Monday, June 29, 2009

My own personal hell

I was assigned afternoon airport standby. I would have bet money I would not have flown. Why? Well the weather was perfect. No planes were broken. Flights were running on time.

My phone rang around 5PM. The scheduler assigned me a turn to a city not currently served by my airline. My airline is one many regionals serving my mainline partner. The regional airline that is supposed to fly the flight cancelled due to a few mechanical issues with their fleet. The flight was "scheduled" to leave at 5:30PM. The scheduler and I both knew this wouldn't happen. Why?

Well all of those passengers would have to be rebooked on my airline. While it's true they bought a ticket from my mainline partner, the flight was scheduled to be operated by airline A but was now going to be operated by airline B. In addition all of the luggage needs to be transferred from airline A to airline B. My best guess was 6:15PM.

I made my way to the crewroom. Upon walking in my mood changed. The Captain I would be flying with is one of maybe 2 who just I don't get along with. Thankfully it was a quick turn.

We all have people we just don't get along with. I consider myself very easy going. There are a few Captains that, while not very personable, are easy to fly with. They are consistent. They might be a consistently boring or an ass....but they are consistent. I know what to expect every time I fly with them. This guy is inconsistent and annoying.

I head to the aircraft right behind two flight attendants. They were also sitting airport standby.

The ground crew connected the external power (score!) and the external conditioned air (score!). Problem? Well they didn't turn either one on. FAIL!

I head out to find a ramper to have the power and air turned on. After I finished my walk around I found one. He said he would turn them on. A minute later we had power and slightly cool air. The interior had already heated up to 85 degrees. The outside temp was over 100 degrees with the pavement being much warmer. If conditioned air isn't connected right away, it will never cool the cabin properly.

With a flick of a switch I turned on the recirculation fan. This increases the air flow in the cabin and can help cool the cabin a bit.

By 5:35PM the plane was ready to board. The gate we were using was being used to board two flights. This is common with regional airlines. One gate, gate 4 for example, will branch off to gate 4A, 4B, 4C and 4D. I knew we wouldn't start boarding until the other flight was finished.

At 5:50PM I figured we would be leaving soon. I fired up the APU as the cabin was hovering around 88 degrees. With the packs on cool air was finally flowing. A few minutes later the flight next to us pushes out.

Around 6PM I head up to the gate to see why we aren't boarding. The gate agent told me they were waiting for all the passengers to finish being reticketed and make their way to the gate. Nice. FIguring it could be a long night I grab a burger.

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At 6:15PM we finally start boarding. The Captain signaled to have the external power removed from the plane, we previously asked to remove the conditioned air.

6:40PM rolls around and we are done boarding. There is a jumpseater from another mainline carrier. He is in the military and heading down the fly a training flight.

A few minutes later the noisy cockpit (due to all the fans cooling the avionics/CRTs and the gaspers) is made even more noisy by a triple chime. Straight ahead is a flashing master warning light. I look over on ED1 'L BLEED DUCT WARNING'. A moment later the packs are cut off. The cabin quickly begins to warm up. I extinguished the warning light and switched back on the recirc fan. I knew we had 10 minutes at most to get cool air back on the plane before we would have to deplane. With the hot outside temp and 70 bodies all radiating 98.6 degrees....the cabin will be hot fast.

I whipped out my emergency checklist. By the time I had it open the warning was gone and now just a caution. Checklist done I call operations first to get conditioned air back on the plane. I then called our mantanence department. Now the waiting begins.

The Captain was not concerned at all with the cabin. He is always under the opinion to sit back and let everyone do their jobs. I am one to get involved to help when I can.

There was no movement on the ramp. No rampers in sight. I called again for air. They said they were working on it. I grabbed my keys and headed out to find a ramper. I know they have a rough job in this heat. I spot a guy a good 30 yards away and use hand signals to let him know we need conditioned air attached. He signals okay.

Backup in the cabin I let the flight attendants know in a louder than normal voice (to let the passengers know I knew they were uncomfortable but was working on the problem) that conditioned air was coming. A few minutes later, coolish air began flowing.

Back in the cockpit I see a mechanic pull up. When he enters the cockpit the Captain handed him the logbook and pointed at ED1 were the caution message was posted. The mechanic couldn't find anything in the "Mantenance Diagnostic Computer". He asked the Captain what caused the problem. He shrugged and said he is not a mechanic. I wanted this flight to be done. I explained that first we had a warning, the APU LCV closed, the packs went offline and then we had a caution.

I don't know the CRJ like the back of my hand, but I do have a very good understanding of the systems. By the time the warning appeared the APU had been providing bleed air for the packs for almost 40 minutes. The outside temp was over 100 degrees. The APU never shut down. I was thinking it was probably the left bleed duct getting a little too warm due to continuous use in still air with a high outside temp (and the sun beating down on primarily the left side of the aircraft). The cabin temp was almost 90 degrees and very humid. I asked the mechanic if he thought it would be a good idea to simply put the bleed air system in manual mode and configure the system to once again use bleed air from the APU. He thought that might work. The Captain was off in his own world. I reached up and first closed the bleed valves, opened the APU isolation valve then switched the bleed source to the APU. I then switched to the ECS (Environmental Control System) EICAS screen and verified bleed air was indeed being directed toward the packs. No issues. I then switched on the right pack, which provides conditioned air to the cabin, and saw that air was indeed flowing. A moment later I turned on the left pack, which provides air to the cockpit, cool air again began flowing. The caution was gone. Me being me....I hit my "Easy Button" (I really do carry one!).

