Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cute Baby Captain

I'm currently sitting in a La Quinta in Indiana. I arrived at 10 AM via a deadhead from my base. I was called at 4:20 AM for this assignment. Departure time....6:15 AM....tomorrow of course. Waste of a day.

So far I have just over 200 hours as Captain, but only 60 hours as Captain in my current aircraft. The FAA requires new Captains (affectionately known as Baby Captains) to have 100 hours as Captain in type aircraft before being allowed full reign. Until I get 100 hours all my landing minimums are 100 feet higher and 1/2 SM longer than charted. So the average ILS is 200 foot and 1/2 SM....I need 400 feet and 1 SM.

Last week I picked up a Mexico turn on overtime. I've been flying to and from Mexico for 6 years and rarely needed an instrument approach.

A few hours prior to departure I checked the weather. It was 1/2 SM mile and 200 foot variable. It was expected to rise to 800 and 1 mile around the time of my arrival.

About 40 minutes prior to departure I had no flight plan. I called the dispatch office and reminded them I'm a baby Captain. They transferred me to the dispatcher working my flight. He said things should be fine. I asked for an extra 1000 pounds of fuel for contingency in case I had to hold for the weather. He had already given me 20 minutes of hold. The extra 1000 bought me another 10 minutes.

My First Officer was brand new to the airline, thus he had never been to Mexico. I told him I would fly down as Mexico is a little different than the United States. There are different speed restrictions, airspace requirements and dealing with non RADAR environments. Not major, but it would be better for him to watch before doing.

We were a bit delayed but finally left the gate. I headed down and flew planned speed to conserve fuel. I'd rather have more fuel and arrive a bit late than lower fuel and arrive early (and possibly have issues).

About 80 miles out we were slowed to 180 knots. Quite slow. I called for one setting of flaps to increase lift and reduce the deck angle. Hard IMC. We were vectored around and slowed down.

Initially assigned a VOR approach to runway 11. Ceiling was 600 broken with 1 SM visibility. Mins for the approach were 400 and 1 SM. I was legal by 100 feet.

Brought in a bit high I configured early. Just 1 mile before the Final Approach Fix approach cancelled our clearance. The preceding aircraft went missed due to no runway in sight. They were going to use the ILS for 29....with a tailwind. Minimums were 250 feet (350 feet for me) and 1/2 SM.

Vectored around. I briefed the approach while the First Officer set up the FMS. Brought in a little tight which was fine as there were mountains all around.

Shooting down the localizer blind. One thousand feet AGL there was nothing but clouds. Same at 500 feet. Even though I'm a baby, if the runway environment comes into view I can go lower than 350 feet.

Four hundred feet my First Officer said nothing. My right thumb was hovering over the Go Around button. Right after the GPWS said "approaching minimums" my First Officer said, "approach lights in sight". I said "continuing" and turned off the autopilot. I looked up and could make out runway end terminating bars and the first 1000 foot or so of runway lights. In and done.

During the turn the weather got worse. ATIS was reporting 200 foot variable and 1/2 SM.

While holding short (no ILS critical area in Mexico...a little odd) we watched for arriving flights. We could see nothing until they showed to be 100 foot AGL on our TCAS. Flight visibility is different than ground visibility.....but was tight.

The flight back was mostly normal. The STAR for the hub is a descend via meaning there are assign altitude and speed restrictions. My new aircraft is VNAV capable and has auto-throttles. But in order to make the restrictions everything has to be setup properly.

Getting close I asked my First Officer if he was aware of the restrictions. He said he was.

I give new First Officers a lot of slack. The great Captains I flew with did the same for me. Give them slack and let them solve the problem....but retain some rope so you can fix things if needed.

When the next restriction required almost 4000 feet per minute I finally intervened. I guided him through it (we needed full speed brakes for about 15 miles) but we made the restrictions...and he learned something.

For now I will attempt to find something to do. I have extreme doubts.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Heavy Snow

I'm currently enjoying the homeless shelter AKA one of our crew rooms. I am supposed to be flying a bunch of passengers back from Omaha, Nebraska right now.

This is day 4 of a lovely 5 day reserve assignment.

Ironically I had an overnight in the base I previously commuted out of. Today started with a 1:40 PM departure to Omaha. It's also the first real snow of the season.

The aircraft had just come in so the light snow that was falling was just beginning to adhere to the aircraft when boarding started. By the time boarding was complete the ATIS was reporting regular snow, not light snow. We got in line for deicing.

After about 40 minutes everything lined up and deicing started. Then a new ATIS came out....heavy snow. There are no FAA guidlines for holdover times for heavy snow. A holdover time is the time he aircraft should be protected by the anti-icing fluid. Even though an aircraft can LIKELY take off after being sprayed with deicing and anti-icing fluid, there are no guarantees.

Once I saw the heavy snow I called the deicier and told him he should stop and save his fluid. I made a PA to the passengers explaining in plain language the situation. They had been on board for over an hour at this point. The next update from the airport wasn't due for another hour. After discussing the situation with my dispatcher, company operations and my crew it was decided we would deplane the passengers (passenger bill of rights folks you're welcome).

After about 30 minutes the decision was made in operations to cancel the flight. About 20 minutes after ATIS came out....light snow.

The flight could have been reinstated, but it wasn't. Instead I had a 5 hour break until my flight to the overnight. It should still go as the snow is getting lighter. The problem operations wise aircraft and crews are all over the place. My aircraft is supposed to arrive at 6:30 PM. Or departure is 8:05 PM. The problem is the aircraft has been sitting at an outstation delayed for 3 hours. Not sure when that crew will time out.

Winter is definitely here.