Monday, March 30, 2009
Scrambling my days
For April I have ready reserve again. This time I had only one Saturday off. Boooo! Each month I am guaranteed 11 days off. I submitted the following to crew scheduling. I asked to trade April 10th, 11th, 17th, 18th, and 19th (days I was supposed to be one reserve) for April 14th, 30th, 29th, 22nd, and the 6th. With this setup I have a nice 4 day weekend (10th-13th) and a 5 day weekend (17th-21st). Hmmm 5 day weekend sounds funny. Simple math would show I only have 2 additional days off. Yeah. I will be working 9 of the last 10 days of the month. I will have 6 days on, 1 day off and then 3 days on. The price I have to pay for a nice schedule.
My wife and I are planning to get out of the country during my 5 day weekend. Since we travel standby we will be planning 3 different trips. I want Tokyo, she wants London and we will have one bonus city, Frankfurt. The day of travel we will see which cities have the best flight options and go.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Questions Answered: The 'F' Word
When a furlough happens, the airline announces a number and then simply counts up that many numbers from the bottom of the seniority list. With the recent announcement of another regional airline furloughing 75 pilots, the most junior 75 will be out of a job. There is no discretion given to what aircraft the pilot flies or what base they are assigned. If they are in the bottom 75 of the pilots on that seniority list, they will be out of a job. The regional in question will furlough all pilots affected. The might fly the CRJ, the Q400, the Brasilia or the ERJ. All will be furloughed. The airline might be reducing the fleet at the same time. Once the furlough is done, then there will likely be a displacement/vacancy bid to adjust for the reduced fleet/pilots. It will get complicated.
Airline pilots are the only profession I know of where one can work for 20 years, be furloughed and have to start back at year 1 pay again. Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants are all paid based on years of experience in the profession. Not so with pilots.
For every airline I know of, pilots pay is directly tired to their seniority with the airline that employs them and the seat they sit in. A pilot could be with the same airline for 25 years. If the pilot ends up no longer employed with that airline (furlough, fired, quit, airline managers drove the airline into the ground), if the pilot chooses to stay in this profession they start back at year 1 pay. A pilot can go from making $200,000 a year one day to making $20,000 a year the next. Seniority means a lot. I have heard stories where a single seniority number meant the difference between a Captain seat and a First Officer seat (for years!) or a job and the street. Seniority numbers are normally handed out the first day of class at an airline. They are handed out by age. The oldest person gets the first number and so on. A single day between two pilots can mean a lot down the road.
Keeping their seniority and the fear of a furlough is what keeps many pilots from changing airlines. If a pilot is on the top half of a seniority list they have pretty good job security. At my current airline I am very junior. I do have about 10% of the pilots "under" me. There would have to be a pretty big furlough announcement to cause me to hit the street.
For the last few years regional airlines have been on a hiring spree. Many regionals were hiring 'street Captains'. A 'street Captain' is a pilot hired straight into a Captain seat even though he is new to the company. This is done when there are not enough qualified First Officers to upgrade to Captain at that airline. These new Captains have the flight time and required ratings to qualify for Captain. Being a Captain right away is great, but they are taking a huge risk.
As a 'street Captain' they are lower on the seniority list than every First Officer on property. These new Captains will be the first to be furloughed if things go wrong with the airline. Also these new Captains will be the most junior Captains for years. They will get the worst schedules and generally the lowest quality of life. Over time as the First Officers already on property qualify to upgrade, these Captains will continue to slide backward in seniority. Eventually these 'Street Captains' will eventually hold enough seniority to be off reserve and have a normal line.
I happen to know a few pilots who will be furloughed at the most recent airline to announce furloughs. One of them was a student of mine. Already in the course of a year at his airline he has been displaced three times and been trained in two different aircraft. Hopefully he won't be on the street too long.
None of this was in the brochure for this job.
Bumps and winds and snow oh my!
Taken on the way to the overnight. Sunset. Faint contrail on the upper right from another aircraft.
The leg back was mine. Weather at the departing airport was fine. The flight was full and then some. There was a full deadheading crew onboard from a flight that cancelled last night. That crew normally just does day trips (they fly out in the morning and return to base each evening). The flight back cancelled so they spent an unexpected night in a hotel.
All 70 passenger seats were full in the back. The First officer from the cancelled flight was in the jumpseat. Normally having a jumpseater on a long flight is a double whammy. On long flights (this one was 3 hours), I like to stretch out and occasionally stand up in the cockpit. With the jumpseater here...not feasible. Also the poor jumpseater has to sit on the most uncomfortable seat on the plane.
There was weather all over the United States yesterday. We did our best to avoid it. We still got bumped around pretty good. During the descent we were given a level off at FL310. The turbulence was so bad I was unable to clearly see my primary flight display. My attempts at changing settings via the flight control panel (which controls the autopilot) were not possible. I had one hand on the yoke in case the autopilot disconnected due to turbulence. The Captain had to reach up and change the settings I wanted.
We were kicked around the entire way down to the runway. The winds at the destination airport were gusting. The winds were blowing 080@28G35. The clouds were at 2500 overcast. The clouds were too low for a visual approach. The airport was setup for planes to make an ILS approach to runway 01L and then make a visual approach to runway 06R. The reason being there is no ILS approach setup for runway 06R. The runways are spaced a good distance apart and do not overlap.
I have never done such an approach before. There is only a VOR approach to runway 6R. Not helping matters much is the fact I had only flown 13 hours this month.
I briefed the approach. I would follow the ILS on runway 1 down until we were under the clouds. I would then ask the Captain to setup the visual approach with the FMS (Flight Management System). The FMS can be setup to draw a 5 mile final to any runway on the screens.
Descending through 2500 feet I already had the plane slowed to 170 knots and was at flaps 20. The winds above the cloud deck were stiff out of the north. The ground began to come into view. As the airport came into view I clicked off the autopilot and asked the Captain to setup the visual approach. The winds under the cloud deck were now gusting out of the east. The plane eased into a crab into the wind. I looked down and saw the 5 mile fix for runway 06R. The airport is large enough to easily allow a 5 mile final.
I turned the 5 mile final and was just above the glideslope. The gusty winds made me really work to keep the wings level and the plane heading toward the runway. With flaps 45 set I kept the speed 5 knots higher than V approach. As I came into the flare I kicked the nose over and applied aileron deflection into the wind. Now in ground effect everything looked okay. That 5 knots I kept hurt as we were floating.
Eating up runway quickly (traveling at 140 MPH still) I decided to put the plane down versus trying to make it nice. The landing was just average for this plane. Nothing great...but ya know we landed.
The winds at the airport were so high, they were down to using 2 runways from the normal 5+. Delays were rampant.
The Captain and I were advised on our way in this morning that we would be flying one more turn before being done for the day. Thankfully we were keeping the same aircraft.
We pulled into the gate and 30 minutes later were being pushed back out.
The winds came around to the north a little more. This allowed us to use one of the main runways. We were sent to runway 01R for takeoff. The winds were now 060@22G28. Still a stiff crosswind.
We got moderate turblence for the majority of the flight. Someone forgot to tell mother nature it's spring. The weather at our destination was overcast 500 and snow. Snow? Snow? Really? Snow?
As we descended into the airport area we began picking up rime ice. We turned on all the anti-ice systems (wings and cowls) and left them on until after landing.
The winds were gusting 60 knots off runway heading. The previous arrival reported braking action as good. I picked up the runway right at 400 feet. The Captain made a nice landing and turned off the runway.
The snow was no match for the heated windshields. Melted right away.
On the return flight there was another deadheading crew. The First Officer is a good friend of mine. We went through training together. I talked to him for a few minutes in the terminal. The return flight only had 14 passengers. He showed me his boarding pass. Jumpseat. He asked for the jumpseat because he knew I was flying. Nice.
I had to dig out my de-icing checklist. I had stowed it away...because it was SPRING!
We pushed back and waited to be deiced. The tower advised us we had 8 minutes to takeoff in order to meet our EDCT (Expect Departure Clearence Time). I advised we would not make it. They came back with another time, we now have 15 minutes. Maybe.
The deicer first applied the hot deicing mixture and then came back with the anti-ice mixture. The anti-ice mixture is a green gel that sits on the aircraft and will collect ice/snow. Once we start the takeoff roll the gel will literally slide off the plane and take any snow/ice with it.
