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Flying in other countries

Aviation is supposed to be a world with a common language, but it doesn’t always work as well in practice as it does in theory. English is the agreed-upon language, but the fact is, not everyone speaks it as a primary language, and many struggle with it.

I do quite a bit of flying in Mexico and Central America, and most of the controllers speak English fairly well, while others clearly struggle to speak with a minimal accent. When I used to fly over certain parts of Japan, China, and Russia, the problem could be compounded. Russians, for instance, use meters versus feet.

Add to this the unusual (for us) names of some of the navaids and fixes that we use in foreign countries, and the risk of misunderstanding is fairly high. The obvious solutions are easy: Speak clearly, speak slowly, and make sure that you eliminate any potential distractions when you are listening to a transmission intended for you.

Fortunately, most controllers are patient and will gladly work with you to make sure that you understand what they need you to do or where they need you to go. And once you have some experience in a particular country, you will get better at predicting what will come next—and for that matter, what won’t. Many places, for instance, insist that you fly a full approach, so getting a shortcut for a visual is usually a non-starter. Other locations with spotty radar or challenging terrain will essentially force you to fly a full arrival or departure procedure.

One of the best ways to prepare for some of these challenges is to spend some time studying whatever material your company provides for operations in various geographic areas. When you get the flight plan, make sure that you can decipher the SIDS and STARS. In Mexico and other Central American countries, there might be a large number of arrivals depicted on one page, with various transitions to choose from. You’ll likely have to study the approach page(s) as well to determine how to load the route. The other possibility is that the flight plan won’t have a STAR on it, and you will be assigned one as you get near. That isn’t the time to try to decipher odd-sounding words that could confuse you. Try to have some passing familiarity with the sounds and phonetics so that you can be sure you have the right procedure.

There are some countries and/or airports that multiple airlines treat with an even greater degree of caution because of a confluence of risk factors, such as language, terrain, weather, et cetera. Bogota, Colombia, falls into this category. Most require pilots to go in for the first time with someone who has been there, and captains often have to go in for the first time with a check airman and be specifically signed off before they can be assigned BOG routinely.

Flying to new countries is a challenge, but it’s also fun, and when you get comfortable with the procedures, it is satisfying to know that you can work the system as intended. But preparation is key, and it can’t be overlooked. Likewise, you can’t allow complacency to rear its ugly head either. Stay focused, stay ahead of the airplane, and stay safe.—Chip Wright 

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Regional pilot bonuses

If there was ever any doubt about the need for pilots, or the need to try and retain pilots, those doubts have been squarely put to rest.

In August, Piedmont, PSA, and Envoy, all of whom fly under the American Airlines banner, announced significant retention bonuses. All captains are to receive $30,000 immediately, first officers will receive $30,000 when they upgrade, all pilots who stick around for the flow to American will receive $70,000, and there will also be $50,000 biannual bonuses available, with the details to be announced.

This is a blatant admission that the pipeline of pilots is drying up. It might also be an admission of sorts by American Airlines that pilots are not sticking around to get the promised flow to the American mainline. While I don’t have the details about how this program will work, or what the catches are, this indicates that the adage that “money talks” is going to be put to a test.

For example, how long will an upgrading FO have to stay to receive and keep the $30,000 bonus? What if that FO decides to bid back to the right seat for personal reasons? What is the structure of the biannual bonus? And, perhaps most important to so many of the pilots at the three airlines: how long do they have to realistically wait to get a shot at American? If the wait is too long, the problem is not going to be solved, as those pilots who are experienced and marketable will apply to Delta, United, Southwest, et al. If I am in management at American Airlines Group, I would be trying to figure out what to say to get them to stay.

It remains to be seen whether Delta and/or United will feel compelled to do something similar. Make no mistake that while the pilots in question are flying RJs, these bonuses are approved and maybe even initiated by management, since they pay the bills. It is clear that they see a shortage on the horizon.

I recently had a pilot from American on one of my flights, and while this wasn’t yet public knowledge, the overall need for pilots is, and we were discussing the state of the industry going forward. Every major airline will tell you that they all have the same 4,000 to 5,000 who are viable candidates in their pool of applicants. What makes this such a challenge is that, for the first time ever, multiple carriers are trying to hire at least 1,000 pilots a year. Delta, United, Southwest all would love to train more than that, and JetBlue is not far behind. UPS, FedEx and the Amazon contractors (Southern and Atlas) all need experienced pilots. While the pay at Southern and Atlas is still below where it should be, there is reason for optimism that the pilots are on the verge of a new contract that will dramatically increase compensation.

It doesn’t take much to see that four airlines hiring 1,000 pilots each will quickly deplete the current pool of available talent. It’s important to realize that these aren’t just pie-in-the-sky numbers either. While the pandemic is not over, travel demand has rebounded, and people are ready to move. Airlines responded to the downturn by offering early retirement packages that helped avoid furloughs. Retirements are not going to slow down, and every carrier is ordering airplanes that will result in a net growth of their fleets. They wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t have confidence that the business would be there. In fact, in 2022, United will be taking a new airplane every three days. It’s been decades since the majors have seen that kind of movement.

