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Author: Chip Wright (page 1 of 22)

After an accident or incident

An accident or incident is never a pleasant thing to think about, be it in a car, a boat, or an airplane. But it could happen, and you need to be prepared.

I’m addressing this from the point of view of a professional pilot instead of the private pilot because a professional pilot will likely draw more scrutiny, but will also have more resources available. That said, a nonprofessional pilot, especially one with any substantial assets to potentially lose, should buy into the AOPA Pilot Protection Services or something similar.

Once you join the ranks of the professionals, you’ll likely join a pilot union. The biggest is ALPA, but the Teamsters also have a significant presence in the industry, and a few large companies have in-house unions that offer the same services (the two largest are those representing the pilots at Southwest and UPS). Early in your career at an airline, the union will introduce itself and discuss its role, purpose, and some of its products and policies. One of the first things that will come up is dealing with the aftermath of an accident or an incident. It should be noted that most airlines have a list of potential events that go beyond those listed in various FARs that qualify as a major event.

One of the first things that you’ll hear is that you should immediately call the 1-800 hotline for the union as soon as possible, and you should not talk to anyone else until you do. That includes the FAA, the media, the police, and even the company.

Communications with the company should be limited to making sure the immediate needs of your crew and passengers are met (hotels, hospital needs, food, et cetera), but any discussion of the events that led up to the phone call should be avoided. The company will understand this, and will (often, but not always) offer to help get the ball rolling with respect to putting you in touch with union reps. There have been far too many events in which the crew made things worse for themselves (and sometimes the company) by talking to the wrong people too soon after a traumatic event.

The unions in the airlines often work together, and they share some resources. They also share some tools. All have people on staff as well as volunteers at each airline who are specially trained to help a pilot or a flight attendant deal with the aftermath of an event. These people will isolate the crew and help them begin to process and discuss what happened.

One thing that you can do to help yourself—before you talk to anyone at all—is to take the time (if possible) and write down everything as you remember it. Date the document for future reference, and add to it as you remember more. Similarly, you can use your phone to make a recording or a video in which you discuss what you remember. Don’t do this within earshot of another crew member, so that you don’t taint each other’s recollections. Once you get in touch with the union reps, let them read or listen to your comments before you do anything else.

An investigation will ensue, so honesty is your best policy. Don’t try to change the narrative, and don’t avoid an uncomfortable truth. But by the same token, don’t hesitate to use the resources that your union or association dues are paying for.—Chip Wright

Put your phone away

A different post than my usual. This one just has some odds and ends—some to help with life on the road, others as job aids.

Don’t do a walk-around while on your phone. It doesn’t look good, and passengers notice. So might your boss if he or she is in the terminal. Passengers will take a picture of you and send it to your boss. It’s OK to use your phone to take a picture of a potential maintenance issue to show the captain or send to the main maintenance folks. In a pinch, you can use the flashlight feature on your phone if it isn’t too dark. But don’t do your job while talking on your phone. It’s a sure-fire way to a chief pilot carpet dance.

Know the difference between transition level and transition altitude. Use the “V” and the “A” to help. “V” points down, so transition le”V”el is the point during a descent when you switch from standard altimeter settings to the local altimeter setting. “A” points up, so transition “A”ltitude is the point at which you go from local to standard settings. In the United States, the transition altitude and level are the same (18,000 feet). But in Mexico, the transition level is 19,500 feet, and the altitude is 18,500. Aruba has an even greater discrepancy: The level is 4,000 and the altitude is 2,500. The data is printed in small print on the approach charts and SID and STAR charts.

Keep pictures of your important documents, such as your passport, company identification, et cetera. Losing one of these can create monumental headaches, and photos can help smooth some feathers. Store the pictures on the cloud or on your phone (if you feel comfortable doing so). If you do a lot of international flying, including Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, memorize your passport number. If you use a company iPad or similar device, take a picture of your ID on a white background that also has your phone number. Make that picture the first thing someone will see when they hit the home button. That way, if your device is lost and someone finds it, they can find you ASAP. You could also include an email address or other information you feel comfortable disclosing.