Now deiced we start the engines and begin taxing. The tower advises we have 3 minutes until we miss our EDCT time. I don't let that time rush me. Rushing in the cockpit will likely cause mistakes. As we are halfway down the taxiway I look down at my MFD. We have less than a minute. The airport isn't very busy. The tower clears us for takeoff. The Captain later joked that we should have taken off from right where we were...the taxiway. Ha. The tower cleared us in order for us to make the EDCT time.
I applied takeoff power and away we went. I momentarily forgot how light we were. With only 14 passengers and 25,000 pounds thrust, we reached VR in less than 3000 feet.
The flight back we were assigned a lower flight level that kicked around the plane even more. I was ready to be done.
The winds at our base kicked back up. This time we were assigned runway 06L. There was an ILS approach to this runway. We were vectored around quite a bit. This approach involved a straight in profile. I clicked off the autopilot around 1000 feet and flew it in.
The airspeed varied widely due to the gusty winds. I worked the yoke and throttles to keep it on glideslope. This landing was very smooth....but long. We were cleared to roll to the end so I wasn't too concerned with stopping and getting off quick. At the landing weight of 57000 pounds we only needed 3700 feet to stop. The runway was over 9000 feet long. I ended up setting the main gear down just past the 2000 foot markings.
The deadheading crew was going to take the plane next. My friend in the jumpseat had let me know he would be calling in sick. I was exhausted. Once we were done with the checklist I quickly called crew scheduling to get released. If he called in sick before I was released I could have been assigned his turn. In my physical condition (reduced rest overnight, already flew 6 hours, weather) I would have called in fatigued anyway. I was not fit to fly the rest of the day. Thankfully I was released.
Headed home I snapped a photo of another plane making a gusty approach.
Off for three days. My wife and I were going to hop over to MSP for lunch today. The flights are all full. Maybe another weekend.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
I was sitting in the airport watching Seinfeld DVD's while keeping an eye on the flights. The weather took a dive and high winds reduced the airport to one runway (they normally have many times that!). The flights still looked covered.
After about 3 hours I decided to head to the crew room to update my Jepp charts. My phone rang. Unknown. Nice. I was assigned a flight to the northeast again. I grabbed my updates and headed to the plane. When I left the crew room the flight only had myself and two flight attendants listed....no Captain.
I went down to the plane. No ground power. I did my preflight and then fired up the APU. The flight attendants arrived and the passengers began boarding. I went up to the gate and grabbed our release and had the plane setup so the Captain could walk on and be almost ready to go.
At departure time there was still no Captain. I made a PA and apologized for the delay. About 15 minutes later the Captain arrived. He had been called in from home.
He reviewed the paperwork and away we went. The winds were still gusting. He took off with a 25 knot direct crosswind.
The flight was fine. One odd thing walking into the hotel.
I noticed a group of "short people" (what's the PC term nowadays?). Then I looked around the lobby...full of "short people". Apparently there is a convention in town. Brought a smile to my face. Can't say why.
Reduced rest overnight. Nighters.
I'll get to Yoman's question tomorrow.
A buddy of mine just let me know another regional airline is furloughing 75 pilots.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
This afternoon I am going to try to move my April schedule around for 3 day weekends. Moving around reserve days can be tricky as I can only work 6 days in a row. It's a game that must be carefully played. I have on paper a plan to get most weekends off. I remember a while back I played this game and ended up working 12 out of 13 days in a row. I had 6 days on, 1 day off and 6 days on. That was rough!
For the most part I do enjoy the afternoon airport standby more than the morning standby. When I had morning standby I would wake up at 5AM, be out the door by 5:20AM, sign in at 6AM and then schlep around the airport for 8 hours. I would sleep for a few hours. Around 2PM I would be released for the day and would be tired the for the rest of the day.
With afternoon airport standby I wake up whenever, have a few cups of coffee, take care of things around the house and then head into work. I still schlep around the airport for 8 hours, but at least I'm not tired and in a funk.
The forecast for airline hiring is gloomy. For all those hoping to get hired on, stay current but don't hold your breathe to get hired this year. In the meantime try to get a "real" job and save some cash.
Found these on a forum. A little humor to my day.
The PILOT always make THE RULES.
THE RULES are subject to change at any time without prior notification.
No CO-PILOT can possibly know all THE RULES.
If the PILOT suspects the CO-PILOT knows all THE RULES, he must immediately change some or all THE RULES.
The PILOT is never wrong. If the PILOT is wrong, it is due to a misunderstanding which was a direct result of something the CO-PILOT did or said wrong.
The CO-PILOT must apologize immediately for causing such misunderstanding.
The PILOT may change his mind at any time.
The CO-PILOT must never change his mind without the express written consent of the PILOT.
The PILOT has every right to be angry or upset at any time.
The CO-PILOT must remain calm at all times unless, The PILOT wants him to be angry and/or upset.
The CO-PILOT is expected to mind read at all times.
The PILOT is ready when he is ready.
The CO-PILOT must be ready at all times.
Any attempt to document THE RULES could result in Bodily harm.
The CO-PILOT who doesn't abide by THE RULES is grounded.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
How the 'other' half flies
The flight out to Vegas was fine. We were able to snag first class seats on the first flight out.
The trip was fine. I turned one year older while losing money at various casinos. We really enjoyed ourselves. Getting back home today was interesting.
When we looked at the loads (passenger loads) last week they looked good....like we would have no problem getting home. Last night we looked and saw 50+ employee standby travelers and oversold/full flights. Uh oh.
My wife is used to non-rev travel so we both began looking at options. We both have T-Mobile G1 smart phones so we were hammering away at ways to get home. The initial route was Vegas to Northern California to Southern California to home. The only problem was there were 50+ standbys on the first flight out of Southern California. They would roll over and end up being ahead of us on the standby list. The next option was Vegas to the mid-west to home. Problem was the flights were full/oversold with a few standbys. Things were looking dim.
I then thought about flying on an airline other than my own. I can jump seat on almost any carrier while my wife can ZED. ZED stands for Zonal Employee Discount. A ZED fare is a set amount of money for a set distance. The 'Z' is for Zonal. If the flight is equal to or less than the distance set for 1 zone it's a set fare. This price data is made up, but here is a ZED price structure:
1 1-450 $29
2 451-750 $35
3 751-1600 $40
4 1601-3200 $53
5 3201-4080 $60
6 4081-5000 $79
7 5001-6100 $83
8 6101-7100 $90
9 7101-9000 $110
Thus if the flight is 451 miles you pay the 2 zone rate. Not bad. ZED's are some of the last people on the stand by list as it's still standby travel. In a jam or as a back up plan it can really help.
I began looking at airlines flying out of Las Vegas and where they fly to non-stop. I then looked at the loads for my airline out of each city. I finally found a non-stop flight from Vegas to Texas on Southwest airlines that we could then connect to a flight from my airline. I called the Southwest non-rev automated system and checked the flight loads. Things looked good. The flights on my airline were also good. I called my airline to setup the ZED ticket for my wife. The plan was set.
We left the hotel at 6AM and headed to the airport. I first had to buy the ZED ticket from my airline. The ticket counter was very busy. Thankfully an agent helped me out and within minutes we had the ZED ticket in hand.
After making our way to the Southwest ticket area, we printed out security documents that would get my wife through the TSA checkpoint. As a pilot, most TSA checkpoints don't require me to show anything more than my work ID.
We cleared security and then just had to wait. While waiting I checked us in for our connecting flight in Texas. Once the Southwest Airlines Las Vegas to Texas flight was listed on the TV monitor at the gate, I went up and finished the jump seat process. Southwest is awesome for jump seaters. I told the agent I was new to jump seating (until now I have only jumpseated on my own airlines). She explained everything I needed to do and after verifying my credentials against a national database, she handed me the boarding pass.
My wife was next. She went up and traded her ZED ticket for a boarding pass. Almost done.
Jump seating is a privilege. I waited by the gate to either be first on to ask the Captain for a ride or wait for him to come up and ask him for a ride. I saw him up at the doorway and politely asked for a ride. He examined my boarding pass and company ID. He then asked if I was traveling alone or with family. Once I told him I was with my wife he said to take a seat in the cabin and try to save a seat for her. Deal. I didn't really want the real jump seat.
I boarded early and took a seat in the back of the plane. The flight was supposed to be a little empty. Turns out it was totally full. My wife was one of the last to board. She took a seat next to me. I wasn't relaxed until we pushed back from the gate. I was fully expecting to be called to sit on the real jump seat. Didn't happen.
View from the back of a 737-300 on Southwest. Just past the Grand Canyon.
This was my first time flying on another airline other than my own in at least 4 years. I will say Southwest knows how to quickly load and unload a plane. The employees all seemed happy and truly cared about doing a good job. Not a bad place to work.
