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.

One of my top 10 worst days

It all started at 7:48 AM Sunday morning. The Captain I’m flying with this month sent me a message on Facebook that she was calling in sick, but just for the first 2 days. My report time was 12:15PM. Surely my airline could find a Captain to fill her spot in time for an on-time departure.

I walked down the jet bridge at 12:25 PM as the inbound aircraft was parking. Just ten minutes later all passengers were off and I was working on my preflight. By 12:50 all passengers and cargo were on board…..just missing the Captain.

The reserve Captain had arrived two gates down at 12:45PM. It takes some time to park, shut down the aircraft, pack up and move on. I made a PA concerning why we were late. The Captain arrived shortly after 1PM (scheduled departure time). We blocked out at 1:12PM.

Weather. The Captain was motivated as after this turn he was going to commute home to Seattle. His leg. Gusty crosswind approach. In and done. Normal turn as the station was slow and had a lot of new employees.

Blocked out 26 minutes late. Gusty crosswind takeoff for me. Up and away we went. I tried to fly fast but weather got in the way and we landed 31 minutes late as we blocked in at 4:16 PM.

The Captain commuted home, I had 3 legs left for the day.

I checked the computer and saw the next reserve Captain had arrived at 4:20 PM 30 gates down. Original departure time was 4:40 PM. The Flight Attendant and I made our way to our plane. Since the Captain was on the ground I figured it was okay to board.

After my preflight I returned to the flight deck and noticed it was getting stuffy. Boarding was well underway. I reached to start the APU when I noticed a MEL sticker. The APU was MEL’d.

I reviewed the logbook then made a call to operations for the external air to be connected. This was 4:45PM. I watched to temp of the cabin slowly rise. It’s winter and cool outside, but when 50 warm bodies fill a confined space it gets warm. Five o’clock came and still no external air. I sprang from my seat and went down to the ramp to ask what was going on. The ramper said the hose was broken. I would have appreciated if he had come and told me this OR if he said a new hose was on the way. Instead he just said the hose was broken.

I made another call to operations with the threat that I would deplane the passengers if air is not connected to the aircraft. At the gate, with no APU or engine running, all that’s blowing is recycled air.

Curious about the missing Captain I checked the computer again. I should have investigated further earlier as the Captain was arriving on an international flight…..30 gates away. This meant she had to clear customs, re-enter security and then make her way to the new gate. This was a 50 minute process at best. I advised operations of this new found data.

Two minutes later a ramper is looking at me giving me the hand signals to start the number 2 engine as they had connected the air start machine. I just shook my head. No engine can be started without the Captain.

Again I went down and explained there was no Captain on board and I needed pre-conditioned air connected. Again he said the hose was broken. I saw a ramp supervisor in a tug and told him I wanted a portable air cart connected now. He said the once nearby was broken but he was looking for another cart. I said they had ten minutes or I would deplane.

The temp in the cabin was a humid 74 degrees.

At 5:24 PM an airport facilities van pulled up and replaced the hose. Finally cool air was flowing into the cabin.

The Captain arrived at 5:35 PM. I had everything set up for her arrival. She reviewed the logbook and flight release promptly. We pushed back at 5:53PM…..an hour an thirteen minutes late.

Everyone has different fly styles. This Captain peaked my interest with hers. A little on the “WTF?!?!” side. One leg to the outstation and it was my turn. I will wait to reserve further judgement until I see her fly today.

We hoped for a quick turn as we had arrived at 6:41 PM instead of 5:23 PM. It wasn’t to be. Twenty-nine minutes after blocking in we blocked out….almost. The airport has two runways. One was closed last week but was open this week. The automated performance computer (works numbers for takeoff including weight, temp and V-speeds) was set for runway 17L but was showing it was still closed so no data came out. It took a few minutes but we were able to get data for 17R. I’ve never used 17R for takeoff (last week we used 35L, same pavement but shorter taxi). Tower was a bit confused but gave us 17R.

I flew fast and landed just 25 minutes after taking off. My attempts at transporting passengers to their next destination quickly were foiled when we were told there were no open gates.

We got in a line of 10 other aircraft all waiting for gates. The flight was blocked for 50 minutes. By the time a gate opened and we parked we had blocked 2 hours and seven minutes. We blocked in at 9:17PM. My flight to the overnight was supposed to leave at 7:55 PM. With a shortage of pilots the flight was just delayed.

I packed up and headed to yet another aircraft. Ironically the aircraft I would take to the overnight was the same aircraft I flew on my first turn.

Passengers in the waiting area were happy to see me when I confirmed I was their pilot. It had been a long day. Crew scheduling called to ask if I would take the 2 hour extension of my duty day (part of FAR 117). I said I would not take an extension but would complete the flight if we got out in time. My “bingo” time was 10:59 PM. If we were off the ground by that time I would have a 12 hour duty day.