A few hotel tips

  • Use multiple alarms. Don’t count on wake-up calls, as they frequently don’t get entered into the computer. Worse, they sometimes get entered for the wrong room. If you’re going to use the alarm clock in your room, pay attention to AM/PM and DST settings, along with the volume.
  • If you need to go to bed when it’s light out, or want to sleep in after the sun comes up, use the pant-clip hangers to clip the curtains together to keep the light out, and make sure the previous guest doesn’t have the alarm set for 3 a.m. when you aren’t planning to get up until 10 (ask me how I know this).
  • Always carry a 10-foot phone charger. Some hotels still don’t have convenient outlets near the bed.
  • If you want to put food in the fridge to keep it fresh, put one of your work shoes in the fridge with it, so you don’t forget the food the next day.
  • Text yourself your room number when you leave your room so you remember where your room is (don’t take the key envelope; if you lose it, you’ve given someone access to your room).—Chip Wright

The quick reference handbook

If you’re getting ready for your first job in a turboprop or a jet, you’re about to get introduced to the quick reference handbook (QRH). The QRH has all of the abnormal and emergency checklists in it, based on the equipment and furnishings on the airplane. At the very least, the manufacturer-designated checklists will be included, but often the company or operator will include its own procedures. This book is kept on the flight deck.

QRHs are usually written in some kind of an outline or flow-chart like format, with the intention of minimizing confusion for the pilots. However, lawyers are also involved, as are government representatives, and confusion still finds a way to rear its ugly head. Sometimes the confusion is difficult to avoid because the checklist has to work its way through several potential scenarios to troubleshoot and isolate a problem. Electrical and smoke issues are good examples. Some engine problems can be as well.

Adding to the problem are stress and compressed time. It’s very easy to write a checklist sitting at a desk or in a procedures trainer. It’s something different to determine how things will play out when the actual emergency is underway with a crew or a pilot that may be (pick a few) inexperienced; tired; scared; asleep; undisciplined; poorly trained; or sick. I’ve never seen a QRH that is perfect, and I doubt I ever will. In fact, just turning the page can be an issue. Some QRHs have different options based on what is occurring, and when a page is turned, it’s possible to lose track of which flow of information you’re using.

More and more crews are using electronic flight bags, but there are plenty of paper QRHs still on the flight decks. Paper doesn’t break or require electricity to use, and some books are just too hard to manipulate or use on a tablet, since you can’t mark several places with your finger.

The key to QRH use is to understand the layout of the book, and to use it exactly as intended. Don’t go beyond the scope of the particular problem you’re trying to solve. Too often, you’ll just make the situation worse. When the QRH says to “confirm” something, that almost always means asking the other pilot to verify that you have the correct switch or engine. More than once, I’ve seen a pilot shut down the wrong engine in a sim because he rushed and didn’t give me a chance to verify the correct engine was about to be secured.

Sometimes, the manufacturer will put a checklist in one chapter of the QRH when logic would dictate that it should be in another. For example, some engine issues are addressed in the chapter that deals with fires. Occasionally, a message that indicates as an abnormal is addressed as an emergency in the QRH. For the most part, all you can do is roll with it.

Changing a QRH is daunting, but not impossible. The aforementioned lawyers and bureaucrats want their say, but when real-world experience dictates, QRHs get changed. And that’s another challenge: It’s important to be at least tangentially aware of those changes.

The QRH is a great tool, and in the airline world, you’ll be more familiar with it than you want to be. But, it only helps you when you use it correctly, slowly, and as intended.—Chip Wright

IOE

When ground and sim training are complete, it’s finally time to fly the airplane! Back in the day, the first step was to get some landings in an actual airplane, usually conducted in the middle of the night at a small outstation under the guidance of a specially trained pilot. Those days are largely gone because of cost and safety concerns (mostly cost). Simulators are now so good that the airlines and the FAA agree that “familiarization flights” are no longer needed.

Initial operating experience (IOE) is the term used to describe your first trip of several in an airplane under the watchful eye of a check airman (sometimes called a line check airman, or LCA). IOE is an exciting yet nerve-wracking experience. You’ll go to the airport, find the crew room, and go through the entire preflight routine. It will feel like you have no time at all to get everything you need to do done, but in no time you’ll be able to do it all with time to spare.

The LCA will be talking a mile a minute, trying to teach you as much as possible in as short a time as possible. At the gate, you’ll do a supervised walk-around, and then get in the cockpit and do your routine as you’ve trained for it in the sim. However, now you’ll be bombarded by other distractions that you didn’t have before, such as flight attendants who want to say hello or need you to order something they’re missing in the cabin. Mechanics may be nosing around, and ticket agents usually come down to see if you’re ready. It doesn’t help that you still haven’t perfected the routine, and you feel as if you’re running in mud. Meanwhile, the LCA keeps talking, and he’ll take over a lot of the little stuff to try to achieve an on-time departure.

