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Category: Career flying (page 1 of 14)

Paper alternates

If you’re reading this, chances are you are an instrument-rated pilot, or at least considering becoming one. Under instrument flight rules, if the weather, plus or minus an hour of your ETA, is expected to be worse than a 2,000 feet ceiling and visibility of less than 3 miles, you need to file an alternate (this is known as the 1-2-3 rule).

The airlines use the same criteria, though there are several exemptions that the FAA will grant that allow for different alternate determination rules and alternate selection rules. It depends on the airline, its equipment, safety record, et cetera. But even then, everything starts with the 1-2-3 rule. And often the alternate that is given is not always the best choice.

Nobody ever wants to divert. Diversions are inconvenient, and whether you are a general aviation guy in a Cessna 172 or an airline, diversions also cost money. When the fuel is Jet A at a relatively low altitude, the costs add up quickly. Further, carrying any extra fuel also costs money. Therefore, it stands to reason that when an alternate is listed, it should be as close to the destination as possible, right? Not necessarily.

Back in my regional days, I was based in Cincinnati (CVG), and when the weather was low enough to require an alternate, the company would frequently use the nearby Lunken airport (LUK). This was a “paper” alternate, in that it satisfied all of the regulatory requirements.

However, there was never any intention that we were going to land at LUK. The point of listing it was to minimize the cost of carrying alternate fuel for a more realistic station (in our case, typically Dayton, Indianapolis, Louisville or Lexington). We didn’t serve LUK, and the airport had no TSA presence, so deplaning passengers would have created a nightmare. We also didn’t have a fuel contract there, so getting fuel would have been expensive.

I’ve seen this issue in more than one metro area. Airlines going to New York will use another airport in the New York area—Islip, White Plains, Stewart, to say nothing of the more common JFK/LGA/EWR trio—that they don’t serve just to minimize costs. And most of the time, this works. Dispatchers don’t typically use one of these paper alternates unless they a) have to, and b) are confident that the weather won’t go much lower than the 2,000 and 3 that requires an alternate in the first place. But still…things can happen.

When you see one of these scenarios develop, you have to decide whether to go along with the eternal optimism of the dispatchers that things will work out as planned, or call them and discuss a more realistic option. Since the captain and dispatcher both have to sign off on the flight, you do have some leverage. Or, you can take your chances and land at a small podunk airport and watch the show as everything unravels—for which you will be blamed in some way, shape, or form.

Know the rules. But also know the options, and don’t be afraid to exercise them.—Chip Wright 

Short-notice emergencies

Pilots don’t deal with emergencies nearly as much as the people in Hollywood would have you believe. The majority of flights are uneventful, and most of the ones that are eventful fall that way because of the weather, not because of an engine fire or a hijacking.

In my career, I’ve had a number of issues both mechanical and human to handle in flight. Mechanical ones are usually pretty straightforward, as there is a checklist for just about everything (“just about” being the caveat). A few of the more challenging scenarios have involved medical issues with passengers, and the most challenging have been those that occur with relatively short notice before either a descent to the destination or the landing.

Three stand out. One was a pregnant lady who went into labor as we were turning final, and two were passengers who got sick in flight (different people, different flights, same day—you can’t make this stuff up). It’s often said that the holy trinity of flying is aviate, navigate, communicate, and never is that more true than when dealing with a compressed time frame and a medical scenario that may require immediate help. No matter what it is, you need to ensure that safety of all passengers, and you can best do that by actually flying the airplane. Sounds obvious, right? But it sometimes gets lost in our innate desire to help someone.

The first task is to figure out if a diversion is even an option or necessary. The captain and the first officer may disagree on this, but the FO has an obligation to respectfully assert an opinion, and the captain has an obligation to respectfully listen and consider that input.

If a diversion is not in the cards, then it is imperative to split the workload in such a way as to ensure continued safety while addressing the problem. On the second of my two medical emergencies in one day, the passenger was deteriorating rapidly, and the captain had me take over all of the flying duties while he coordinated with the cabin crew and the folks on the ground. This particular event began below 18,000 feet on our descent, so things happened quickly.

