Archive for the ‘Aviation Careers’ Category

It’s just a seat, right?

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

 Boeing_737_cockpitIt’s always funny when it happens to somebody else, but it isn’t so funny when it happens to me. And it’s especially not funny when I watch it happen to someone else and swear it won’t happen to me, only to find that it does.

Sometimes it seems like half of learning to fly a new airplane is just figuring out how to get in, get out, and plug in your headsets. Cars are built with certain standardization requirements that we can all count on: the gas pedal is on the right, the key goes on the right, and the gear shift on an automatic follows the same order of P, R, N, et cetera. The intention is that a person can easily transition from one car to another. Even when there are noticeable differences, it’s easy to navigate them.

Airplanes, on the other hand, do not always have such luxuries. I am currently going through training on my second new airliner in the past six months. In both cases, my training partners and I ran into some frustrations and difficulty with something as simple as getting the seats and rudder pedals situated. In a car, you can bet that the seat adjustment tools will either be a handle on the side or under the front of the seat. The handles are immediately recognizable, even if the seat is electric.

Worse still for pilots is the battle with muscle memory fighting not just the novelty of a new airplane, but often of a different seat, which might be left versus right, or an altogether new seat design. Years ago Bombardier introduced new cockpit seats for the CRJ series, and even with memos and photographs, pilots who had flown the aircraft for thousands of hours struggled at times to remember the location of the new handles. There we were: two pilots fumbling around, wiggling in place like we had ants in our pants, charged with flying a $20-million-plus airplane, equipped with two new seats that cost more than $15,000, with some of the best training money could buy, and we couldn’t even move the seats. We looked like idiots.

Every time I get in a new airplane, I vow that this isn’t going to be a problem. And every time, it is—at least just a little.

In my most recent adventures, the problem hasn’t been the airplane, but the training devices, one of which is a fixed-base, non-motion simulator with actual cockpit seats. The other is just a seat on rails, but each is different. Plus, we are taking turns flying left seat (normal for all of us) and right seat (not so much). Various manufacturers put the levers in different spots, and they don’t all work the same. Some have plunger handles and some don’t. Some have both. Some have lumbar supports. Some have lumbar supports that actually work. Some have switches—under the seat, of course—that adjust the flex in the front of the seat where your leg bends.

And it isn’t just the seats. I’ve run into the same problem with the headset jacks. Sometimes, if you don’t know where the jacks are, it feels like a scavenger hunt. Once you find them, their location seems obvious, but deep down you know it isn’t.

Even the rudder pedals are different. Some are electric, but most are manual. But some of the manual ones are a simple turn device. Some, like my new one, have a spring-loaded doohickey that you pull to release the turning thingy. It took me several lessons to figure that out, and it’s important information for me because I’m just barely tall enough to reach the ground.

I often think that the first lesson of any new airplane should be a 15-minute session just on getting in and out. It’s a simple task, but when you can’t do the simplest things, and you are already overwhelmed with what you need to learn, your frustrations are just compounded.

And then there are the different designs for the cockpit doors…—Chip Wright

Don’t assume

Friday, August 9th, 2013

I’ve been doing this aviation thing now for a long time. Twenty-two years, in fact. I may not always know what I don’t know, but I do know what I know. One thing I know is that I tend to take certain things for granted. In the airlines, there are certain industry standards in the way things are done, and having been part of the system now for nearly 17 years, I know that I can fly with a pilot from just about any airline, and we would be able to fly from A to B with much less stress and uncertainty than you would be inclined to think. Why? Because as a group, the airlines have adopted so many of the same procedures, policies, etc.

This was driven home to me recently while in training for my new job. Prior to the simulator events, which are four-hour sessions during which two pilots each fly for two hours, we were in fixed training devices (FTDs) for a single two-hour session per pair of pilots.

Four of us took the opportunity to watch each other in pairs. My partner and I came from different regional airlines, and although there were differences, we fell into an immediate pattern of doing things the way we always had. The similarities were stunning. The real learning was learning the new airplane and company specifics, not the generalities.