While reading the Southwest magazine I noticed they allow GPS devices to be used while flying (my airline does not). I fired up my GPS program on my phone (which waas in airplane mode!). We had a nice tailwind!
Once we landed I waited until all the passengers were off and then thanked the crew for the ride. My wife and I scurried through the terminal and boarded our flight home just 20 minutes after getting off the Southwest flight. Good timing.
Looking back on one of the Southwest planes that brought us 1/2 way home.
After we got home I checked the standby list for flights from Las Vegas. The standbys who were on the list this morning at 6AM were STILL waiting nearly 10 hours later! I don't see many getting home tonight. I'm glad we have to options of my jump seating and my wife using ZED. I'm only allowed to buy ZED passes for my wife, kids and parents. We will not hesitate to use Southwest again. Every employee we encountered was extremely helpful and truly happy to be there.
I'm back on airport standby tomorrow. Back to reality.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Nice trip out of Colorado
Two hours later we pulled up to the hotel. Colorado is very nice....I'm told. The ride was in the dark. Boo.
This morning I made my way down for some of the awesome Holiday Inn Express cinnamon buns. After downing two and a yogurt, I topped off my coffee and made my way to the van.
The issues with the plane were resolved by our airline maintanence crew. They were flown in yesterday afternoon as soon as the problem occured. I prefer our mechanics fixing our planes versus contract mechanics. The main reason is our mechanics know our planes. Contract mechanics work on all types of planes...not really specializing.
TSA agents at smaller airports have authority to wave flight crews by. TSA agents at larger airports have never done this. We like this as it speeds up the process. I can't imagine a flight crew risking their job by taking something on board they aren't supposed to. Pilots go through all sorts of background/screening checks. If nothing has come up by the time they are hired....they are probably good to go.
I made my way out to the plane with one of the flight attendants. The cabin door was closed. I told her a story of what happened the first time I tried to open the cabin door from the outside. I had just finished IOE and was on a ferry flight out of Ohio. The Captain and I both struggled to open the main door. It seems simple enough...big ol' handle. Nope.
This morning as we walked up a ramper came up to open the door. He also struggled. Eventually he had it open. I helped the flight attendant with her bags as the steps on the CRJ700 are kind of steep. Once done I did my pre-flight inspection and then made my way to the cockpit. The Captain came on board and we began setting up the plane for the return trip.
Starting off high...5750 feet! I couldn't get a clear photo this morning.
I have flown with this Captain a few times and have always had a good time. She is an older lady who has a great sense of humor and has a very open cockpit policy. If I am making a mistake or doing something "not quite right", she will let me know. She expects me to do the same. I like this.
Taken while waiting for the rest of the crew to get on board. Very scenic. I climbed out over the valley left of this photo.
The weather in Colorado today was beautiful. I asked her if she minded if I flew the leg back. She didn't. We discussed our engine failure on takeoff chart for this airport. The airport is surrounded by mountains. Our airline had a special procedure for engine failure on takeoff for this airport. We briefed the procedure and made sure we both understood what the plan was. Being VFR we would follow the procedure and, if possible, simply enter a downwind for a landing on the same runway we would use for takeoff. Additionally since the airport was surrounded by moutains/hills I stated I would make a right turn after takeoff and climb while heading toward a valley. The plane has all the perforamance needed to climb direct to the first fix without having an issue...but what if ?
Chances of an engine failure on takeoff/climbout are extremely rare. I don't play odds when flying (I do like to gamble in my off time though!) so I like to have an "out". By turning to the right after takeoff and climbing out toward the valley if we lost an engine on climbout we would have lots of ground under us versus hoping we could out climb whatever was in front of us. With that done we moved on.
The APU was inoperative today. We use the APU for electricity in addition to air conditioning and engine starting. This meant we needed an air cart to supply air pressure for an engine start.
Once the passengers were loaded my Captain started the right engine and we finished up the checklist. The ground crew here for my airline is awesome. They work harder than any other station I visit. All of this for one flight a day!
She began taxiing to the runway and I was going through my flows. She then asked me to start the left engine. We do this with high presure air from the right engine. Starting an engine in the CRJ700 is extremely easy as the computers do most of the work.
She advanced the right engine up to provide at least 42PSI of pressure for the start. I then pressed the left start button and started my timer at the same time. Once I had 20% on the N2, ITT less than 120 and N1 rotation, I advanced the left thrust lever to idle. The engine began starting. Just as it appeared the engine was stabilized we got a ding....left engine start abort. Crap.
She stopped at the hold short line and we tried again. No light off. Now we had to wait 5 minutes (per our checklist). I called the flight attendant to let him know (him...we have two on board) what was going on during the 5 minutes. Thankfully the third time was the charm...normal engine start.
My Captain lined up the plane with the runway and turned the plane over to me. I advanced the thrust levers to the takeoff detent and away we went.
The field elevation was over 5000 feet...so the takeoff roll was longer than normal. At VR I gently pulled back on the yoke and we began climbing into the sky. Once we reached 400 feet I began turning toward the valley. I basically made a climbing turn into the downwind and then exited the pattern. By the time we were over the airport we were already climbing through 10,500 feet...I love this plane!
17,000 feet climbing out of the area.
FL310 leaving Colorado
The rest of the flight was uneventful.
Coming in for landing I had the runway in sight 15 miles out. We were cleared for the approach. I had the plane setup to follow the ILS down. On most visual approaches I still setup an approach to: 1)Make sure the runway I see outside is indeed the right runway! 2) Back me up with my descent 3)See Number 1.
Somewhere around 500 feet I clicked off the autopilot and brought the plane down to the runway. Somewhere between 10 feet and the ground I thought I made a butter smooth landing. What I actually felt was a cushion of air from ground effect. Thankfully I had been in this spot before and kept flying the plane down until we really landed....nice and smooth.
That's all for now. I turn the big '32' tomorrow. I will be celebrating with my wife, my fraternity brother (who is also my pledge borther and best man at my wedding, his wife, and another couple who are great friends in Las Vegas. Worry not if I win it big I will still keep my job.
Oh yeah bids closed today. Being the most junior First Officer in my status I got the scraps left over. The only line I didn't bid was the morning standby line. The last choice I placed was the afternoon airport standby line. Thankfully I got my last choice....afternoon standby.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I had plenty of items to keep me occupied since I bring plenty during my airport standby sits.
Maxim, Zune, Laptop and my cell phone (which was charging)
Colorado is a very pretty state when it's not snowing. I did stare out the window for a bit.
When we arrived the Captain and I were shocked to see a shuttle van waiting just for us. We thought for sure we would have to call around for a ride. We were quickly taken away for the 1 1/2 hour drive to a hotel near the airport where our plane was. We passed the airport on the way to the hotel. The plane was the only one on the ramp.
When we walked into the hotel several passengers asked if we were the crew that was flying them tomorrow. We said we were. They were very happy to see us. We thought they would be in a bad mood. Nope. They just wanted to get home safely. A little comedy happened when I told them I was the First Officer and the woman next to me was the Captain. They assumed me being a male I was the Captain. The Captain has a good sense of humor, she has a sticker on her kit bag "Woman can fly too!"
As is we leave at 8AM. We should be back in base by 11AM. Hopefully we will be released as we are both off Saturday and I have plans to go to Vegas.
One good thing about this trip....the hotel. It's a Holiday Inn Express..one of my favorite hotels.
And I said it would be a boring week!
The originally had me deadheading to Colorado on my mainline partner airline and then deadheading again on another airline. Why? Well one of our CRJs is stuck in Colorado. We only have one flight in and out per day. They need a crew to fly it out. I gathered my things and made my way to the crew room.
Once I arrived I met up with the Captain. I have flown with her a few times. We checked out schedules again. Now we were back on airport standby. Hmm.
The first plan was scrapped. The new plan was to deadhead to Colorado, rent a car and DRIVE to this other city, overnight and fly out in the morning. Hmmm....okay. Think we need a new checklist for that. Ha!
Then that plan was scrapped.
I got dinner.
The new plan is to deadhead to Colorado and take a TAXI to this other city. Not sure why they canned the car rental idea...would have been much cheaper. Oh well...I don't pay the bills or make the decisions.
This should be interesting. I will take photos if I can.
So much for boring.
Questions Answered: Pay on Reserve
This answer involves math. Math is not my "thing" so I will do my best. At my airline (and many regionals for that matter) I am paid for 75 hours of flight time each month while I am on reserve. As long as I am available for duty each day I am assigned reserve I get paid 75 hours at my current pay rate. The average month has me working 20 days. Not too shabby.