You’ll be thinking about the fact that you’ll be flying the airplane for the first time with a cabin full of passengers who have no idea that you’ve never actually flown this airplane, but you can’t dwell on it. Time will feel very compressed as you’re dealing with ATC, busy frequencies, and weather you don’t see in the sim (especially good weather). Your first night in the hotel will probably be one of the best nights of sleep you’ve ever had, thanks to the exhaustion.

IOE is a lot of fun in addition to being a steep learning curve. You’re putting all of the pieces together and realizing the culmination of your dreams. At times it’s frustrating because you don’t realize going into it how much you still have to learn, and landing the airplane is totally different than the sim. But over a few trips, with several LCAs, it starts to fall into place. And no matter how many times you go through IOE in the future, it will never be as overwhelming as the first time. Nor will it be as fun.—Chip Wright

Life as a chameleon

Flying as a first officer (FO) means working as a chameleon. Every captain has his or her own quirks, and the FO has precious little time to figure out what those quirks are. Some captains are just weird, and some are just plain wrong, and others are just a bit too literal in their interpretation of certain rules and procedures. Some are just, well, quirky.

I flew with a captain at my first airline who had a reputation for being difficult to get along with for various reasons. The general consensus was that he had a temper, and if something wasn’t done his way, he’d get upset.

The one thing that stands out in my mind was his origami method of folding the paperwork. We had a paper release at the time, and there was one section that had all of the pertinent data needed for a flight. It had space for the ATIS, the clearance, performance info, et cetera.

Ninety-nine percent of the pilots utilized that paper the same way. This guy didn’t. It had to be folded a certain way, and I can’t begin to guess how many tries it took him to get it this way, but when he finally had his eureka moment and found his magic fold, FOs were doomed. It wasn’t just that it was folded a certain way. It was folded in such a way that every line on it was now visible at all times (which was something only he cared about).

In order to achieve this art, he was the only one allowed to handle it. The FOs weren’t supposed to touch the paper until he had done his folding, as he didn’t want any wrinkles or stray ink marks. All of this would have been somewhat tolerable under normal circumstances, but a person who has such odd behavior about one thing has it about everything. Further, he wouldn’t tell you about this until after you’d upset him. If you’re going to be weird, particular, and difficult, tell everyone in advance.

Another example was a captain who tried to correct my actions by quoting “the book” to me. That’s all well and good, except in three cases out of three on three consecutive flights, he was wrong. It led to a fairly heated argument on the last leg of the trip, but by then I’d figured out how he operated: I had to be perfect, and he had to be right. It makes for an unhealthy working relationship, and not one that is conducive to safety or a good time. Sometimes it’s best to just do what they want and grit your teeth, but if you’re going to quote the book, get it right.

Most captains try to fly to the established standard, but we all are human, and it’s understandable that there are times when a shortcut gets taken, or minor difference gets introduced. It doesn’t help that sometimes the manuals are as clear as mud. But as long as safety isn’t compromised or a policy is deliberately violated, there can usually be a meeting of the minds.

If the new “concept” is one that leaves you uncomfortable, then discreetly check your manuals to verify you’re right, and then ask why a particular liberty was taken. That doesn’t mean you need to do the same—in fact, you should do things exactly as you’ve been trained, and then decide whether or not it’s worth pursuing other avenues to bring it to the attention of the appropriate people. If it is, don’t hesitate to do so.

Captains….they all do things the same, only different.—Chip Wright

Cargo versus passengers

I was recently in a friendly debate with some friends on Facebook about the merits of flying cargo versus passengers, especially in the coming years as Amazon continues its stratospheric growth. Those who fly cargo tend to be absolutely devoted to that line of work. The common refrain is that boxes don’t complain, and the chief pilot rarely calls.

What are some of the pros and cons of cargo versus passenger flying? Let’s start with cargo. Yes, it’s true that cargo doesn’t complain, unless it consists of live animals, in which case it may very well complain or lose control of its bowels. But the point is valid. Passengers do a lot of bellyaching about the airlines—some deserved, some not so much. Boxes just sit there and take up space, and they don’t care if the ride is bumpy or if the cabin is hot or cold.

Passenger carriers generally have fairly set rules on leaving early. Cargo operations tend to be more relaxed about departure times. If the airplane is full 30 minutes ahead of schedule, chances are you can leave. That may not sound like much, but if you’re scheduled to fly all night, every minute of getting done early helps.

