Este Bueno

For January my line consisted of all day trips except I had two overnights. Both overnights were two day trips.

My first overnight was supposed to be last Thursday, but I was pulled off for some union work. It was nice to be in the union office for two days as I was able to totally redesign the newsletter. Much more eye appealing and readable.

On Saturday I still had one two day trip worth 9.5 hours. The trip is a 3 and 3 with an overnight south of the border.

The line Captain called in sick. I’ve only flown with him once this month do to my trip trades and calling in sick. I learned long ago when I’m the least bit stuffy, to call in sick.

The Flight Attendant for my two day is familiar to me. Her I have flown together a few times and we got along great.

A reserve Captain was assigned. A very junior Captain. Most junior Captains are a joy to fly with as they remember what it’s like to be a First Officer AND they are still getting used to their seat so they are more agreeable. Not this guy.

Normally I run the Before Start checklist while boarding is being completed. This is useful as sometimes we catch errors in paperwork, the logbook or aircraft equipment during the checklist. With the boarding door still open things can be fixed.

Before the first leg I had completed all my flows and we were both sitting their quietly. I asked if he wanted the Before Start checklist. He declined and stated he does not work for free and would not do the checklist until the door was closed and the parking brake dropped. For those that don’t know my pay doesn’t start until those actions are completed. The pay stops on the other end.

It takes at most 90 seconds to run the before start checklist. Ninety seconds!

So we both went back to sitting in silence. The door was closed and like a machine he suddenly started moving and doing things….almost in a rush. The plane had several MEL’s. A real gem. The left pack (ours) didn’t work, there was a lot of paint missing, a passenger sat on an armrest and broke it, and some how the leather seat back of a seat was ripped. We reviewed all of this……………………..after the door closed. Thankfully nothing needed to be addressed.

Blocked out on time of course. Taxied out 7 minutes after blocking out. He took the first leg.

Uneventful. I had the next two legs. Same story, no checklist outside of the parking brake.

Once the brake dropped at the out station during the first turn he again “clicked on” and began moving. Rushing like before. After he was done he called for the checklist. It was completed then I reviewed the electronic closeout information. There appeared to be an issue. We were carrying HAZMAT but had no paperwork about what we were carrying.

Normally all this stuff is done with the door open. With the door open station personnell can come on board to answer questions and bring documents.

I advised the Captain that I believed we had an issue. He agreed and asked me to call the Station. Well since the door was closed….most station personnel took off for smoke breaks, knitting and sleeping. We had to ask the ramp crew via inter-phone to find someone and ask if we needed paperwork for the HAZMAT. Several minutes later we were told no paperwork was needed. The HAZMAT was a biological substance but there was no dry ice involved. Fine.

Normal leg up. Arrived to my new normal….no gate. My mainline partner has shaken things up in my base. There used to be just my airline providing regional lift in my base. Now there are two other airlines. More flights were added, but gates were taken away due to construction. This has all lead to no extra gates. If one flight runs late then the next flight for that gate will be late….it just dominos.

After twenty minutes we parked. Running late I grabbed a decent Hummus and Veggie wrap and headed to the next gate.

Blocked out on time.

Off to Mexico.

I’d been to this overnight several times. Getting into this airport is a little easier than others as there is less terrain to deal with.

As with most airports in Mexico there is little to no RADAR coverage below 17000 feet. Thus IFR flights have to be staggered out. As luck would have it we were leading the pack.

I listened to the ATIS and heard runway 14 was in use. I verified the FMS was setup correctly. I then set up the VNAV guidance for the crossing restrictions.

Then I waited. And waited. Finally I asked the Captain to ask ATC for lower. We were 80 miles out at FL370.

“Unable due to crossing traffic.” stated the controller. It’s rare to see other traffic in Mexico. It’s very sparse. I slowed down in preparation for the descent.

A few minutes later the traffic crossed under us. Now we were just 55 miles out.

The chart below is real. It’s not terribly hard to figure out the airport, but I blocked out most details to continue to separate my airline from my blog.

 

DMEARC

It was doable, but it would be tight.

I idled the engines and spun the vertical speed down to 3500 feet per minute and deployed the speed brakes.

I had planned on crossing the NUTZZ fix at 10000.

Passing FL200 I realized I would still be high. Out went the first setting of flaps.

Mexico has speed limits. In the United States I could be screaming down at 320 knots all the way to 10,000 feet. For this airport I had to be below 250 knots by 16,000 feet. I had to shallow my descent.

Even at 15,000 feet I didn’t think I would make it. Down went the gear. With the gear down I had more drag so I could increase the descent rate.

We crossed NUTZZ at 14,000 feet.

I clearly saw the airport as we crossed the 12.0 DME fix and joined the DME arc still at 10,500 feet.

