Posts Tagged ‘chief pilot’

Honesty pays

Monday, December 8th, 2014
"Honesty is the best policy."---Ben Franklin

“Honesty is the best policy.”—Ben Franklin

I’m on my third airline. At each one, the chief pilot(s) have always insisted on just one thing: Never, ever lie to them. The reality, they each said, is that things happen. Sometimes those things result in damaged equipment, damaged airplanes, injuries, or just embarrassment to the pilot group or the company. But, most of the time, anything that was not done with malicious intent or wanton disregard for safety can be dealt with. There may well be punishment—even harsh punishment—but a suspension is by far better than a termination.

I’ve heard several stories about people trying to hide something. One of the worst was a crew that wanted to move an airplane on the ramp. They failed to look outside, and the movement of the airplane caused considerable damage to the cargo bin because the belt loader was still in position. They lied, got caught, and were fired. Another example is of a pilot—a former chief pilot, no less—who lied to the control tower about a non-existent mechanical problem because he wasn’t ready to go. As soon as he was, he took off. The tower wasn’t sure what to make of the situation, and called the company—which happened to have a base at that airport. An investigation ensued, and the pilot was terminated. He was also punished by the FAA.

Contrast that to this. A first officer was doing a walk-around one winter in the middle of nowhere, and it was bitterly cold and windy with blowing snow. In his haste to get back in the airplane and get warm, he did more jogging than walking, and failed to notice that somebody had placed a cover on one of the pitot tubes. This is not common at the airlines, and it was unheard of at this one. However, it happened, and he missed it. At some point during the takeoff—I’ve never been sure if they rejected the takeoff or actually flew a circuit around the pattern, because I’ve heard both versions—the cautions and chimes started, and it was obvious that something was amiss. After returning to the gate, the problem was found, and the flight departed normally.

The FO immediately went to the chief’s office and did the carpet dance, confessing his sins and placing his fate into the hands of the chief. The chief honored his word, and told the FO that he would be suspended for two weeks. However, the FO could pick the two-week period that he wanted off. He chose Christmas, and his request was honored. He missed two weeks of pay, but his honesty was respected, and his kids had Dad home for Christmas.

It doesn’t always have a happy ending. Some pilots are fired just because what they did is so egregious that they can’t be forgiven. But, more often than not, immediate honesty pays off, and the impact on a career is minimal to non-existent. I know one pilot who misunderstood the change in his trip and didn’t show up the next morning, leading to the cancellation of three flights. The chief told him that ordinarily he would have received a two-week suspension, but because of his history, he’d just get a verbal warning. The pilot knew that the real reason he wasn’t being suspended was because of a staffing shortage, which the chief acknowledged. When he asked to be suspended anyway—after all, he’d be off for two weeks—the chief denied him and sent him back to work. Sometimes, you can’t get punished even when you want to be.—Chip Wright

Remember when?

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Flying as an industry has undergone some dramatic changes in the last two decades, and it can be a bit mind-boggling to look back and consider the impact of some of those changes.

When I first got hired, direct deposit had just been introduced. Knowing what I know now, I can’t imagine the challenges of this job when you faced the possibility of not being able to access your pay check for up to two weeks because you wouldn’t be home to cash it. Married guys could make special arrangements, but the single guys…not so much.

Most of the pilots I talked to while this transition was going on told me that over time they had been forced to build a reserve in their checking accounts so that they could pay their bills. Plan B was to get a line of credit from the bank, but that wasn’t always easy, especially for bottom-feeder first officers. Bear in mind too that getting your check deposited was only part of the battle. Back then, you still had to write checks for everything. I can easily remember when a roomful of pilots would bring their bills and their checkbooks with them to work, and would spend a break or an overnight in the hotel getting their bills in the mail. Online bill pay was a pipe dream.

Speaking of the Internet, nothing else has had such a dramatic effect on the way airlines run. It has put travel agents in museums, and people can check in at home the day before a flight. For the flight crews, it is now possible to fly a career and only talk to a chief pilot or flight attendant overseer on the day you interview and the day you retire. Email communications take care of most issues, and even changes in our schedules can be acknowledged on a cell phone screen. Pilots dread talking to
schedulers, and online acknowledgement makes that totally unnecessary now.

The cell phone has revolutionized our lives, and while it isn’t always for the better, it often is. For pilots, checking weather radar is right at the fingertips, as is tracking the location of your next ship, calling MX Control without having to go back to the gate, or putting in a bid at the last minute because you forgot to do it on vacation.

Speaking of which, back in the day, a pilot on vacation had to call a trusted friend–with a calling card, from a pay phone–and ask that person to submit his or her monthly bids. Those bids were often blind, because with no internet, you couldn’t see the bid packets and the trips that were available. The joke was to always call someone senior to you who wouldn’t have a motivation to manipulate your bid, or call the secretary in the office. Our Mother Hen was the best, and she would not only put in your bid, she also would tell you how to improve it. Now, even if you are on the other side of the globe, you can put in an accurate bid on time…if you remember.

Some things never change, and even those that supposedly will may not pan out well (I personally think the whole NextGen project will just be huge quantities of money wasted). But many of the changes are such that the people that preceded me or you in this industry wouldn’t even recognize it. Not being able to check the weather on my phone? I shudder at the thought.—Chip Wright