Speaking of the schedule, that is hands-down the biggest drawback to cargo flying. The overwhelming majority of the schedule takes place “on the back side of the clock,” also known as night time. While many cargo pilots claim that you can get acclimated to the schedule, the reality is that the human body isn’t designed to be awake at night for extended periods of time. You’ll be asleep when others are awake, which can be a challenge in hotels if they’re noisy. You will be forced to flip your body around when you get home in order to have any semblance of a family life.

But if you can make it to the big boys of cargo (FedEx and UPS), the benefits are tough to beat. The pay is fantastic (it has to be to attract pilots to that kind of work) and the health insurance and retirement are superb.

Even at the second-tier carriers, such as Atlas and Southern, there have been meaningful changes and improvements. Pay is going up, and schedules are getting better. Amazon is clearly trying to get a better deal on shipping costs by controlling its own airplanes, but it remains to be seen if the company can build a stand-alone delivery system. But even if it can’t, it can produce jobs that don’t currently exist. The downside? The pay is no match for the majors, and it probably never will be, even though it’s getting better.

Passenger carriers have their own pros and cons. Passengers do indeed complain, and it’s embarrassing to see your company on the news when something bad happens. The competition is cutthroat. Working conditions at the regional airlines are a far cry from what they used to be, but they’re not where they need to be.

The schedules can be somewhat sporadic, but outside of long-haul flying, they’re not nearly as hard on the body as cargo. Pay, however, is now much more reflective of the market for pilots, especially at the regionals. For some, the availability of pass benefits and free travel makes all the difference. I like to get the words of thanks and appreciation from my passengers when we get them where they want to go. Cargo may not complain, but it doesn’t thank you, either.

And the chief pilot? He rarely calls as well. And when he does, it’s almost always a justified phone call, and it’s the same phone call his compatriot at a cargo company would make.

There are pros and cons to both cargo and passenger flying. Both offer their own rewards. If you’re not sure which one you want to do, try them both, talk to pilots on both sides, and use that information to make a decision.—Chip Wright

Will there be any more consolidation?

The airline industry has gone through several cycles of consolidation in the last 10 to 15 years: ValuJet/AirTran, AirTran/Southwest, TWA/American, USAir/America West, USAir/American, Delta/Northwest, and United/Continental at the majors. At the regionals, Republic/Chautauqua/Shuttle America, SkyWest/ASA/ExpressJet and Mesaba/Pinnacle have changed the landscape. Alaska and Virgin America are the most recent to announce plans to wed.

Of late, there have been rumors about a jetBlue merger, and there has long been talk of Spirit and Frontier. JetBlue seems to be the most interesting one, because that airline has become a major powerhouse with hubs in New York, Boston, and Orlando, along with a sizable presence in Fort Lauderdale. JetBlue also caters to both business and leisure travelers.

Historically, airline mergers have had to meet several criteria, the most important of which is the maintenance of access to travel for passengers. This became less important as Congress recognized in the last round of mergers that there was too much service at airfares that were too low. With the mega-carriers now operating, profits have soared. However, what makes a merger with jetBlue difficult is the potential choke-hold that its hubs would provide to whomever buys the airline. Congress could require some kind of a fracturing of the company in order to support a merger. JFK, the crown jewel, would be the ultimate bargaining chip.

But here’s the rub: Too much of what jetBlue does out of JFK replicates too much of what other carriers already offer from their own East Coast coast hubs. An airline would need to add service from JFK that jetBlue doesn’t have, or service that supplements existing international service from that market.

Orlando is a leisure market with lower yields, and it doesn’t lend itself well to being a southern connecting hub such as Atlanta and Charlotte, though it does provide ready access to points south in the Caribbean and South America. But, many of those are also load yield, so the problem doesn’t immediately solve itself.

Mergers also create other huge challenges, not the least of which is  bringing together drastically different work cultures and product offerings. Nothing will clog up a merger like disgruntled employees that are also being swamped with new procedures, rules, and policies. The end result is billions of dollars lost and millions of unhappy customers.

I won’t say that jetBlue won’t or can’t get caught up in a merger, but it has to be accomplished wisely, with the realization that the end product will be drastically different. I do, however, think that a couple of the ultra-low-cost carriers will be forced to eventually merge, with Spirit and Frontier being the logical choices. They compete for a segmented market offering low fares that are hard to turn into profits. Customer service is less of a concern, but it still matters. I think Allegiant will continue to be a stand-alone carrier because its niche is different, and it sells the whole travel package as a vacation, not just a ticket from A to B.

