Posts Tagged ‘FAA’

Dumb things pilots have done, part I

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

This is a random series of dumb, sometimes just “plane” stupid, and often funny (in retrospect) things that pilots have done. There isn’t a rhyme or reason to the order. But looking back over more than 20 years I’ve been flying, I’ve seen—or heard first hand—some real doozies. These are some of my favorites.

Tried to leave, but couldn’t. One pilot, a student, forgot to untie the tail of the Cessna 152. He started it up, did his After Start checklist, and with his instructor’s consent, juiced the throttle. The nose immediately jerked, went up a bit, and then came back down as the airplane rolled backwards a bit. The CFI had not seen that the tail rope was still tied either, but immediately figured it out. He also acted as though he let all of this happen: “Don’t make me do that to you again! Now, shut this airplane down, and go untie the rope. I hope you’ve learned something!”

At least he was a quick thinker.

Left, but shouldn’t have. Airline crews have certain things that they simply can not leave without. The maintenance log is one of them. I’ve heard of several captains, though, who have, and if they are lucky, they take off, get a radio call before they get too far away, and return to the airport. The tower usually knows what’s going on, and they take enormous pleasure in introducing the world to Captain Forgetful. It’s never happened to me, but I can only imagine what the speech to the passengers is like, let alone the explanation to the chief pilot.

What’s worse is when the crew gets where they are going, and then a special ferry flight has to be scheduled if the company can’t get the logbook onto another flight to XYZ.

As a result, guys come up with all kinds of reminders to make sure that they don’t make this mistake: turning screens off, moving their rudder pedals out of reach, writing notes on their clips or their hands. Hey, whatever works.

Left, but he shouldn’t have, Part II. Did you ever try to retract the landing gear, only to find that you didn’t remove the gear pins? Me either, but others have. The pins are put in to move the airplane after the hydraulic systems depressurize. But even modern hydraulic systems can’t overcome those pins. About the time you notice it, the tower can see the “REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT” flags flapping the slipstream. “Hey, did you guys know…?”

Maybe they’ll get the chief pilot mentioned below.

Left…the engine running. This has happened twice that I know of. The first time, jets were new to the property and the crew left for the hotel. Upon arriving in his room, the captain got a phone call from the station. He talked the station through the shutdown procedure, and went to bed. Rumor is the company never knew.

The second time (different captain), the company and the FAA got wind of it, and the captain had to do the carpet dance, as he had several thousand hours in the aircraft. Not too long after, he became the chief pilot. Go figure.

In part II, Chip Wright will share incidents that illustrate how the FAA has eyes in the back of its head, and much more.–Ed.

Don’t even think about padding your logbook hours

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Remember when your parents told you “If you cheat on a test, you’re only cheating yourself”? They were right. But if you cheat on your logged hours, you’re not only cheating yourself, you’re also putting yourself and anybody you take with you at risk.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that an Iowa pilot who inflated his hours to obtain a commercial certificate received probation this week after he pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FAA–which does carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and fine of up to $250,000. Prosecutors had asked for a one-year sentence, but the judge sided with the defense attorneys who said he’d learned his lesson. He did get his ticket yanked. You can read the entire article here, or copy and paste this link:

Whether or not you think the sentence is a fair one, I’m flabbergasted that the pilot’s attorneys argued he lied about his hours “simply to save money getting the license” (as if that makes it all OK), that he “posed no real danger,” and he “never actually flew beyond his qualifications.” I’d argue he flew beyond his qualifications the minute he made his first specious logbook entry.

What do you think?—Jill W. Tallman


Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

I’ve written on this blog about the general issue of nonrevenue travel and commuting as an airline pilot, but I’ve not touched a great deal on the specific issue of jumpseat travel.

The jumpseat is the term for the third seat in the cockpit. Every two-person airliner, with the exception of some smaller turboprops, has a cockpit jumpseat. Some jets, such as the Airbus family and some Boeings, have more than one. Many also have a flight attendant jumpseat in the cabin. Beyond the first jumpseat in the cockpit, the installation of additional jumpseats is a decision usually made by the airline that took delivery of the airplane from the factory.

