Monday, December 16, 2019

Cleared to fly for 9 more months

Back at my regional airline I had training events every year. For most of them it was a "bet you job event".

My regional airline used to be known for having above average pilots. Training wasn't easy...but it weeded out the weaker and average pilots. The check ride event was a single pilot event. The other pilot in the sim could not help, assist, recommend or comment. They could only respond to commands.  Even if they saw you were about to fail....they could do nothing. Not a positive experience, but you were on your game.

My last few years at the regional,  things changed to a crew checking event. They made training just how we fly. It allowed the crew to work together. Much better experience, but it did allow weaker pilots to be helped by stronger pilots.

At my mainline airline they have been using the crew training and checking for a while. It is train to proficiency instead of train to check. As long as you show a positive attitude and improve, the training department can retrain events within reason. They train and check every 9 months. This was no one gets stuck training in December every year.

Since most of my career is the "bet your job" style training, I still study and prep as though my job is on the line.

I started studying 6 months prior to the checking event. My studying involved reading the systems manual cover to cover twice (even though I would only be tested on just a few systems). I read the aircraft operations manual...twice. I reviewed every training scenario multiple times. I read study guides multiple times. I still felt I was behind.

I wasn't.

On my first day here 2 years ago (TWO YEARS MAN! TWO FREAKING YEARS ALREADY!) I was told that I could relax and I don't need to be stressed in the training environment as I wasn't at a regional anymore. They repeated that....several times. I just can't relax. This is my dream career and I came from an environment where one mistake could cause the sim to stop and the pilot to be sent home and given just one more chance to be nearly perfect or be out of a job.

Yesterday I had a 5:30 AM show time. I am glad I live just 4 miles from the training center.

The briefing and sim went very well. I was paired with a "seat filler" which is a person trained on the aircraft but it NOT a current line pilot. This can be a good thing as they do these training events over and over again. I only had one debrief item. We descended into icing conditions and I forgot to turn on the engine anti-ice until we had been in it for over 2 minutes. Not a huge deal, but it was an item.

Cleared to go back on the line for 9 more months.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Bus Driver Life

I am truly enjoying the Airbus. This is the first aircraft that I truly enjoy being on the flight deck. The Airbus flight deck is spacious and almost perfectly thought out. I appreciate how quiet it is and the room to stretch and spread out.

My trips have been all over the place. I have enjoyed a double overnight in Portland (I have family near by), 24 hours in St. Lucia (at an all inclusive resort!) and of course many...many...many trips to Bogota, Colombia.

My first recurrent training is coming up next week. I began studying 2 months ago....because that's who I am.

I haven't flown the NEO yet. I was assigned a LAX turn...but it cancelled 2 hours before departure. The NEO has fancy CPDLC (Controller Pilot data Link Communications)boxes and of course new engines. The CPDLC makes flying out of RADAR coverage more pleasant among other things. Right now when traveling over the Atlantic between the Caribeaan and parts of the Eastern US we use High Frequency radios for communication. The HF radios aren't clear and we are talking to radio operators and not controllers. CPDLC is like text messaging between controllers and pilots. I look forward to using it one day.

Beyond that life is great. My 2 year old is still giving me grey hairs. My 9 year old is itching to take another International Business class flight. My wife is finally enjoying the extra income I'm bring home. Long time followers know she supported me for years when I was a regional First Officer making under $40 an hour.

I plan on riding out the Airbus until I can hold the 787 right seat. At least 2 more years. Which is fine with me.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Just a few hours ago

This month has been interesting scheduling wise.

I started the month off with the first vacation without kids...since we had our first kid. We flew my mother in law to watch our kids while my wife and I escaped to Vegas.

In true pilot family style, she flew on a paid ticket on Spirit while I jump seated on my airline. We arrived and left Vegas within 30 minutes of each other.

When I arrived back home I found two cash out vouchers worth $90 that I failed to cash in. Lucky for me I had a 24 hour Vegas overnight two weeks later. It was like I won again.

My line for the month was originally a comfy 78 hours. Then my wife got an unexpected work assignment requiring travel. I had to trade a 26 hour 5 day trip for a 10 hour 2 day trip. I was down to just 63 hours. Not good for the budget.

I put my name in the proverbial hat for extra flying. I'm fairly junior so I don't often get the best assignments.

Saturday my family went to the Alliance Airshow. It was our first time in years. My pilot union sent out an email offering VIP tickets free. I signed up and was able to get enough for my family of 4. We had a fabulous time. While watching the show I was offered a very lucrative 15 hour 2 day trip.

The trip was a deadhead to Miami then deadhead Guyana to overnight then ferry a plane to Tulsa and a quick dead head home. Super easy! But I was enjoying the show so I declined it.

On the way home I was then offered a 1 leg to STL, overnight then 1 leg to MIA and dead head home. I was pretty tired from the air I declined it..

Sunday mid-day I was getting ready to take the family to Six Flags (we live 4 miles from Six Flags Over Texas...we go...a lot) when the phone rang. They offered a deadhead to San Diego, overnight and 1 leg home...worth 10.5 hours. Done.

I'm now up to 73 hours for the month. I think I can pick up at least another overnight this week to be back in the 83 hour range.