Normally, sterile cockpit procedures would apply, but there was reason to believe that this person might not survive, and time was of the essence. While I flew, the captain got as much information as possible from the flight attendants and passed that on to our station on the ground, so that they could pass it on the EMTs on the airport. We did the checklists together, but in between, he was getting updates from the cabin.

When we checked in with the tower, they had to be told what was going on, as preparations were still coming together on the ground. ATC had some idea of what was going on, but they didn’t know the full extent of it. Once we told them, they gave us a better runway and promised us an expedited taxi to the gate. This conversation went on until just a short distance from the runway.

On the ground, the captain taxied the airplane as quickly as he safely could while I took over ATC duties, and when we got to the gate, the paramedics were on the jetway with a stretcher waiting to remove our sick passenger.

Unforeseen emergencies like this don’t happen often, but when they do, it seems to be at the worst possible time. The workload and the stress increase, but the obligation to stay professional and on task never changes. This passenger survived, and part of that was the coordination that took place to make sure that emergency personnel were in position and had the information they needed. But that would not have mattered if we had not aviated first, navigated second, and communicated third.—Chip Wright

Hotel issues

When you are making a living by living on the road, you will become an expert on certain issues that can arise. In our case, we don’t often rent cars, so most of our problems will be with hotels.

There are several things that stand out as common areas of distress when it comes to hotels. While everyone might have a few other things on their list, and may order them differently, this is mine, and I’m willing to bet that most would easily agree on it.

Transportation. This is less of an issue for me than it used to be. At the regionals, we almost always stayed in a hotel that provided the transportation to and from the airport, and getting the vans to show on time seemed to be a never-ending challenge. Many of them claim to run on a schedule, but unless that schedule is whenever-we-want-to-o’clock, it isn’t one you will recognize. Somehow, every time I would call for a van, I would be told that “it just left the airport.” At some point you realize that this is code for “we don’t really know where it is.” The wait and frustration were always at their worst when it was cold, late, or the end of a long day with a short night ahead.

Transportation companies tend to be more reliable, and hotels themselves are better than they used to be thanks to the proliferation of the smart phone and apps that they can use to know exactly when you’ve arrived. This is a major consideration when you are unusually early or late.

Temperature control. Hotels are a constant source of complaint when it comes to getting the room temps to be comfortable. A few—not many, but a few—still only have a central control for the entire hotel, which means that they might have the heat on when the temps are just starting to drop, and that can lead to an uncomfortably warm room. Malfunctioning air conditioners are by far the most common reason I’ve ever had to call the front desk, and they’ve also led to me changing rooms more times than I care to remember. I have a couple of hotels on my personal list that I dread staying in because the A/C is just unable to produce a comfortable room temperature. Some pilots will just go to another hotel altogether, but while I’ve come close to this, I haven’t actually done it.

A few hotels have a certain A/C system that you can override to set a lower temperature. It’s called a VIP setting, and it will let you turn the room into an icebox if you want to. It will hold that setting for up to three days. But you didn’t hear that here.

Food. The biggest issue here is usually a lack of options or price. Or both. This is usually only an issue late at night or in the time between breakfast and lunch if you got in late and need to sleep. It can also be an issue when the restaurant is closed for a renovation. These days, it’s an issue because of COVID. My company has been forced to change a number of our hotels because of a lack of dining options. What helps these days are services such as Uber Eats, Grub Hub, et cetera.

Noise. This isn’t as much of an issue as it used to be, but noise can still be a major problem, especially during holidays or festive occasions when people tend to get drunk and act like idiots. Large events with kids—sports tournaments, kid-centric conventions, et cetera—can also be a problem. A number of hotels try to put crews on the same floor or floors in order to keep the noise at bay, but they can’t always do that. Not everyone can sleep through noise or fall asleep after having been jarred awake. This may require calling in fatigued, but most pilots don’t resort to that.