The intent of the jumpseat is for the FAA or company check airmen to observe or evaluate operations in the cockpit. This means that the overwhelming majority of the time the jumpseat is empty.

When it is not in use for another purpose, the jumpseat is usually available for pilots of any reciprocating airline to use as a seat to get to or from work if the cabin is full. As the airlines have reduced capacity, it has become more and more common for commuting pilots to have to use the jumpseat not just as a term, but in the literal sense as well.

The protocol is pretty simple. Access to the cockpit jumpseat is based on a mutual agreement between airlines and/or pilot groups to accept each others’ pilots. That is still in place, but in the post-9/11 world, it is no longer that simple. There are certain security requirements that must be met, so I won’t disclose them here. But the general rule is that the person looking for a ride must ask the captain of the flight for permission to “ride your jumpseat”; you do not say, “I am taking your jumpseat!”

Assuming no weight and balance issues exist and the jumpseat is not deferred for any reason, the answer is almost always yes. If a seat opens up in the cabin, the jumpseater is almost always offered that seat instead—that third seat in the cockpit is almost universally uncomfortable.

The rule of thumb is that pilots of the airline operating the flight get first dibs, usually in seniority order, but in a few cases it is first come, first served. After that, there is often a pecking order that is followed, but for the most part it is first come, first served. Even if you can bump a pilot from another carrier that has higher rights than you, it is considered poor form and only done in dire situations. Universally, you must be at the gate by a designated time, and you must treat the gate agents with a great deal of respect. Some resent the extra work created by jumpseaters, and others just resent that only pilots can ride in the cockpit. Most, however, are more than happy to help.

Rules vary from company to company. Some airlines will only allow as many jumpseaters as they have actual jumpseats installed. Others will allow as many jumpseaters as there are empty seats. This is definitely the best rule, and the goodwill it generates is tremendous. There are also certain dress rules. Back in the day, it was expected that you would either be in uniform or a suit. Now, the uniform still always works, and the dress code for the most part is business casual; shorts and sneakers need not apply. Once in the seat, you are expected to act as a third crew member, which means honoring sterile cockpit procedures, looking for traffic, and if possible, listening to ATC and (gently) pointing out a potential error by the crew.

Most airlines prohibit the use of jumpseating for anything other than leisure travel or getting to or from work. Using them in the pursuit of business interests is risky, but it has been done. If you work for one airline, and are going to an interview with another, then riding their jumpseat is a great way to learn about the company.

On occasion, stories crop up of a pilot getting in trouble for misusing or abusing the privilege, and it is just that—a privilege. Likewise, there have been “jumpseat wars” in which pilots try to use the jumpseat as a political weapon by denying it to pilots of another carrier during a dispute. This is almost always a bad decision made by a pilot who doesn’t commute. Commuting is hard, and pilots who don’t commute don’t appreciate the challenges that it presents. To try and make a point by denying jumpseaters not only makes you look bad, but it stands to punish and ostracize your fellow co-workers who may totally disagree with your particular point of view.

Jumpseating is a great perk of the job, and at some point as an airline pilot, you will probably need it. I’ve been coming home from vacation with my family, and I had to use it in order for all of us to get on. I routinely use it to get to and from work. It’s fun to see other airplanes I don’t fly, or to see how other companies operate the airplane that I do fly.

If you ever have the opportunity to fly for an airline, embrace the jumpseat and use it as intended. And take some Advil before a long flight in one. Your back and legs will thank you.—Chip Wright

Editor’s note: The accompanying photo of a Boeing 767 cockpit and jumpseat was taken by Kent Wien and appeared in the April 13, 2009, Gadling blog Plane Answers.

Ariel Tweto gets her ticket

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

In last season’s Flying Wild Alaska on the Discovery Channel, we were following the adventures of Ariel Tweto, wondering if she would be able to find time to hit the books and knock out her private pilot training.

Well, wonder no more. In the season (and series) finale that aired on July 20, Ariel took her checkride and passed. Of course, we didn’t learn that until the final five minutes of the episode. We had to suffer through much hand-wringing and consternation over the fact that Ariel’s examiner would be someone from the FAA rather than a designated pilot examiner. This being reality television, we also had to endure speculation that she might not pass the oral (she did) and that she might blow her short-field landing (she didn’t, but she did do a go-around).