This month I was assigned ready reserve (airport standby). Here is a little "gotcha" about pay at airlines. I am on duty 8 hours during airport standby. For each hour I am on duty I get paid per diem. For this example assume my rate for per diem is $1.75/hr. So each day I sit airport standby I get paid at least $14 in per diem. All $14 is taxed if I terminate by duty in base. Now during those 8 hours of ready reserve I only get paid my full hourly rate for 3 hours 45 minutes each day (75 hours a month /20 days of duty). Thus each day I am on ready reserve I earn roughly $140. Not too shabby for just sitting around an airport. Well if broken down into an hourly rate I earn about $17.60 an hour. Suddenly not so great.
The more senior pilots in my status who are on reserve have it much better. The top few pilots in my status on reserve get paid a minimum of 75 hours each month and may never set foot in an airplane much less an airport. As long as they are available each day for duty they get paid the same 3 hours and 45 minutes I do. They don't get the extra $14 I get though....so I have that going for me!
Some senior pilots will purposely bid reserve and bet they will have time off to finish projects around the house, work a second job (must be a flexible job as there is always a chance they will be called out) or take care of the kids (again one must have a backup plan in case they are called out!).
I mentioned earlier that my per diem is taxed. I'm not an accountant, but they way it was explained to me (and thus the way I understand it) is if I terminate duty in base then for tax purposes it's though I never left. I could fly halfway across the country and back and still be taxed on per diem.
Most pilots are not taxed on per diem. If I were to leave on an overnight trip tonight then all per diem from the time I started duty until I finished tomorrow would be UN-taxed because I left base. Additionally if I were on a multi-day trip where I overnighted in a different city each night I would not be taxed. I could (and normally do) fly in and out of base all day and not be taxed.
Keeping track of pay can be very complicated. Many pilots use logbooks (different from flight time logbooks) to keep track of time. Most of these books are red...not sure why. Here is a one I used for about a week before I went electronic.
When I was holding a line I would get about 270 hours of per diem each month. Last year my total per diem pay was just over $4200.
Thanks for the question and keep them coming.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Very boring week
Bids close tomorrow as noon...so I have that to look forward too.
I'm glad I live in base. If I were a commuter I would be bleeding money as I would be paying for a hotel every night. Most people in my situation who commute would end up buying crashpad as it would be cheaper overall.
I have one shift of ready reserve today and then I should have reserve at home tomorrow.
Saturday I go to Vegas to celebrate my 32nd birthday and my 4 year wedding anniversary.
Feel free to fire questions my way.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Everything's amazing, nobody's happy
Preferential Bidding Systems (PBS for short) simplify the task of bidding a schedule. Flight crew members simply select various bidding options and a computer builds a schedule for them. Options include:
Line Characteristics : Commutable, Most Days Off, Late Start, Early Finish, Days of the Week off
Off Days: For specifying specific days of the month off (the 13th or 20th for example)
Pairings: Certain trips/routes/city pairs
Fly avoid or fly with: To avoid flying with a certain crew member or status (check airman for example)
There can be more or less options depending on the airline. PBS allows crew members to quickly bid each month.
My airline doesn't use PBS. My airline builds schedules (called lines) and publishes them in both paper form and online in PDF format (both are called bid packets). This can be costly as lines are built for each domicile and aircraft. There can be 500 pilots on one aircraft in a domicile. The printing and distribution cost money. Flight attendants in each domicile also get lines built just for them. Some aircraft have 1 flight attendant..some have 2 flight attendants.
Each month flight crew members pick up a bid packet and begin examining the lines. Some flight crew members like certain overnights (especially if they commute, many like to overnight in their home city....more time at home!), while others like certain trip types (2 day, 3 day or 4 day trips). Some flight crew members looks for commutable trips (being able to fly in on the first day and out on the last day) while still others want the most days off. In addition to those some want the most hours while others are looking for certain days off. Bidding can be very complicated!
The bid packets contain 60-350 lines. The number depends on the domicile, number of pilots in that domicile and the number of aircraft assigned to that domicile. Going through 350 lines could take quite a while. Some flight crew members download the bid packets and use software to sort them.
Logic goes the more senior pilots get their first choices while the most junior pilots hope for whatever is left over. To be safe pilots bid at least the number of lines equal to their seniority in that status. For example if a pilot is 20th in seniority in his status he will be at least 20 lines. Same goes for the poor soul who is number 340. He will bid 340 lines!
I grabbed my bid packet this afternoon. I finished bidding in under 3 minutes. How so? Well I am the most junior pilot in my status. Each month I get the last available line. I simply bid all the hard lines in order, then the reserve lines and finally the afternoon airport standby line. I didn't bid the morning standby line. Why not? Well if I get NONE of my other choices I will get the morning standby line anyway. Bidding all the lines blindly could be dangerous if I were more senior. I might get something that I don't really care for. Each month there are always a few flight crew members who forget to bid. These poor souls get whatever is left over.
Last summer I was lucky enough to get a few hard lines. A hard line is a set schedule of flying. I knew where I am flying, when, the crew and the overnights. Having a hard line means being able to plan a life. Being on reserve it's more tricky planning stuff with my wife. I know I work Monday-Friday this week...but will I be home? What time will I be done on Thursday? Will I be here Thursday or will I be sent out Wednesday? When time will I be done Friday? Yeah....who knows.
There is talk of my airline getting PBS. I wouldn't mind it. From what I hear from my friends that have PBS, once you set your preferences, bidding is pretty easy. Getting certain days off is also pretty easy.
Each month after bids close at my airlines pilots are given a window of time to trade trips, drop days or adjust schedules in other ways. After that window closes, scheduling builds up composite and relief lines (both made up of pieces of hard lines) to pilots who hold those types of lines. Once that period is over the remainder of the unassigned flights can be picked up as overtime by all pilots or will be flown by reserve pilots. Pretty complicated. It took me a month or three to really get bidding. I still don't "get" it fully as I haven't held a hard line for more than a month. There are many more tweaks I have never used.
Bids close Friday at noon. I should know my schedule some time that afternoon.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Questions Answered: Preparing for a regional
First you are in a good position getting flight training as well as a degree. Awesome. Some people jump from high school to an airline, skipping college all together. There is more to college than just getting a degree. To prepare for a regional the best thing is to fly as many hours as you can. I learned a ton teaching as a CFI....more so than I did as a student. Teaching in the Piper Seminole taught me a lot. I have about 450 hours in the Seminole and kind of miss it. It's a great plane for training and teaching. The regional jet course that ATP offers is great for those that have no experience with formal checklist or glass cockpits. The training isn't cheap, but they have a 99% pass rate for those that continue on to a regional. I learned a few things in the course. I did teach the course a few times last summer and enjoyed every minute of it. Taking a regional jet course will not hurt you in anyway. I was concerned about learning flows and being trained in a CRJ....but being hired to fly an ERJ. The course ATP offers is a very general course. There isn't a lot of focus given on just the CRJ, rather its the big picture. Between now and then you can grab a copy of Microsoft Flight Sim. I prefer the 2004 version. I would then grab a really good CRJ or ERJ model and get used to the glass cockpits and how the autopilots work. Getting used to glass and flight directors is a huge hurdle for most pilots regardless of how much time they have. If you go to www.feelthere.com they have really acturate models of the ERJ. The ERJ model is nearly 100% accurate. Don't waste money on a type rating. Save that money for Ramen noodles. Besides you might get a type in a CRJ but hired into a ERJ or vice versa.
Good luck and keep in touch,
Friday, March 13, 2009
The joy of the unknown
Today is my day 6. I can't legally work tomorrow. On day 1 this week I was sent on an Ohio overnight. For day's 3 and 4 I went home each night. Yesterday I was watching the flights and saw the "storm" brewing.
There was weather over most of the mid-west yesterday that was delaying flights. Two overnight flights caught my attention. One to Arkansas and the other in the Northeast. The one to Arkansas was resolved quickly, but the one in the Northeast got worse.
The original crew was going to fly from Arkansas to the hub and then out to the overnight. They originally had 45 minutes between flights. Problem was the inbound plane to Arkansas that they were to fly out was an hour late. As is was they were going to arrive in the HUB 1 minute prior to their next flight. If the delay to the outbound is under 20 minutes I have seen the airline keep the original crew. However one hour prior to the departure for the flight to the Northeast, all the crew members were pulled off the flight. I knew I was going to get called.