Since it was VFR and there was no terrain to worry about I shallowed the descent rate and put all the remaining flaps out.

We turned final and I was just 500 feet high. Easily manageable.

Finally crossing the 4 DME fix did the engines come out of idle.

Normal approach and landing from there.

Clearing customs in Mexico annoys me a bit.

Passengers press a button on a kiosk before leaving customs. A screen will pop up saying “extra screening” or more likely “free to go”.

Crews don’t get that luxury.

For reasons that have never been explained to me, Customs agents go through every single bag US airline crews carry. Every single bag. Right out in the open….on a big table.

Most Mexican airports are located on the outskirts of town. The cities are sprawling. This means long van rides. This van ride was “short” at 25 minutes. I’ve had rides as long as 50 minutes.

The Captain filled out the paperwork for the hotel.

Super firm bed as is the norm in Mexico.

Nice free breakfast.

One O’clock van time. At noon my phone rang, I was surprised….it was a “wake up call”. The Captain set it up but didn’t tell us about it. Fine.

I was down in the lobby at 12:50PM. The Captain was already there. I greeted him and shortly thereafter the Flight Attendant came down. She asked if we were ready. I said I was, but the Captain said he wasn’t. So the Flight Attendant and I just sat in the van. A few minutes later he came out.

Clearing customs on the way out was easy. His leg. We loaded up early, but the computer system wouldn’t allow us to leave until 10 minutes prior.

For 15 minutes we just sat there. We could have run checklist…but we just sat there. Finally the onboard printer started printing out our close out data. Away we went.

About 30 minutes out I sent the in range message. The printer then spit out connecting gates for passengers and flight assignments for the crew. I was (happily)  surprised to see the Captain had no assignment. He said he dropped it.

Blocked in 10 minutes early. The Captain was in a hurry to commute home and left almost as soon as the door opened. The Flight Attendant and I were happy to see him go. He was just not the norm. Not friendly and not personable.

We cleared US customs and headed to our last turn. The next Captain was also reserve. A guy we have flown with a few times. Nice guy to work with.

Quick and easy turn to the place I was born. Last overnight for the month is done.

Next month I have vacation. With my bidding strategy I work just 8 days next month. I will likely pick up some flying though as that’s too much time spent at home.

Questions Answered: How much does a regional First Officer make after 7 years?

Another year is behind me. Twenty-Fifteen was interesting. Last year I made this post after getting my W2. I’m using data for this post from my last pay stub of 2014. I might come back and revise this later.

In 2015 I flew 755 hours. My total compensation from my employer was $50,661.77. Of that $44,480.32 was taxable. The difference between the two is due to medical insurance  for my family (a hefty $4,605.72), employee life insurance ($170.28) and a special 401K contribution ($450.10). The numbers don’t quite add up to other trivial items such as per diem and such.

Still the total compensation isn’t horrible….but I’m now topped out in pay as a First Officer. In my opinion a Professional Pilot should be earning this in their second year…not in their 8th.

Taking to total compensation and dividing by the number of hours of flight equals just over $65 an hour. My pay rate for most of the year was just over $41 an hour.

Last year I made the comment that I should be Captain in the next 18 months. Things are very fluid….but I just might meet the deadline.

Breakfast is served

December is done. Twenty-Fourteen is done. The “How Much does a First Officer make” post is coming.

The last trip of the month was fun. I had my line Captain back and a senior Flight Attendant in the back.

The Flight Attendant was new to me. Throughout the week he kept asking about my diet. I mentioned once that I was a vegetarian. Over the first 3 days he asked if I ate eggs or fish or a number of other things. I eventually said if it has a face or brain I don’t eat it.

The first two nights were in cold cities.

On the third day we were headed to the airport when the Flight Attendant made a funny observation. We were the anti-stereotype crew. The Captain was a woman, The Flight Attendant a man and myself a “black” pilot. He made a joke that “a woman, a black guy and a gay gay walk into a bar.” We all started laughing.

The last night was ON the beach in Florida. I had hopes for warmth…..but I was let down. It was in the 50s. The Flight Attendant for the week lived there so he went home. The Captain and I headed to the hotel. She was tired so I went out solo in search of food.

Being Florida everything on the menu at the hotel restaurant had beef, chicken or most common was seafood.

I decided to make the trek to a cafe and bar that’s popular with flight crews, but that I had never visited. They had one item on the menu that was ok with me….Nachos. I did order them without meat….got on odd look….I’m used to it.

The next morning was New Years Eve. Early morning 5:20AM van.

Left on time. Normal flight with my Captain flying while I was pilot monitoring.

About halfway into the flight the call button lights up. I answer.

“Are you two ready for breakfast? ” ask the Flight Attendant.