It's funny to think this morning I had no plans...then a few hours later I was walking thru the Gas Lamp district of San Diego.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Perks of Living in Base

I have been fortunate enough to live in base for most of my 12 years in this industry. Living in base means more time at home and, most of the time, a higher quality of life.

At my current airline being close allows me to pick up extra flying that commuters can't easily do. When flight crews run late the airline tries to cover that crews later flights with other pilots. They will try to get pilots from home, reassign another crew or at worst delay a flight.

Sometimes they have just 3 to 4 hours notice of a flight crew running late. That might sound like plenty of time....but it's not.

Report time is 1 hour prior. That brings it down from 4 hours to 3 hours to find someone. They have specific procedures in place to fill this type of flight. They normally start calling pilots on the "make up" list in seniority order. Pilots have to add themselves to this list. I list myself on everyday off.

I am still very junior. Over 80% of the pilots in my status are SENIOR to me. I get the crumbs most of the time for my line and makeup flights. Every now and then though....I get the good stuff.

My favorite type of makeup flight is a flight out and deadhead back the same night. I've done a few where they call me at 6PM for a 10PM departure to Vegas. Once I arrive in Vegas I am assigned to dead head right back. I fly there and sleep back....home with donuts for the kids by 6:30 AM.

The flight to Vegas is just over 2 hours. Due to the pilot contract I am paid 10 1/2 hours to fly there and deadhead back. Easy money..

This past weekend I picked up two make up trips worth 21 hours, but I was on the flight deck for just 6 hours.

The first sequence was a deadhead to ATL, fly the same plane to LAX...stay the night...then deadhead home on Sunday worth 10 1/2 hours. Once I arrived in LAX I simply deadheaded right to DFW instead of staying the night. I was still fully paid 10 1/2 hours even though I didn't stay the night.

Sunday afternoon I was offered a 8:44PM departure to Austin then deadhead back the next day...again worth 10 1/2 hours. Austin is only an hour long flight. I was in the Austin hotel by 11 PM.

I debated taking the same aircraft back at 5 AM being home by 6:45 AM.....but I didn't want to be a zombie Instead I took the 6 AM flight and pulled into my garage at 7:35 AM. In 3 days I was paid 21 hours for just 2 legs where I was at the controls...only one of which I decided to fly. Good living.

Beyond that life at my airline is good. My "bet" years ago to start hitting job fairs, volunteering and networking paid off by beating my flow date by a year. That year allowed me to get based at home. If I had lost the bet...or just waited to flow I would be commuting for over a year. That would be less money, less time at home and more money spent (on commuting hotels, crash pads etc).

There are lots of perks to living in base.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Everything finally aligned

Non-rev travel is a fun way to see the world.

When I was pretty new my wife and I took an awesome trip to Tokyo. We enjoyed First Class suites for the 14 hour flight to Tokyo. Those seats together cost more than I made that year as a First Officer flying a CRJ. Because I worked for a wholly owned subsidiary it was less than $200 each.

Since then we have traveled on hundreds of flights Domestically with each other and our children. My nine year old has been on over 350 flights including 5 flights "across the pond".

Of those 350 odd flights less than 15 have been in a premium cabin. A few of those were mileage award seats and a handful were non-rev. The reason being my airline requires non-rev passengers to be at least six years old to sit in a premium cabin.

My oldest is a very experienced traveller. She knows how to clear security, find the gate and, most importantly, find the nearest emergency exit.

She's been asking forever to travel in International Business Class.

We finished a huge (17 people total) extended family vacation last Saturday.  Monday we headed to London. We had just a backpack and a very small (fits under the seat) carry on. That's it.

To increase the odds of sitting next to each other we first flew DFW-PHX then PHX-LHR. He had seats next to each other on the 777-200. She was beyond excited.

After 9 hours we walked off the plane just before 10 AM Tuesday morning. We took a few hours nap in a hotel then went to explore the city on a very sunny day.

Wednesday was rainy so we made the best of it.

Thursday morning we headed back to LHR and got lucky again with Business Class Seats next to each other on a 777-300 to DFW.

Ten hours later we were home. Being frequent travelers we are both Global Entry. The new biometric Global Entry scanners are amazing. They just took our photos and knew who we were. From plane to curb was under 8 minutes...with most of it being walking.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Oh The Places I Will Fly

Ever since I started flying, it has been mostly domestic...and easy. There were a few cities in Colorado and Mexico that had terrain, but none were really difficult.

With my new status as an "international" Airbus pilot at my current airline, I am trained to fly into very difficult airports with high terrain, multiple escape procedures and very special qualifications. Pilots in the "domestic" status only fly to the contiguous United States, Mexico and Canada. Booooring.

My first trip into a high terrain in an Airbus was into Bogota, Colombia. The airport elevation is over 8000 feet. High altitude means less power made by the engines and thus worse performance. If the terrain around the airport was flat....that would be no big deal. Bogota is surrounded by rising terrain in all directions.

The high terrain and altitude make for spectacular thunderstorms...even late at night.

I'm from Texas. I'm used to thunderstorms, but generally when the sun goes down and heating is lost...the storms die down. Around Bogota that is not the case. Gigantic storms are very common this time of year. The model of Airbus 319 my airline flies into Bogota is very new (most are under 4 years old) with multi-scan RADAR. The multi-scan gives a fantastic view of the weather compared to conventional single scan and tilt. 