In many ways, Ariel’s flight training experience mirrored everyone else’s. She had an extremely busy schedule, making it difficult to schedule her lessons; her flight instructor John Ponts left in mid-training. She switched aircraft a few times, so she had to familiarize herself with different systems and avionics each time. (At one point, she was training in a Cessna 207, which brings its own set of challenges to a student pilot.) Flight Training interviewed Ariel for the January 2012 issue, and you can read that interview here (and see a video of the whole gang at AirVenture 2011).

Some might argue that Ariel had a lot going for her as a student pilot–she grew up in a flying family and had well-maintained aircraft at her disposal. But she also grew up in Alaska, which probably dealt her more than a few weather delays. And it can’t have been easy for her to learn to fly while filming a reality TV show. Often while watching her struggle to land I was thankful no cable station ever wanted to videotape my flight lessons and broadcast them to a national audience. So here’s to Ariel, who eloquently summarized her hard-won flying privileges at the end of the episode: “I just need a runway, and then I have the whole world.”—Jill W. Tallman

The drinking pilot scenarios

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Last month Chip Wright posed a hypothetical situation involving a possibly intoxicated airline pilot and solicited your comments on how you would handle the situation. Here’s his response to your answers.–Ed.

There are two ways to approach answers to this question: the new-to-the-airlines pilot, and the regional pilot interviewing for the majors. Further, there are two very broad ways to actually answer the question: Throw the offender to the wolves and let him or her deal with the consequences, or help the offender gracefully bow out.

I checked the responses on both the blog and on Flight Training’s Facebook page. A couple of readers answered as though the scenario was designed with the eight-hour rule in mind. I had intended it to be under a typical airline’s 12-hour rule, and Steve’s response on Facebook was that as long as the eight-hour rule was observed, then no harm, no foul, and that it depended on how strong the drinks are and how well the pilot holds his liquor. That answer, I can assure you, will get you a one-way ticket home.

Every airline has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to having alcohol in your system when you report for work. The FAA has always backed up the zero-tolerance policy when airlines implement it. Zero means just that: When you take a Breathalyzer or blood test, you need to be totally clear of alcohol.

EJ, Dave, Corey, and Mark work toward the answer of addressing the captain and giving him the option to call in sick. This is a common answer, and it is not necessarily wrong. But the logical follow-up to you, the applicant, is this: Will that stop this from happening again? And what if the next FO isn’t so willing to stand up to a pilot who may be tipsy, or even belligerent?

What I really like are the answers in which folks asked for more information. In an interview, you may or may not get more information. But asking is good, as you don’t want to jump to conclusions. One question that was missed is an obvious one, and will allow you to possibly choose how you answer: Does this pilot have a known drinking problem that might be full-blown alcoholism? Again, the interviewer may not tell you, but I will address this angle later.

Taking a photo of the pilot drinking, as Mark suggested, isn’t a bad idea. The company can also ask for copies of the pilot’s receipt if he paid with a credit or debit card (after an accident, so will every government agency), and they will ask the hotel to use the pilot’s key to determine when he went to his room. There are loads of potential legal and ethical problems with these two tracks, but the pilot may still be forced to answer some uncomfortable questions.

There is that reality–and several of you touched on this–that your ticket and your career are both on the line as well. The cold, hard truth is that as soon as that pilot made the decision to either drink inside the allowable 12-hour rule, and/or decided to put on his uniform and step into the hallway while sick, he or she has made a decision to sacrifice both of you. The effect on you is of no concern to this individual. Your career’s gone? Because of me? Sorry, dude. Let me buy you a drink while we commiserate!

Does that person deserve you helping him or her avoid trouble?

