Posts Tagged ‘Part 121’

Operations specifications

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

If you talk to pilots from different airlines, it becomes pretty apparent that they are very different in many ways, and in other ways, they are exactly the same. The reason is that they each must operate under their specified operations specifications, commonly called their ops specs.

Every Part 135 and 121 airline has an ops spec, which is essentially the blueprint that has been approved by the FAA for that airline. Ops spec C55, for example, deals with certain required weather criteria for determining the suitability/requirement for an alternate.

Every airline has some form of C55, but there may be exceptions within the ops specs. The details are negotiated between the airline and the principal operations inspector, or POI, the individual at the FAA who is responsible for the oversight of the airline. As you might imagine, that alone is a huge job, and it’s one that requires a staff of experts in all areas of airline operations. There are folks who work in flight operations, maintenance, in flight (the flight attendants), security—you name it. The POI is the head honcho.

How much latitude an airline gets depends on a number of things. If the POI is comfortable with the managers of the airline, he or she is more likely to grant some leeway and relax some of the restrictions. However, if the airline is fairly new, or has a questionable safety record, or is staffed by relatively inexperienced pilots, expect the requirements to be a bit tighter. Likewise, if the company is mature and has a long history of solid operations, you’ll see less resistance in doing more complex operations.

Some POIs are just conservative and are very reluctant to approve of changes that the airline believes it needs. Others are pretty progressive. The pace at which airlines are moving toward electronic flight bags, or EFBs, often is a reflection of the personalities of the POIs and whether they are willing to do away with paper charts.

Another good example might be Category II ILS approaches. CAT II approaches are much riskier than CAT I, and they have a slew of extra maintenance requirements, along with pilot training needs that need to be met. Financially, it’s an expensive program to have, and so many regional airlines opt not to pursue the CAT II certification, even if the equipment is capable. I was at Comair for nearly 10 years before we finally pursued CAT II operations. When we started doing a lot of flights into Atlanta, we experienced a lot of delays, cancellations, and diversions caused by fog that had the ILS approaches down to CAT II. Delta owned us, and finally agreed that it was costing more money not to have the option than we were saving, and the investment was made.

But we didn’t just start flying 1,200-foot runway visual range (RVR) approaches right away. We had to train pilots, dispatchers, and mechanics.The pilots had to fly a certain number of approaches at 1,600 RVR to test the equipment in the airplanes in real-world conditions. It was months before we could fly CAT II without restriction.

Ops specs also spell out everything from approval for EFBs to what airports an airline can use, and for what purpose. Some airports may not be approved for regular service but can be used for refueling or diversions. Still others can’t be used at all except in an emergency.

If you pursue an airline career, you will become intimately familiar with ops specs, POIs, and the relationship they have with your carrier. Most sections of the ops specs will mean little to you as a pilot. Others will be your bread and butter, and you’ll memorize them chapter and verse. After all, we’re talking about the FAA here!

Fly safe!—Chip Wright

Record foul-ups

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

A friend of mine was recently terminated while in training with a regional airline. In the regional sector, it’s not unusual for an airline to terminate a new-hire without giving a specific reason. That was the case here, and the only explanation he received was that “there was something in [your] application.”

That’s vague, and he was convinced that it was bogus. One of the reasons he was so sure is that he had been employed by another airline for over a decade with no problems. He had disclosed his lone Part 121 checkride failure. But, just to be sure, he began a dialogue with the FAA. He was shocked at what he found.

To make a long story short, he had started an oral exam for a checkride, but he had been sick. The event was going well, but he had to bail out because of his illness. The next day, he finished the oral (and passed), and took the checkride (and not only passed, but got high praise from the examiner). However, that event was almost 20 years ago, and he had forgotten that he had signed a second 8710 for the oral. The first one was recorded as a failed event. Right or wrong, agree or disagree—that’s what went into his file.

Fast forward to now. The records that he had in his possession prior to starting this job did not include the 8710s and did not indicate that he had a failure of a checkride (remember, it was the oral, not the ride), and it cost him.

The lesson from this for any pilot is two-fold: Never lie on an application, because it will be found. He didn’t lie; he simply didn’t realize the full ramification of what was going on when it happened. But, the point is the same. If you try to hide something, it’s going to get uncovered. Second, when you start the process of applying to airlines, whether it’s a regional, a major, a foreign carrier, or anything in between, get in touch with the FAA in Oklahoma City, and get copies of everything that might be in your file. Ask questions.