The Bogota airport has multiple RNAV arrival routes that keep aircraft safely away from terrain. When there's weather over the arrival then it's all up to the pilot to navigate safely. For whatever reason controllers outside the United States don't intervene as much for weather. They assume the pilot knows best. Take that how you will.

Of the 4 times I've been to Bogota, only one has been smooth and deviation free. The other three have involved navigating storms and terrain. The airport has always been clear but the arrival and departure routes were not. I am very comfortable with Bogota now.

Until this week the rest of my "international" status included flights to the Caribbean, Bermuda and Mexico. Beautiful but nothing exciting. I wanted something different.

I volunteered to be trained to fly into Toncontín International of the most challenging commercial airports in the world.

The airport is in the middle of city 0f Tegucigalpa. The city is surrounded by close in terrain. Prevailing winds require landing with a tailwind or making a very tight turn to avoid terrain. The runway is 6000 feet long.

In order to get qualified I had to ride in the jump seat on a flight in and out of the airport while a check airman sat in my seat. I get paid the same as if I was flying...easy money. I would love to have taken a video, but it's not allowed. There are plenty on youtube. Many are "exciting". There's been more than one accident recreation by the National Geographic channel.

The day before the trip I read all my airline and aircraft documentation on the airport. There is a lot.

My airport restricts only Captains for arrivals into the airport due to the tight left turn required. Not much of the airport can be seen by First Officers in the right seat. Captains have fly in twice with a Check Airman. First Officers can only takeoff.

On the flight down the three of us spent over 2 hours briefing the approach, landing and contingencies. My airline made its' own RNAV visual approach to runway 2. Normally aircraft make a localizer approach to runway 20, then circle to land runway 2.  This is what the 757 used to do at my airline. Due to terrain descending away from the aircraft while turning final it made for an optical illusion that the aircraft was high...causing very unstable approaches. The RNAV visual approach built into the FMS fixes this.

The Airbus can be coupled to the autopilot and fly the descending final approach until very short final. This helps avoid the tendency to raise the nose...especially when the GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System) is screaming "sink rate, sink rate" and "whoop, whoop pull up" as it thinks we are going to hit the ground.

All the reading and discussion still didn't prepare me for what I saw. It was intense.

We were assigned the localizer 20 circle to land runway 2 as expected and briefed. The Captain flew the approach to a fix just north east of the airport then turned right to go downwind for the runway 2 approach. The Check Airman quickly reloaded the FMS for the RNAV visual to runway 2. Everything was great until turning base when winds and possibly a FMS issue caused the plane to be far inside of the desired turning radius.

Flying 180 MPH the Check Airman told the Captain to turn right and fly to be outside the home improvement center (a local Home Depot if you will that was part of the briefing and very easy to spot). I had a great view of the runway but more impressively the close and rapidly rising terrain.

The Captain flew right then banked hard left while descending to line up with the runway. Landing on runway 2 only allows for 5100 feet of pavement due to a displaced threshold.

My airline has a policy that if the main gear isn't on the ground by the first 90 degree taxiway...a go around must be commenced.

This was the second trip to the airport for the Captain. Even with the issue of being close in and needing to turn out he made an awesome landing.

Here's a shot of the Airbus at the gate. You can see the runway in the background. Not too long ago local automobile traffic was allowed to cross the runway when not in use. After a horrible accident...the road was closed.

There's been several accidents and incidents here including an Airbus going off the end of runway 2 and down into the city.

Fairly quick turn and we were headed for Miami. Only 40 passengers so takeoff performance wasn't a factor. It's common to need extra flaps and full takeoff power to be able to take a full load of people, cargo and fuel. The Check Airman stated Dallas bound flights often have to stop for fuel as they can't carry enough with the cargo and passenger load to safely takeoff.

The departure was uneventful.

Nice overnight and the next day was just the Captain and I flying from Miami to San Pedro Sula then to Dallas.

I took the first leg. I've never been to San Pedro Sula but wanted something new. We were delayed 2 1/2 hours due to maintenance...which was annoying as the flight didn't get delayed until AFTER we arrived to the gate even though the plane had been on the gate for three hours.

Normal flight over Cuba then down to Honduras. This airport has rising terrain but only on 3 sides. I flew the RNAV visual to runway 4. I left the autopilot on for most of the approach and enjoyed the view. The approach goes right over a mountain ridge and kept the aircraft 1000 feet above it while descending. Easy landing.

Quick turn and we were Dallas bound. Long flight and home late.

Being signed off for Tegucigalpa means I will likely fly there often. I plan on bidding so I will get paid extra for flying there. It's complicated...but it should work out. At worst I will get a line with just Tegucigalpa flights...which won't be horrible as they are just 2 day trips or turns.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

My schedule is just a proposal

I am 3 for 3 having my schedule majorly disrupted.

Last week I was supposed to fly to Bogota from Miami. After arriving and being delayed scheduling wanted me to fly to Manaus, Brazil instead getting in 3 hours 3:30 AM central. I was supposed to arrive in Bogota at 12:20 AM central. I had to do a self assessment and call in fatigued. From my years of experience I predicted being fatigued a few hours into the Brazil flight. It wasn't safe for me to accept the flight.

