Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Escape from the outstation

Finally home.....on day 5 of a 4 day trip.

Day 4 was supposed to start with a 6:30AM departure and finish around 1:30PM.

In the previous post I mentioned the outstation airport had no ILS working as the only runway with an ILS was under construction. The only instrument approaches were VOR/DME, GPS and MLS to the remaining runway.

The mins for LNAV GPS were 485 AGL. The mins for the VOR/DME were 385 AGL.

The clouds had been low for days. They were so low that two inbound flights for my airline diverted thus I had no plane to fly at 6:30AM. New departure time was 10:30AM.

Fine with my crew, we ate a great breakfast at the hotel and relaxed.

Once at the airport the waiting game started. The clouds were bouncing between 200 and 400 feet in heavy rain.

Passengers were very frustrated.

A few asked us why planes couldn't land. My Captain and I explained the situation. It helped when they could hear and see flights going missed approach (we had a clear view of the runway from the terminal).

One passenger asked if we could see the aircraft as it climbed out (on missed approach) why couldn't the pilot see the runway. We again tried to explain how quickly things happen and the safety of flight requirements.

Noon came. The plane I was to fly was still on the ground 200 miles away. Only one or two flights had landed...all from one regional I find "sketchy". Maybe they really did meet all the requirements....but every plane before and after (for over an hour) this particular regional arrived...went missed approach.

Around 2PM I got hungry. Lunch. The airport gives no discounts to pilots. I enjoyed a $8 pizza....that should have been maybe $4.

Clouds lifted around 2:30PM to 500 overcast. Flights were making it in again.

Another flight from my airline (call it flight 3000) was to arrive at 4PM. That flight was to leave as flight 3001. Another flight (call it flight 4000) was still sitting on the ground...that was my aircraft I was to fly out on flight 4001.

The problem was the crew of flight 3000 was headed to the hotel. Flight 3001 was to be flown by the crew from flight 4000.

This didn't dawn to my crew until flight 3000 was in range. My Captain quickly called operations and explained how it made more sense for us to fly the aircraft coming is as flight 3000 versus waiting for flight 4000. Thankfully they understood, but we would keep our same flight number (4001).

This upset passengers as they were told flight 3001 was leaving BEFORE flight 4001. Now the opposite was true.

I packed up all my stuff and then it happened. A gate agent said the Captain of flight 3000 advised the plane was down for a mechanical. Ugh.

Hoping it would be quick, I walked down to the flight deck.

The First Officer was there. He stated "Upon touchdown I went into reverse and the number one engine shutdown."

This was likely a FADEC issue. Still it had to be investigated by a mechanic. One of the immediate action items required by flight crews is to engage the fire suppression system. When I say engage...I mean arm,but  not fire the bottles.

Having the system engaged cuts off fuel, bleed air and hydraulics. We don't know why the engine shutdown so we cut off everything going to it as a precaution.

The Captain of flight 3000 advised my Captain of the situation and that crew left. The passengers were getting very upset.

Another flight from my airline was inbound. Not flight 4000, just another flight. There is only one gate thus they needed the broken plane moved.

My Captain and I were asked to help move the plane. More or less ride the brakes while they pushed us to a remote pad.

When I entered the flight deck I noticed that one of the fire suppression bottles appears to have been discharged. Likely done by accident as the crew left the flight deck. Not good.

I pointed this out to my Captain. We then ran some checklist and were pushed to a remote pad. If the bottle had been discharged it would be no easy fix.

Company mechanics were called to drive in from a nearby base. We were sent to the hotel with plans to ferry the plane to base at 7AM the next day.

Flight 4000 never made it in. They shot an approach, went missed and flew 3 hours back to base. Bad day for those passengers.

I spent another night in the Hampton Inn. I checked the status of the damaged plane before I went to bed. The report stated mechanics were on the way and it would be ready for a ferry flight at 7AM.

Around 2AM I woke up....same 7AM estimated return to service time. Back to bed.