Noise outside the hotel, such as fireworks or sirens, usually isn’t something the hotel can do anything about, and you can’t do but so much complaining. But if it is on the hotel property, then you should by all means complain if necessary. Live music or a loud deejay is a pretty common complaint. In time, you get pretty adept at figuring out which rooms are noise-sensitive: overlooking pools, near elevators and ice machines, stairwells, fitness rooms or supply closets.

There are myriad other common items that come up in hotels, such as keys that don’t work, fire alarms in the middle of the night, or a lack of hot water, but these are the biggest issues that you will face on a regular basis. And the truth is, 99 percent of hotels do everything they can to minimize the issues, because they don’t want to lose the contract or disrupt your rest. A hotel is a home away from home, so you should be (and deserve to be) comfortable.—Chip Wright

Sick at work

We are well into the COVID-19 pandemic, and my airline just sent out a memo reminding everyone that flu season is coming while imploring us not to come to work if we are sick.

In the past, this would only happen if the flu was running rampant, but this year there is an added sense of urgency. And, because we have to have our temperature checked every day, it begs the question of how to handle an illness of any sort while on a trip.

Nobody wants to be “the reason” for a cancellation or stranding a planeload of passengers somewhere. But that said, sometimes you just don’t have a choice. I was on a trip once many years ago, and I woke up in the middle of the night with a case of food poisoning that was so bad that the flu would have been a welcome improvement. The vomiting and diarrhea were so bad that I quickly became dehydrated and it was at least an hour before I could stay on the phone long enough to call the company and my crew. I felt awful for nixing the flight, but I was just in no shape to fly.

So, what do you do if you do get sick? Or if someone in your crew is sick? First is to let someone know: the front desk, the company, a fellow crew member. You don’t need to offer drastic details, but you need to tell someone. A crew member can call Scheduling for you and can work with the front desk to arrange for you to keep your room. If you decide to call the company, don’t commit to anything with respect to when you will be ready to return to work, and don’t try to self-diagnose anything. Just tell them that you’re too ill to fly, and get off the phone.

If you’re the healthy member of the crew, you can call the company on behalf of your partner and explain that they are sick, and even if they wanted to fly, you’re not going to let them.

Once you call in sick, you’re sick. You can’t allow yourself to be talked back into going to work. The FAA will have you for lunch. If your partner is clearly ill, you need to help them determine if they need to get to a hospital. Most of the time, the answer will be no, but if you aren’t convinced that they are doing well, then you should make arrangements to get them to an emergency room. Going to the ER in the middle of the night is never any fun, but I can tell you from too many experiences that it is the best time of day to go, since it will be pretty quiet and slow. You can be in and out fairly quickly, or quickly attended to and admitted. If it is your crew member, somebody from the crew should try to accompany them.

In addition to the company, it’s also critical that you notify the spouse of the ill person, because the company might try to beat you to the punch. You also need to get word to the rest of the crew, though company policy might dictate that Scheduling handle that. If everyone is on the same floor at the hotel, you can slide notes under the doors. You might also need to coordinate with the front desk on keeping the rooms. If the hotel is in a busy period such as a convention or a trade show, then you need to get on this lickety split and be prepared to change hotels if they are sold out.

Getting sick on the road is no fun, but if you do this long enough, it will happen to either you or someone on your crew. Be ready so that you can minimize the disruption and keep the sick person comfortable.—Chip Wright

California Pilots Association Zooms into View

The California Pilots Association (CalPilots) held its annual conference and annual meeting virtually this year. The event, California Zooming, featured 8-hours of Zoom content for hundreds airport and airplane lovers and featured John and Martha King as keynote speakers. CalPilots established in 1949, is a statewide non-profit corporation committed to the support of CA state general aviation airports and flight privileges.

Local, state, regional and national aviation groups have been challenged to meet the needs of its members during the COVID crisis.  I have been impressed by the virtual events I have attended both in terms of scope and quality.  California Zooming was an example of both and I was honored to be a part of it.   Here’s a list of offerings from the event, many of these seminars will be available on CalPilots’ YouTube channel in the coming weeks. My hope is that other state aviation associations or local groups can offer this type of education on airport advocacy as well as proficient pilot safety courses.