Then earlier this week I picked up a Nashville overnight on overtime. It paid 10 1/2 hours for a simple 1-1 flight with just 2 hours and change flight time. Delayed for weather. By the time the plane came in I was reassigned without my knowledge (I left my phone at home). Ended up going home as they put a new crew on Nashville. The union is working with the company to get me paid since I wasn't aware of the reassignment and followed all the rules in the contract.

Last night I picked up a Las Vegas turn. It was a dead head there and fly back arriving at midnight. Due to a lack of pilots they were paying 150% to do that flight. I would be paid 7 hours or just over $ fly as a passenger and then one leg back. Easy right?

On the way back from Vegas the flight deck printer began printing a message I didn't request. It stated the Captain and I were to fly to Austin upon arrival in DFW. I wasn't expecting this. Austin is a short hour flight. I had a bunch of coffee on the way to Vegas to make sure I'd be fully alert for the flight to DFW. I decided I would do a self assessment on arrival in DFW.

Once on the ground I felt okay to continue as did the Captain. The passengers had been waiting for 3 hours and we were their last hope. I don't let outside influences affect my decision making concerning if I will complete a flight or not. That's an easy way to make a mistake. Last night I felt okay before knowing that we were their last hope.

Quick flight down. I rotated the nose into the air at 1:17 AM and smoothly touched the runway at 1:50 AM. If it weren't for Southwest and United ahead of us I would have landed at 1:40 AM.

Scheduling gave me 11 hours of rest in Austin before deadheading back that afternoon. I decided I didn't want to rest in Austin as I was still hopped up on coffee.

I arranged with scheduling to take the first flight out at 5 AM....which was the same aircraft I flew in.

I checked into the hotel at 2:40 AM. I cleaned up and rested in the bed until 3:40 AM. I then took the 4 AM shuttle back to the airport.

Since I live close to DFW I was at my kitchen table with donuts for the kids at 6:35 AM.

Due to extra Austin turn my pay jumped to Just over $2170...for one night of work. That used to take me almost a month to earn back when I first started at American Eagle back in 2007.

Off for a while now. I've flown A LOT recently.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Every year the flights get longer

First...I really enjoy my career.

I've been flying commercially for 12 years. Every year it seems my flights get longer and longer. Last night I flew the longest flight of my career....2228 Nautical Miles. I flew DFW to Bogota, Columbia.

This flight is on day 2 of a 3ish day trip. The first day was an afternoon start. I had been in Sacramento, California visiting family. I took at 7 AM flight to DFW...on the jump seat.

Landed in DFW just before 1 PM. I had a 1:47 PM report time. My inbound aircraft was running late so my first flight was already delayed.

Day one was DFW-DEN-DFW-MCO. I was scheduled to arrive at MCO at 12:28 AM. Due to weather and delays we didn't arrive until 1:18 AM. Walked into the hotel at 2:10 AM.

I met the Captain in the lobby for a 12:30 PM van. Day 2 was MCO-DFW-BOG. Weather in MCO caused a delay. Weather in DFW caused another delay leaving to BOG. It all began to pile on.

Bogota is a special qualification airport. The airport sits at 8360 feet MSL. The airport is surrounded by very high terrain. This time of year the area is known for tremendous thunderstorms. I decided to take the leg down.

I spent a good amount of time last week reviewing the charts and documentation for arriving and departing BOG. Scheduled block time was 5 1/2 hours. Plenty of time to review the charts further.

Sure enough there were gigantic storms all around the area. Unlike the United States, the controllers down south make no mention of the storms. It was up to us.

It took a lot of coordination and situational awareness to navigate the storms while descending into high terrain. We were off the RNAV arrival for large portions of the final segment.

On an extended base we were finally in the clear. I haven't flown the 319 since early May. It's much shorter than the 321...handles a little differently. Slight crosswind landing. Average landing. Due to higher altitude our true airspeed was much higher than indicated. Even with my normal braking and thrust reverse the rollout was longer and the brakes got much warmer than normal. I turned the brake fans on the taxi in.

Exhausted. I mostly remember the walk thru the airport and into the van for the hotel.

Twenty -two hour overnight. I head back to DFW tonight arriving tomorrow morning at 5:20 AM.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

I was looking forward to a new country!

Currently sitting in a hotel near LAX. I am supposed to be in a hotel in ORD.

This morning I signed in at 5 o'clock for an easy 4 day trip worth 21 hours. I was a 2-2-0-1 trip. Day one was DFW-LAX-ORD. Day two was ORD-MIA and a deadhead to Nicaragua. I had a 33 hour overnight and did a red-eye home arriving in DFW at 5 AM. Easy trip!

The early morning sign in hurt a bit. I prepare for these by having my suitcase and kit bag fully packed except for my Ipads.

I arrived to the plane before the Captain. After reading the logbook I did the exterior preflight, flight deck preflight and first flight of the day test. It was low visibility and raining so I would not be able to perform the first leg (there's restrictions on me for the first 100 hours...I'm at 64).

Captain arrived with a United jump seater. Both nice guys. We left on time and arrived on time. Two hour sit....scheduled.

Headed to the crew room for coffee and to relax. My next departure was 9:35 AM. The aircraft had arrived the day before. At 8:45 AM there was no plane at the gate. By 9:20 AM...still no plane. The Captain stated it was still in the hangar. Departure pushed to 10:50 AM....then 10:20 AM. Well by 10:00 AM..still no plane. I began to worry about my duty day.