Fatigue is a serious condition. Bad decisions are made when people are fatigued. Often people who are fatigued don’t know they are fatigued. I’ve been fatigued before. I’ve also been able to project in the future and estimate if I will be able to complete a flight without being fatigued.

We boarded up quickly and blocked out a 10:02 PM. Tired, but not fatigued. I drank a good amount of water and felt better.

Vectored around weather. I perked up a bit when the controller stated there were reports of moderate AND severe turbulence between FL290-FL330. I’ve been through moderate but never anything worse. Severe turbulence reports require aircraft inspections. We were vectored 20 miles away from that are before climbing up. Just moderate. I flew fast.

Light winds out of the south in northern Kentucky. The airport was using runways 36C, 36R and 9. I picked runway 9 as I didn’t want a tailwind and it would be a faster approach. It was an ILS to a visual. Even a little tired I managed an incredibly smooth landing. The wheels just rolled onto the runway softly.

Blocked in at 1:08 AM local time. Good morning. One of my top 10 worst days.

Today it’s just two legs, tomorrow is four and Wednesday has three legs. Time to rest up.

 

Got ice?

Flying in the winter means more flying in ice. The aircraft I fly is certified for flight into icing conditions.

On my aircraft the wings, engine cowls and tail are all heated with extremely hot air from the engines. The various probes and windshield are heated with electricity.  On each side of the aircraft nose is an ice detector. The detector is shaped like a wing and is designed to pick up ice quickly. The detector is constantly vibrating. When ice accumulates the vibrations slow alerting the ice detection system. The system automatically kicks on the heating of the wings, cowls and tail.

This is great most of the time. A problem occurs when trying to descend or climb as the hot air being tapped from the engines both robs power being produced AND increases the idle thrust rating.

When climbing this means a slower speed as there is less thrust. When trying to make a descent it means a more shallow descent as even at idle the engines are producing higher thrust. It can be tricky.

From my seat I can barely see the edge of the right wing. The only visual cues of icing are the unheated portions of the windshield and the windshield wiper arms.

Last night we entered icing conditions around 7000 feet. It was light icing at first. While level at 4000 feet it became moderate icing. Big chunks of ice had formed on the windshield wiper arm. The anti-icing system was working and the heated portions of the windshield were clear.

Cleared for an ILS to runway 27. Winds were 010@14 gusting t0 20. Nice 20 knot direct crosswind. The tower had closed for the evening. I had previously contacted our station personnel for a field report. They reported slush on the ramp but no comment on the runway.

We broke out of the moderate icing conditions at 1400 feet AGL and saw light snow. Firm touchdown by my Captain and thankfully good braking conditions.

Since we landed with ice I left the flaps down to avoid the ice and snow compacting in the flaps which could cause them to cease moving in the morning for the departing crew.

Below is a view from the flight deck after we parked.

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Today is day 4.  Go home day. Three legs. Three aircraft and two 2 hour sits. I start at noon and finish at 9:30 PM.

Being the end of the year I should have a “How much does a Regional First Officer on year 8 pay make” post soon.

Four days again?

On day 2 of a 4 day. Yep…..four day trip. After months of flying two day trips and CDOs (Continuous Duty Overnights), I am back to four day trips. Four days. All to have Christmas off.

I wanted 3 day trips with Christmas off, but I couldn’t hold them. What I have now isn’t bad. It’s just four days away from home.

The first two trips are highly unproductive trips worth just 17 hours each. By comparison I’ve done 20 hour 3 day trips and 14 hour 2 day  trips in the past. I want to come to work and work, not sit in hotel rooms.

The overnights are 18 hours, 17 hours and 13 hours long. More annoyance is it’s a 5-2-4-3 trip. I really don’t like 5 leg days as it’s tiring. Running checklist over and over again. First world problems I know.

The Captain is only the 5th female I’ve flown with in 7 years. First time flying with her but we’ve passed each other often to know the others face. We get along fine. Like most Captains I fly with she lets me do my thing and is fine as long as I stay within the guidelines of our ops specs and tell her anything I’m going that might be “technique”. “Technique” would be doing something non-standard but still within the guidelines. For example some pilots like to climb in Vertical Speed mode vs Indicated Airspeed  mode. Both are fine, just one is rarely used.

To start the trip she insisted we play rock, paper, scissors to see who got to pick to fly first. I won and decided to start the trip.

Over 5 legs we had 3 different aircraft. The first two each had issues we had to address one on each leg. The final aircraft was fine.