Through generous support from these great companies, we were able to offer wonderful member door prizes.  A big thank you goes to: King Schools, Lightspeed Aviation, Flying Eyes Optics, LIFT Aviation, Precise Flight, ACI Jet, and MyGo Flight.


General Session Presenters


Airport-Centered General Sessions

FAA WINGS Credit Courses

California Zooming provided attendees with four WINGS credit courses focused on pilot proficiency.  Thank you to  John and Martha King, Captain Brian Schiff, Captain Mike Jesch, Captain Gary Schank,  Paul Marshall, Ron Lovick, and  Ed Story for their informative and entertaining presentations.

California Flying Oddities – What Makes Flying in California Odd and Fun.

Captains Brian Schiff and Mike Jesch shared with us the interesting challenges ranging from the terrestrial (mountains, deserts, and oceans) to the man-made (big cities and complicated air space). They took us on a tour of several interesting and challenging airports and areas all around the state, to highlight some of what makes California flying fun.  This WINGS credit course is viewable on our YouTube channel.

Keynote: Straight Talk about Aviation Safety with John and Martha King

Pilots throughout the world regard John and Martha as their personal aviation mentors from multimedia training programs. Having had a hand in the aviation education of nearly half of the pilots in the United States in the last four decades, the Kings feel a deep responsibility toward their students and a strong sense of mission about passing on practical and insightful tools for risk management.  While we will never completely eliminate the risks of general aviation, but the Kings’ presentation covered procedures and techniques that can help pilots manage aviation risks effectively. This WINGS credit class is viewable on our YouTube channel.

Responding to the Pandemic: CalDART COVID-19 Operations

The California DART Network (CalDART) organizes California’s pilots to safely help their communities respond to disaster through its Disaster Airlift Response Teams (DARTs) located throughout the state. For COVID-19, CalDART launched Operation Medical Shield (OMS), helping front line workers get their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) even when their main sources of supply ran out, or when their thinly funded organizations could not afford them. Flights have delivered PPE all around California and as far away as Walla Walla, Washington. In OMS, CalDART developed new Flight Medical Safety practices to keep people safe from viral infection. This WINGS credit class is viewable on our YouTube channel.

Avoiding Wing Dings: Operating Your Plane Safely on the Ground

Captain Gary Schank provided a fun and informative look at an airline pilot’s tips for safely operating your aircraft before and after you take to the air. Every flight begins and ends with ground operations, and therefore, it is a skill that should not be taken for granted. Topics included airport signage, markings and lighting, clearances, standardization, taxi etiquette, emergencies, low visibility taxi, and runway incursion avoidance. This WINGS credit class is viewable on our YouTube channel.


 Three-Tiered Airport Advocacy

Given that we are not holding large aviation gatherings, these virtual events give us opportunities to socialize, get education and explore airport advocacy. I support the three-tiered approach to airport advocacy.  Here’s a brief introduction to the concept.

Tier 1 – Local Advocacy: Local wisdom is the best source of information at an airport. Who better understands current issues, history, and future needs better the pilots who are based there? What can you do locally?

  • Join your local airport organization.
  • Find out who your AOPA ASN volunteer is.
  • Attend Airport Land Use Meetings.
  • Host community events at your airport.
  • Form a business relationship with your City or County Planners.
  • Attend all City or County sponsored airport meetings.
  • Attend Airport meetings.
  • Look for chapters of state aviation organizations in your town/area/region.
  • Use media to the airport’s best interest [newspaper, radio, social media, TV].
  • Create a good working relationship with your airport manager.

Tier 2 – Statewide Organizations: Not every state has its own general aviation organization. But a quick Google search will tell you if your state does. Statewide airport advocacy organizations are important because they maintain statewide contacts, information, and strategies. Further, our statewide groups can also advise and assist the local airport groups when issues arise.

