Sometimes it’s good to be second

Snow and ice has really been an issue in the United States lately.

I was supposed to have of the second half of February. I didn’t want to just sit around so I picked up two long day trips.

The first was last Saturday and went fine. The second was on Monday. I picked it up thinking I wouldn’t actually fly. I am a betting man.

The forecast called for ice and snow. The flight was an early morning departure. I bet that the airline would cancel all morning flights due to the weather. My base has limited deicing capability as it doesn’t snow much.

My contract states they have until noon the day prior to reassign me if the flight cancels. At 12:01PM if it cancels I am free and clear.

They reassigned me 10 AM on Sunday. The reassignment was a 10:55 AM departure was was just an hour flight each way. I would be paid for the original 6 hours. The kicker? I had a 3 and a half hour sit at a tiny out station before flying back.

I did my research and saw the plane I was to fly back would be overnighting so I wouldn’t have to worry too much about being stranded. Fine. There was still a chance the reassignment would cancel.

Monday morning I woke up and checked the cancelled flights. Everything from 6 AM until 11:30 AM was cancelled save for 4 flights….one of them my new reassignment. So much for betting.

When I walked into the terminal area it was a ghost town. I expected a mass of passengers from the cancelled flights. Nope. Since they cancelled the day prior the only passengers were those whom slept in the airport or drove in that morning. There was no Captain yet assigned to the flight.

The flight attendant was waiting by the gate. I’d flown with him before. We talked about our “bad” luck. We both agreed that it was pointless to walk down to the aircraft until a Captain had at least been assigned. I checked the other 3 flights scheduled to go out, all were also awaiting Captains.

Thirty minutes prior a Captain was assigned. There was very little activity on the ramp as the majority of the flights had been cancelled.

I was shocked when I walked into the flight deck to find the aircraft powered up AND warm! A mechanic took it upon himself to start up the APU and warm up the aircraft. I thanked him and said it’s rare to find employees that care.

We boarded up and blocked out 20 minutes late due to the late arriving reserve Captain.

It took over 30 minutes to deice. In places that get a lot of winter weather I’ve been deiced in under 8 minutes. Seriously.

Slip sliding down the icey taxiway. Away we went.

Small outstation. They had an ILS, but it was out of service. Normally not an issue. The weather on this day caused it to be an issue as the ceiling was reported at 600, but variable between 400 and 800 and just 2 miles visibility. The minimum altitude for the GPS approach was 600 with 2 miles visibility.

The Captain was flying and briefed the approach. It would be tight.

On vectors. Another RJ identical to ours was first on the approach. I watched them on TCAS. As we turned final I saw the TCAS target begin climbing.

“Hey I think they are going around.” I told the Captain. We had approach on COM 1 and tower lower on COM 2. A few seconds later we heard them report a go around on COM 2 as they didn’t see the runway, runway lights or airport environment (there are more crtieria, but that’s the short version).

They requested the approach lights be turned up. Turns out they weren’t turned on at all.

Our turn. The tower confirmed the approach lights were on full intensity.

We leveled at 600 and I saw brief spots of the ground. I peered out the window for the approach lights. Nothing.

Three miles from the runway I saw nothing but white. The VDP (Visual Descent Point) was 1.5 miles from the runway. The VDP is the point where a normal descent can normally be made without any abrupt maneuvers. Trying to land after the VDP normally results in an unstable approach.

Two miles out I saw nothing. We had the fuel for one more attempt before heading to the alternate.

Then I saw the strobes.

“Approach lights in sight, continue.” I stated.

“Continuing.” said the Captain.

With the lights in sight we can continue to 100 feet above touchdown zone elevation.

About 500 feet or so we saw the runway. In and done.

The other RJ came back around and landed 8 minutes later.

Since we were late we had just a 2 hour sit.

The airport “cafe” isn’t set up for real food. All they had were frozen items one could buy and microwave. Ah the life!

We blocked out 18 minutes early. No deicing needed. Quick flight.

Airport operations were busier now. Still an icey ramp. Landed 35 minutes early but due to ramp congestion we blocked in on time.

All in I flew for 2 hours and get paid for 6. I still came out ahead.

Now I really am taking the rest of the month off.

That was sporty

I’ve been off a lot this year. Between my work with the Union and being senior…..I haven’t spent a lot of time in the flight deck. February is almost over and I project to fly just 25 hours.

A good two weeks was spent on vacation. I took my family to Florida for a week.

We spent 3 days at Universal, 1 day at NASA (where we watched the SpaceX launch scrubbed with 2 minutes left!), 2 days in Clearwater at the beach and two more days in Orlando going to science museums. A long time.

Right now I’m sitting in a hotel in Florida on a 3 day trip. It’s a 3-4-1 trip. It was originally a 4 day but I was pulled off the last day for Union work.

Day one started with a 3:50PM report time. I spent the morning taking my car in for a software and hardware update. I love my geeky BMW I3, but it’s having minor issues.

Around noon I noticed there was no Captain on my trip. The original Captain couldn’t commute in so Crew Scheduling had to find a replacement.

When I signed in for my trip there was a Captain assigned, but he wasn’t scheduled to arrive until 10 minutes AFTER scheduled departure time.

I walked onto the plane to see two mechanics in the flight deck and the Flight Attendant sitting in the cabin.

“Whatever broke, I didn’t do it!” I said to the mechanics.

“Of course it was you, you RJ pilots are great at breaking stuff….great job security” one of them said jokingly.

They were just there finishing up a periodic check. They were making sure all light bulbs in and out of the plane worked, fluid levels were good and general check up.