The regionals are harder to predict. Their existence depends on capacity purchase agreements with the majors. However, even SkyWest, which was long considered “the place” to work, is having trouble recruiting and retaining pilots. It’s possible that, down the road, SkyWest and Republic may have to at least do the dance.

Consolidation is probably over for now. However, in such a dynamic industry, anything can happen. Change is constant, and it stands to reason that offers will at some point be made and entertained. Whether they will be consummated will depend on the circumstances in place at the time.—Chip Wright

The Cessna SkyCourier

Cessna recently announced a partnership with FedEx to build a clean-sheet twin called the SkyCourier. Designed to service smaller markets in the FedEx network, the new high-wing twin is a classic Cessna design: It’s boxy, with a strut-supported, straight high wing and fixed gear. It won’t be fast, as it is advertising a top speed in the range of 200 knots. Odds are that the airplane will be designed for single-pilot operations in the cargo world, and will be flown with a crew for passenger flight.

Big, boxy Cessna’s tend to be easy to fly, and the SkyCourier will likely be no different. The landing gear is going to be fairly wide, so crosswind landings will be a relative breeze.

So what does this mean for wanna-be professional pilots? Back in the day, getting multiengine time was the equivalent of a crusade. Nowadays, there’s a recognition that multi time is not realistically attainable in any sufficient quantity, and regional airlines train pilots the way they want them to fly in Level D sims, after which they get extensive training when flying the line.

There is no word yet on how training will be conducted in the SkyCourier. Chances are, there will be some kind of simulator, even if it isn’t a full Level D. Sim training is safer, cheaper, more efficient, and more effective than training in an airplane. The systems on the SkyCourier are likely to be pretty simple, so the academic side of the training will probably spend more time on the avionics.

Pilots who are lucky enough to fly the SkyCourier when it hits the market will have a decided leg up on their competitors when it comes to landing certain jobs. Multiengine time will always be a valuable commodity, and it’s quite possible that pilot with relatively low total time, but a good chunk of multiengine turbine pilot-in-command time in the SkyCourier may be able to procure a job with a major airline faster.

I also suspect that the SkyCourier will find a place in the passenger world in markets where the Beech 1900 or the Twin Otter used to excel. It won’t happen in droves, but it will happen. In time, it will find work for skydiving and missionary work, and if winds up on floats, I won’t be surprised.

The lack of retractable landing gear will lower insurance premiums (not to mention maintenance costs) for operators, and won’t measurably hurt pilots looking to move on.

This airplane is a great piece of news, as it demonstrates the confidence of FedEx and Cessna in the small-town package delivery market, and injects new life into a segment in which the airplanes that are available are old and tired. Those who are going to fly are going to be very fortunate indeed.

Buddy passes

The buddy pass is one of the perks of working for an airline. It is just what it sounds like: a pass for a buddy to fly for a rock-bottom price. Virtually every airline offers them to employees, and at first glance, they sound great. You can take a friend or a family member on a trip and do so for a fraction of the price of a regular ticket. But, as with every airline ticket, there are catches.

The most important caveat is that a buddy pass is a space-available seat, meaning that your friend—or soon-to-be enemy—is only getting on if there is an empty seat and there isn’t a weight and balance restriction. In this day and age, with planes flying 80 to 90 percent full, an empty seat is hard to come by. I always tell people that the only thing a buddy pass guarantees is a positive space trip through security. That’s it.

That’s because, in terms of priority, buddy pass riders are listed behind revenue passengers; revenue passengers trying to change flights; employees being moved around by the company, employees that are non-revving; and, in some cases, retirees (a few airlines put retirees after pass riders). There is usually an exception in place if the pass rider is traveling with the employee, and that can be a significant advantage. Pass riders on their own truly are the last ones on the airplane.

Boarding last creates other issues along the way. The gate agents’ first concern is getting the flight out on time, and they’ve been known to leave some pass riders behind on occasion. Second, if you have a bag of any consequence, the overhead bins are likely to be full, and your rider may or may not be charged to check the bag, potentially increasing the cost of the trip.

Back in the day, pass riders had to rely on the employee to create the listing. Today, most airlines provide some avenue for a pass rider to look up loads and explore connecting options. As an employee, it’s up to you to make sure that the buddy can navigate the process without any help from you.

Buddy passes are charged based on either a zone formula (so much for traveling within a zone or a radius of a certain amount) or by charging so much a mile. And this is the rub, because it’s possible for the ticket price to climb to a point where the gap in price of a buddy pass and a positive-space ticket is close enough that a positive-space ticket will make more sense and provide the peace of mind of knowing you’re going to get on a flight.