“Um well we don’t really want anything from the galley.” I replied.

“I’m at the door, first up is the Captains meal, I will call back for yours.” he replied.

I followed our flight deck access procedures.

I then handed the Captain a tray with a HOT apple turnover, banana, apple, orange juice and a yogurt.

He called back and then handed me a carrot. I was a little confused and started laughing. He then called again and gave me a tray with an apple, banana, bag of fresh granola and an orange juice.

All of the items were purchased at a grocery store the night before. We were in awe.

We ate up and arrived on time. I could not have ended the year with a better crew.

Last 4 day for a while

I’m on day one of my last 4 day trip for a while. Next month I have a day trip line. It works weekends…but I’m home every night except 2 where I have 2 two day trips.

The plane from last week with the engine issue sat at an outstation for 4 days before being flown under a Special Ferry Permit back to my base where it was fixed again. Haven’t personally flown it so I hope for the best.

This week I’m back with my line Captain. Today was a long day with just 3 legs. We left 30 minutes late on the first leg, but thanks to a 160 knot tailwind we arrived 10 minutes early. Descending through FL290 we hit moderate turbulence. We were only cleared to FL240. Even with the engines at idle we were gaining airspeed. The Captain had the plane set up for a 1000 foot per minute descent but with the turbulence we occasionally were climbing.

Level at FL240 we were rocking and rolling. I asked for lower but was denied due to traffic. After about 2 minutes I insisted we needed lower. Given a turn and a descent.

Quick turn.

Just over 10,000 pounds of fuel loaded up. Seemed like plenty. The 160 knot wind kicked up to 180 knots….all of it on the nose. The ground speed at mach .77 was a slow 250 knots. The FMS estimated landing on fumes. We contacted the dispatcher and pulled it back to .72 mach. A little better.

We agreed if we got to a certain fix with less than 4000 pounds of fuel we’d stop for fuel at a nearby outstation. We crossed with 4100 pounds. Eh.

I was flying and used all my tricks to conserve fuel on the descent. We landed with 2000 pounds of fuel, my bare minimum.

Two hour sit.

The flight to the overnight was again in a headwind but just 90 knots. The airport is surrounded by terrain. Picked up the airport 20 miles away and was cleared to maneuver for a visual. It’s a nice change to descend on my own for an approach, especially around terrain. In and done.

Beautiful sunset photo I snapped while parked with the boarding door open and engines shutdown. Just a disclaimer to protect myself.

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Four legs the next two days and one on Wednesday.

Hoping for an easy, non eventful trip.

 

Seems like I’m forgetting something

Day 3 of a 4 day.

Day 1 was a cluster. Supposed to do 3 legs. Due to that little emergency I only did 2.

As luck would have it the EXACT same aircraft I declared an emergency in was scheduled for my one leg out on day 2. I made sure to arrive at the gate when it parked.

I asked the crew how the plane was and specifically about engine number 2. They said they saw the write up and watched it carefully. No issues.

My Flight Attendant was not happy about being on the same plane, “If that damn engine has issues again I’m going to take an axe to it.” he said jokingly.

My leg out. My third female Captain of the month. Most ever in one month.

I briefed her about the issue I had and we examined the logbook. Several valves had been replaced.

On takeoff she monitored the power and all was well. Around 5000 feet I turned the autopilot on and also monitored the engine. It seemed normal.

Passing FL280 we were talking when I noticed the N2 on the number 2 engine getting higher than the number 1.

“It’s happening again,” I said.

This time the ITT was around 830 on number 2 and 800 on number 1. The day before ITT was 890.

Passing FL340 the ITT on number 2 was 850 while number 1 was 820.  The N1 was 1% below target while N2 was at 100%. We were exactly halfway between our departure and destination.

The Captain got on the horn with the dispatcher. She also called back to the Flight Attendant. “Now don’t freak out, but the engine is having issues again. We’re halfway and have decided to continue on to our destination.”

Level at FL370 the ITT was well within limits. The mechanics fixed one issue, but there was still something wrong.

Normal ILS to near mins landing. The outbound crew came down the jet bridge and thought it was a minor issue. I let them know the plane wouldn’t be going anywhere. They weren’t happy as it was one leg in for them.

Their flight cancelled and ended up deadheading home on the next flight.

Odd overnight. Old hotel that needs updating. It was also odd as my hotel was in between 2 La Quintas. One had a Waffle House while the other had a Denny’s. Very odd.

The next morning I woke up early. I was down in the lobby at 5:45 AM for a 6 AM van.

Left the hotel on time.

As we approached the TSA checkpoint at the airport,  I opened my jacket and felt for my ID. It wasn’t there. I had left it in the hotel room! Second time in 7 years I have done this.