I told the Flight Attendant about the tardy Captain. The gate agent came down and we agreed to not board until the Captain actually parks. No reason to have passengers sitting on the plane waiting.

I began setting up the flight deck, printing the release and everything else so once the Captain arrived it would be quick and easy.

Departure time was 4:35PM. He parked at 4:40 PM 20 gates down. Boarding was almost done when he walked on board at 4:55 PM. At 5:04 PM we blocked out. He thanked me for having everything ready to go. He took us out.

Quick up and down flight, just 25 minutes off to on. Quick turn, just 8 passengers for the return leg. Super light weight meant great performance. We reached rotation speed in less than 2000 feet.

Being so close in we were inside the approach corridor. The Approach controllers had nice rows of flights spaced out and we popped up in the middle. He vectored us around, sped up other flights and slowed others down. We merged in. In and done a few minutes late.

That Captain left and another one arrived. He’s fairly senior and wasn’t happy about being reassigned due to weather. Blocked out a few minutes late. Still my leg.

Headed east we had a 150 knot tailwind at FL370. Zooming.

Being winter I wasn’t expecting much in the way of storms. We checked the weather on the release and it mentioned rain but that’s it.

Right before I began the descent the controller warned of level 2 returns. What?!?!?! Our on board RADAR showed clear air. Being night we couldn’t see much out the windows.

Thankfully there were small holes from cities that gave a hint of  where the weather was. Minor vectoring. The lower we got the more clear the on board RADAR showed the weather.

Weather at the airport was 20014G19KT 10SM BKN036 BKN050 OVC065 19/17 A2980. Landing runway 17 which is 7004 feet long.

I briefed the approach. The controller brought us out a little wide to avoid a cell.

On final we were in moderate rain. I could see the runway 9 miles out. Winds were from 220 and were a stiff 45 knots at 1800 feet.

“The ATIS made no mention of rain. I’m going to plan to use full reverse just in case.” I said to the Captain. Our performance flip cards stated I needed just 4000 feet of pavement to stop on dry while 5200 on wet. Neither includes the use of thrust reversers. I like to play it safe.

At 500 feet the winds were still a stiff 30 knots but the rain had let up. I touched down normally just as the gust picked up. Ailerons into the wind with my right hand I put the thrust levers into full reverse. We slowed to taxi speed with 2000 feet left.

Pulling into the gate the rain came in heavily. We had just beat the rain. While nice…I still had to do the postflight.

Today is four legs followed by an 18 hour overnight with one leg in. Wednesday will be a waste of a day in a hotel as I get home at 9PM.

Moving

This site will soon be moving host. So for a day or three it might show unavailable. Sorry for any problems.

Shooooo Bird

I’ve been quiet lately. It annoys me. Going to try to work on it. I think part of the reason for the lack of post is due to me having mostly day trips in January.

When on a multi-day trip I have a lot of downtime in hotels. With day trips I have downtime at home. At home I have lots of stuff to keep me busy.

Right now I’m on a two day trip.

I was originally headed south of the border. I was fine with it until earlier this week when the Captain changed. The Captain that picked up the trip is known around the airline as hard to work with. I’ve never flown with him, but I have no desire to entertain working with someone who most pilots don’t like.

Instead I traded into another trip that has 2 more legs for the same amount of time. The Captain is a guy I flew with several years ago. Old fashioned and likeable guy.

It’s a dreadful 3 and 5 trip worth just 9 hours 15 minutes. He took the first leg this morning. I had the next two.

During my first takeoff roll around 80 knots I saw several birds flying at and angle towards the airplane. Not worth aborting for. I simply said “shoooo birds”…..and they moved.

Mostly normal flight. In just the first 15 minutes we were assigned three different arrivals. The final arrival meant a reversal of the airport arrival and departure pattern. The approach controller stated we could slow waaaaay down or expect holding. I slowed down to 250 knots at FL300.

We inched our way in and done.

Quick turn and off to the overnight in the odd state of Louisiana.

Still a vegetarian…still have problems finding places that have vegetarian options.

Google Maps is my friend. I found a greek place that worked for lunch.

Early van. Left early on leg one and arrived early. Leg 2 was back to the airport we just left. Sure enough birds swarmed during the flare. Saw no bird parts or blood on the post flight.

Leg 3 was on time. Once in we had a break for lunch.

For leg 4 I arrived to a wet aircraft. I dropped off my bags and headed out for the preflight. Upon inspecting the nose gear I saw a problem. It looked like blood all around the main gear…..but I wasn’t sure.

I headed back up to the flight deck. The Captain was getting settled in. I picked up the logbook and looked for a bird or animal strike entry. Nothing. I did see an entry where a front tire was replaced a week ago.

I told the Captain what I saw and he felt it was best to have a mechanic inspect it.

Boarding started and we waited. Fifteen minutes before departure a mechanic walked up…looked around….then looked up at me with the “What damage” look. I went outside.

As it turns out what I thought was blood…was grease. A lot of grease. The mechanic said when the tire was replaced there was too much grease inserted into the axle. Once everything was finished the extra grease shot out of the side.

IMG_20150131_124158

 

Learning lesson for me. Better safe than sorry.

My leg out. Rain and low clouds at the out station. Only a localizer approach.

I have never had so many bird encounters on a trip. The largest swarm of birds yet came into view at around 100 feet. We both thought for sure we’d hit a few. We didn’t hear anything but, again to be safe we advised the tower who had airport operations inspect the runway. I did a very detailed post-flight.

Airport operations found nothing. I found nothing as well. Lucky indeed.

Last leg back was totally normal.

Happy to be done.

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.