This is going to create an incredible series of opportunities, but it will also put great strains on each company’s training centers. There will be positions open as instructors, evaluators, course content creators, and more. Recruiters will also be in demand. New and more airplanes will also open up opportunities for mechanics, which is another area of great staffing concern. But for us as pilots, this represents an opportunity to try as many different types of flying as you might care to experience. Ultra long haul, cargo, wide body, narrow body, charters, Boeing versus Airbus…it is all on the table. Some pilots will bid aggressively and fly every plane in the fleet, and others will find a niche and settle in for the long haul in one seat or one fleet. You certainly won’t starve.

I am curious to see the gotchas of the American Airlines Group deal with its subsidiaries, but I do think it is indicative of the state of an industry that needs to work hard to make learning to fly more accessible, more affordable, and more attractive. Let’s hope that this is just the beginning!—Chip Wright

We don’t all just fly

One of the neat things about meeting so many different people in this line of work is to see what others bring to the table besides just their bona fides as a pilot. I’ve met some folks with fascinating backgrounds and side jobs that make for some interesting stories.

A friend of mine is well known among his comrades as a competitive race car driver, good enough that he had a chance to sign with a NASCAR sponsor back in the day. It was, he said, a difficult decision to make, but he chose to focus on flying and stuck with the racing as a hobby, which he has continued to enjoy as his schedule allows. The professional racing circuit, he said, was just too demanding for any sense of normal family life.

I used to fly with another fellow who now flies for Southern Air, and his trips are 17 days long, but that means he gets a couple of weeks off when he comes home. Because he was forced to find a way to support himself during a furlough, he became a commercial truck driver, and now he owns his own 18-wheeler rig that he uses on days off to deliver cargo on the ground. He loves the travel and the itinerant lifestyle, and his posts on social media are always entertaining to read.

Quite a few pilots have come to this line of work by way of success elsewhere. For a while, it seemed like everyone I flew with had something to do with medicine or pharmacology. The fields, they said, were fascinating. The red tape…not so much. Long hours and burnout from spending so much time haggling with insurance companies helped push them to pursue the opportunities in aviation, but several kept their fingers in the cookie jar by working part time and keeping up with continuing ed requirements as a fallback.

Other pilots have been able to take advantage of their flexible schedules to pursue or create opportunities outside of the cockpit. When furloughs were happening or threatening to happen, a number went back to school to get degrees in everything from law to accounting to becoming a physician’s assistant. Another got his MBA and created what could best be described as a boutique travel agency focusing on his home country in southeast Asia.

Real estate is another common hobby, because once tenants are in place, the workload drops considerably. The flurry of activity in filling a vacancy or doing a rehab is largely contracted out, and it can take up considerable time and resources while it is ongoing, but an occupied property in the right location is a nice piece of residual income.

The moral of the story? Simple: Keep looking for lemons that need to be turned into lemonade, and if you play your cards right, one of those interesting, fascinating backgrounds could be yours.—Chip Wright 

The people are coming back

I’ve been pretty lucky flying during the pandemic. Most of my passengers have been cooperative and understanding of the mask rules, the social distancing we all had to endure, and the temporary changes to normal procedures that were implemented to minimize risk.

That said, now that summer is here and people are making up for lost time, airports and airplanes are getting crowded again, and it’s great to see from a job security point of view.

But more people means more short tempers. I recently had a flight on which a passenger very nearly got himself banned from the airline, and possibly from multiple airlines. We had just closed the door in Houston for a flight to Newark. There was some last-minute confusion with a couple of jumpseaters (we had one pilot in the cockpit and two flight attendants in the back, all trying to get to work). When the final passenger count came off the printer, it was off by two. Unfortunately, it took more than 20 minutes to figure out what had happened. And the truth is, I’m still not sure exactly what transpired in the gate area, but we finally got the mess sorted out.

And then it started.

One of the flight attendants called and said we had a very belligerent, non-compliant passenger who was causing problems. His complaint was that we were running late, and he had paid for an on-time departure. That’s fair, but we can’t leave until we can confirm that the passengers who are on the airplane are actually supposed to be there. It’s hard to believe that people still get on the wrong airplanes in 2021, but it does happen rarely.

What this fella didn’t realize is that he was now making us even later, because now we had to make a determination about possibly returning to the gate and removing him. That led to a discussion of which gate we might use, and how long it would take for us to get the police there. As a result, we were taxiing very slowly to buy time while the cabin crew worked to de-escalate the situation. Removing people from an airplane is never fun or pleasant, and in this case, it would have been in part due to our late departure. It wasn’t like he got on and started causing trouble just to cause trouble—that’s easy to deal with.

Finally, the lead flight attendant called us back and said she had spoken to the passenger and his wife, and had made it clear that he was fast running out of time to change his attitude. His wife did what spouses do and got through to him that if got thrown off the airplane, his troubles were just beginning.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, and we were in fact on time landing in Newark. Ironically, we would have had to wait for a gate if we were early, because ours was occupied by a flight that was late getting off the gate. To top it off, that flight had to return to the gate for a mechanical issue, which required our ground crew, so we were looking at a late arrival (by just a few minutes) no matter what.