Compare that to the two pilots that we were splitting time with. Both were ex-military, and one had flown very little time in crewed aircraft (he flew a lot of fighters). Neither was at all familiar with Jeppessen charts, which may not sound like a big deal, but to a pilot who has not been exposed to them, it can be very frustrating trying to find a chart for Houston Intercontinental but not realizing that you are looking at Houston Hobby. Everything about Jepps is different from government charts.

There were other challenges as well. The checklist procedures and protocols were different, as was the compressed time schedule. While the military has schedules and can be in a frenetic pace during combat operations, the airlines run on a schedule that is often cast in stone, and minutes lost equal money lost. Profit is critical, and the effects down the line of running late are drilled into your head early in the game. Safety is never sacrificed, but in the back of your head, you know that someone is watching to see if you will be on time.

We all had to learn some new ways of doing things, but I had forgotten just how much I take for granted simply because I have lived this life for so long. I know, for example, that there are certain certification standards that drive designs, and often times the same part is used in multiple models of aircraft (ice detectors are a good example). Emergency equipment (and its location) is mostly homogenized with some exceptions for over-water flying. Radio techniques and practices are well established.

The two pilots in question both adapted quickly and well, and they will be assimilated into the ranks in short order. But it was still interesting to watch them have to pick up so much information that my partner and I just…well, had. They commented a couple of times about it, and picked our brains for little stuff. Our goal was to make them realize that there are no dumb questions, and I believe we succeeded. I’m glad that my foundation was already set, as I had enough to worry about for myself.

Some lessons in life are worth reinforcing, and in this case, it’s simple: Don’t assume that we all have the same foundation, and offer what help you can.—Chip Wright

Can the first officer cancel the flight?

Monday, April 29th, 2013

When it comes to air travel, one of the great misconceptions is the belief that a pilot will make a conscious decision to call up his company and just cancel a flight because of something that he decides makes it unsafe to fly. It almost never happens this way.

airline dispatcher femaleAt the airlines, there are two parties who are responsible for a flight. The first is the captain (“pilot in command”), and the other is the dispatcher. The final authority is clearly left to the captain. The federal aviation regulations make that abundantly clear, and every airline does as well. However, at the airlines a dispatcher is equally responsible for the flight, as it is the dispatcher who actually puts together the flight plan, plans the route, and computes the fuel required. The dispatcher usually begins working on a flight anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes before departure. The captain may well be still asleep, or inbound on another flight, or on the way to work.

When circumstances begin to conspire against operating the flight according to the usual parameters, it becomes a team effort to figure out what the alternative is going to be. The dispatcher usually has a bigger-picture view than the captain, because he or she has access to more sources of weather (even though smartphone technology is rapidly changing that), and because the dispatcher also has at hand the planned maintenance schedule for the airplane. Further, as stated above, the dispatcher may have more information about minimum equipment list (MEL) issues than the captain does. The MEL will dictate items on the airplane that can be inoperative during regular operations, and if there is a performance penalty, it will stipulate that as well. For example, most jets are only allowed to operate at 25,000 feet if one of the air-conditioning packs is deferred. This is a fairly low altitude for jets, and it means a higher fuel burn, which could affect range and payload. It may also make it difficult to avoid certain weather.

When weather or mechanical issues can affect a flight, the captain and the dispatcher will frequently work together to come up with an acceptable Plan B. This is important because both are required to sign the flight release, and it includes a statement that the flight may be conducted safely as planned.

But what about the first officer (FO)? How much say-so does the second-in-command have? At times, it may be more than you think.

While the captain is the one who technically holds all the cards and is the only pilot required to sign the release, there are times when an FO can influence the outcome. Weather is an obvious example. If the FO feels that the weather is just too risky, he can say that he isn’t willing to take it. He may be able to speak first hand, such as if he just flew through said weather.