The mechanic cleared out the logbook and  the conditioned air and power were pulled off the plane again. At 6:54PM we were being pushed out of the gate. Glad I grabbed that burger.

The flight went fine (I'm still here obviously). After landing the Captain wanted to save wear on the APU and have ground power and air connected. No biggie. Problem was this airport hasn't seen a CRJ in over 2 years! The door on the CRJ has stairs attached. The flight attendants can't see through the door. The procedure is to have the ground crew knock on the door to let the flight attendant know the area is clear. This station didn't know that. I could see the jet bridge agent through the Captains window waiting for the door to open. I asked the Captain to signal her if its clear. He refused, "it's not my job, they will figure it out." Ugh. I then see the jetbridge pull all the way up to the plane. This is an accident waiting to happen, if jet bridge agent knocked on the door and the flight attendant opened the door right away, someone could be injured and damage could occur. I have used basic human communication through hand signals in the past to verify the area is clear to gate agents and/or ground crew. Other Captains I have flown with have done the same. Thankfully the agent knocked and quickly moved the jet bridge back.

The ground crew was having problems finding the external power and air ports. I asked the Captain if he minded if I went and showed them the ports. Again I was met with, "they will figure it out". Finally he Captain fired up the APU. Once the checklist were run, the jumpseater pointed off in the distance to the plane he would be flying. I wish I remembered what it was called...I am sure someone reading this knows. It was a two seat jet trainer. The seats are inline, not side by side. That's the best I can do.nHere are some fuzzy photos of him leaving.

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After he left I went out and helped the ground crew with the power and air ports. They were all working very hard, but again they have not seen a CRJ in over 2 years. With power attached and my post flight done, I walked back to the cockpit and shut the APU down.

Twenty-nine minutes later we were taxing back to the runway to leave.

The flight back was nice only in that I watched the sunset.

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I couldn't fly fast enough back to base. Being so late we were cleared direct to the final approach fix even though we were 70 miles away. Nice.

The winds were 040@19 knots. I was landing on runway 36. Somehow I managed a very nice landing at night even though I haven't landed at night in a few weeks.

I thought the madness was over. Not so fast. Ramp areas at big airports are busy. We are cleared in to the ramp via a "spot". From the "spot" a ramp controller guides us to the gate.

Last night we were cleared to spot 2. Before we pulled in I told the Captain that if we pulled into spot 1 we could go straight into the gate. I fired off a request to the ramp controller before the Captain could answered. They cleared us in spot 1. The Captain still pulled into spot 2 and stopped. He stated he didn't want to be in the way. Well now he was in the way as the aircraft that pushed back had to make an awkward turn out. Nice.

We blocked in at 9:48PM. I did my post flight, grabbed my bags and left the area as efficiently as possible. I couldn't leave fast enough.

By contract my duty ends at 10:03PM (15 minutes after block in). I was assigned to be available at 6AM today. The difference is 7 hours 53 minutes. Minimum time off is 8 hours. I called scheduling and was given a new time....7:03AM.

This morning my phone rang at 7:00AM. How do I know ? Well the phone rang right after Robin Meade said "Good Morning Sunshine". I instinctively answered the phone. The person on the other end was from crew scheduling. He stated he was calling to have me go sit airport standby. I politely let him know that I would discuss the assignment at 7:03AM and that he called me too early. About 5 minutes later he called me back. Was I being petty? Yes and no. True I was awake. However we have rules in place. If I don't follow the rules, why have them? The hours and conditions regional pilots work in are already rough enough. I will not bend on rules affecting work conditions or hours of duty.

Finally, for a while I wanted to post a photo of what digital ATIS looks like. Before I came to the airlines I kinda wondered "How do the pilots know the weather when we are 500 miles away?". Well Digital ATIS is one way, we can also request METARs and TAFs digitally as well. Here is a Digital ATIS from San Diego.

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  1. That sucks having to work with an ass like that... I usually have a regular partner on the 'bulance and it is nice knowing how each other works and each of you knows what to expect from the other....

  2. Yeah, I like working with the same crew as much as possible. When someone calls in or takes a vacation, I get "mystery meat". Most of the time it works OK, but every once in a while you get a jerk. When one of my crew trades with a jerk, we use a little peer pressure to see that it doesn't happen again.

    Thanks for the post,

  3. Was that military guy who flew jump seat in the Navy by chance? To me, by the colors and the frame it appears to be a T-45 Goshawk...but i could be wrong...

  4. I think the military aircraft looks like a Navy T-45 as well...


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