Archive for April, 2013

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

Your favorite armchair aviation activities

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Cessna in fogChip Wright’s recent blog on LiveATC.net got me wondering what other kinds of armchair aviation activities pilots like to do. We always tell our readers to “keep your head in the game” when you can’t fly. But how, exactly, do you do that? I posed the question to our Facebook friends, and they came up with a list of great suggestions. Here are some:

  • “[Sit] on the flight line and watch the other planes. … You can learn a lot by watching the landings.”—Stephen Bristow
  • “I love studying sectionals.”—Chris Hatcher
  • “Hang out at the airport if it’s nice or watching videos if it’s not nice. Most of all I like sitting around with other pilots and talking about our past or future flights.”—Ken Ludwick
  • “[Study] for the private checkride. And practice the maneuvers in my head.”—Regina Coker
  • “[Read] the good ole’ [private pilot] textbook! I’ve been a pilot for almost two years and I read it all the time!”—Angelo Zullo
  • “[Watch] Sporty’s videos.”—Bill Boczany
  • “[Read] back issues of training magazines.”—A.K. Hassan
  • “My flight sim.”—Jack Weston
  • “[Look] at my logbook and corresponding photos from favorite flights, like an SNJ over Pearl Harbor and a 172 over volcano on Big Island.”—Rich Dusek

Great suggestions all! And the best part is, most of these are easy to do right from home.

If you would like to review past issues of Flight Training, you can do that right here. Search training topics in the archives of AOPA Pilot—your Flight Training membership gives you access to all of the members-only content on our website.

And don’t forget that the Air Safety Institute has a stellar lineup of free online courses, quizzes, and mini-courses on a variety of topics for all levels of airmanship. The full-length online courses are eligible for FAA WINGS credit. Happy armchair flying!—Jill W. Tallman

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

Photo of the Day: Stearman with stripes

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Stearman 450There’s something about a Stearman, and when you add in a snappy paint scheme like this one has, you’ve got a real winner. This Stearman was photographed over Lake Geneva in 2007. If you had been able to attend any of the 23 annual National Biplane Association fly-ins, you would’ve been able to see many beautiful examples of these fine aircraft. Sadly, the expo held its last event in 2009. Editor Mike Collins wrote about it, and you can read the article online.—Jill W. Tallman

Just ahead in the June issue

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

13_Stall Spin_We’re in the home stretch on production of the June 2013 issue. All the pages go to the printer on Friday, April 19, and your copy begins making its way to you as of May 9. Digital subscribers get theirs May 2, so if you’re one of our readers who can’t wait for the next issue, keep that in mind!

Here’s a quick look at what’s headed your way:

The Not-So-Obvious Cause of Stall/Spin Accidents: You know how your instructor is always trying to get you to make a really nice turn from base to final? Here’s why.

Little Fish in a Big Pond: Have you landed at a primary airport in Class B airspace? No? We’ll show you how to plan and execute such a trip.

Calling Dr. Landing: Common-sense solutions for the same problems that hamper your ability to pull off a greaser.

OK, that’s enough teasers for now. Happy reading—and happy flying!—Jill W. Tallman

To get a free six-month membership to AOPA and receive six free issues of Flight Training magazine, call 800-USA-AOPA or visit our website. To switch your paper subscription to digital, visit our website.

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

 

Photo of the Day: An aerial view of Sun ‘n Fun

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

2013 Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo

As you know, not all great shots originate from the ground, especially when you’re at an aviation event like Sun ‘n’ Fun. Photographer Mike Collins took to the skies to shoot this view of the vintage aircraft parking area, which you see in the center of the frame. Part of the Light Sport Aircraft area is visible in the foreground.—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: AOPA’s Sweeps Debonair at Sun ‘n Fun

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Sweepstakes airplaneLongtime AOPA members know this, but sometimes our Flight Training readers are shocked to learn that, yes, AOPA does give away airplanes from time to time. The airplane in this photo (shot by Mike Collins) is our 1963 Beechcraft Debonair B33. Sometimes called a “Baby Bonanza,” the Debonair is a great airplane all by itself, but once we’re finished the top-to-bottom refurbishment, the winner of this airplane will have a spectacular ride.

Editor at Large Tom Horne is in charge of the AOPA Debonair Sweeps project, and he has posted numerous updates on the work done so far on the Sweepstakes Blog, which you can read here. He also writes updates in AOPA Pilot; even if you don’t receive that magazine as part of your membership, you can still read those updates by selecting back issues on in the members-only section of AOPA Online.

Go to the Sweepstakes Home page for complete rules. If you’re a full AOPA member, you’re automatically entered to win.—Jill W. Tallman

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

The March “Since You Asked” poll: Two at a time?

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

In the March issue, we asked digital subscribers whether they have ever tried to train with two instructors at the same time. The question was sparked by a situation in Rod’s column that involved a student pilot who was getting frustrated with the pace of his training. His instructor didn’t want to work weekends, which meant between his own work schedule and weather, he wound up flying only a few times a month. While he enjoyed working with the CFI, he wanted to keep moving forward. The CFI had promised him that he would more time to devote to the student’s training in a month.

It’s generally not a good idea to work with more than one CFI at a time, but I get the sentiment behind the student’s question. Rod said:

“It’s simply too easy for you to become confused when another instructor—one who has different training priorities and methods than your primary instructor—contradicts your previous learning (and yes, there’s a very good chance that this will happen).”

Our poll respondents generally had not flown with more than one CFI at a time, although not quite in the overwhelming numbers I’d predicted. Here are the results:

  • 56 percent had not.
  • 39 percent had.
  • 5 percent had not, but were considering doing just that.

What do you think? And if you’ve flown with more than one instructor (at the same time), I’d love to hear how that turned out for you.—Jill W. Tallman