Mechanical issues can crop up as well. Maybe the FO has found something on the walk-around that she knows isn’t right. She can refuse to go anywhere until a mechanic has a chance to offer a second opinion. I know of a fellow who once refused to fly a flight because his seat was broken….and when I say broken, it was as though the seat’s support unit had a hole the size of a toilet seat in it. When he sat down, it was painful on his back and his legs. To his great surprise, the broken part was deferrable (the fact that it was deferrable is a testament to how rarely it broke), and the mechanics wanted to avoid the 30-minute delay that would ensue if they changed out the seat.

The mechanics left the decision to the captain, who in turn left it to the FO. After all, he was the one who had to sit on the seat for a two-hour flight. The mechanics made a vague threat to call the chief pilot, and the FO responded by handing the mechanic his phone; the mechanics backed down, and the seat was eventually changed.

It turned out that one of the issues was that cockpit seats on this airplane are well north of $10,000, so spares are not often kept. The mechanics were forced to take one out of an airplane that was an operational spare, meaning that the spare airplane was now out of service.

Had the issue been pressed, the FO would have been well within his rights to refuse the seat, and the flight likely would have cancelled.

It’s rare that a pilot directly makes the call of, “I’m cancelling the flight.” But it can happen, and it does happen. And yes, the FO can make that call, and he can do so by simply walking off the airplane. As long as it is a well-defined and safety-related reason, he should have nothing to worry about.—By Chip Wright

Using LiveATC as a learning tool

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Listening WellLearning to fly encompasses trying to master a broad range of new skills and tasks. While some pilots want nothing more than to be able to fly solo on a weekend afternoon or fly from one small airport to another, others want to reap the full benefit of what flying can bring.

A big part of maximizing that benefit is learning how to utilize air traffic control (ATC). Recall that if you are working toward your private certificate, you are required to have at least a minimal interaction with the controllers on the other end of the radio.

There are a number of good sources that you can use to learn the proper phraseology and techniques for radio communication. The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) is probably the most convenient place to start, but it isn’t necessarily the best learning tool. Other books have been written, and over the years, radio communication software for computers has sprung up. While I haven’t used one of these personally, I have no doubt that they are quite good given the advances in computing power these days.

But there is another source that exists. It isn’t structured and it doesn’t allow you to respond to commands per se, but it will help you. The source is the website LiveATC.net.  LiveATC is just that: It’s a live feed from facilities all over the country, and you select which frequency at which airport you want to monitor.

If you are still new to the ATC world, remember the order in which you talk to controllers: clearance delivery, ground control, the tower proper, departure control, center, approach, the tower again, and then ground again. In slow periods, the same controller may function in multiple roles (ground and tower or approach and departure), so you may recognize the same voice answering to different requests.

At major airports, you will do well to focus on one frequency for a while, the busiest being approach and departure. If you start with something on the ground, you might be able to follow a specific flight for a while.

While you cannot actually participate in Live ATC, you can learn how the cadence and process works. You’ll also realize that even the best pilots and controllers make mistakes, and even the most harried controllers have a sense of humor (try a YouTube search for a bad day at JFK). LiveATC can be a great learning tool, especially from the comfort of your living room, for understanding the processes and language of busy airspace. In spite of the machine-gun chatter, you’ll find that there really is order in the chaos and it isn’t as difficult as it seems.

Another feature that is very cool about LiveATC is that you can download clips to your computer. That means that after you fly (there is a time limit) you can pull down all of your own transmissions and save them.

Check it out at varying times of the day, and choose a few airports when you know the weather is good and when you know the weather is bad. You will get a good feel for the on-the-go adaptations that need to be made as conditions constantly change. Then, after you have flown, download your own transmissions and see how you stack up!—Chip Wright

A collective personality

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Airlines, like many other organizations, consist of groups and subgroups. While seniority is the rule—marking forever your place within the corporate structure—there are other markers of your place in the pecking order. One of them is your new-hire class. Among pilots and flight attendants, initial training is something that, even years later, remains crystal clear in so many ways.