Tier 3 – National Organizations: Our national aviation organizations are a critical piece of the three-tiered airport defense strategy. Membership ensures that each maintains its ability to support statewide or local airport/pilot organizations. If you do not belong to AOPA, EAA, NBAA, you should. Critical to interfacing with our congressional representatives, lobbying that national pilot organizations provide a large presence in Washington, DC. This voice serves to remind DC of the importance of general aviation to the nation’s transportation infrastructure. We were happy to have Melissa McCaffrey our AOPA Regional representative for the Western Pacific Region join us throughout the day.


Life has changed for us all in 2020. However, one thing that remains constant is our need for connection, camaraderie, and fun. Join your local aviation groups, become a member of your state aviation association, and utilize our national organizations fully.  We will come out of this on the other side, but we need to make sure that our airports are protected and our piloting skills are proficient.

 

 

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter and aviation writer. Jolie is the Region 4 Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Family time

My kids have only known the airline life, with Daddy being gone a good portion of most months. My wife grew up in a more traditional household, but her father worked at least 70 hours a week. Still, he was home every night, whereas I am not.

As you can imagine, this can create some tension at times. But, when I am home, I am truly home, and I have plenty of free time to live and handle life.

When my kids were younger, they would try to fight over who got to spend more time with me when I was home. One of their favorite things was for me to come to school to eat lunch with them, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that there were going to be days when I’d be eating two lunches, and for a while, in different schools. I got pretty adept at packing two smaller snacks, because they didn’t like to think that I had the “better” lunch with the other one. Kids are funny like that.

The monthly juggling act for years was to try figure out how to be home for as many of the kids’ activities as I could, without making one of them feel slighted. It wasn’t always easy, and it often took some planning. One of the most effective ways to deal with it (at least in my house) was to sit everyone down when I was working on my schedule for the following month, and asking who really wanted me around for something. If they had multiple events, they had to tell me the order of importance. I never promised more than I could give, and a couple of events required some help from another pilot or from the chief pilot’s office. And, if I’m being honest, there were one or two sick calls that had to be used in order to be the best parent that I could be.

My kids got pretty good at giving me a heads up about major events that might be anywhere from two to four months or more down the road. I learned to figure out how to interpret the tone of their voices, so I knew which ones were critical and which ones would just be nice. And there were some things that they didn’t place as much importance on as I did, and that’s OK, too.

Birthdays were always a challenge, because birthday parties almost always took place on a weekend, even if the bid day was on a Wednesday. Because they had sleepovers for years, I always made sure that I was home for those so that my wife wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. But as they got older, I’d ask them if they wanted me home for the party or the actual birthday.

Like any other pilot or flight attendant, there were some things that I’ve just had to miss, and that’s just the breaks. But I’ve always tried to prioritize my family, and I dare say that I’ve done well, but it isn’t always easy, especially if someone is sick. But when they look back, I think my kids will be able to say that, when it was really important, Daddy was there. It takes a team effort, and it takes work, but if you want to do it, you can. Even if you have get…creative.—Chip Wright

Resolving conflicts in the cockpit

Any large group of people is going to produce personality conflicts at some point. Throw in the Type A personality and the sizeable egos of most pilots, and it makes us riper for potential conflict than we might like to admit. Given the tight quarters of an airline cockpit, this can be a dangerous situation if it gets too volatile. How does one deal with this? This is a common interview question.

Each major pilot union has come up with a program to help defuse situations before the company gets involved. Because I am a member of ALPA, and that is the one that I’m most familiar with, it is the one that I will use, but the pilots at non-ALPA carriers use similar processes and tools. The ALPA model is called Professional Standards, and like every other committee within the association, it is staffed by volunteers. These men and women are put through a specific training program to help them help their peers.

Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that one of the pilots has a “personal policy” of deliberately flouting company policy in the airplane. For example, assume that the pilot in question says that he will not do certain checklists as dictated by company policy. This is going to make some pilots very uncomfortable, and it may create a hazard. If the offending pilot can’t be convinced to do things the way they should be done, the affected pilot has two options. One is to go to the company.