At 5AM I woke up and checked. There was no longer a return to service time. Instead it stated the bottle had been blown.

I quickly called crew scheduling while packing my things.

There was a 6:30AM departure that had a few open seats. Every other flight that day on my airline was full. If I didn't make the 6:30AM flight I could end up on a 6 day trip!

The scheduler verified the plane would be down for a while and then placed my crew as  deadheads on the 6:30AM flight. This was 5:28AM.

Vans at the hotel run every 30 minutes.

I gathered my last few things and hurried to the elevator. I turned the corner to the lobby at 5:32AM. The crew was just walking out. So happy they were running late.

I briefly advised the front desk that I was leaving early, and would they tell my Captain that I left early and that we both are deadheading. We originally had a 6AM van.

The other crew was surprised to see me.

Once at the airport I called the hotel and asked for my Captains room. He was in the lobby. I explained what was going on and for him to rush to the airport. He understood.

There were 4 of us dead heading. For whatever reason the agent couldn't check us in. She tried and tried. Nothing but errors. We were all frustrated.

As 6:30 AM was quickly approaching, we asked for the Captain to be advised of the check in issue. He agreed to take the delay and wait for us.

We were finally able to be checked in at 6:45 AM.

Back in base at 8:45 AM. Off for the rest of the day and Monday before going back to work Tuesday afternoon.

Not much time off. It would be shorter if I commuted.

This is what I get for working on a weekend. Ha!


Friday, February 22, 2013

Familiar Faces and windy approaches

Busy week. Spent the Weekend visiting family near New York City. I finished my trip last Thursday, headed to NY Saturday, arrived home Tuesday afternoon and headed back to work Wednesday.

I traded my current trip so I could have Tuesday off. My original trip was easy. The new one...ugh.

Day one was 3 legs with the middle being a deadhead to another base. It was easy enough...just a long day.

Short 9 hour overnight.

Early start on day 2. Weather. We had to print 3 different releases due to weather. The last one had us topping off our tanks...and taking a passenger off as we were overweight.

Long flight around weather. My leg. Easy approach. Arrived an hour late. Quick turn.

The next outstation was surrounded by weather. We looked at the RADAR before we left. Looked decent.

Enroute we were given a short cut. We were above the weather so we took it. Well when we descended down, we were right in the middle of the crap.

Using the RADAR and our eyes we picked our way through. Lots of moderate bumps. I was pulled against my shoulder harness a few times.

Winds initially were 240@04. Raining over the field.  Runway 11 is 5500 feet long. Runway 4R is 8000 feet long. I requested runway 4R even though 11 was in use. Approved.

Vectored in my Captain checked the ATIS again. Winds were now 160@18G32. Runway 4R was no longer an option due to the tailwind. We were midfield downwind in the clouds when we advised we now wanted the GPS 22L approach. New vectors.

The winds at 4000 feet were over 60 knots. Lots of bumps. Finally vectored for final.

Descending down the autopilot was working extremely hard to keep the plane centered on the approach.

One thousand AGL the winds died down to 140@40 knots.

Picked up the runway around 800 feet. Autopilot off.

The wind gust really rocked the plane. Approach speed of 145 knots.

The nose of the plane was pointed far left to keep the plane down center line.

On days like this I don't care about smooth landings.

Rocking and rolling. Windy and moderate rain.

"You got it ?" Asked my Captain.

"Yep," I replied. I have flown with him before. He knows I can handle it, but I understood his questioning.

Around 10 feet I kicked the nose to the right and put in left aileron. I kept the power in till just a few feet above the ground.

Somehow greased it on. Full aileron and thrust reverse. Happy to be done. The next two were his.

Quick turn.

Several passengers "used" their air sickness bags. Even a flight attendant who has been flying for 10+ years got a little queasy.

The normal hour flight back would be doubled due to routing around the worst of the weather.