I was sitting in "my office", which is a secluded part of the airport where I relax and browse the Internet or watch movies. Once I saw all the crew members pulled off, I began packing up my stuff. When my phone rang I answered it with, "The is First Officer Byrd, I would love to fly the 7:30PM departure tonight!" The crew scheduler laughed and said she was surprised at how fast I find the open flights. I reminded her all I do is watch open flights, movies and browse the Internet.
This particular overnight is in a very nice hotel. The problem with nice hotels is they don't offer anything extra for free. No free breakfast, snacks, Internet (they do comp it for crew members...so it's kinda free) or even fresh made coffee. The more average hotels that we stay at offer all those items mentioned and more!
I made my way over to the crew room to grab my bags and print out my schedule. I had flown with this Captain once before, really nice guy.
Once back up in the terminal I needed to grab something to eat for breakfast and lunch the next day. There was a brand new cafe that appeared to be open. I rushed over only to find they aren't truly opening until Saturday. The cafe is going to have fresh, healthy food....not the norm for airports. I did grab a menu and am looking forward to the Kickin' Thai Chicken!
I ended up grabbing a sandwich and muffin from Starbucks. It would have to do. The overnight was 14 hours long.
The original crew would be arriving at 8PM. We were scheduled to leave at 7:45PM. We were 15 minutes late due to our inbound plane running late and a minor maintanence issue. We pushed out of the gate right at 8PM.
The flight out was fine. I took the leg up and flew a little faster than scheduled. The moon was extremely bright last night, almost blinding. I did my best to take a photo. Here are two of the best.
Despite flying at Mach .81 we were still 30 minutes late arriving. The normally somewhat busy airport was quite vacant last night. The winds were light out of the north and the clouds were overcast at about 4000 AGL. I briefed the approach and we began looking for the airport. Finding airports at night in a big city isn't easy.
The Captain picked up the airport as I was on a left base about 4 miles from the final approach fix for the runway. I agreed and we were cleared for a visual approach. I kept my speed up until the last second. Two miles from the final approach fix I began slowing from 250 knots to 230 knots.
Once I hit 230 knots I began calling for flaps. I clicked off the autopilot and turned final right over the final approach fix. Right at 1100 feet and 180 knots I called for gear down. If we don't lower the gear by 1000 feet AGL we get a caution light. By 800 feet all the flaps are down and I am flying the plane down to the runway.
With my firm landing in the back of my head I arrested the descent smoothly at 20 feet and eased the plane down. I greased it on about 1500 feet down the runway. Much nicer.
I am glad winter is over for most of country and there was no snow on the ground. After my post-flight the crew and I made our way through the terminal to the hotel van.
Today all I do is a return flight and I am off for two days.
The bid packets for next month came out yesterday. The afternoon airport standby doesn't have weekends off like it did this month. Hmmm. Not good.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Where is the bottom?
There was a small resurgence between 2006 and 2008 where airlines were hiring like crazy again. When I was in the middle of my training at ATP, pilots had their choice of airlines. Each pilot picked an airline based on what they needed/wanted.
Some picked an airline for the historically fast upgrade. Others went to an airline because of a historically friendly management. I chose my airline due to a long history and stable economic base. My how things change.
The quick upgrade airlines began furloughing. Heck airlines that have NEVER furloughed started furloughing. That friendly management became not so friendly. My airline with it's long history was about to shrink dramatically. The sky was falling! The sky was falling!
During Q2 of 2008 the hiring doors once again slammed shut and the exit door opened. Quite a few of my friends were suddenly on the street....furloughed just month's into their careers. Those that survived the furlough are where I am now...bottom of the list sitting reserve....happy we have a job.
We all made it through 2008 and hoped 2009 would be the turn around year. Doesn't look so good so far as more airlines are furloughing and parking more planes. Capacity cuts seem like they are being announced daily. Schedule planners have a tough job of planning schedules months in advance. If they plan right, the flights are profitable. If they plan wrong...well....the airline loses money.
Contrary to popular belief a full airplane does NOT mean the flight is profitable. Airlines can't just raise fares to make a profit, there is a breaking point where the flying public won't fly and will drive or not go at all. Some flights are flown at a loss, just to connect the passengers to a profitable flight. For a while when fuel prices were high (and still even today) every 50 seat regional jet was a money loser. The 37 and 44 seat regional jets (Embraer has 37, 44, and 50 seat jets) were even bigger money losers as they burned the same fuel as a 50 seater, but carried fewer passengers.
I have friends in flight school right now hoping 2009 is a turn around year. I hope 2009 is a turn around year. As it stands I have about 10% of the total number of pilots at my airline "under me". Thus if my airline announces a furlough as long as it's less than 9% I still have a job. Of course I might be commuting across the country....but I will still have a job.
I don't remember seeing ANY of this in the brochure for this job. HA!
Monday, March 9, 2009
Helping out the tire makers of America
The Captain took the leg up. I think I may have flown with him once before. We chit chat with the jump seater as he is in training to fly a 767 and it helped pass the time.
The storms that were over Ohio were moving east. The hour delay actually helped out in the end. We kept getting updates on the weather along the way. If we had left on time we would have had to hold or divert to an alternate. The weather was clear when we arrived.
The original overnight was for 9 hours and 35 minutes. Again this time starts 15 minutes after we park at the gate and stops when we are supposed to push out of the gate for the return flight.
Since we were only delayed by an hour the new overnight was still legal. We ended up having 8 hours 25 minutes for the overnight. Scheduling did push back the departure 10 minutes from 6:55AM to 7:05AM, which would have helped but there was another piece to the puzzle.
The hotel vans leave every 20 minutes. Our new "show time" was 6:45AM. The drive to the airport takes 15 minutes.We had to take a 6:20 van to the airport to make the 6:45AM show time. We would normally have taken the 6:20AM van anyway...so no real time saved by pushing back the departure.
The Captain makes a nice landing and 15 minutes later we are in the hotel van. This hotel is nice and gives the van driver our hotel keys and sign in sheet. This way we go straight from the van to the hotel room.
By 9:30PM I am on the phone with my wife and getting ready for bed. I haven't had an overnight in over a month. It took me a while to get back in the groove of how I set things up.
I carry my own atomic alarm clock. For some reason it isn't showing the correct time for the time zone. Changing the daylight savings setting does nothing. Hmm I set the alarm clock on my phone and on my laptop.
I tossed and turned quite a bit waking up every hour as I was worried about over-sleeping. I have never missed a van time....but never say never.
I'm up at 5:50AM and downstairs by 6:15AM. At 6:20AM we left for the airport. We all cleared TSA by 6:40AM.
After grabbing some yogurt for breakfast I made my way down to the cockpit. After inspecting the plane during my pre-flight, I began setting up the plane for the return flight. Everything was clicking along and at 7:01AM we pushed out of the gate. We were only 6 minutes later than the original departure time.
This particular airport and I don't get along. About a year ago I had my first near runway incursion. The runways and taxiways are very closely spaced. The Captain I was flying with was taxing quickly and was handling the radios while I went through my flow. Everything stopped when I heard a controller screaming our flight number and the words "stop, stop. stop!" I looked up to see the runway hold short line and out of the corner of my eye....a regional jet coming over the numbers. The Captain hit the brakes hard. We stopped just short of the hold short line.
Taxing around airports is much more dangerous than flying. On most planes the Captain is the only one who has the controls to taxi the plane. While he does this the First Officer is busy preparing the plane for takeoff. Most of the time the First Officers head is "down" and not looking outside. Since this almost incident I have made sure to have my head up as much as possible.
This morning I had my head up for most of the taxi. Once again we were told to hold short. The Captain told me to go ahead and finish the taxi checklist. I said I would once we crossed the runway. After we were cleared, I finished up the checklist.
The winds were really gusting. On take off I had a 25 knot direct crosswind. Good times. After a few bumps we were above the clouds and headed home. I hand flew until we reached FL240. I missed flying.
Looking back at the wing from FL360.
One of the Flight Attendants on the trip is quite the character. I have flown with him before and he always gets the Passengers in a great mood regardless of how late we are/bumpy the flight is/or how rough the landing is. Can you see what's coming?
The weather is decent at our destination. I line up for the runway and have the autopilot fly it down to around 800 feet. I clicked off the autopilot and flew it down to the runway.
At 200 feet...looking pretty. At 100 feet it looks like I will land right on the 1000 foot markings...my target. At 50 feet...nice. Around 20 feet I notice that my sight picture doesn't look quite right. It's been a month since I landed...the sight picture is getting faded. I don't recall 10 feet. I won't forget 0 feet. Ouch. It was rough. There were no doubts that we landed.