You should keep your own detailed records with regard to ratings, certificates, et cetera. Whenever you take a checkride, make a note of the date, time, place, and examiner. If there is a mistake found later, you will know where to start. In this case, the school was long gone, and the examiner had passed away.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not impossible to get a job with checkride failures, even after the Colgan accident. The thing to remember is that you need to fully disclose your past, and you need to own up to your mistakes. If you aren’t sure of something, get it taken care of.

In a case like this, if it happens to you, your best recourse is to write a detailed description of everything that happened. As you apply to airlines, you can attach this to your application or take a copy to the interview.—Chip Wright

ASAP

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Aviation, if you haven’t noticed, is loaded with abbreviations and acronyms. There are FARs, the AIM, MAPs (not to be confused with maps), ILSs, and DHs, METARS, TAFs, and NOTAMS. Airspace used to have TRSAs, ARSAS, and TCAs…and I haven’t even mentioned NASA, which speaks acronym-ese. Speaking of NASA, all pilots are able to participate in the ASRS program, which brings me to ASAP.

ASAP stands for Aviation Action Safety Program, and it is commonly in use at Part 121 air carriers. At first glance, it appears to be just like the ASRS program, and it is…sort of. Like the ASRS, pilots and other participating employees can self-disclose when they make a mistake. For example, if a pilot taxis two feet over the hold-short line for a runway, he is guilty of a committing a runway incursion. Now, it is possible that the controller never saw it because of the vantage point of the tower. It’s also possible that no other aircraft was affected.

But the pilot still made a mistake and inadvertently violated a federal aviation regulation. Worse, it’s an area in which the FAA has been aggressive in the last few years to change pilot behavior because the safety ramifications and some accidents.

With ASAP, the pilot is able to fill out a form (usually online) and explain what happened, and if possible, why. In this case, it might be something simple (“I just screwed up.”) or it might be a previously unknown safety issue (“The paint was difficult to see, especially at night,” or “The flashing lights were not working”). The report then goes to a central data base where it is reviewed by a committee.

The committee can be called any number of things, but what’s important is who is on it. At unionized carriers (which is almost all of them), the committee consists of a representative from the FAA, the airline’s safety department, and the safety committee of the union. You typically won’t see chief pilots or anybody who can impose discipline on the pilots. The reason is that the program is built on trust and confidentiality.

Once the report is opened by the committee, they discuss it in detail, and decide how to act on it. If, in the above case, they agree that the incursion was simply inadvertent, they may close the report. Or, if they suspect something else may have been involved, such as fatigue or poor judgment, they may call one or both pilots in for questioning to see what might be done to prevent similar problems in the future. If the problem is poor paint or broken lights or a bad airport diagram, then the information is forwarded to the appropriate people as quickly as possible.

The only time a pilot can face discipline is if the committee agrees that the pilot deliberately violated a FAR or exercised poor judgment, or if the infraction was reported from someone other than the pilot (the assumption then is that the pilot may have gotten caught anyway, even without participation in the ASAP program). Acknowledging that you crossed a hold-short line because you were discussing impact of artificial turf on the lifetime batting stats of career designated hitters is bound to get you not only called in, but also may lead to a Letter of Warning from the FAA.

The overwhelming number of reports in ASAP files fall under “Oops!” banner, but many go deeper than that. Pilots can also report on any aspect of their company or FAA operation that they feel needs to be addressed. Examples run the gamut: Poorly designed approach and arrival procedures have been flushed out; better operational practices have been developed; charting errors have been corrected more quickly; and most importantly, better training has occurred because of the ASAP umbrella. ASAP is not a get-out-of-jail free card. It’s a tool that is used by the airline, the FAA, and the pilot community to maintain the highest level of safety.

There is much more to the program than what I have described, and it goes beyond pilots. Mechanics, dispatchers, and flight attendants can also craft ASAP programs, and the air traffic controllers also have their own. There have been a few instances when ASAP programs have been shut down by a participating group, and when that happens it almost always comes down to the suspicion that the necessary level of trust has been breached. Airlines and labor don’t always get along, but with ASAP, the level of trust is high, and the real beneficiary is not the participants, but the traveling public.—By Chip Wright