There was good news. Due to our delays we were taken off our overnight. We would all be going home.

Bumpy departure.

Arrived 90 minutes late....and we had a surprise waiting for us. We had all been reassigned to a different overnight. So much for going home.

We did have an hour of sit time which we needed after dealing with all the weather.

The overnight was.................in the middle of the same system. The system was supposed to be past the airport at our ETA.

It wasn't.

A few turns in a hold and we made our way in. Just light rain and low clouds. No bumps. Done.

Decent 11 hour overnight.

This morning I headed down for a 5:10AM van. While enjoying a cup of coffee a crew from another airline came down.

The First Officer didn't notice me, but I recognized him.

"Regional Pilots are dangerous and should all be grounded." I loudly said.

He looked my way quickly...then smiled.

When I was at ATP, before I was a CFI for them, I had to work in the "pit" answering phones. He was the manager of the pit.

We talked a bit and then we all hopped into the van.

It was nice to catch up and see how things were at another airline.

Two legs today. Both were mine.

The first was easy. The second one was long....and once again dealing with the same storm front from the day prior.

The longest runway (and only ILS) was closed. The shorter runway, 7000 feet long, was in use. Either a VOR/DME or GPS approach. I chose the later.

Heavy rain and winds. Decent landing. Full reverse. Anti-skid kicked in as I slowed the plane. Happy to be done at noon today.

I work on a Saturday tomorrow for the first time in a while. Three legs starting with a 5:00AM van. Ugh.

Nest month I work Mondays thru Thursdays. No more of this weekend stuff for me.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Always pack food

One of the perks of traveling for a living is staying at nice hotels.

One of the negatives of traveling for a living is staying at nice hotels.

One reason? Food.

I've found the nicer the hotel the less that is given for free or cheap.

Example: Holiday Inn Express has free breakfast (cinnamon rolls for the win!) while Holiday Inns have nothing for free.

Right now I am in a Four Points by Sheraton in a downtown location. This isn't a big and nice downtown, but a small/medium downtown. Big downtown locations have tons of food options. Small/medium downtown locations...not so much.

No free breakfast here and the Google reviews of the breakfast are one star by more than 20 people. No thanks.

We are supposed to have microwaves and fridges in the room. I've been here 7 or 8 times and have never had a microwave or fridge.

I did a Google search for nearby food...nothing within a 5 minute walk. Its below freezing outside.

Thankfully I always carry food.

I always have oatmeal packets, bars, tuna fish meals and at least one microwaveable meal.

Since most every hotel has an in room coffee maker I had a decent breakfast.

Using paper cups (wax lined I picked up from another hotel as I don't trust in room mugs!) I used the coffee maker for hot water and had oatmeal. I then had coffee.

Van time is 11 AM. I will have a tuna fish meal before I leave.

Two hour flight to base and I have a 2 hour sit before a 5 hour turn to end my trip at 9:30 PM.

If I didn't pack food I'd spend way more money....and, from the Google reviews of this place, die from dysentery after eating breakfast. Oregon Trail anyone?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

More than a paycheck

Back in March 2006 I decided to take the leap to flying knowing it would be rough emotionally and financially.

To date I've still earned less than I did before taking that leap (excluding per diem). I'm happier though. I began dreading going to work in that cubicle. I don't dread going to work at my airline.

Not everyone can take a huge leap to a new career. If I was single it would have been much more difficult. My wife has supported me financially and emotionally. Over the last year (as I am nearly topped out on First Officer pay) I've been able to contribute a lot more to the family budget. We live an average life. We live just under our means, save a lot and carry zero balances on our credit cards.  I drive a 10 year old car that has long since been paid off.

I enjoy going to work....for the most part. My wife and I got used to me being gone for a few days at a time. When my daughter came along it got a little harder. Nowadays my daughter says, "Daddy has to go to work in the airplane!" She knows when I drop her off at daycare she won't see me for a few days.

