Posts Tagged ‘airline pilot’

The back side of the clock

Monday, November 11th, 2013

alarm clock.svgIn my old job, it was unusual for me to fly late at night, with “late” being defined as anything past 10 p.m. With time, I got the seniority to make sure that I didn’t fly at night, as I am a morning person and prefer to just get up, get started, and get the day done. Sometimes, I miss those days…

In my new gig, there is a lot of night flying, including all-night flying. These flights aren’t the classic red-eye, per se, but the effect is the same: You spend a lot of time on the “back side of the clock,” flying between midnight and daybreak. For most of my life, I have not been a real good napper. Getting older helps, but more importantly, I’ve learned to do it out of necessity. On days when I know I’m going to be flying at night, or if I know that there’s even a possibility of flying late, I will force myself to lie down and catch some Zs. It’s a bit easier when I already have an assignment. I will generally lie down in the early afternoon and allocate at least 90 minutes to sleep, and if I can get two hours, I’m ecstatic.

The key is to figure out what works best for you. I’ve asked a lot of people how they do it, and everyone seems have a slightly different methodology (except for those who have no methodology). For me, if I can go to bed shortly after my normal lunch time, I don’t feel “rushed” to get some sleep. Sometimes I don’t really sleep, but I can just lie there and rest, and that’s enough. Fortunately, my new home has shutters that allow me to make the room as dark as a dungeon, so it looks and feels like it does when I go to bed at night. I’ve also found that for napping, I sleep better without an alarm. Instead, I have someone in my family wake me up.

By napping early, I can still get up and be somewhat engaged in the goings-on of my household, and it also gives me a chance to come to my senses slowly, take a shower, and maybe even eat something before I go to work. In fact, I try to push lunch back until after I nap, since I know I will get a meal when I’m on the airplane.

Flying at night is against the natural programming of the body, but it can be done. But, to be safe, as the pilot you must make sure that you are properly rested before you go to work. You also need to make sure you don’t aggravate your sleep debt by not sleeping the next day. I always crash the next morning for a few hours, and because I don’t drink caffeine on a regular basis (I don’t drink coffee at all), I can fall asleep more easily than most people, and if I need a soda to keep me awake, I can count on it working.

Staying engaged during the trip also helps. Nothing is as stimulating as a good conversation with the person I am flying with, and that goes a long ways toward passing the time. Sometimes the weather becomes the “stimulant,” but most of the time I just count on having a good rapport with my fellow workers. Good communication is also key in another respect: If you are flying tired, or have not slept well prior to a night flight, you need to convey that so that your fellow pilots can keep an eye on your performance.

Night flying can be fantastic, but it comes with a new set of challenges. Make sure that you are “up” for them!—Chip Wright

Questions to ask during an airline interview

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

An airline job interview is generally a one-way conversation, with the airline asking all the questions, and you doing your best to get the job. However, you should also be ready and willing to ask certain questions that will affect your future. This short list of questions will not get you “in trouble,” and it will show that you are truly interested in the industry.

  • Q: What will be the impact of FAR 117 on your operation?

If this isn’t addressed in a briefing before your interview, it’s a good question to ask, because many airlines, including regionals, are still coming to grips with the full impact of the rules. Every regional will be required to add staffing to the pilot ranks. The real question is by how much. Ten to 15 percent seems to be a good gauge for now, but each one is different. They may need to alter the schedules in ways not anticipated. My own guess is that it will force them to go to an AM-PM model, but that’s just one option. A simple reason for you to ask is to find out how long you will be on reserve.

  • Q: What will 117 do to reserve requirements?

Reserve status for an airline is one of the least desirable schedules in the industry, so most pilots want to get off reserve and become a line-holder as quickly as possible. Is the airline you are interviewing with planning to increase reserve numbers? Do they know?

  • Q: What will happen when your contract with your major airline expires?

It’s a fair question to ask a regional when the contracts with its major partner expire, and if the expiration date is close, to ask if the contract has been renewed. If it isn’t renewed, can the regional find someplace to put the airplanes to use? If the answer is no, you may not have a job for long. Most fee-for-departure contracts are for 10 years or more, so keep that in mind as you search for work.

  • Q: What is the future of XXX domicile?

This is a question you only want to ask regarding the smallest domicile, or one that is shrinking. If it’s a base at a non-hub airport, definitely ask—these are the ones that are most likely on the chopping block. You’ll probably need to read between the lines or pay as much attention to what they don’t tell you as to what they do, but if there is any chance you are going to be based at a small domicile or are considering moving to one, ask.

  • Q: What are the long-term fleet plans?