The typical class has anywhere from 10 to 30 pilots (it’s almost always an even number so that the time in the simulator is more easily scheduled). Over the six- to 10-week period that a class is together, a certain bonding takes place. After all, most of you will be staying the same hotel, and you will be cooped up in the same classroom for eight to 10 hours a day, after which you will study in pairs or in small groups or even in full classes for a nother four to five hours a night. You will spend your weekends together both at work and at leisure, and in very short order you will get to know much about each other. The natural leaders will emerge, and the ones who need extra help will get it. More than a few have married classmates.

Much of how a class developes its collective personality is determined by the instructor. A good one will crack the whip early on and take control, then relax a bit once he knows everyone is on board. Most ground school instructors are easy to get along with and are well-liked. More importantly, they like what they are doing, which makes your experience easier to endure. The instructor then becomes a part of the group. Unfortunately, on occasion the instructor can be reviled and hated, thus bonding the group in another way.

I’ve flown with pilots who have been with a company for decades, and they still recall their new-hire class in great detail and with great memories. In fact, more than one has told me that they stayed on because a close friend from their class was still with the company. Most pilots and flight attendants keep close tabs on who has left versus who is left, and those who have left often become the contact point to get the next job. That’s just how the industry works.

comair_largeIn my new-hire class at Comair in 1996, we started with 14, and when the airline shut down in 2012, only three of us were left from that class. even our instructor had moved on. Interestingly enough, I was able to fly with one of them, as he delayed his upgrade while I took one early on. That’s unusual, but it does happen. Today, I consider him an important friend whose advice and counsel I often seek. He’s the kind of guy I hope one of my daughters will eventually marry.

In another odd coincidence, the three remaining from my class all became check airmen—two of us in the airplane and another in the sim. That, too, is unusual, and for me, it’s a source of pride.

At my new job, one of my classmates was another former Comair pilot whom I used to fly with regularly. SHe’s one of the best pure pilots I’ve ever known, and she too is a dear friend. We were sim partners, and one reason we chose each other was that not only are we comfortable together and with taking criticism from each other, but it was also more than likely the last time we will ever fly together.

But our class was a good one, and while we had some rough patches, we had a definite cohesion, and many of us will be in touch with each other for years to come—not out of necessity, but out of friendship. Likewise with our ground school instructor, who became the butt of many of our jokes, and was just as good at dishing it out.

New-hire classes are fraternities in a way. They represent great potential and opportunity for both the members and the airline. It is up to you to realize that potential.—Chip Wright

 

Handling a failed checkride

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Overcoming FearFor any training that you complete as a pilot, you will be evaluated on a checkride. The ride represents the culmination of a lot of hard work on the part of both you and your instructor. People are often their own worst critics, and it must be part of a pilot’s DNA to get that characteristic in double doses. Whenever pilots get ready to take a checkride, it seems that they begin to develop a lot of doubt and concern about how prepared they are.

It is imperative that you trust your instructor here. If your instructor is telling you that you’re ready, you can be sure that you are (it’s very, very rare that an instructor will send a student for any kind of evaluation if that student is not ready). Likewise, if the instructor is telling that you are not ready, then rest assured that you really do need more practice. Just because you have done a maneuver to the Practical Test Standards once or twice may not matter. It needs to be consistent.

Once you begin a checkride, your nerves should calm down. If they don’t, then just slow down a bit and take your time. Relax. The examiner wants you to pass. More than one has been known to help a bit more than they should, so long as they have overall confidence in the applicant.

But what if you totally blow something? What if you are doing an emergency landing and come up short of the runway? What if you totally screw up an ILS?

The beauty of the system is that you can finish the rest of the tasks that require evaluation, and that’s what you should do. If you know you failed something, or even if you just think you did, then put it behind you and press on. Get as many items done as you can, so that when you are re-examined you can just concentrate on the one or two areas that need to be revisited.