The rewards have been great. My wife and I have traveled a lot. We spent an awesome week in Tokyo, weekend getaways to Cabo San Lucas, Toronto, Vegas, San Francisco, New York, St Louis, Portland, New Orleans and more.

I've flown home hundreds of grandmothers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, moms and dads.

I still get emotional when I see a family holding banners welcoming home a soldier.

I've also flown several hundred young men and women holding a yellow folder.

At first I had no idea what the yellow folders were. Years ago I was dead heading when I asked a young man where he was headed. He had a yellow folder in his lap.

He was headed to basic training. The yellow folder had his orders inside.

Since then I've noticed the yellow folders more often.

Last night as passengers got off the plane I noticed several young men and women carrying the yellow folders. During the walk to the hotel van I saw them lined up, looking a bit overwhelmed , waiting for instruction.

I should be a Captain in the next 18 months or so. Lots of movement is predicted at my airline. I'm in no rush to move to the left seat as it will be more stressful and my quality of life will take a hit. For now I am content with where I am.

Our family budget allows us to live a nice life, I can buy tech toys every now and then, I have weekends off to spend with my family and I get to do something I enjoy. This career is great, but for me the greatest rewards aren't found on my pay stub, it's the people and experiences that are the most rewarding.



Monday, February 11, 2013

Delayed...because my flight attendant was stuck in her hotel room

Done with yet another 4 day trip. I don't care for 4 days, but it's all I can hold that fits my lifestyle (weekends off, domestic only, late starts).

I already mentioned the scratch issue on day 1 of the trip. On day 3 something just as interesting happened.

Decent overnight...barely. The hotel is located off a highway next to a gas station that has a Dominos Pizza inside. That's the only food around.

I ate the free hotel breakfast and then ordered a sandwich from Dominos for lunch.

Van time set for 1:45PM for a 2:40PM departure.

My Captain and I were downstairs at 1:40PM when the front desk clerk stated a flight attendant was stuck in her room.

The mechanism inside the handle broke. Turning the handle from the inside or outside did nothing.

Luckily (depending on how you look at it) for my flight attendant, she was the only one with a "balcony" room. The balcony was just a 1 foot ledge (with a rail) and the window was locked from the inside.

The hotel manager passed a tool under the door to unlock the window. Another hotel employee then went out the window of the adjoining room and into her room to help.

Meanwhile my Captain alerted the company of our delay. The crew scheduler had never heard of such an excuse. My Captain advised them to call the hotel to verify.

The employees tried everything they knew to open the door, nothing worked. The next option was to call the fire department.

The flight attendant only had one leg that day. She was flying out an hour after arrival to visit family in Florida. She was motivated to leave.

Without us knowing she climbed OUT onto the ledge and into the adjoining room. She then had the hotel employee pass her bags over to her.

The next thing we knew she was in the lobby ready to go. Crazy!

Ironically the night before she was the one who filled out the hotel sign in sheet. She mistakenly took the room assigned to the Captain. If my Captain (or I) had been in that room we would have just waited. There was no way we would have fit (or risked) going out on that ledge.

Once in the plane we quickly boarded. The crew that brought the plane in was sitting at a cafe in the terminal as they had a 2 1/2 hour sit. It would have been nice if they could have boarded up the plane while waiting...bleh.

Boarded up. A "passenger of size" broke the seat back of a seat. He was pulled off. Delayed again.

Quick write up and we blocked out 17 minutes late. Not bad at all really.

Blocked in 27 minutes late as we were number 6 for takeoff from the out station. Normally there is little to no traffic.

New flight attendant. Decent 4 hour turn. Another new flight attendant for the overnight.

This flight attendant was somewhat new to my airline and was engaged to a First Officer. I made the joke that, "If your first wife isn't a flight attendant, your second one is." She laughed.

Quick flight to the overnight. Shortish 9 hour overnight.

The flight in the morning left at 9AM. Once back in base we had a 2 1/2 hour sit. Four legs later we were done.