But another option is to call someone on the Pro Standards committee and let them try to handle it. Pro Standards pilots do not and cannot act in a disciplinary way. However, what they can do is sort through the details of the conflict, and determine where any wrong (if any) is occurring, and then call and counsel the pilot in question.

The key here is that, sometimes, peer pressure can be every bit as effective, if not more so, than other options. Getting a call from Pro Standards can be something of an embarrassment, especially if it has to do with non-compliance with the company or FAA procedures.

On the flip side, it may be that the pilot who filed the complaint was wrong about something or misunderstood something. If the conflict is a personality clash, then the committee member(s) might be able to offer some ideas and tools for avoiding a conflict in the future. It’s often said that we shouldn’t talk about politics, religion, or sex, and there’s some truth to that. Stick to more basic topics and you can avoid a lot of issues.

There are times, however, when Pro Standards is simply unable to help a pilot correct certain behaviors. Every airline, it seems, has that one person who just can’t get out of his or her own way. If the offending pilot continues to cause trouble, then it might be time to consider getting the chief pilot or other appropriate department heads involved, but you better have your ducks in a row and make sure that it won’t devolve into a mud-slinging contest that will also make you look bad.

Fortunately, most of us get along, even with people that have very different views than we do. But there are those times when two pilots just can’t coexist. There are tools you can use to get through those trying times. Know what they are, and take advantage of them, and your life will be much easier.—Chip Wright

Voting as a pilot

As summer turns to fall, we are getting inundated with advertising for the upcoming elections. Some of us will vote straight party, and others will mix and match. Others may not vote at all, and others will choose based on issues that are near and dear to them. Aviation is one of those areas where there may be some split loyalty.

General aviation pilots and airline pilots have a lot in common and a lot of similar goals: safety in practice, efficient and effective training, and a desire not to burn someone at the stake for a mistake that can be corrected. But there are some differences, and some of those contrasts are sharp. General aviation groups, including AOPA, have long advocated for things like Basic Med, sport pilot, smaller and/or fewer Class B airspace allocations, and other pilot-friendly initiatives, with no tolerance for any talk around user fees. Groups like ALPA, SWAPA, and Airlines for America tend to push for ideas that would, on paper, help the airlines but that could hurt the general aviation segment. User fees are at the top of this wish list, but so are efforts to derail some of the aforementioned concepts.

As a pilot who may be embarking on an airline career, you will eventually be faced with having to make a decision between two pieces of the same puzzle. If you come from the general aviation world, you will have a unique perspective on what GA does and can offer, and it may not always appear to be in agreement with your professional life. I won’t tell you that I have always been in agreement with AOPA, EAA, or NBAA. I haven’t been. But I do know that without a thriving GA sector, our country will not be able to continue to produce the same high-quality, experienced pilots that U.S. airlines need. We have the busiest airspace in the world, and several airspace corridors here have more traffic in a day than some countries do in a week. An airplane is a very dynamic working environment, and that needs to be recognized and accommodated.

But, there are times when the airlines are also wrong. Fighting scientifically based work rules and duty times was one of them. And it is still wrong that those rules don’t apply to cargo pilots, but as of this writing, such is the case.

I can’t tell you every voting scenario you might face as a pilot. I certainly can’t tell you that you should vote for a candidate based on a single issue or series of related issues. But I can tell you that it is critical that you vote, and if you are passionate about flying—be it in a Piper Cub or a Citation or a 747—you owe it yourself to factor aviation into your decision-making process. Maybe it will tip your scale one way or the other. Maybe it won’t. But your vote may.—Chip Wright

Outward looking mastery vs. inward looking precision

Outward looking mastery vs. inward looking precision: musings about the differences between Commercial and Instrument flight

In 2017 I decided it was the year to complete my long started, then stopped, then re-started process of attaining my instrument rating.  I chronicled the process in Gotta get that Rating.  2020 dawned with promise of the commercial certificate and we all know what happened to those promises.  Yet on July 5th 2020 I passed my commercial check ride in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, where I learned to fly some 18 years ago.