I’ve been blogging less over the last two months. I should say I’ve posted less in the last two months. I’ve written up a few things, but never hit the publish button. Reason being they were written out of emotion and somewhat irrational.

The regional industry has changed dramatically over the last 18 months. Thanks to airlines like PSA, Piedmont and Endeavor, airline management has lowered the value placed upon regional airlines. These airlines have stated they will do my job for less money in trade for new (or in the case of Piedmont well used) aircraft.

This has forced my management to threaten my livelihood unless I too agree to work for less money. My pilot group voted down concessions earlier this year. Then the beatings started. For 9 months nothing but bad news has come out to my pilot group. A base closure, aircraft being transferred to other carriers and cancelled upgrade classes among weekly other little punches to the group in the way of new procedures and restrictions.

The stress has taken a toll on many. One pilot had to be temporarily relieved of duty when he was caught pre-flighting the wrong plane. It wasn’t even our airline, but a mainline aircraft. The stress had taken it’s toll and he is getting the help he needs.

My own wife has noticed a change in me. I love what I do. As soon as the flight deck door closes I am a kid in a candy store. It’s everything outside of the flight deck that bothers me.

Once again management is at our door demanding concessions. They aren’t as deep as they were last time, but they are still concessions.  I believe now they will get them. It’s like we are in an abusive marriage and just want the beatings to stop. Just stop and let us do our jobs.

With that said I’m going to go get breakfast. I’m staying at a Hampton Inn. I’ve never been to the Hamptons….but I doubt it’s anything like the Hampton Inn.

Make $43 an hour sitting on your couch!

Right now I’m sitting on my couch watching TV making $43 an hour. I was supposed to be taxiing out for a 5 hour turn.

This morning I woke up in Mexico. It was planned and not some adventure gone wrong. I bid a two day trip worth 10 hours. I added on 3 hours of overtime equating to a productive 13 hour two day trip.

Day one started with me backing out of my garage at 4:40 AM. Just an hour later I was sitting inside a very cold flight deck preparing for my first turn which was on overtime.

Ideally the ground personnel connect warm air to the plane. It had been there all night. Didn’t happen. I fired up the APU and turned on the heater.

During my pre-flight inspection I found a small patch of frost on the left wing. Everything else was clear.

In reality the plane would likely fly just fine with that small amount of frost (maybe 3 feet by 2 feet wide). Requirements state the aircraft must be clear of frost on top of the wing. De-icing was needed.

A ramper arrived at the flight deck and asked if we needed de-icing. I told him about the small patch. He saw the same patch and assumed the same. He said the trucks would be ready for us and we would be out quickly.

The Captain arrived and I filled him in. We blocked out with 9 passengers at 6:05 AM, five minutes early. We were the first departure of the morning. We made our way to the deicing pad to see dark trucks. No steam. No smoke from the engines. No rampers.

The wait began. Twenty minutes later the rampers arrived. Forty minutes after blocking out we were finally deiced. So much for being ready for us eh?

Nice Captain and Flight Attendant. Blocked in late and left late. I did get an extra 30 minutes of pay due to the inability of my airline to properly prepare for deicing.

I was supposed to have a plane swap before heading to Mexico. Because we were so late I was able to keep the same plane. Score one for me.

Old crew out and new crew in. Well most of the new crew. The Flight Attendant was fairly senior. I have worked with her a few times. Very nice…but crazy chatty. Like I could walk away and she would still be talking, chatty.

Five minutes to departure and there was still no Captain. The Flight Attendant stated she rode the employee bus with the Captain so she knew he was at the airport.

Two minutes before departure he arrives. He gets a little annoyed with me as I didn’t fill out a form that is normally filled out by the Captain. I’m allowed to do it, but not once in 7 years and 4000+ hours of flight time have I ever done so…..as the Captain normally does it. I blow it off. I had done everything else from programming the FMS, briefing the Flight Attendant and weight and balance information.

Away we went. I took the leg down. Long but easy flight. There are very few ILS approaches into airports in Mexico. Most have DME arcs. This was no different. I began configuring while on the arc. In and done.

Long ride to the hotel.

This morning started with a 5:40 AM van time. Surprisingly heavy traffic but we zoomed around most of it.

Leaving this airport always makes me laugh. We have to go through a metal detector where EVERYONE beeps. I swear I could go though naked and still beep. We each get wanded down. The security person only spoke Spanish. I speak bad Spanish. We get through fine.

Departing also involved a DME arc. Away we went.

Right now my airline and pilot group are in negotiations. They want me to work for less money among other things. I won’t go into details, but I will say morale is low and the pilot group is frustrated. This along with management not abiding by some parts of the contract have made things outside the flight deck less than desirable.