There are two choices here. Choice A is to get the pilot to make a phone call, and this is where the issue of interviewing as a new airline pilot versus one as a regional pilot going to a major matters. As a new-to-the-industry pilot, it is perfectly fair and acceptable that you might get the pilot to call in sick. Give the individual a chance to make the right decision. If he won’t, you will have to make a call to the chief pilot and explain the situation. They will then make the decision on how to handle it. A seasoned regional pilot, however, is aware of resources within the union that can help. Every union has a committee or group that specializes in dealing with unprofessional behavior, and in this case, they can contact the pilot and explain the severity of the situation. The company is still going to get involved, and the flight will in all probability cancel (assuming another person in the hotel is not available), but the pilot—if he cooperates, which is the key—will be offered the opportunity to seek medical help. It may cost him a year or more away from the job as he sobers up, but he will be given the opportunity to redeem himself. Called the HIMS program, it has been wildly successful in getting sick pilots back to work. It has saved careers, and more importantly, it has saved lives.

Choice B is more harsh, and personally, it’s the one that I tend to lean toward. As I said, the pilot has already made the decision to risk life and limb and your own future as well as his. You could go ahead and skip the niceties and call the chief and, in no uncertain terms, explain you have a co-worker who needs a Breathalyzer test. Don’t offer an analysis of how drunk or sober you may think the person is. Just request the test. The rest will take care of itself. I come to this from personal experience: A family friend was killed in a rather grotesque fashion in a car accident involving a drunk driver. The effect it had on my parents is something I have never forgotten.

What you cannot allow to happen is for the pilot to leave the hotel for the airport. If that means you stay behind, so be it. Going to the airport opens up all kinds of questions about your intent to prevent him from getting in the cockpit. Just recall the America West crew in Miami that was actually taxiing the airplane when they were called back to the gate. A few minutes later, and they would have been airborne. Just letting that individual go the airport could get you fired if he is found to be drunk. At the very least, your judgment will be severely questioned.

It’s a tough situation, and if you don’t personally deal with it, you will eventually know or hear of someone who has. It’s also an interview question that you should count on in some form. The scenario here is just one possibility. It may be posed such that you first meet the pilot at the airplane within minutes of departure time.

Things aren’t always black and white; sometimes there is a gray area. The important thing in a case like this is to develop a reasonable answer and stick to your guns. Be able to defend it, and be able to sleep at night. Do that, and you will indeed live to fly another day.–Chip Wright

Evaluation by the Administrator

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

I was recently in the simulator helping out with some training, and I had an epiphany of sorts. You may have noticed when you read the FARs that in all too many instances is the phrase (or something similar) “will be evaluated by the Administrator, or his designee.”

In short, this means that the head cheese of the FAA is supposed to personally evaluate or test just about everything in the aviation universe. To do so would be a monumental and impossible task, even if the Administrator did nothing else. So, by law, the Administrator can have designees do the work. That way, the Administrator can spend his or her time Administrating.

I’ve explained in previous posts how some of this works with regard to check airmen/-women/-persons at the airlines. I have the honor, privilege, and responsibility of fulfilling this role as a line check airman at my company.

What struck me this week was the level of respect and integrity that this process really does engender. On my first day in the sim, I was flying as a captain for a first officer who was undergoing some training in the right seat. The sim instructor was a friend of mine who is quite a bit junior to both of us. The session went well, and when necessary, Joe asked to see the FO re-fly a maneuver that could have been done better the first time. He did, and when the session was over we all went our separate ways.

The next day, Joe was working with two very senior (and in this case, much older) captains who were being brought back to the training department after having flown the line for awhile. One of them was also being qualified for the first time in our 700/900 variant, and he was wrapping up his training by being officially qualified in the right seat. He won’t fly the line in that capacity—he won’t fly the line in the left seat of the 700/900 either—but he needed to be qualified nonetheless.

I happened to be in the break room with all of them, shooting the breeze and talking shop while waiting for my own session to start. What struck me was the way the tone of the conversation changed when one of the “students” asked a question about the lesson plan for the day. All three of them immediately fell into a very professional mode and demeanor, and Joe was accorded the same respect and decorum that the Administrator himself would have garnered.

Here were two fellows who had at least 10 years of seniority—one had close to 20—on Joe’s time at the company. They were older. Out on the line—heck, it had happened just a few minutes before—Joe would have been the subject of some good-natured kidding and ribbing as an FO or as the baby chick in the henhouse. But at the drop of a hat, when the talk turned serious, he was recognized as the man in charge. He had the ability and the authority to stop the training process in its tracks if necessary or if warranted by poor performance. In my own sim session the day before, he could have grounded me, even though the event had nothing to do with me.