Inward focused precision

I recently flew another round-trip to Oregon which was 90% IMC due the massive wildfires.  My route was pretty much right up the gut of California, in between the TFRs and on in to Oregon.  The situation in the Northwest wasn’t much better as wind driven wildfires began to pop up in Central Oregon.  Hand-flying 5 hours on instruments in my Mooney M20E with no autopilot is mentally exhausting.  On the way to my fuel stop I was given delay vectors and a hold for the [RNAV] approach. The airport was covered in dense smoke with visual contact only 30 feet above minimums.  I was never so happy to see a VASI.  I flew the ODP out and was happy to finally get above the smoke at 8K. The visibility on the trip home was much worse.  In the 5.5 hours of flying I only had ground reference for the first and last 30 minutes of the flight.  As I shot the RNAV into fuel stop [Yuba airport] I was just so grateful that I had great flight instruction, a solid IFR platform in the Mooney, and the ability to focus my attention [mostly] inside the airplane.

Flying in IMC requires extensive planning,  mental discipline, ability to follow instructions from ATC, and constant focus on your instrument scan.  In contrast the commercial relies on the artistry of looking outside, focusing on smooth flying and planning for the safety and comfort of your passengers.  In no way am I saying that instrument and commercial flying don’t share characteristics, but for me, it seems like I am using different parts of my brain for the nuanced differences.

Outward focused mastery

On one of the last days of my commercial training I was flying from the LA Basin [Fullerton] to French Valley [F70] airport.  I had done some of the planning for this short hop noting the location of the freeways, surrounding terrain, lake, and direction of the airport from town.  As usual, I had my IPad on with Foreflight, and the 530W proudly displaying the magenta line to F70. About ten minutes into the flight my instructor, Mike Jesch, fiendishly turned the 530 to another page and disabled the geo-referencing on the IPad.  He said, “Now what are you going to do?”  What I did next was an example of my instrument training as I slowed the airplane down, centered VORs and triangulated the location of the airport based on radials.  It took me at least two minutes of looking out, then in, out then inside.  Mike gently said, “Is there anything else you could be looking at, perhaps outside?”  Then it dawned on me to locate the freeway I was following, to identify the hills before the airport and the lake that was off in the distance. I also noted that if this was a real situation on a commercial flight, I would have let ATC know of the failure and asked for a vector to confirm what I was seeing on the ground.

When in doubt, look out

Flying to commercial standards is all about smoothness, precision, and planning for passengers.  Training was intensive and consisted of the learning and demonstration of the elements included in the ACS.  Folks had told me that I would love flying the “fun” commercial maneuvers [chandelle, steep spiral, lazy 8, 180 power off landing, steep turns, 8s on pylons etc.].  I didn’t really experience the “fun” part of it until the very last day of training with Mike.  As I was demonstrating elements for my check ride prep, I found myself zooming down during a lazy 8 and thought, “Yeah, this is fun being totally in control of this airplane.”

Yes! This is fun.

As I prepared for my Commercial check ride, there was a distinct change in my thought process from “do as you planned, or are told by ATC” instrument flying toward what I call, “Pro-Pilot” thinking. My DPE gave me the following cross-country scenario:

So much for an easy fire season– lightning has sparked a big wind-driven fire over by Sandpoint, ID, causing a bit of a panic. Newly hired by a Part 135 group that has extensive Forest Service contracts, you have been tasked to fly two Incident Commanders from your base, The Dalles OR (KDLS), to the Sandpoint airport (KSZT) in your aircraft, where they will join the hastily assembled Hot Shot crews waiting to take on the fire. You have recently noticed that your turn coordinator has been really noisy on startup, but you have not had an opportunity to have it checked out. The firefighters think they weigh around 180lbs and plan on taking roughly 60lbs of gear each. They really need to be in Sandpoint by noon, so plan accordingly.