I'm not looking forward to my trip this week. It's a 3 day trip, but I don't finish until 9:30PM. Eh....still better than a 4 day.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It's just a scratch

I had a great four days off. Grew a decent start of a beard even.....which was promptly shaved yesterday so  I could go back to work.

Every now and then I think about having a mustache. A "neatly trimmed mustache, that does not interfere with the oxygen mask" is allowed. I think mustaches make a guy look cool....or like a 70's porn star....nothing in between. So far I have avoided one.

Decent 4 day trip. Same Captain as last month, new cabin crew.

Rock, paper, scissors to see who would do the first leg. Rock beat paper so I flew the first leg.

Small airport with charted approaches only to the north runway. I thought that was odd. I had been there once before about a year ago. We landed to the north so it was no big deal.

I wondered why there were no approaches to the south. A check of the NOTAMS and charts showed why...prohibited airspace due to a military base. Ahhh.

Nice flight. My Captain knew the airport well. He pointed out a building and a road that, if I turned south of them, would keep me about a mile outside the prohibited air space. This would give me about a 3 1/2 mile final.

Approached the airport from the south. Approved for left or right traffic. It's easier for right traffic since I was flying.

I descended to 2000 AGL and slowed to 200 knots to comply with class C airspace.

On downwind I picked up the building and road to stay south of. Looked like a tighter pattern than I was used to.

I turned well inside of the building. Rolled out wings level about 800 AGL and called for final flaps. Decent landing.

While bags were being unloaded a Ramper noticed a scratch. He brought it up to my attention on my post flight.

It was a 1 inch scratch about 9 inches under the cargo door. I didn't notice it on my first pre-flight as the baggage loader arm blocked that part of the aircraft.

I told my Captain and we looked in the logbook for a previous write up. Nothing.

In reality we were 99.9% sure the scratch was not an issue. The plane has over 700 documented hail strikes! The problem is my airline has taken more and more power from the flight crews over the years. We can no longer hold boarding (for when we know a repair will take a while) any more for example. All we can do is report the facts and someone else decides. My Captain wrote it up and called operations.

Being a small airport the local mechanic was sitting on his couch....at home....on his farm....20 miles away.

Forty minutes later the mechanic arrived. Ironically he used to be a mechanic for my airline 10 years ago. It took him longer to do the paperwork than inspect the scratch.

All 4 passengers boarded and we left....50 minutes late.

Quick flight. Weather moved into the hub while we were gone. Instrument approaches in effect. Long 22 mile finals!

Arrived 47 minutes late. Quick 20 minute turn and we blocked out 22 minutes late.

Overnight was another small airport....my old plane went to big airports...my new one...almost all small, single runway airports.

One issue I have is small airports typically have more general aviation traffic, part time control towers and limited options for landing if there is only one runway.

I respect general aviation pilots, the problem is a few give the rest a bad name by not broadcasting position reports, flying non-standard patterns and such. If a Cessna pops a tire on the runway at a small airport, we might not have enough fuel to reach another airport. We only carry 45 minutes of extra fuel. That 45 minutes is calculated at FL300 most of the time. Once we are down low that is maybe 25 minutes of fuel.

Last night there was no traffic. Approached from the south. Had to land to the south so we took the long way around. If we had landed to the north we would have been on time. Instead we blocked in 6 minutes late.

Same overnight I had all last month. Last month I arrived in the day time and left in the morning. This month I arrive at night and leaving in the daytime.

The hotel van has always been there.

We walked out...no van. I called and got the famous, "he's about 5 minutes away," speech.


Normally the van is a 2012 Honda Odyessy EX. I'm a car guy...I know cars. Last night it was a white Chevy full size van. Odd.

Then I realized why the van was late. The hotel was picking up some of our passengers in addition to us. Why come early for us if they have to wait for passengers anyway.

No big deal. Boarded the van with 5 other passengers. Day one done.