yours." he replied.

I followed our flight deck access procedures.

I then handed the Captain a tray with a HOT apple turnover, banana, apple, orange juice and a yogurt.

He called back and then handed me a carrot. I was a little confused and started laughing. He then called again and gave me a tray with an apple, banana, bag of fresh granola and an orange juice.

All of the items were purchased at a grocery store the night before. We were in awe.

We ate up and arrived on time. I could not have ended the year with a better crew.