 As a private pilot you would, of course, think about inoperative equipment, weight, fuel, weather and routing, but as a Pro-Pilot I planned around:

  • passenger comfort
  • weighing passengers and luggage
  • loading of passengers/bags for CG
  • prevailing weather, wind, smoke conditions
  • scenic , yet efficient route
  • communication with passengers re: expectations of flight
  • route with less potential for turbulence
  • instrument currency/approaches if needed
  • route near airports/highways
  • choosing alternate airports with rental cars, calculated driving distance
  • timing details to get the firefighters to Sandpoint by noon

It goes without saying that the instrument and commercial check ride differed greatly. However, knowledge of systems, safe practices, and aeronautical decision making were very much the same.  Instrument flying is challenging due to the lack of visual cues and intense focus inside the airplane.  Commercial flying is challenging because you must focus on the safety and comfort of your passengers, who see an airplane as merely a mode of transportation.

Gaining my instrument rating made me a better, safer, pilot.  The rating has increased the quality of my flying life.  The commercial certificate opens up the pro-pilot part of my flying career.  Both have changed me for the better.  Now I am focused on the multi-engine Commercial rating in late September. Then I promised myself I would get the rest of 2020 for fun flying.

Remember that a great pilot uses both mastery while looking outside the airplane and thoughtful precision while looking inside.  Whether you are thinking about getting a new rating or certificate or purchasing a plane or club ownership this time, where we are home-based might be the perfect opportunity. I hope to see you all out there in 2021.

 

 

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter and aviation writer. Jolie is the Region 4 Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Some of the new normal

As I write this, we are five months plus into the COVID-19 saga. As you already know, it has had a devastating impact on a number of business sectors, with the airlines being among the hardest hit. In response to the virus as well as the concerns of the passengers, there have been some changes, and there is a chance that some of these—if not all—will become permanent changes.

First and foremost is the way the airplanes are cleaned. Prior to COVID, the concept of an electrostatic sprayer was totally foreign to travel. Now, it is quickly becoming commonplace. In addition, more deep cleaning is taking place when the planes aren’t flying. A recent change implemented for at least two airlines calls for running the auxiliary power unit (APU) on the ground more than was the previous practice. The aircraft all have HEPA filters, and the onboard air conditioning system can cycle the air from the whole plane in a matter of minutes. The conditioned air from the jetway isn’t HEPA-filtered, although that may well change in the future as well, especially as the fuel bills for the APUs mount.

Currently, employees are subjected to daily temperature checks, and some are even expected to take their own thermometers to work in order to self-administer daily temperature checks. Chances are that this practice will go away in time, but for now, it is part of the new normal.

Due to the severe decrease in flying, aircraft are being rotated in and out of storage. Airplanes are designed to fly, and sitting doesn’t do them any good. While it is possible to catch up on any lingering maintenance issues, flying is the best maintenance of all. Not every plane in every fleet will get used, but rotating them in and out of service can keep more of them flying and ease the transition back to normal operations as demand returns.

Food service has changed as well. There are no cooked meals or any meals that require personal handling such as salads or fruit. Currently, pre-packaged snacks are the only option for most passengers, and this isn’t likely to change until there is a reasonable degree of certainty that we have reached herd immunity or widespread use of a vaccine.

The most obvious change is the requirement to wear masks. Airline employees are currently expected and required to wear masks pretty much whenever they are in uniform or on the clock. This is both for the protection of the employee and those they interact with, as well as a way to encourage passengers to wear theirs. I’m sure the mask requirement will eventually ease, but I would not be surprised if there is a requirement to have a mask handy to use in case someone shows signs of illness, even if it’s just a cold. In addition to the masks, more and more plexiglass dividers are showing up, but those may or may not remain later.

The new normal in the future will likely consist of at least the enhanced cleanings, and possibly some changes in air filtration systems. All of this will be reflected in the price of tickets, but it will all be in the name of safety. This will be especially true as scientists and doctors get more and more data about the behavior of the coronavirus. All we can do is wait and see.

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