I’ve seen this kind of thing a thousand times in the past, but I never really appreciated it as I was watching it happen. For some reason, it caught my attention this time. I left the room before they had finished their discussion, but I didn’t need to be there to see how it would end. And I knew that once in the box, all three would be professional, cordial, and respectful of one another.

This sort of interaction goes on every day, and it is a testament to the success of the system that allows—forces—the FAA to place a great deal of authority and autonomy in the hands of its field representatives.

Pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, doctors, and dozens of others treat their burdens and responsibilities with great care, and exercise the extreme limits of their duties with restraint and when circumstances require. They don’t do it because they have an axe to grind or a seniority number to gain or vendetta to exact. In fact, in cases where two people simply can’t get along, they will often agree to seek another evaluator to avoid allegations of a conflict of interest.

This system works, and we should all be grateful that it does.—By Chip Wright

The best and worst of 2011

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Welcome to the second annual Best and Worst of [Insert Year Here] for the flight training industry. The 2010 blog, which you can read here, pointed to flight training dropout rates and the erroneous detention of John and Martha King as lowlights, but we saw some bright spots, too. (Hello, Young Eagles! Looks like you’re getting a shoutout this year as well.)

What did 2011 bring? Well, we didn’t see any beloved flight training figures erroneously detained, but we did see the FAA administrator abruptly leave his job following a drunk-driving arrest in early December. However, I’m not including him in the to Best of/Worst of list. You can tell me in the Comments if you think that was an error of omission.

So here we go, in no particular order.


1. The ongoing fracas at Santa Monica airport. Short version: The city council would like to close the six flight schools in operation there, citing “potential safety hazards” to the local neighborhoods, in spite of an impressive safety record. I guess the city of Santa Monica thinks pilots are hatched out of eggs or found in the cabbage patch. And hey, Santa Monica–your airport was good enough to train Greg Brady to fly. How many other airports can make that claim?

2. Another university aviation program gets the the ax. The University of Illinois’s Institute of Aviation had been turning out pilots since 1946.

3. A California flight school owner is arrested and charged with helping foreign nationals fraudulently apply for student visas to attend flight schools. Innocent until proven guilty, but are we looking at a troubling trend here? See number 4.

4. Meanwhile, the TSA is being dinged for not enforcing the Alien Flight Student Program for several months back in 2010. (The temptation here to remark that the TSA is probably busy with other matters, such as protecting the nation’s skies against grandmothers, is overwhelming. But all jokes aside, TSA, thanks for easing up on the whole patting-down-children thing.)

4. Isn’t flight training hard enough without some moron shining a laser in your eyes? (Thankfully the student in this incident had a CFI on board who was not affected.)


1. Remember that California education-reform law we cited last year that would have required flight schools to pay $5,000 in initial fees? Flight schools are now exempt.

2. Redbird Flight Simulations opens arguably the most state-of-the-art flight school ever envisioned in Texas. Data will be collected from the students who learn to fly there, and that’ll be used to create more effective training strategies.

3. With the number of female certificated pilots languishing at 6 percent of the total, women in the United States and Canada decided to do something about it. “Get women to the airport” events were held worldwide in 2010, and their organizers say they’re going to keep going for 2012. AOPA honored Mireille Goyer, creator of the international Women of Aviation Worldwide Week initiative, for her efforts.

4. The FAA publishes a change to the regulations enabling student pilots to apply for the private certificate and instrument rating concurrently, and count dual cross-country instruction flight time toward eligibility requirements for the concurrent training. This sounds like a no-brainer, and a good way to save some money in the process. It’s not for everybody–I couldn’t have pulled it off–but if you’re up to the challenge, why not?

5. EAA’s Young Eagles program makes the list for the second year in a row, this time because EAA announced at AirVenture that it would be targeting its program to get more people to continue their flight training, and possibly opening it up to older individuals (the Young Eagles cutoff is 17).

Now it’s your turn. What’d I miss, and what would you nominate?–Jill W. Tallman