Here’s an example: A friend of mine wanted a quote for a buddy pass to go to Australia. The first class rate (more on this below) for a round-trip ticket was $1,300, and around $700 for coach. But, there was a sale fare of $1,000 round trip, and my suggestion was to just buy a ticket, especially since it was such a long trip with few options. Speaking of paying for a buddy pass, most of them are payroll deductible, so make sure you get paid ahead of time, and settle up after the flight if the price varies.

But the biggest issue with buddy passes is making sure that everyone understands the rules (including you, as the sponsoring employee).
Unfortunately, too many people don’t seem to understand the limitations of flying stand-by.

In certain markets, giving someone a buddy pass is almost cruel (think Florida for spring break, or Hawaii any time). Flexibility is key, and the rules vary from one airline to another. For example, some airlines will allow you to list for a first-class seat, but they’ll put you in economy if that’s the only section with seats, and charge you accordingly. However, you may not be allowed to list for coach and then go to first class if a seat opens up there. This happens a lot on international flights, so pay attention to the rules for listing.

Dress code is important as well. United made the news about a year ago when a couple of pass riders were denied boarding because they were in violation of the dress code for pass riders. Most of these rules are available in a PDF format, so print them out for your buddies and also email them so that they can reference them as the get ready for the trip.

If your buddies don’t get on a flight, some systems will automatically roll them over to the next flight to that destination—but some won’t. The agent may manually do it for them—but they may not. It’s ultimately the buddy’s responsibility to figure that out.

Having flown for the airlines for more than 20 years now, I’ve learned that the best piece of advice I can give you about buddy passes is this: Don’t use them. Too many things can go wrong, and too often somebody says they “have to get there,” and that’s a sure-fire sign they need to buy a ticket. And too often the buddy doesn’t understand or respect the rules, and the person who gets in trouble is the employee.

The one exception I make is that I will give buddy passes to someone who used to work for an airline or has used them and is familiar with the process, the risks, and isn’t going to lose any sleep if they don’t make their flight.

If you insist on using buddy passes, be aware of the rules. And don’t say that I didn’t warn you.—Chip Wright

New drug tests

Drug testing is a fact of life at the airlines. You can count on being tested as a new hire, and then you’ll be subjected to random testing for the rest of your career. The FAA requires that 25 percent of pilots, chosen at random, get tested annually. The airline handles the details, or perhaps the testing company it contracts with to process the sample collections.

The standard profile calls for alcohol, marijuana, and several illegal recreational drugs. Recently, however, natural and synthetic opioids were added to the list. This is clearly in response to the national opioid epidemic, but it isn’t really a surprise. Used as intended, opioids such as Percocet, Oxycontin, et cetera, are extremely effective anti-pain medications used to treat various injuries or to ease recovery from some surgical procedures.

Unfortunately, these medicines are also extremely addictive, and as evidenced by the large number of deaths the last several years, they are too easy to acquire (in fact, NBC News did a segment showing how easy it was to order synthetic opioids online and have them shipped to your home). The FAA has added such testing not so much to catch pilots in the act, but as a deterrent. In my experience, most pilots are tested after they are finished flying. I’ve yet to see a test administered before a trip. It wouldn’t matter in the sense that it takes several days to get the results back, but if a pilot is tested before he or she flies and then comes up positive, it could create a public relations nightmare for the company.

If you’re ever prescribed one of these medications, you can minimize the risks of a positive test fairly easily. First, ask if something else might work just as effectively. If not, ask for the minimum number of pills that you might need, and then only take them when you absolutely need them. Second, ask detailed questions about how long you need to allow the remnants of the last dosage to leave your system. Whatever that time is, added another 48 hours before you return to work. Third, read the enclosed literature, or search the manufacturer’s website for more detailed information. Better yet, contact the manufacturer directly and ask them how long you need to wait to ensure a passed drug test.

If you’re flying internationally, you should also be aware that some countries have far more rigid rules with respect to the presence of alcohol. The United Kingdom is famous for this, and they’ve recently added some enhanced procedures to prevent pilots from flying under the influence. Keep this in mind if you plan to imbibe a bit while you’re on a trip.

There is very little leeway for flying with any hint of drugs in your system, and the rules can vary wildly from one country to the next. Play it safe, and if there is any chance you might have any in your system, ground yourself until you can be sure you’re completely clean.—Chip Wright

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