As the 50-seat fleet ages and gets retired (driven by both age and by scope clauses in the contracts of major airline pilots), regionals need to be ready to move on to Plan B. Some will thrive with 50-seaters, but most will not. You owe it to yourself to find out what the firm plans are going forward. You should know this before you show up, but getting current information will make your own decision making process a little bit easier.

These are just a few questions you can ask. If you have friends at the company, they can give you some more questions to ask that are pertinent and appropriate. Go in armed, and know exactly what information you need or want to make your own decisions easier to make, especially if you are facing the possibility of getting multiple job offers.—Chip Wright

Pilot dad memories

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Such wonderful stories about pilot dads came to me last week! From an airline pilot dad who taught his daughter to fly to a helicopter pilot dad who took his young son flight-seeing, these flying fathers–and some dads who didn’t fly themselves but nonetheless nurtured the flying passion within their sons and daughters–get our spotlight this week.

  • Molly Flanagan Littlefield learned to fly as a teenager, and her father, Tom Flanagan of Merced, Calif., was her flight instructor. “I remember watching his face in the mirror and seeing the peace he felt while airborne. He would say that flying assured them there was a God,” she writes. In 1979, when she was hired as a pilot for United Airlines, she was certain she wouldn’t make the cut and wanted to quit before she was asked to leave. She called home and talked to her parents. “There was a very long silence on the other end of the phone. Finally Daddy said words that carry me still…’I wouldn’t have let you go if I didn’t think you could do it.’”
  • Meredith Randazzo

    Meredith Randazzo’s father, Ernest R. Dixon, has had a lifelong love of flying, she says. (That’s Meredith at age 5 strapped in a safety seat, getting ready to participate in a flour bombing competition.) Meredith’s dad no longer flies, but she caught the bug and became a naval aviator and served more than eight years with the U.S. Marines as a CH-46E helicopter pilot. “Today my dad’s interest in aviation is as strong as ever and he regularly takes my niece to watch the airplanes take off and land, as he did with me decades ago!”

  • Jay Fleming remembers flying in a helicopter with his father, Jack, as a youngster. “One day, when I was about 5 years old, my dad flew a Robinson R22 from Wiley Post Airport to my grandparents’ property and picked me up to fly back to PWA, where he worked. Many of the neighbors thought my grandpa was being medi-flighted since he had had some health trouble recently.” On another flight when Jay was 14, his dad flew him from Torrance to Malibu and back, pointing out celebrity homes en route. “Thanks to him, I have the desire–not necessarily time or money though–to get a helicopter private pilot certificate.
  • Dr. Harold Brown

    That’s Flight Training Contributor Greg Brown’s father, Dr. Harold Brown, in the photo. He’s kissing the good engine of his Cessna 310 at Santa Maria, Azores Islands, after losing the other one over the Atlantic Ocean in 1962. Greg wrote about the experience in his November 2001 Flying Carpet, “Made My Dad Proud.” If you read the column you’ll find out about the last memorable flight Greg flew with his dad. His upcoming September column will be devoted to a memory of annual family trips in his father’s airplane to visit an uncle who lived on an island in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

  • Jim Mauro flew with his dad, Ben, from age 8 until his college years. “I had the great experiences of flying in Taylorcrafts, Bellancas, Sea-Bee, Grumman Widgeon, and Bonanza. I even flew in an airplane that I think was branded Amphicar, but I’m not sure.”[Editor's note: Paging Al Marsh! He's the in-house expert on car-airplane hybrids.] Jim’s dad had a grass strip in Conway, Penn., and was president of the Taylorcraft Corporation during the 1950s and early 1960s, so the aviation force is strong there, as you can see.
  • And finally, Andy Matthews, the co-founder of iFlightPlanner, wrote to pay tribute to his nonpilot dad, Jerry. Andy grew up in a golf-playing family. “A weekend pastime with my parents turned into summer golf camps, junior tournaments, a college golf scholarship, and now I’m humbled to be in my ninth season as a professional golfer who has competed with the best players in the game, all over the world.” So where does flying figure into all this? Well, Andy injured his back a few years ago, and golfing had to be put on the back burner while he recovered. In the meantime, his father suggested that this might be the time to start taking flight lessons. “He was there for my first solo, and he was also in the right seat as my first passenger soon after I got my license,” Andy says. Jerry also noticed all the work that went into planning a cross-country flight–the charts spread out on tables, manuals, notes, and a laptop computer–and “hinted that I needed a more efficient way to plan my flights. That spurred an idea, and with the help of my college roommate from the University of Michigan, we began to lay the foundation for what is now iFlightPlanner.”

Thanks to all who submitted these great stories. If you’d like to salute your dad in the Comments section, please do. I hope everyone had a happy Father’s Day!–Jill W. Tallman