It’s very rare that an examiner will not allow an applicant the opportunity to finish the balance of the ride. If the rest of the ride is stellar, you may get a free pass on something that was otherwise questionable. If you totally blew something, you will have to retrain on it, and go back up. But if you’re lucky, you may be able to finish that day.

I’ve always made it a point to enjoy checkrides. Not everyone can do that, but if you can, you should. It’s a chance to show off your hard-earned skills, and the best examiners will also try to genuinely teach you something.

And there is nothing like having a new certificate in your wallet!—Chip Wright

Acing the oral

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

pass_fail1Pilots generally tend to dislike sitting through an oral exam. It doesn’t matter if it’s for the private pilot certificate, the instrument rating, or the airline transport pilot certificate. Orals are often viewed with trepidation and fear, because it seems like everything is open season. Throw on top of that an oral that is specific to a given airplane, and it is easy to understand why it can be so overwhelming.

Here’s something that you need to remember: if you are going for a new level on your certificate, such as private to commercial or commercial to ATP, then yes, everything can be fair game. This is especially true when you are being evaluated as an ATP. The FAA rightfully views the ATP as the Ph.D. of flying. You are supposed to be a true expert, and because you can be held accountable in any accident—even if you are not technically the PIC—you are expected to know your stuff. The Aeronautical Information Manual, weather, the federal aviation regulations, your airplane…you name, you need to know it.

However, if you are going for a new rating, such as an instrument rating or multiengine rating, then you are only supposed to be evaluated on the material that pertains to the rating. This does ratchet up the pressure if you are combining the two, such as the candidate who is going from single engine private to multiengine commercial with an instrument rating.

At the airlines, the oral takes on a new dimension because you can expect to be asked about applicable company procedures, policies, and the FARs. However, you can expect to spend most of your time discussing the systems of the airplane you will be flying (especially as a new hire or as a pilot learning new equipment). So, how do you prepare?

One of the most effective ways to study is to learn to teach each system to someone else, such as a spouse or a parent. If the person is a nonpilot, it may even be better, because if forces you to break the material into chunks that they can understand. If they understand the system after you explain it, then you know that you understand the system.

Another way to really master new material is to study with your class as a group, asking each other questions and dreaming up various scenarios along the lines of, “If this breaks, then how does it affect that?” Every class usually has someone who needs a little extra help, and there will probably be a system or two that you do not understand as well as you’d like. If you can spend time with the person that needs help and get them up to par, you know you understand the system. Likewise, if you are weak on, say, pressurization, try to explain what you do comprehend to another student who is comfortable with it, and see if you can’t fill in the gaps.

When you take the oral, approach it as though you are teaching the examiner. If you can break the meat-and-potatoes down into a few sentences, then you will probably make the impression that you want to make. Be assertive, and be confidant. Answering with the tone of voice that sounds like a question will only invite more scrutiny.

An oral is often what you make it. It is difficult to properly convey just how important the oral is, and it is difficult to bring across how much preparation time is involved, especially at the airlines. But, if you the student can become the teacher, you are well on your way to a successful exam.—Chip Wright

Memory aids

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Pilots love to fly new equipment, and I’m no different. Back when I was able fly GA all the time, I was the first one on the ramp asking for a ride in whatever new piece of metal or plastic would show up. It didn’t matter if it was a homebuilt or factory-made, because I just wanted to fly it. I would beg and plead—usually to no avail, but I occasionally got lucky and got try out a new—to me, anyway—kind of airplane.

When I went to the airlines, I had no idea just how different learning a new airplane really was when it came to the heavier iron. “Here’s the key, there’s the fuel selector, and don’t forget to turn of the master switch” was the philosophy of the past. Airliners and corporate aircraft are a whole different breed when it comes to learning the airplane.

A typical jet has up to 18 different systems. Some are very elaborate and complex (electrics), and others are very simple (lights). In between is the gamut of hydraulics, flight controls, the autopilot and pressurization, and a dozen more. Buried within those systems are details and numbers and pressures and volumes and degrees and more details. Nobody can just remember it all, and some pilots have certain systems in which they excel.