After we pulled into the gate I made a PA "Ladies and Gentleman I doubt you will need any coffee as I am sure you are all awake now. Not sure what that was...I would like to call it a landing. Sorry about the bumps and have a great rest of the day."
The character Flight Attendant told me 4 oxygen mask popped down during the landing. He was kidding. He gave me a hard time (jokingly) about the landing. I told him I was helping out the tire makers of America as I am sure I burned off a few layers.
A quick phone call to crew scheduling and I was released for the day. I am off the rest of the day and all day tomorrow until 2PM. Not too shabby.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
I get to go fly
After signing in I made my way to my secret airport relaxation spot and began watching Seinfeld. I bought the entire Seinfeld series on DVD recently....I love this show. While watching the show I began checking on flights. Sure enough an Ohio overnight opened up. Doh! Within 3 minutes my phone rang.
Most of our crew schedulers are really nice people with a really undesireable job. Sometimes I like to play with them. I answered the phone, "This is First Officer Byrd, can I please go to Ohio?" The line was silent for a few seconds. The scheduler chuckled then said they would be happy to let me go to Ohio for the night.
Once done I checked the weather. Thunderstorms and rain. Good times. Seeing as I haven't flown in 3 weeks or shot an approach in a month....this should be fun!
I looked at the schedule further and realized it's a short overnight...9 hours. That's 9 hours from 15 minutes after we land until we are scheduled to push off the gate again. Once the trip to and from the hotel is figured in (15 minutes each way), Checking in and out of the hotel (10 minutes total) and the fact that we have to be at the airport 45 minutes prior to departure, that leaves about 7 hours of time to sleep. Good times. At least there is no snow.
Once I get back tomorrow morning I should be released for the rest of the day.
Still beats both sitting in a cubicle AND sitting around the airport.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
It never should have happened....
We tried turning it off and back on....no joy. Being night time, we decided to turn off stuff we didn't need to lighten the load on the remaining alternator. The rest of the flight went ok until he lined up for landing. As he lowered the gear the other alternator spiked and went off line. Thankfully we were already lined up with the runway and he made a normal landing.
Robert was former military. He was a truly great guy and would do anything to help someone out. I never saw him without a smile on his face.
When he was done with ATP he decided to instruct at a different flight school. I saw him every now and then as it was close by. He told me stories of how things were at his flight school and what he had been up to. Apparently he had been performing maneuvers in planes that I would deem risky. Maneuvers like barrel rolls, flying under tree lines following rivers, full throttle low passes over runways...stuff like that. I say they were risky because they were being done in general aviation aircraft and not aerobatic aircraft. He once told me he has rolled every aircraft at that flight school.
When I heard of the plane crash I couldn't help but think he might have been testing the limits of the aircraft. Initial reports were that the plane broke up in mid-air. The day was a beautiful VFR day. One of those days when you are just itching to get up and fly. How could a plane crash on such a beautiful day?
When I was told of his funeral I was still in ground school at my airline. I couldn't make the funeral but I could make the wake. The room was full of friends and family. Robert had two young daughters I believe. Robert was my first friend to fly west.
The final NTSB report was published. Reading through it I just started shaking my head. Sure enough details about Robert's aerobatic maneuvers came up. The accident should have never happened. Three aviators died when they didn't have to.
If you care to read the report here is the link : http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/brief.aspx?ev_id=20071119X01812
Be careful out there.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Flying it onto the ground
The U-2 Dragon Lady is the most difficult plane to land in the world. The two-week-long pilot interview involves three flights. All interview landings are videotaped
Thursday, March 5, 2009
One of the perks
One of the perks of being a pilot AND getting airport standby.
The shell game
At most airlines the more senior you are the better QOL you have. Bidding is all done by seniority. Each month I bid for a schedule. Each year I bid for vacation. Eventually I will bid for a Captain seat. All based on seniority. Displacements are based on seniority as well.
I was pretty sure I was not going to be affected much and I was wrong...but in a good way. There are two First Officers in my status that are senior to me who are moving out of my base. There are also two First Officers junior to me moving into my base. If everything holds true I will no longer be the most Junior First Officer in my status. Nice.
One of the First Officers coming in below me is a good friend of mine. We went through training together. He is the one currently commuting through my base to go to another base as he can hold a line there. I called him to let him know the news.....he wasn't happy. Instead of being a line holder he will now be 2nd from the bottom and will likely end up on ready reserve. This is his own doing though as he had a standing bid to change bases. The same thing happened to me a few months ago when I was supposed to be displaced. I had a standing bid in and bounced from my current status to a new one (on paper...I never started training) and back to my current status. I was upset for a few days as I too would have been a line holder versus bottom of the list. I quickly learned to only have bids in place for things you actually want at the time. I learned the hard way...so did he.
He can always bid back to a different base, but it may take a while. In the mean time I can look forward to not being the most junior First Officer for a while.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
One rule for flight crews is that we can not be on duty 7 days in a row. Tomorrow is my day 6. For this month I was assigned the afternoon ready reserve (airport standby) line. On the assigned days of ready reserve I sign into a company computer terminal by 2PM and call crew scheduling at 10PM to get released. Between those times I am supposed to be somewhere on airport property waiting for my phone to ring. Sounds fun eh? It's not.
For most of the month I was assigned 4 days on and three days off. This month started on March 2nd. Last month I had morning ready reserve. Last month ended on March 1st. I worked morning ready reserve on February 28th and March 1st. Take those 2 days and the first 4 days of this month and you get 6 days in a row of duty.
My line had me working ready reserve for the first 3 days of each 4 day stint followed by a regular reserve day on the last day. The reason I don't have ready reserve on the last day is due to most afternoon/evening flights are to the overnight. It would not make sense to have me fly to an overnight if I am off the following day. The contract has wording reflecting this scenario. The only way I could be assigned ready reserve on the last day is if there are no other First Officers in my status who are good for (i.e. have the next day as a reserve day) an overnight. What are the odds right? Ha. This scenario has played out for me. Tomorrow I was assigned afternoon ready reserve again. Things could get interesting.
If I am assigned a flight tomorrow night that goes to an overnight I will be "stuck" at the overnight for a few days. Why?
Well I am supposed to have Friday and Saturday off. I am illegal to work Friday due to a 7 day conflict. The company can not have me perform any work related functions on that day. Deadheading is considered duty thus I can not deadhead home Friday. Thus if I am sent to an overnight tomorrow night the earliest I can come back home is Saturday.
Since I was supposed to have Saturday off, once I return from my deadhead I can request 2 additional days off this month. On Sunday I start another 5 days of ready reserve. Why 5 and not 4? Well I moved my days around this month so I can go on vacation with my wife and not use real vacation days. If I deadhead home on Saturday this will turn into a 6 day duty stint. If something odd happens on day 6 I could again be put into a 7 day conflict.
The company computers normally catch 7 day conflicts, but it is truly up to the pilot to make sure they are legal. Back when I had a line I used Airplane Pilot Daily Logbook to help me stay legal. Being on reserve it's not much use to me. Speaking of Airplane Pilot Daily Logbook I also use another product called Logbook Pro. I will go into that nifty piece of software tomorrow.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
First All-Black Female Flight Crew Flies To Nashville
Posted By: Michael King
Reported By: Brenda Wood
Meet airline captain Rachelle Jones, first officer Stephanie Grant, and flight attendants Diana Galloway and Robin Rogers. When they worked that ASA flight from Atlanta to Nashville they never expected to make history. In fact, it was a matter of chance.
"The first officer became ill and was replaced with Stephanie," said Galloway.
"When I got to the cockpit and I saw Rachelle -- we just met a few weeks prior," Grant said. "And I was just ecstatic when I saw her in there."
"We did not realize the historic ramifications of it," Rogers said. "We were just like, okay this is gonna be fun."
But Captain Rachelle Jones got it right away. She and Grant in the cockpit, Galloway and Rogers in the cabin -- all black, all female.
"I said this could be a first, so let's be on our P's and Q's," Jones said.
"I think we had a little more pep in our step," said Galloway. "I think we were just so proud."
They took a lot pictures because their history just happened to be during Black History Month.
"I'm still tingling about it," said Rogers. "This is great. It's spectacular."
"It still hasn't hit me now," said Jones. "I was just excited. I called my mom, my family and said guess what happened today."
Jones is one of only ten black female airline captains in the country. She used to be a customer service agent for Delta. Piloting was never on her radar until a friend suggested it.
"And it paid off -- and this was my goal -- to be here where I am today," she said. "And I'm so happy at what I've accomplished."
