Posts Tagged ‘Boeing 737’

Lifestyles: The majors

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

800px-Southwest_Airlines_Boeing_737-7H4_N231WNMuch of the lifestyle of the regionals carries over to the majors, but there are some differences. The majors tend to utilize airplanes that can fly longer legs, especially newer 737s and larger Airbuses. While the MD-80 still makes its living as a workhorse that flies seven or eight legs a day, the typical crew might only do two or three, maybe four. The 737, on the other hand, can do it all. It can fly short legs and long. Transcons—transcontinental flights—are common.

One of the major differences in flying for a major is the dramatic increase you will see in flying at night. Red-eyes, reverse red-eyes (east to west), or all-night flights to the Caribbean or Latin America are more common. The airlines don’t make money when the airplanes are parked at the gate, and where they can squeeze more revenue by flying at night, they will. Certain flights will not have as many passengers as you might think, but the bellies will be loaded with cargo.

In many ways, the job is easier. There is more automation in the system, so the flight planning and the load planning is more in sync. You don’t put out as many fires related to flight plans and passenger loads not working. There are fewer weight-related issues (this is a huge problem with regional aircraft). More stations have mechanics, so if something needs attention, it doesn’t take as long to get it fixed.

Generally, you will be treated better. It is a sad truth that regional pilots are often treated far worse than they should be—by their managers especially, but also by the passengers, the gate agents, or just about anyone at some point in time who finds you an easy target for their personal issue, whatever it is. It isn’t a universal happening, and it doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen. At the majors, there is much more respect and professionalism shown toward the crews. If you need something, it’s not that hard to get, and that includes the occasional time favor from the chief pilot or even scheduling.

As a regional pilot I was lucky in one respect because the hotels we stayed in were usually top of the line. This isn’t always the case. At the majors, you will stay in better hotels, and you will see more of the downtown areas, which means there is more to see and do.

You will enjoy flying for a company that is in charge of its own product, and not beholden to one that controls your fate.

Commuting is generally easier and the schedules are better, but that need to quickly change your sleep patterns likely will still be there. And, of course, you will be paid more. You might earn in a month what you earned your first year as a regional pilot.

And at some point, you will pass one of your old airplanes on a taxiway, and you will look at it and say, “I remember this one time….” And you will share a story about how much fun it was (or wasn’t) or how much work it was (or wasn’t). You might even miss that old bird. And you will realize that that old bird is what put you here.

You still need to learn to live out of a suitcase and get used to Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 instead of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You will work your share of holidays. But the reward is making it to the top of the mountain. The view is great, the work is fun, and the country, you will realize, is much bigger than you thought.—Chip Wright

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The only thing faster than the airplane is information

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

It is amazing the contrasts in government efficiency–or the lack thereof–that exist every day. For instance, the FAA has spent billions to get the NextGen ATC system off the ground, and for all of that, we still have NowGen and YesterGen. Likewise, as my AME likes to say, the pilots are flying in 2012, but the FAA is practicing medicine in 1960-something. On the other end of the spectrum is the IRS. Get their attention, and you will be hearing about it immediately. They don’t mess around.

But, for all of the bad FAA jokes (my favorite: I’m from the FAA and I’m not happy until you’re not happy), the feds are by and large good people who do the best they can with the tools they have been given, which means they aren’t any different than you and me. I recently got a reminder that when they need to do something fast, they can.

I recently had an encounter with severe turbulence while climbing out of Baltimore. It was a short encounter, and not all that unexpected because of the weather. But, as with any encounter so severe, it got my intention. So, being the dutiful air-person and practitioner of air-person-ship that I am, I reported it to ATC.

The Washington Center controller asked a flurry of questions, and I responded with a flurry of information: altitude, exact location, a description of what happened. Every other airplane on the frequency immediately wanted to know where it was, and they requested deviations away from my little find.