I learned a long-time ago that every memory aide I can use will come in handy. In addition to the standard flash cards and notes from class, it’s easy to come up with memory joggers and acronyms to help you out. Multiengine pilots are familiar with the “dead foot, dead engine,” or “working foot, working engine” to recognize which engine has failed. On the CRJ, I struggle at first to differentiate between the number of leak detectors on the 10th and 14th stage bleeds. One bleed system had two, and the other had one…and then it hit me: a Cessna “2-10” and a Commander “1-14.” The 10th stage had 2 and the 14th had 1. Piece of cake!

Some airplanes have odd numbers on the left and even numbers on the right. An easy way to remember is that “the captains are odd.” The ERJ has a rudder over-boost protection system. One hydraulic system is supposed to stop contributing to rudder control over 135 knots, and that system happens to be the number one system. To help me remember it, I just say that the number one would be the captain, and after 135 knots, he takes a nap.

Electrics can be a challenge as well, especially if you have to remember which busses power what equipment. Often there is a central bus, and it isn’t so much that the central bus powers much of anything as it is between two different sides of an electrical system. It helps me think of it as a train station: It controls the flow of electricity based on the demands of the system.

It doesn’t much matter how you finally imprint certain things in your head, so long as you do it. I’ve used baseball and football analogies, dirty jokes, you name it. Whatever works, works. And when a good one comes along, it usually catches on. My 2-10/1-14 aide was one a number of pilots thanked me for many times over the years.

Learning new equipment is a challenge, and you need to use all the resources at your disposal. Just hope that you can remember them all!—Chip Wright

Climb segments

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

In the airline world, there are a number of new rules, limits, and terms a pilot needs to learn. One area in which a new understanding needs to be had is in the takeoff.

Gone are the days when, as a general aviation pilot, you can just eyeball the runway, the load, the airplane, measure the wind with your thumb, and go for it. When you are flying passengers and cargo for hire, you need to be able to comply with the segmented climb. Specifically—-and this is key—-you need to be able to meet the climb requirements on a single engine (assuming you are flying a twin-engine jet) as a result of an engine failure at V1 [takeoff decision speed, but a beyond the scope of this post]. It is assumed that you will meet all the requirements if every engine is running.

The first segment is short—it ends when the airplane is airborne and the gear is retracted. Not partially retracted, but fully up-and-locked retracted. The airspeed must be up to V2, commonly known as “takeoff safety speed,” but in technical terms, the speed for best climb gradient.

The second segment requirement is often the most difficult one to meet. Segment two begins when the gear is up and locked and the speed is V2. This segment has the steepest climb gradient: 2.4 percent. This equates to a ballpark figure of around 300 feet per minute, and for a heavy airplane on a hot day with a failed engine, this can be a challenge. Often, when the airlines announce that a flight is weight-limited on hot summer days, this is the reason (the gate agent doesn’t know this kind of detail, and nor does she care; she just knows some people aren’t going).

The magic computers we use for computing performance data figure all this out, saving us the trouble of using charts and graphs. All we know is that we can either carry the planned load or we can’t.

Second segment climb ends at 400 feet, so it could take up to a minute or more to fly this segment. Think of all the obstacles that might be in the departure path in the course of 60 seconds or more.

Third segment climb begins at 400 feet, and here the rules can vary. The climb gradient is now half of what it was before: 1.2 percent. However, we are also required to accelerate to a speed called VFS (final segment climb speed). In graphs and publications, the third segment of the climb is often depicted as being a flat line for the acceleration. In many turboprops, that’s exactly the way it’s flown. The airplane is leveled off (and the pilot is using a very tired leg to overcome the increasing yaw tendency via the rudder) and accelerated before the final climb begins.

In jets, however, there is generally enough power in the remaining engine to avoid a level-off. If the airplane can continue to accelerate during the third segment, it may continue to climb, so long as it can do so without a decrease in speed or performance. In fact, during the climb it must continue to meet the climb gradient while accelerating to VFS.