As little girls, they'd never seen anyone who looked like them piloting a plane. Now for other little girls, they're proof you really can be whatever you want to be.
"Fate may have a little bit to do with it, but for everyone that will look at us as role models or look to aspire to be what we are today, they need to know that it was hard work and dedication to get here," Grant said.
"Young girls need to see that yes they can be flight attendants and yes they can be pilots," said Jones. "The sky is the limit."
Atlantic Southeast Airlines has three black female pilots. Only one has made Captain so far.
People are invited to congratulate the crew at http://www.flyasa.com/contact/crew-contact.php
The mighty Q400
Tonight is her first time on a Bombardier Q400. I am jealous. I really like that plane. When she got to the airport I was bombarding her phone with text messages asking about the plane. I had heard they have no sunshades on the windows in the passenger cabin. I thought for sure I heard wrong. Nope. No sunshades.
She was kind enough to snap a photo with her camera phone and send it to me.
Maybe one day I will get a chance to fly a turbo-prop.
Paying for flight training
The biggest obstacle between a normal person and a cockpit isn't normally a door....it's money.
Flight training is expensive. The training is so expensive that many would be pilots will never get a chance to experience the joy that flying brings. When I started looking at flight training the cost for the program I completed was a total of $38,000. Of course back then I was just out of college and was trying to get my first real job.
Years later when I finally did start flight training....the price climbed to a total of $53,000. Yowzers!
The training I completed was a package deal with ATP. Learning to fly can be done for much less money than ATP charges. I carry the same piece of plastic from the FAA that the guy who learned to fly from a mom and pop school in Nebraska does. I chose ATP because I wanted professional training and access to a large fleet of planes. I read to many stories in forums about pilots who had training delayed because of a broken plane. There were even stories where a pilot trained and was ready for a check ride in a Cessna 172, come check ride day the flight school sold the 172 and now the pilot has to spend more money learning to fly a Piper Warrior or wait around until another Cessna 172 comes along.
I took the time to price out how much it would cost if I pieced together my training. I looked at getting my private and instrument from one school, the multi-engine rating from another and build time to get my commercial from the first school. Sometime after that I would get my CFI ratings. I would have saved at least $8000. The difference? Well I would only have 15 hours of multi-engine time going that route. My training might have been inconsistent and it might have taken longer. I wasn't in a hurry, but I did have a rough plan on being done before I turned 30. I beat my goal by less than a week!
In order to pay the $53,000 my wife and I took out a second mortgage. We then sold both of our cars and took the money to Vegas. We went to the Tropicana and placed all the money on black (after all Wesley Snipes said always bet on black right?). Somehow we won! Nice!
Well okay...so we didn't do any of that. We did what most people wanting flight training do and took out a loan. Before we did this we worked the numbers to make sure we could afford it. I used a calculator over at Airline Pilot Central (click here for a link) to estimate how much I would earn my first year. Airline Pilot Central has pay rates for most of the airlines in the United States and a few in Canada. We used very conservative math and figured we could do it without having to eat ramen noodles. I would spend most of my pay to pay back the loan. Thankfully my wife is able to support me. I married a woman beyond my league that for some reason agreed to support a broke pilot. It must be love. The 15-year loan would be paid off in a little more than 8 years. Not great...but it could be worse.
The loans used for flight training at Part 61 schools are private loans. If you get training done at a Part 141 school you can get a federal student loan. The differences are huge. Private loans tend to have high interest rates and are more difficult to get approved for. Federal loans have lower interest rates, easier to get approval for and the interest that is paid is likely tax deductable.
First Year Pay at a Regional Airline
Now I failed college Albegra (my instructor gave me a ‘C’ because I went EVERYDAY and was a Communications major…thus I needed no additional math) so bear with me. Of that $28,992.01, roughly $4231 is per diem. So this takes my real gross pay down to $24761. That pay includes my pay during training + regular flight time + reserve pay + overtime + bonuses for company performance. The $4231 in per diem is paid at $1.70 an hour for each hour away from base. I normally “make” money on per-diem as I normally eat breakfast at the hotel and then one big lunch and a small dinner. I brought food along with me a lot in the beginning….not so much anymore….mostly tuna fish (keeps well). During my year I have spent an average of 13 nights a month in a hotel room. I flew 575 hours in the CRJ. My flights have taken me as far north as Flint, Michigan, as far east as Nassau, Bahamas and as far west as Los Angeles, California.
Over the past year my flight benefits have allowed my wife and I to travel to Washington, DC twice, Texas twice, Las Vegas three times, California three times, New York twice, Illinois twice, Cabo San Luca, Mexico once, New Orleans, LA once, and Toronto, Canada once. My wife has traveled quite a bit on her own with my benefits to California, Oregon and New York.
I have learned to pack 4 days of clothes in a 22 inch rollaboard bag (rolling shirts helps a lot). I have learned to go through security with just two bins and in under 30 seconds from start to finish.
My flying skills have vastly improved. The rate of thinking and processing information is also much faster. When traveling at 150 MPH in gusty winds with 74 people under the control of one hand during a landing….ya gotta make fast decisions.
Is working at an airline everything I thought it would be? No. It’s not the job seen on TV. I have had bad days and good days. Days where I wanted nothing more than to just land the damn plane and sleep. Days where I missed my wife and knew I wouldn’t see her for another 3 or 4 more days…even though I was flying over my house daily. Days where I wished the guy next to me would back off. Days where a passenger yells into the cockpit upset because we were late (not knowing that we avoided a storm or had to deal with a problem causing a delay). I’ve had trips where I couldn’t steal a nice landing. I’ve walked down hotel hallways forgetting which room I was in. I’ve consumed 100’s of gallons of coffee trying to stay functional after a reduced rest overnight (8 hours from landing to taking off again).
On the flipside I have had Captains that truly made my day and taught me quite a bit. Passenger’s who reached out and shook my hand for getting them home safely and smoothly. I have delivered hundreds of soldiers home for rest to their loved ones. I have welcomed many young children into the cockpit to take a look around and make them laugh when I show them my ‘easy’ button (I never fly without one…best $4.99 I ever spent!). I have flown a multi-million dollar jet through gusty winds and landed so softly one could have been shaving and not had a cut. I have killed one bird (maybe that was a bad thing?). I have seen the world from 41,000 feet. I have truly seen the stars. I have survived damn Chicago (the new name of Chicago O’Hare should be Damn Chicago O’Hare). I have been able to do what I love each and every day.
I still get goosebumps when I step into the cockpit. If someone told me three years ago I would be right here today I would not have believed them. Getting to an airline requires a lot of sacrifice and understanding. The toll on your family is not to be taken lightly. The sacrifice is financial and emotional. I was away during Christmas and my wedding anniversary during my first year. I know I will be working on Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Thankfully I have a very supportive wife….and no kids…for now.
So there it is….one year at a regional airline. Is it all worth it? For me…absolutely.
Monday, March 2, 2009
The first steps
When I really started looking into it after college. Nothing changed! Still full of acronyms and the prices varied even more.
For the most part one has to have 40 hours of flight time (for Part 61) (which includes several specific training events) to earn a Private Pilot License (PPL). The hours can be reduced to 35 hours under part 141. I gave a brief explanation of Part 61 and Part 141 here.
In the real world VERY few people earn a PPL in the minimum required flight time. Why? Well everyone learns at a different pace. Looking back in my logbook I got my PPL with 50 hours. I consider myself average (at least for this blog....in reality I am a bad assed pilot...with the sticker to prove it!) so for those getting ready to make the jump to flying and looking into prices consider 50 hours for your PPL.
I bought these stickers and gave them to all of my students..and kept a few for myself!
To this day I still remember the first time I was truly at the controls of a plane. It was nothing like Microsoft Flight Simulator! Instead of my nice air-conditioned office and comfy leather chair I was being bounced around by thermals in a cramped cockpit while sitting on a somewhat padded chair. And I loved it.
I chose to do my training at my own pace. Back then I worked a 40 hour a week job in a cubicle. I worked 7AM to 4PM. Lucky for me I worked just 5 miles from the airport. From 4:30PM to 8PMish I would attend ground school or fly. Flying around in May wasn’t much fun as it was hot and bumpy. I was near the quitting point until my instructor took me for my first night flight. By golly the air gets smooth at night. Before this I was frustrated by the thermals. Trying to practice slow flight or steep turns while being bumped around is stressful.
I eventually got used to the thermals and the heat. Looking back through my logbook is bringing back quite a few memories. On one of my solo cross countries my Instructor told me I had to navigate to four different airports with the longest leg being 60 miles. I only had to land at 3 of the 4 airports. The winds were forecasted to be light and mostly down the runways. So much for forecast.