The contract I’m bound by states, and I’m paraphrasing, line holders can only be reassigned by having a member of management or a scheduling representative verbally notify the pilot of a scheduling change. Many times pilots are met at the jet bridge and handed a form and told of their new assignment. That’s fine.

Descending into the airport our inbound and outbound gate information prints up. The rest of my crew was doing another Mexico turn. I was assigned something else. Well on paper anyway.

We parked on time and made our way to customs. As I cleared the Global Entry process I expected to see someone waiting for me to reassign me. No one was there. Odd.

I just assumed they changed their minds. I was hungry since we left before breakfast opened at the hotel. Off to find food. I had a wonderful Vietnamese Tofu Sandwich. Truly delightful. I then made my way to my next gate which was the turn to Mexico with my crew. Again I expected someone to be waiting for me.

On the way I picked up some bagels and saw my Flight Attendant. She said there was a new First Officer assigned. Odd I thought as it was my line.

Bagels in tow I arrived to the gate. The Captain was there. I looked at the paperwork expecting to see my name. Nope, another First Officer was assigned.

I then called scheduling. They stated they tried to call me to reassign me. I asked why no one met me to reassign me and was given no answer. Since the flight they reassigned me to had again been reassigned and they staffed my original flight with a new First Officer….I was done for the day.

I get full pay for the flight they pulled me from. I get $43 an hour for five hours of TV watching, doll house playing and relaxing.

Improper planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

I still love my job. I work with an amazing group of talented and pleasant Pilots and Flight Attendants. The climate outside of the aircraft needs to change. It’s gotten so bad I’ve put out several applications to places that would involve commuting for the rest of my career.

For now though I will go back to TV…..new episode of The Mindy Project is on the DVR.

Conga line

Done flying for the week. I was supposed to be waking up in a Holiday Inn this morning. Instead I’m on my couch as I have a union meeting today and was pulled off my overnight and remaining flights of my two day trip.

At major airports, approach controllers are tasked with sequencing arriving aircraft for landing. For the most part jet aircraft are spaced 4 to 5 miles apart. This allows aircraft of different sizes (say a 737 followed by a CRJ200 followed by a 757) to land on the same runway within 90 seconds or so of each other. I’ve seen 7 aircraft lined up at once for the same runway. Long finals.

Most of the time in VFR conditions we are assigned 170-180 knots to the final approach fix. This allows everyone to go fast to a five mile final then slow to approach speed.

Most of the time that works.

Every now and then someone screws up the conga line.

Someone slows to 150 before the final approach fix for whatever reason without notifying the approach controller. That causes everyone else to slow down early. The approach controllers smooth flow is interrupted. The aircraft being vectored in to get in line have to be resequenced and turned away. I’ve seen it where on a severe VFR day, being slowed 60 miles out.

Last night was one of those “turn left heading 270 slow to 190″….while being 50 miles from the airport.

The approach controller did their best. I was brought in higher than normal as the guy I was following was assigned 170 while I was assigned 190. The 190 was an attempt to clear the clog. Finally told to slow to 160 and cleared for the visual.

I could tell on TCAS the aircraft ahead was right at 3 miles away. I called for final flaps and the gear. The leading aircraft was also just 3 miles ahead of the aircraft in front of me.

When the first aircraft touched down the next was at 700 feet AGL. I was 1000 feet above him and 3 miles behind. I had to slow to 140 just to keep 3 miles.

“This is not going to work, one of us is going around.” I told my Captain.

He agreed it didn’t look promising.

I firmed up my hand on the thrust levers and reviewed the go around procedure in my head.

At 500 feet AGL the aircraft we were following was rolling out and slowing down.

Tower asked if they had the next high speed as there was an aircraft on short final.

They said they did, but seemed to be in no hurry.

At 300 feet they were angled off the runway about 2/3rds the way down. Just enough room.

Down and done. So I thought.

Being a ramper is not easy. I don’t envy them. My airline is having an issue retaining rampers. I can see why as the pay is very low ($9 an hour) for the work required (lifting heavy bags in very hot and very cold weather, rain, snow and wind).

Last night there was a shortage. We were 5 minutes early but we had no gate. We got in line with 7 other aircraft waiting for gates.

It took 50 minutes. Flights were simply parking at whichever gate opened first. First come, first served is a double edged sword.

Flights get parked, but the aircraft are often not at the gate planned for that aircraft for the next flight. That means passengers, crew, bags , fuelers and more have to be updated.

Many times aircraft are routed to specific destinations for maintenance repairs overnight. Other times aircraft are routed based on MELs. For example an aircraft might have an inoperable APU and can only be sent to outstations with an external air cart.

Anyways it was a mess. I felt bad for the passengers as we went from 5 minutes early to almost an hour late.