With a 5:00 AM sign in I had to be done by 5 PM or agree to an extension. Extending a duty day is dangerous. The FAA published all kinds of data about how accidents and incidents increase with long duty days...especially with early starts.

Finally had a plane at 10:10 AM. Departure set for 10:50 AM. Arriving in Chicago at 4:58 PM. Two minutes shy of my 5 PM max. I didn't see this ending well.

Boarding started promptly. During my pre-flight I noticed the fueler connected but not pumping fuel. Didn't think much of it.

The Captain and I began getting the aircraft ready. FMS programmed and all checks done...we just needed fuel.

10:40 AM fueling started. We needed 39,000 pounds. That takes a while.

I sent a message to scheduling advising them that I would likely not be off the gate before 11 AM.

At 10:53 AM we got a print out from the on board printer stating we would exceed our duty day unless we agreed to extend. Not an option.

If anything goes wrong the FAA will ask why we agreed to extended and why we didn't go into rest. We were taken off the flight.

Scheduling initially had us doing a red-eye deadhead to MIA, 3 hour sit and deadhead to Nicaragua. Not desirable....but fine.

They then pulled us off and had us laying over in LAX and deadheading back to DFW tomorrow. We will then be subject to being reassigned Saturday and Sunday. Not ideal as I could work late into the day Sunday when I planned on having the majority of the day off. Also....I really wanted to go to a new country!

Beyond that I'm adapting to the Airbus quickly. More later. Now rest. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

IOE Complete

Last week I had a crazy long turn....CLT to SJU back to CLT. Once I was done my IOE was complete.

I needed a minimum of 15 hours of IOE since I was transitioning between aircraft. Initial new hires need 25 hours of IOE minimum. Because I am now an "international pilot" I needed to fly over water more than 50 miles from shore. The routing took us roughly 150 miles off shore.

So what's next? Well I am already a line holder on the Airbus in DFW. I suspect because senior pilots like reserve as it's not a huge status.

For April I was given two 4 day trips. One I really didn't like (one 6 hour flight and another was a red-eye) while the other I did like.

The first 4 day was worth 21 hours. I traded it for a 10.5 hour 2 day and picked up another 6 hour day I'm still down about 5 hours but because of IOE and training I'm at 89 hours pay for the I'm okay

The other 4 day has trips to airports with high terrain. The airline has a restriction that a First Officer needs at least 75 hours in seat to fly to I will be pulled off with pay. Not bad.

For May I was awarded another line with about 86 hours of pay and 15 days off. Lots of red-eyes though. I will be trading...a lot.

Right now I'm in STL on that 10.5 hour 2 day. It's my first trip off IOE. The Captain is retiring this month. Very nice but broke the ice with , "I see you're new to the Airbus. If you see me doing something odd you can speak up, but I'm I might do it anyway." I responded with...."ok but give me a heads up if you plan on buzzing the tower." she laughed. She's been flying for 41 years. I'm only 42 years old. She is retiring early though....she's ready to be done.

Friday, March 29, 2019

I'm a Bus Driver....again

About 25 years ago I drove a school bus in Nacogdoches (not a typo!), Texas while attending college. I would get up at 4:30 AM. Back the bus out at 5:30 AM and make two bus runs finally parking the bus in the University parking lot around 8:00 AM and then head off to class. That afternoon I'd fire the bus up, make two runs and park the bus around 4:30PM. It was an odd job for a college student. I only made like $6.50 an hour...but it was fun.

I said all that to say this. I am a (Air)Bus driver! Passed my final check ride last week. I head out to CLT this afternoon for IOE tomorrow. It's odd to be doing all of my IOE out of CLT instead of DFW. It is what it is. I do a simple two day CLT-MCO-CLT-BWI then BWI-CLT-ROC-CLT and finish on Sunday. Later in the month I go back to CLT for a SJU turn to complete IOE. The SJU turn is needed for my international qualifications. At my airline it just means I can fly waaaaay out over the water, into Latin American and around high terrain. We all...well MOST of us...know SJU is part of the United States.

More later.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Passed the first gate

Just finished my systems validation and my procedures validation.

The systems validation is the new "oral". It's a 100 question exam covering the aircraft that I have to score 85 or better on.

The Airbus systems was entirely self study with an Ipad app. There was minimal review in person. I started studying back in January while still flying the MD-80. I am happy to report I got 99 out of 100. The one question I missed was on fuel transfer. Eh. Not bad.

The procedures validation was done in a semi mock cockpit. It's a bunch of touchscreens and a thrust lever quadrant. It's good for muscle memory but there's no outside view so it's all pretend. My partner and I rocked the validation finishing very quickly. All along this journey instructors have mentioned how we are doing much better than average crews. I credit my partner as having been on the Airbus for a few years and me being the over prepared person that I typically am.

Two days off and the real sim starting Saturday.

The Airbus is waaaaaaaaaaay easier than the MD-80.

Monday, March 4, 2019

It's an entirely different kind of flying all together

I'm almost done with week 2 of Airbus ground school. I've been in the sim (used as a FTD meaning no motion) a few times. It's an entirely different kind of airplane.