I took off and headed to my first airport. About 15 miles out I tuned in the weather and wrote them down. The winds were higher than forecasted giving me a pretty stiff (for the time anyway) 10 knot direct crosswind. I lined up and landed right on centerline. The plane then began turning off the runway. I forgot to put in the crosswind correction! I eased the nose back toward the centerline with maybe 2 to 3 feet to spare before going off the side and hitting runway lights. I taxied back to the end and took a breather.
I took off and headed to the next airport. Again a few miles out I listened to the weather. The winds were even higher! I flew over the center of the airport and saw the windsock straight out directly perpendicular to the runway. Hmmm yeah....NEXT!
The third airport was the only towered airport. I called up the tower and was cleared into the traffic pattern. My whole life I thought pilots and air traffic control talked fast. I talk fast by nature. I requested three full stop and taxi back landings. After my first, while taxing back to the runway, the tower told me to slow down my speech, as he couldn't understand me. What? Seeesh....so much for that theory of mine.
Landings complete I headed back to my home airport. The whole flight was 2 1/2 hours. That's quite a bit of time to be flying around in the heat by yourself.
Around the 45-hour mark my Instructor felt I was almost ready, but I needed a little more polish. Just shy of 50 hours he signed me off.
Check rides are stressful for just about every pilot. Even Captains I fly with now get stressed during training events. The very first check ride a pilot has is incredibly stressful, as they have no idea what to expect.
My examiner was a very nice gentleman by the name of Keith Weems. The morning of the check ride I had a McDonalds sausage, egg and cheese McGriddle (this will be important later).
I met Mr. Weems in his office and presented all my documents. The oral was pretty straightforward. My Instructor prepped me well and I studied more than I had to. Once the oral was done we headed out to the plane. The skies were clear and the wind was very light.
My Instructor told me to pretend Mr. Weems was just along for a ride and not to examine me. I tried...but my legs were shaking like crazy. Thankfully the vibration of the engine was stronger than the vibration from my legs.
We took to the skies and preformed all the required maneuvers. I remember my turns around a point being a little weak....but passable.
The last thing I had to do was a short field landing. I was good at these. I lined up for the runway and advised Mr. Weems I was going to use the 1000-foot marking as my landing point rather than the end of the runway. I couldn't land before them and had I think up to 150 past them to land in. Everything looked perfect as I crossed the threshold. I flared and then it happened....I ballooned up. I pulled the power all the way out and let it sink again. There were no doubts whatsoever when we landed just on the edge of the 1000 foot markings. It was one of my firmest landings thus far.
Mr. Weems made some grumblings and said to go ahead and taxi off the runway. I was feeling uneasy. "Did I fail? Was the landing too rough? Didn't I make my spot?" all ran trough my head.
After I turned the plane off Mr. Weems asked me how I did. I told him I think I did okay and that the short field landing could have been smoother. He told me to put the plane up and meet him inside. Now I was really down. I thought I had failed. I was expecting him to tell me pass or fail. This whole "meet me inside" thing was grey.
My instructor was waiting a few steps away and helped me push the plane in the parking spot. I told him about the flight and that Mr.Weems told me to "meet me inside."
We both walked up to the office and he went in to talk to Mr. Weems. After a few minutes he came out and told me the good news....I passed. I needed work on turns around a point and that my short field landing was interesting....but both were within limits.
On July 18th, 2006 I woke up a mere mortal....I went to bed a Private Pilot.
The first steps to a PPL aren't easy...but it's worth it.
Oh yeah ever since then before EVERY check ride I have had I eat the exact same breakfast.....sausage, egg and cheese McGriddle from McDonalds. I have yet to fail. I even had my students eat them before their check rides. If they ever announce they are discontinuing them I am going to buy a bunch and freeze them. Can't mess up a good thing.
Before I started at my airline I rented a 172 to fly my wife and I for some $100 BBQ. The FBO (Fixed Based Operator) I rented from had a 172 with the G1000 cockpit to rent....but I wasn't qualified. Even now that I fly a CRJ I am still not qualified. In order to get checked out the FBO required 5 hours of G1000 time plus their G1000 course. I priced it out and it would cost more than $900. Ouch. Instead I rented a normal 172 for the trip.
My old flight school is offering a G1000 checkout including 4 hours in a Diamond Start 40 for $495. It's very tempting. I miss flying low and slow. Don't get me wrong I love flying at FL390 at 550 MPH, I would just like to fly for fun again.
I might have to beg my wife to buy the package for me for my birthday. The only issue is the package is only offered in Atlanta, Georgia. I could likely fly into Atlanta, rent a car, fly the G1000 and then fly home that night.
One day my wife and I would like to buy our own plane and fly up to Albany, Oregon where her parents live. There is a nice small airport there. One day.
My new routine
Since I spend so much time in the airport I know everywhere there is to eat. Coffee is a great friend of mine. I love coffee. Plain old black coffee. Once a quarter or so I get a froo froo coffee drink.
If I am in a hurry I get Starbucks. Not my favorite...but it does the job. When I am lazy I get Dunkin Donuts. The coffee there is much better than Starbucks....full of flavor. Most mornings I would grab Einstein Brothers coffee. The coffee at Einstein's is better than Starbucks...on par with Dunkin Donuts...with one extra point in it's favor. Refills!
I would make my way to Einstein brothers and buy a large coffee. If I forgot to bring my own breakfast I would snag two bagels as well. From there I would sit down at a table, fire up my laptop and enjoy a rich cup of perfectly brewed coffee. After my first cup I would get one refill and then head over to an under used part of the Terminal and waste the remaining portion of my shift on the Internet. Most of the time I watch movies via Netflix streaming service and play ATC at www.atc-sim.com. Sounds glamorous eh?
This month I have the 2PM-10PM shift. After signing in I spent a few minutes chatting it up with two friends of mine. They went and were CFI's at the same ATP location I was at. They were hired one month after me and are on a different airplane. I am at the bottom of the list in my status and they are near the bottom of the list in their status. Tomorrow another displacement bid is coming out. I am pretty sure I am safe as those getting displaced are at at different domicile and are all junior to me. After a few minutes I headed up stairs to the Terminal.
I made my way to Einstein Brothers. Closed! Apparently they close at 2PM. Hmmm...yeah. Looks like I will be sucking down Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts this month.
Displacements are used to move around pilots when a particular status is over-staffed. For example the airline might have 200 Captains in Denver flying the 737. Due to a reduction of flying out of Denver the flying schedules have been reduced. The airline forecast needing only 150 Captains in Denver. The most junior 50 Captains now have to find a new status.
Displacements are all seniority based. Pilots set up a list of statuses they would like to hold if they can no longer hold their current status. For the most part Captains are more senior than First Officers. If the airline only flies 737's out of Denver the bottom 50 Captains could choose to displace to First Officer on the 737 in Denver. For each Captain that chooses to do so a First Officer on the 737 in Denver is displaced. That First Officer's displacement list is used to see what his seniority can hold. If the First Officer can hold Airbus 320 First Officer in St. Louis he will get awarded that status. There might even be First Officers in Denver who can hold Airbus 320 Captain in St. Louis! If there are no available slots for Airbus 320 First Officer in St. Louis then the most junior Airbus 320 First Officer is displaced. Their displacement list is used to see where he goes next and so on. Hopefully when the dust settles everyone still has a job. They might not have a job where they would like to be based...but they still have a job. Sometimes there are more displacements than statuses available. In that case the most junior pilots are furloughed. I have more friends than I would like to say that have been furloughed.
I was supposed to be displaced once so far in my career. Thankfully it was going to be on a different aircraft in my current domicile. At the last minute a bid came out and I was able to hold on to my seat.
When the displacement bid comes out tomorrow the process described above will happen. Displacing as few as 50 pilots at a large airline could end up displacing as many as 350 pilots depending on how senior the original 50 were. Displacements are very costly to airlines and are only done when absolutely required. Training pilots to fly new airplanes, paying for moving expenses (some airplanes will pay to move a pilots furniture and things from the current domicile to the new one), and the loss of the use of the pilots cost money. I am pretty sure I am not going to be displaced tomorrow, but just in case I reviewed my displacement list. I used the seniority list and my basic math puts my worst case scenario on a different airplane in my current domicile. The good thing is I will be senior than the majority of First Officers currently in that status. Of course if I am displaced I will displace someone else.
For now...enjoying my Starbucks coffee while watching a movie.