Third segment climb ends upon reaching VFS.

The fourth and “final segment” begins upon reaching VFS and completing the climb configuration process. It is now permissible (and maybe necessary) to reduce thrust to a Maximum Continuous setting. The climb gradient is again 1.2 percent, and VFS must be maintained to 1,500 feet above field elevation.

V1 cuts and single-engine climbs are a staple of turboprop and jet training. It is critical that a pilot of such equipment understand what the objective is when it comes to performing the maneuver, and why the requirements are what they are. This material is taught in much greater detail in ground school than I presented here. In fact, there may be a few deviations and exceptions to the above, as this is a general introduction (there are, like many things in aviation, always caveats, so bear that in mind).

Some pilots dread V1 cuts, but the best way to approach them is to take them as a challenge and constantly push yourself to master them and excel in your performance.

Climb safely!—Chip Wright

Exemption 3585

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

If the airlines didn’t fly every time the weather was less than ideal, they’d never fly. As a result, technology and rules are in place to maximize efficiency and opportunity while minimizing risks. One example lies in getting airplanes off the gate when the weather at the destination is forecast to be below minimums.

Like everyone else, the standard IFR 1-2-3 rule applies: If the weather at the destination from one hour before to one hour after the ETA is forecast to be less than 2,000 feet and three miles, an alternate is required. This is no big deal, obviously, and many of us have left with the weather forecast to be right at the minimums for the approach.

However, sometimes the forecast calls for a possibility of weather that is going to be temporarily below the landing minimums. In FAA weather lingo, we call this “conditional phrases,” and they consist of BCMG, PROB, and TEMPO. For example, the main body of the forecast may have the visibility at one-half mile, but a TEMPO phrase may show a possible drop to on-quarter mile at the ETA.

When this happens, the airlines that have been granted approval to do so can use what is called Exemption 3585. Under the terms of the exemption, the flight will be required to have not one, but two alternates. Further, the method used to determine the alternates is changed as well.

Remember, the airlines do not use the 600-2 and 800-2 rules that GA use for determining the suitability of an alternate; the rules for determining a Part 121 alternate are beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say, it’s possible that an airport could be an alternate as long as the forecast is calling for weather of at least 400 feet and one mile.

Under Exemption 3585, the forecast (again, we can use conditional phrases) at the ETA for the first alternate must call for a forecast of no worse than one-half the visibility and ceiling required for the approach. In our example of a 400 and one, the weather at the first alternate can’t be forecast to be less than 200 and one-half.

Looking ahead to the second alternate, the FAA has a pretty simple criteria: This one must be essentially a sure thing. The forecast for the second alternate can also utilize conditional phrases. However, this time, the forecast must call for weather—even with conditional phrases—that equal the ceiling and visibility that can be used for the approach. No reductions are allowed. In essence, if the conditional phrases must have such good weather, it stands to reason that the main body is going to be for nearly VFR conditions.

There is one other option: Category 2 approaches. CAT II approaches can be flown with a runway visibility range (RVR)  reading of 1,200 feet—that is, one-quarter mile of visibility. Such approaches are a pretty hair-raising experience. However, CAT II approaches are a significant investment because of the maintenance requirements for the airplanes, and if the airline does not have a great deal of diversions in a calendar year caused by low visibility, CAT II isn’t worth the cost. Exemption 3585 does the trick.

This is a fairly simple explanation, and the variety of possibilities can get complex and tricky, but Exemption 3585—sort of a poor man’s CAT II that was originally put together for People Express—is an indispensible tool, and if you should ever be hired by a regional, you will spend a lot of time in training dissecting Exemption 3585.

The sad thing is that while you while you will spend hours learning 3585, you will rarely use it. In 16 years of airline flying, I have taken full advantage of 3585 fewer than a dozen times. Category II on the other hand….—Chip Wright