Thursday, May 21, 2015

Text book windshear

On day 1 of a 3 day. It's a very easy 1-2-1 worth just 9 hours.

Day one was a late start with a 5:50 PM report time. I spent the day doing stuff around the house and reviewing my application for United. 

I arrived to the airport early. The two gates next to mine were full of passengers. All were being flown on another regional carrier for my mainline partner. The other regional is known for dirt cheap operation...and it shows. Both flights were very late. Passengers were all upset. 

Bravely I stood behind a computer and begin looking up information on my flight. Passengers see employees behind a computer as a sign that they can ask anything. I help the best I can.

I told them what I knew about their delays and their options. They were upset but appreciative. 

After my preflight I began setting up the plane. Forty minutes to departure and I had yet to see the rest of my crew. A little odd.

Thirty minutes prior I became a little concerned....but not overly so. I finished setting up the FMS, verifying performance and fuel....then headed back up to the gate.

There I found my crew. None of them had SIDA badges and there was no gate agent around. My home airport requires a SIDA badge (special badge issued by the airport) to access the jetbridge. Getting the badge is optional and can be a burden. 

I verified their IDs (since I had never met them before) and let them down. 

We boarded up and left a few minutes late. I took the leg down.....south of the border again.

A little bit of weather to work around. In Mexico airspace it's rare to have traffic around so getting approved for off course routing is easy.

Descending into the airport area we checked the weather. 

210040Z 17002KT 13SM SCT040TCU SCT200 27/M01 A3011 RMK 8/202 ISOL

We were arriving from the north. The plan was to join the VOR/DME arc from a transition and land on runway 17. It would be an short arc. 

Everything was textbook until we turned final. Tower advised winds at the surface were 350/4. 

There is a good amount of terrain around the airport. With a 4 knot tailwind things were fine given the very long 9000 foot runway.

I monitored my descent and speed and mentioned I'd be ready for the windshift.

It was night, but we could see the runway clearly.

Passing 1000 feet AGL we hit a brief, but moderate rainshower. I called for wipers. Wipers on I could again see the runway clearly.

Around 600 feet we left the rainshower and the bottom dropped out of the airspeed and altitude. This coincided with red flashing lights and "Windshear! Windshear!" over the speakers and in my headset.

"Escape! Go Around! Set max thrust......." I stated...just like the sim.

The airport sits at 6200 feet MSL. Thankfully we were lightly loaded as the little RJ gave it all she had to escape the windshear. We only lost 80 feet or so during the escape maneuver. 

Like I briefed we went straight ahead, climbed to 9000 and prepared to hold over the VOR. 

Tower advised we would continue outbound and do the VOR to runway 35. The Captain verified the procedure and told me what to do as I was hand flying.

"Intercept the 210 radial outbound and then left turn back in," he said.

Once established outbound I clicked back on the autopilot and took a breath.

Turning back in I noticed there was no VASI on this runway. The Captain programmed in the VOR approach into my FMS. With the approach loaded I had a pseudo glideslope to follow. Gusty approach, but with a quartering headwind. In and done.

Today is two legs back to a different city in Mexico. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Street Captain

This "pilot" shortage is getting more and more apparent.

I was recently offered to interview for a "Direct Entry Captain" position. You read that right...start over at a new Captain.

The airline in question is PSA. They are a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines Group. They, along with Envoy (formerly American Eagle) and Piedmont, perform most of the regional flying for American Airlines.

PSA has been on a huge growth spurt lately. New airplanes from the factory and, soon to be, aircraft from Envoy. PSA agreed to work for less money than Envoy....and Envoy is paying the price.

Direct Entry Captain positions are also known as "Street Captains". Here's how it works.

Say there are 1200 pilots on property. To keep it simple there are 600 Captains and 600 First Officers.

A Direct Entry Captain would be pilot number 1201. They would be junior to every pilot on property. For whatever reason PSA has run out of First Officers capable of upgrading to Captain. One of the many requirements to be Captain is 1,000 hours of Part 121 (airline) flying time.

Since I have almost 5000 hours of 121 time I easily qualify for that requirement.

This new Direct Entry Captain would be a Captain in all respects......except seniority. The Direct Entry Captain would likely be on reserve for years as First Officers above him on the seniority list upgrade. Additionally the Direct Entry Captain has no protection of his seat. If there is one displacement then they will very likely be pushed to the right seat until their seniority can hold Captain.