It took me a bit to get used to the idea that flying with the side stick is just inputting a command then releasing. A 360 degree turn is done hands trimming. Very odd feeling.

The trusting in automation is also new. Starting an engine on a MD-80 involves me turning off the packs, opening the cross flow valves, the Captain holding the start switch, clicking a timer while I watch the gauges and introduce fuel at the right time all the while being ready to cut off fuel if things appear to be going in a bad direction. On the Airbus I turn a dial...then move a switch. No timer. I'm still not used to looking away.

My systems validation and procedures validation is in two days. My partner is a 8 year First Officer coming from the Airbus and upgrading to Captain.

More to come.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Save The Mad Dog

As of 1PM yesterday I'm no longer on the MD-80 reserve list for the month. I start training next week on the Airbus.

I was on short call on reserve all month. I was only called once for what was supposed to be one leg to YYZ, short overnight and dead head home. Easy. Ha.

The original crew timed out due to an EDCT issued by YYZ due to weather. There was heavy snow and high winds all day long.

I was called around 5:30 PM Friday for a 7:35 PM report time for a 8:35 PM departure. Being a short time frame I was given approval for terminal parking. This means I can park in covered parking feet from the terminal that normally cost $24 a day....with my airline picking up the tab. Nice.

After clearing KCM I made my way to the gate only to be greeted by a 9:00 PM departure. Ugh.

Unbeknownst to me I completed my last MD-80 pre-flight. I set up the flight deck and waited for the Captain. He arrived with just a back pack. He is very senior and picked up the overnight on over time. I mentioned he was brave as the weather was crap, overnight short and we could easily be stuck for over a day.

We boarded up and pushed out at 8:55 PM. After a little congestion on the ramp we left gate C20 and were told "Runway 36R Bridge". Many airports use coded routes to minimize radio congestion. Being based in DFW I know most of them by heart....from the WEST side of the airport where I flew for American Eagle for 10 years. Thankfully the east side routes are similar.

The Captain taxied down Kilo to Bravo and headed west on Bravo. This entire time I'm finishing my taxi flow and waiting for the printer to spit out our final numbers. I called operations in an attempt to get them to send them over. No answer.

On top of the Bravo bridge I called the west side ground controller. We were assigned Golf Whiskey Quebec. I advised ground that we were still waiting on our numbers. We were then assigned Whiskey Romeo. This worked fine as we had 20 minutes left for our wheels up time for the EDCT.

Another call to operations and they answered. They stated we had to pull a bag as one passenger didn't board the flight. Being an international flight all bags must be matched to a passenger on board. Back to the gate. We would miss our wheels up time.

Ground assigned us north on Foxtrot to Yankee to get back to our gate. Yep...we did a full tour of DFW airport.

We were assigned the same gate. Thankfully they pulled the bag quickly. The small delay was costly though. The delay meant we would be illegal for our scheduled deadhead as we would have less than 10 hours of rest. Being a Saturday that was the only flight of the day back to DFW. We were assigned a deadhead Sunday morning instead. A weekend in Toronto!

After pulling the bag we were given runway 35L via Kilo and Echo Quebec. Much easier routing. I reprogrammed the FMS, the final numbers printed and we finished the checklist.

The Captain gave me the leg up to Toronto and I was happy to fly it. Smooth takeoff and away we went.

Being late we got direct routing and I flew at .78 MACH instead of planned .75 MACH.

The weather in Toronto had not improved at all. Winds were still gusting to 34 knots out of the west with snow. For whatever reason Toronto doesn't like using the east/west runways and prefers the 3 southern runways. Crosswinds.

The Captain had only met me hours before. We had not flown together before this trip. He knew I was fairly new and thus opted to take the landing.

It kinda bummed me out, but I would do the same with the conditions (night landing, gusting crosswind and snow) if I were Captain with a low time First Officer I had just met.

He made a very nice landing and we pulled into the gate at 1:00 AM eastern. We contacted scheduling and opted to waive our rest requirements to take the original deadhead at 11:45AM. Ironically it was on my previous airline and aircraft...the Embraer 175.

We can waive our rest for ourselves but the computer must show legal rest. That meant the computer and our schedules showing us staying until Sunday. We would get 15 hours 45 minutes worth of credit instead of the planned 10 hours 30 minutes. I was on reserve so it was just credit (that later helped me not get called for the rest of the month due to the way reserve works here). The Captain was on overtime so for him it was an extra $1500+.  All because of a passenger that didn't board the plane with their checked a bag.

The hotel van arrived late and I walked into my hotel room at 2:05 AM. I'm an early riser and woke up early at 7:30 AM. Quick breakfast at McDonalds across the street (What's up with Canadians putting mayo on breakfast sandwiches?) and I met the Captain for the off schedule 10:45 AM van. Yeah the van didn't show. I called them and they didn't get the memo. Cab it was.

I scored a first class seat home. The Captain looked familiar while the First Officer was fairly new. Toronto to DFW is a long flight and I napped a good amount. I do enjoy dozing for dollars.

By 3PM central I was home on a Saturday with my family.

That was my last trip on the MD-80. For the rest of the month I was on call but never called for an assignment.

That gave me ample time to finish up my Airbus training and start on the flows.

I will miss the MD-80....but am looking forward to something different.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

So that was being a line holder....