The controller began by asking all flights climbing and descending in our area for ride reports. All the flights were in 737s or bigger, and they all reported “moderate” or “heavy moderate,” and you could hear the bounces in their voices. This made sense, because the CRJ that I fly has short, skinny wings, and it does not absorb turbulence very well at all. What would be severe to us might very well not be to something bigger; of course, the reverse applies as well.

What was so impressive was how quickly the word got out. On every frequency that I used for the balance of our flight to Cincinnati, the controller was issuing the pilot report about our encounter. On the first frequency change, as we were checking in, he was reading the news to everyone in his sector. I told him that we were the reporting aircraft, and he had a couple of follow-up questions, mostly pertaining to the accuracy of his information. It was spot on. It was quick, accurate, and given the proper sense of urgency.

When we landed, I called a friend of mine used to fly for us. He now flies for Southwest and was getting ready to commute to work from Providence, R.I. I told him to be ready for a bumpy ride, and relayed our experience. When he arrived in Baltimore, he called me back and said that the ride into BWI on the 737 flight he took was “737 moderate, and borderline RJ severe. That was a good call, and I’m glad I wasn’t there.”

I wish I hadn’t been either, but I’m glad that the FAA has the means to disseminate that kind of critical information as quickly as it did. Of course, these are the folks who got thousands of airplanes on the ground on September 11, 2001, in record time, so they deserve credit where credit is due.—By Chip Wright

The many ways of doing the same things

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Pilots are odd creatures. We all learn the same basic fundamentals of flying, and we all learn the same set of FARs. We also learn in the same basic set of airplanes: single-engine Cessnas, Pipers, and more recently, Diamonds and Cirruses. But fly with two pilots from a specific group, and the odds are that they will do a lot of things differently. Some may use the checklist diligently, some not at all. Some will always use flaps on takeoff, some won’t. They may use different speeds in the pattern. Yet, we all manage to take off and land safely most of the time.

The airlines and corporate departments counter this by coming up with a rigid set of protocols that allow two pilots who have never even met before to know exactly what to expect from each other when flying together for the first time. The system really is quite extraordinary.

What is truly amazing, though, is to watch two airlines operate a similar airplane in such wildly different fashions. I’ve flown on the jumpseat of the 737 for more than one airline, and while I didn’t pick up on all the subtleties and nuances, I definitely could see some differences. I really notice it when sitting on the jumpseat of another airline’s CRJ, which is what I fly.

Single engine taxi is a common strategy airlines use to save fuel. My company only does single engine taxi on the right engine because the right engine will provide enough hydraulic pressure to all the brakes without a configuration change. Others will alternate engines, and simply use the hydraulic pumps to pressurize the brakes. Neither is more right or wrong than the other. Our system eliminates a potential human error, and the other ensures even run time on the engines, which saves money.

Checklist philosophy is a major difference. My company requires that every checklist be verbalized by at least one crewmember, if not both. That way, in the event of an accident, the CVR will confirm whether the checklist was completed. Other carriers only verbalize certain checklists that are designated as “challenge and response.” There are pros and cons to both methods.

Sometimes, you see items on a checklist that make you say, “Really? Why is that on there?” Somewhere in the management structure is a person or persons whose background provides a reason. Or maybe they just don’t like the way something looks on a screen, so they create a checklist item to clear it. It happens.

More carriers are coming up with ways to deal with cell phones being left on. I never thought I’d see the day. The truth is that we should probably all have that. More than once mine has started vibrating on takeoff or landing…even at 10,000 feet. Oops.
Carriers will also use different flap extension speeds based on their own experience with flap issues that may be related to aerodynamic pressures caused by high speeds. Sometimes crews are mandated by their carrier to have the gear down at a certain point. We even use different maneuvering airspeeds. A carrier that has a lot of low time, new-hire pilots or a lot of turnover will build in more conservatism than a more stable or experienced company.

The biggest problem with checklists is complacency, and the best way to deal with that—in my opinion—is to change them just a little bit every six months or so in an effort to prevent relying them on memory alone. Just don’t count on anybody else using the checklist in the same way.—By Chip Wright