Who takes these Direct Entry Captain positions? Well those who are junior Captains looking for a change. Possibly a First Officer years away from upgrade at their current airline. Also those who are gamblers.

I am none of those.

For those who want to take the risk....good luck.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Under Pressure

Finally home after a grueling 4 day trip worth 24 hours. It was a 3-2-2-3 trip with all overnights south of the border.

Staying in Mexico means I have to alter what I bring. Customs in Mexico is very nonstandard from station to station. They have been known to try (and sometimes succeed) to fine crew members for bringing in too many electronics as they think the crew members are going to resell them.

I am a geek.

I normally travel with 2 Ipads (1 is an EFB), a chromebook, a nexus 7, Roku box, two routers and a Google Chromecast.

I am also a vegetarian. I normally travel with fresh fruit (apples mostly) and veggies for the first two days (broccoli and carrots mostly). For Mexico I could bring none of that.

The first two overnights were fine. No issues in customs.

For the third overnight we were given a plane with an inop automatic pressurization system. This is a MEL I read about, but never thought I would encounter. Manually controlling pressurization is a taxing job. We have to manually control the outflow valve to release pressure in the aircraft and control the cabin altitude.

Captains leg down. It was a tedious job controlling the valve with a potentiamotor. The good thing was the field elevation at the destination was a lofty 7300 feet MSL. Cabin altitude at FL370 is 8000 feet. Pretty easy to modulate.

In Mexico passengers press a button before leaving customs. If it turns green they simply leave. If it turns read they have their bags searched. Flight crews can not press the button. It's some Mexican customs rule that every crew member have their bags searched by hand. Every bag. Every crew member.

Going through customs I had a liquor mini I purchased on the first overnight in my bag. A liquor mini! The agent pulled it out and set it aside. She then went through every other bag. Nothing else found.

I told her, in Spanish, that I forgot I had it. She said it's okay but to follow her. I knew what was coming next...a shakedown.

She asked for my passport and photocopied it. She then started typing up a form. I've heard about this form from coworkers. It's all in Spanish and is an admission of guilt and includes some type of fine.

All of this for a liquor mini that's well within personal use guidelines set forth by Mexican customs that was given to my airline.

A Flight Attendant had a 36 hour overnight and is a heavy smoker. Before leaving the US she bought a carton of cigarettes at Duty Free. The same station tried to fine her $200 for not declaring the cigarettes. Mind you we are not given ANY form in which we can declare anything. After over an hour they forced her to pay $100 and get the money from an ATM. She offered to leave the cigarettes with them. Not an option.

After about 10 minutes, which my crew only knew I was detained but not why, a man came in speaking only in Spanish. I picked up a bit but a woman came in and said, "You can not have this. We will let you go this time, but you can not have liquor, cigarettes, or cigars."

I left. I think they "let me go" because they felt I would have refused all fines/bribes and would ask to go to jail (other crew members have said the same). A judge must be called before someone can be arrested. They would not risk their jobs calling a judge to arrest a crew member for al liquor mini.

Truly ridiculous and a scar on the face of a beautiful country.

Shortish overnight in a beautiful hotel. Long van rides to and from, which is the norm as airports are all far outside of town.

Beautiful departure next to TWO active volcanoes. First two legs were mine. Lots of weather to contend with.

We arrived at the outstation late due to weather. The ground crew did an amazing job and we blocked out on time. When I called for taxi the bad news started.

Center was delaying our departure for 15 minutes. Not horrible. We taxied out and waited. Then more bad news....ground stop for 30 more minutes. We shut the engines down. I let the passengers know the bad news.

Eventually we left. We worked around the weather and made up a lot of time. We landed just 15 minutes late.

Pulling into the gate I was exhausted. 7 hours and 45 minutes of flying will do that to ya. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a bald guy.....a crew chaser.

A crew chaser is the guy you never want to see. Ours is a really nice guy....but he only delivers bad news. He either junior mans, extends or delivers drug test notices.

The Captain was sure the drug test was for him since we were both not legal for more flying. I knew it was for me. Sure enough it was for me.

For random drug test we must be escorted over to the testing facility at the airport. No stopping along the way. I really wanted to go home.

It took about 30 minutes. I'm paid for a whole 15 minutes.

I got home about an hour later than planned. I haven't done a full four day trip in months.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Missed it by that much

I missed the Captain bid by 7......just seven. I actually held Captain on paper during the vacancy and was displaced during the displacement bid. The only good thing is I'll be headed to a new aircraft.