I expected to complete my flying in January with a nice Toronto overnight. The overnight was the "short" one which means a hotel by the airport. The "long" overnight is downtown.

Regardless the overnight was 7 hours and change worth of flying. Nice long legs and I enjoyed the company of the Captain I was paired with.

Well that particular day was the day a crazy arctic front was moving across the country. Temperatures were well below 0 farenheit. On the leading edge of the front was crazy wind and snow.

That morning I had deadheaded in from San Antonio. I then had a two hour and thirty minute sit. At my old airline I was paid only per diem for the sit time. At my new gig I get paid 1 minute for every two minutes over 2 hours thus this sit made me 15 minutes of pay or an extra $35. Not bad.

There's a new employee cafeteria at the airport I had been meaning to try. With all this sit time why not? Glad I did. A burger, fries and drink was only $7. All freshly made in front of me.

While waiting for my meal,  I noticed my departure time was pushed back an hour. Our ETA was right at the worst of the wind and snow. I took my time eating.

I then went for a walk around the airport. I perused the regional terminal where I spent 10 years of my career. I rarely see anyone I know as most pilots I know have moved to mainline or other carriers. This day was different. I ran into a former student of mine.

He had recently flowed to mainline and was commuting home. He had just finished his checkride on....the Airbus. We chatted about how much better things are here and I got a few tips on the Bus. My delayed departure time was only 50 minutes away so we parted ways.

Once I got on the airport train my time was pushed back another hour.

This put my 11 hour 30 minutes overnight down to just 9 hours 30 minutes. It would be adjusted as we needed at least 10 hours in order to have the required 8 hours of sleep opportunity.

I decided to head to the plane anyway. It had been on the gate for 2 hours. At worst I could set everything up and get comfy.

I was supposed to fly the last "Classic" MD-80 to YYZ. Classic means legacy AA. Most remaining are the newer MD-80s acquired from TWA in the merger. 

Onboard were all three Flight Attendants. They were antsy to go as they had to be off the ground within 3 hours due to duty time. The Captain and I were legal until well past that.

I greeted them all and stashed my bags. I took a look at the logbook and headed out for the pre-flight.

Each time I round the nose of the MD-80 I smile. It really is a good looking plane. Airbus 319/320/321 and 737s all look the same. The Mad Dog has style.
The Super 80 graphic has been removed from all aircraft...but can still be seen faintly on a few.

Back on the flight deck the Captain arrived. We discussed the weather, fuel, route and alternate. We set up the aircraft and he left to get a printout of the release. My airline is almost free of paperwork. The flight release isn't needed on paper, but some like it. To each their own.

A note on cancellations. Contrary to popular belief airlines hate cancelling flights. Cancellations mean much more work getting passengers, bags, cargo, aircraft and crew where they need to be. Most cancellations result in more than just a single flight as the plane is likely supposed to keep flying from where ever it's going.

I said that because once the Captain returned....the flight cancelled. He was a commuter and immediately called scheduling to confirm he can go home. Contractual guidelines at airlines often allow scheduling to reassign pilots after a cancellation. We were both released.

Bummer I didn't get to fly....but I still get paid. This is important as I'm now on second year pay.

I'm on reserve in February. I bid short call. Short call pays a minimum of 76 hours (instead of 73 for long call). I skated thru the first 4 days of short call without being called. Quality of life is much higher being local instead of commuting. I spent the entire weekend with my family instead of a crash pad. The only odd thing was taking two cars to visit a friend instead of one. If I got called I didn't want to have to inconvenience my family. From call to airport time isn't defined at my new airline, but it is supposed to be reasonable. Under 3 hours is deemed reasonable. For long call minimum notice is 12 hours.

I start 5 days of short call tomorrow followed by just one day off and 4 more days of short call. After that....I'll be training to be a Bus driver. Almost done with my distance based learning.
The distance learning app my airline uses is much more enjoyable than my last airline which used a Windows only browser application. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The People You Meet on Airport Trains

Finished a pretty easy 3 day trip today. I had to take the airport train to get back to the terminal I started the trip in to take the employee bus back to my car.

I ,like many pilots, have my name embroidered on my suitcase handle. While on the train I saw a passenger take notice of my bag. Turns out it was a passenger that recognized me from my blog...nice to meet you Wesley!

The trip this week was mostly easy. Day one was an El Paso turn followed by a Cincinnati overnight. Day two was two legs ending up in St. Louis. Day three was 3 legs including a Kansas City turn. Only one leg was tricky....the one to St Louis.

Due to weather in St. Louis we had an alternate. No biggie. Due to a big patch of turbulent air we had a longer route around the bumps. No biggie. We had full flight plus 3 jump seaters (1 pilot and 2 Flight Attendants). Biggie.

We were landing weight restricted. Max landing weight is a lofty 130,000 pounds. It took some phone calls but we got all passengers and jump seaters physically on the airplane and closed the door. No APU. Ready to start an engine with the external air cart...then the external air cart ran out of gas. Ugh. Then the cargo door opened. More bags. Four hundred pounds of more bags. They wanted to pull the jump seaters.

We worked the numbers and stated we could burn the extra fuel and still have the amount needed for the alternate.