I immediately called the hotel. The rest of the crew went on to prepare the aircraft.

Thankfully the van driver returned at 6:42 AM with my ID. I tipped him $5. Departure was supposed to be 6:55 AM. I was in my seat by 6:50 AM. Delayed. The first two Ground Power Units were faulty so boarding had not started.

Blocked out at 7:05 AM. Four legs later and done.

Tomorrow I would have had one leg in and done. I added on a 4.5 hour turn on overtime. It’s risky on Christmas Eve especially with weather. Here’s hoping I don’t get stuck.

And the aircraft with the troubled engine is still stuck at the out station….I bet it will bet there until Saturday.

Broke my motto today

When I fly with someone new I often tell them my motto, “No paperwork, No News.” That pretty much covers everything. Today I broke my motto.

I started my 4 day 24 hour trip with a 7:15AM report time.

It’s a 3-2-4-3 trip. It was originally 19 hours but I added a 5 hour turn on the end. Christmas gifts to pay for.

The Captain I’m supposed to fly with got in late last night from another trip and was pulled off the first turn. The reserve Captain assigned to the trip is younger than me and just a little more senior. He was running late as he had a minor mechanical issue leaving an outstation. When he arrived I had everything set up. All he had to do was sign the release and review the logbook. I knew his name from when we were both First Officers on a previous aircraft.

We blocked out on time. I decided to fly the first leg.

Every modern jet uses a computer to control engine power settings. There’s no direct connection between the thrust levers and the engines. Everything goes into a computer that decides how much power we get for a given thrust lever angle, stage of flight and aircraft configuration.

For example during takeoff, the computer uses outside temperature, pressure, aircraft weight and anti-ice settings to set a target N1 setting. The N1 is the front of the engine when viewed from the nose. When I’m flying I say “set thrust” and put the thrust levers in a defined detent. The Captain then verifies the power being produced matches the power being specified. If there is a discrepancy an aborted takeoff is considered.

During the takeoff roll when I’m flying, my eyes are outside and I never look at the interior screens until the nose is in the air. Once I hear “V1, Rotate!”, my eyes go from outside to inside as my PFD is my primary instrument.

Today was normal during takeoff and climbout. I don’t often look at the MFD or EICAS screens until we are out of the terminal area.

While passing FL350 I noticed the number 2 engine climb power being produced was not matching the climb power being commanded.

The FADEC was commanding 92% N1 power while the engine was only producing 90.5% power. I scanned down and noticed the ITT (Internal Turbine Temperature) was at the top of the normal range and the N2 (back of the engine so to speak) was at 100%.

“Hey something is up here.” I told the Captain. I thought maybe I had moved the thrust lever for the number 2 engine back a little. I moved them back and forward….nope they were in the right spot.

The higher went the higher the ITT rose while the amount of power went down a bit. I pulled the thrust levers back and we discussed the situation. Something was definitely wrong with the Number 2 engine. The Number 1 engine was producing the correct power, had a ITT 100 degrees lower and had an N2 8% lower.

We were 110 miles south of an airport that has maintenance  but just 200 miles north of our base. Since the engine was still making power and controllable we decided the safest course of action was to return to our base. The airport with maintenance was closer but had much shorter runways. Additionally we’d have to expedite down or get turned off as it was fairly close. Finally if we diverted there the passengers would be stuck till the next day as there were likely no spare aircraft available.

The Captain notified our dispatcher via ACARS then notified ATC. He handed the radios to me while he advised the Flight Attendant and passengers.

I told ATC we were not declaring an emergency just yet as things were controllable. He gave me a vector then assigned a RNAV arrival procedure. After the Captain was done with the Flight Attendant and passengers I told him what we were doing and mentioned it might be best to declare an emergency to avoid having to monitor the engine and deal with the step down fixes on the arrival. He agreed. Emergency declared and we were cleared direct to the airport vs a slightly complex RNAV arrival that had several level offs to deal with.

We began a slow descent. I used the VNAV to compute a descent rate that would require no level offs and would put me 5 miles from the airport at 1500 feet. It worked wonderfully. We did notice the lower we descended the more inline the engine parameters became.

An ILS to a visual approach were performed. I picked up the runway about 4 miles out. I saw several Fire Trucks and emergency vehicles along the runway.

After an amazingly smooth landing he took control and taxied off the runway. We then had a Fire Truck escort all the way to the gate as is normal in this situation.

Fireman lead came on board to see if we needed any help. Then several mechanics. Then a Chief Pilot. Just an hour later we had a new plane and were off again. Being so late I lost my overnight.

After we got back I had to fill out paperwork on the emergency.

A bonus is I get to watch Wreck It Ralph with my kiddo.

On another happy note I found the mythical Unicorn for next month. Day trips. More later this week.