Engines started we made our way to the runway. Planning stated we had to burn 1300 pounds more fuel enroute than planned to be under max landing weight. Kind of a short flight. We stated we could do it. Worst case we'd have to hold.

My leg. I climbed at 310 knots instead of 300 which increased the fuel burn. Instead of flying at FL330 we flew at FL270.  I haven't mentioned this before, but I truly appreciate having crew meals at my new airline. They are the same meals as First Class. They aren't amazing but they help on days when I have long flights and short connections. I love it here! Anyway we denied all short cuts and descended early.

Two hundred miles out we were still projected to be 500 pounds over. Out went the spoilers partially along with the turning on of the anti-icing system. We didn't need the anti-icing but it increased fuel burn considerably. It was looking good.

On downwind we were right at max landing weight.

All passengers weigh the same in the eyes of the airline. In the winter passengers weigh 5 pounds more than in summer (due to carrying extra coats and such).  It is kinda complicated but everything loaded on the aircraft (passengers and luggage specifically) is an assumed weight. We use this assumed weight in our calculations.

In my previous aircraft with electronic displays there was a green line that would pop up on the speed tape in flight but it was really important during the approach. Most of the time it was under the approach speed. If it was above the approach speed (and the aircraft was fully configured) it meant you were heavier than you think you are and better add speed.  The aircraft computers know the real weight because it knows how the aircraft should perform for every given configuration.

On the MD-80 there's no such line. Instead the speed window changes to "ALPA SPEED" if the configuration of the aircraft isn't suitable for the given weight. Most of the time this means we just put out slats and flaps. On occasion it happens with the gear down and full that case we can only add speed.

Ref speed for max weight with full flaps is 132 knots. We add at least 5 knots as a buffer so this night the approach speed was 137 with full flaps.

It's very rare to land at max landing weight. I can't recall the last time I landed at max weight in the MD-80. Can you see what's coming?

Low clouds in icing conditions. We broke out around 300 feet. I clicked off the autopilot and auto-throttles.

At 100 feet all was well with the world. Passing 50 feet I began to flare. Normally I cut the power just below 20 feet and increase the flare. Being at max weight I delayed it until I heard 10 feet. Once I did the plane slowed and dropped much faster than I anticipated.

It wasn't a hard landing but I could feel the struts compress. Bleh. I get paid the same either way.

Done with day 2.

Thankfully day 3 was pretty straight forward. I'm off for 8 days before my next 4 day trip.

I purposely bid reserve for February. More time off to study for the bus.

Recently I was parked next to a plane I used to fly. It's now being flown by a different American Eagle still upsets me how much different regional flying is than mainline flying. I hate the "pay your dues" and "it's a stepping stone airline". Regional pilots are Professional Pilots. They deserve to be treated as such. It's lots of little things.

Last year I picked up a fun little airport car and an amazing main car. My airport car is a Smart Electric. It goes 0-60 in 11 seconds. My main car is a Tesla Model 3 Performance. It goes 0-60 in 3.3 seconds. Quite the odd pair eh?

For those on Instagram feel free to lookup geekinthecockpit. I post there pretty often. It's a private account but as long you don't have an odd profile photo I'll approve you.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

From old to not so old

I've been meaning to blog more....really....I just get wrapped up in other things. Will try to update at least once a month.

My first year at a American Airlines was complete last November. I studied for 3 months for my probationary check ride. I was told multiple times I was over studying. Over studying is all I know.

At my previous airline training was difficult....on purpose. Being one or two knots to fast on an approach or single engine climb out was a topic of discussion during debrief. Knowing the hydraulic system of the 145 in detail was required for the oral exams (before AQP). Thus I read every manual for the MD-80 cover to cover twice. I studied limitations and memory items months.

I was indeed over prepared.

The probationary check ride was totally uneventful and a low stress environment. Nothing like I had seen before. I was done.

Soon after my check ride a vacancy bid was released. Vacancy bids allow pilots to swap aircraft and/or seats.

The MD-80 at American Airlines is scheduled to fly through August of 2019. After August they will all be flown to Roswell as American Airlines will retire them. It will be very odd not seeing the silver Mad Dog. At one point there were almost 300 of them in service just a few years ago. Today there are under 30 still flying for American.

The MD-80 is a very busy aircraft for the First Officer between the gate and runway. I'm used to it. Flying the MD-80 is actually fun. It's old....real cables run from not just the flight controls...but every single handle in the cockpit. Pulling the fire handle means actually pulling a cable that goes from the handle to the various systems in the back of the plane. There's zero fly by wire. There's very little automation. Sometimes annoying, but I'm used to it.

Speaking of the vacancy bid. I assumed I'd be locked in my seat until the aircraft was retired. Due to various reason no new pilots can be trained on the MD-80. I'm NOT replaceable. Well ya know what assuming does eh?

I had a bid in for DFW Airbus International as that's where I wanted to go when the MD-80 went away. The 737 is nice...but even the MAX is very antiquated (especially the overhead panel!). I can only hold the Airbus 319/320/321 or 737. I picked the Airbus. To my surprise I was released from the MD-80. I head to training in February and should be flying it in April.

I'll miss the Mad Dog....but look forward to flying something new.

Now a few beauty shots from my passion.

Still here

I'm still flying the MD80 for a few more weeks. Transferring to the Airbus in February .I'll try to have a post up covering my first year at American soon .