Sometimes, you just can’t win for losing.—Chip Wright

How long does it take?

Pilots who are new to a company and an airplane can at times feel like they will never “get it.”

The first shot out of the firehose is information. Lots and lots of information, about everything from the company to the managers to how to get a mistake on your ID badge fixed. Then there is airplane training, which is information on steroids. There are memory item checklists and limitations to memorize, some of which feel silly or seem to have no reason (and often don’t).

Next is the simulator, where everything goes from being an abstract, academic concern to a practical one, as you try to tie up all the pieces you’ve been given so far. Callouts, flows, crew resource management…it’s a lot to master, and there never seems to be enough time to do so. Worse still, you don’t realize how narrow the scope of flying is in the sim until it’s over. Most of the time is spent flying approaches and learning how to use the flight management system (FMS), while also figuring out how to keep the blue side up during an engine failure. In fact, in sim training, you actually get very little time experiencing what the airplane flies like when everything is working. You also get almost no exposure to the cruise portion of your flight.

Simulators are great for a lot of things, but they are terrible for mastering the art of a visual approach, because the graphics, as good as they are, still lack a certain amount of depth perception. The sims also usually do a poor job of replicating terrain-induced winds and turbulence on an approach. At some point you will begin to feel a little bit cocky about how you’re doing, because you will have mastered (or come close to) this narrow field of flying in a very controlled environment.

It’s only after you get on the line and have to really and truly put it all together in an airplane with passengers and other distractions that you finally have to master the art of not crashing and flying with some degree of grace. Generally speaking, it takes around 100 hours in an airplane to get your first new level of comfort, and it takes around 500 to begin to feel less apprehension in challenging weather conditions. With larger airplanes that fly longer legs and do fewer takeoffs and landings, it may take more. Getting the hang of hand-flying and performing smooth visual approaches is a sign of comfort, and a big boost to your confidence. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen with practice and repetition. You’ll also learn from your mistakes, of which there will be many at first.

But there comes a time where sitting in your seat feels like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes. And that’s a great day when it comes.—Chip Wright

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Into the Alligator’s Mouth: Installment 3

As  usual  Mother Nature gave me some real-world experience which challenged my own personal minimums on a recent flight.   I head to the Pacific Northwest monthly for business. Having my own personal time machine has allowed me to realize the dream of living and working in two very different states.

Planning for a 4.5-hour trip over some beautiful but inhospitable terrain is a challenge.  With no de-icing or anti-icing systems on my vintage Mooney, weather can be a friend or foe.  For this trip 30-35 knot headwinds were forecast at my “normal” altitude of 10,500-12,500.  Typically, I leave my fuel stop in Northern California and climb right up to cruising altitude.  Due to the forecast winds I decided to fly low until reaching Redding, CA, then up and over the terrain. 

This might not sound like a big deal to many pilots, but altitude has always been my friend and I like the options it affords me, should I become a glider. With this in mind I opted for the northwesterly course around Mt. Shasta.  This flight plan, while not the most direct route, puts me very near Redding, Weed, Dunsmuir and Siskiyou airports.  I have to say that at 8,500 feet I got a great view of the terrain, and the ride was smooth as silk. However, this was a calculated risk, based on my personal guidelines.

It hasta be Shasta

My goal in writing this series is that as PIC you do everything in the airplane intentionally and with forethought.

So here we go.  In the past few months, we began our journey into the mindset needed for the functional implementation of minimums.  As I pondered personal minimums in a pandemic, I reached in to my address book of pilot friends  to ask questions about minimums, guidelines, self-restrictions and the like. I spoke to range of folks from pretty newly minted private pilots, to those working on an instrument rating, commercial, CFI and DPE.  I talked with female and male pilots with hours ranging from low hundreds to 25,000. As one CFI/DPE pondered in regards to minimums…

How far do I put my head in an alligator’s mouth before I can’t get it out?

I had a fabulous time talking with a baker’s dozen pilots and I got a little gem or a pucker factor from each of the conversations. My hope is that our words might start an honest discussion on ways that we can keep ourselves safe in the airplane or on the ground. Because in the end, cheating on your minimums is cheating yourself.

This series centers on the psychology of personal minimums.  Like most relationships, we will focus why we create them, why we commit them to paper [or not], when we fudge on them, what we learn from them, and what we hope never to again experience.

Interviews: For the interviews I asked starting questions and interchangeably used personal minimums and personal guidelines.  The reason for this is some pilots initially thought when I spoke of minimums, I was referencing charted instrument approach minimums.  The answers will be in their voice, the first person.

Questions

  • Do you have a current set of personal guidelines or minimums for your flying?
  • If yes, do you have them written down?
  • If so, do you ever review them or alter/update them?
  • What are the areas you consider when you think of your own minimums?
  • Have you had a time where you cheated on your personal minimums?
  • Has there been an experience in the airplane you would like to share that gave you a “pucker factor” that others might learn from?”
  • Do you have a “hidden gem”, or learning tip, to share?

*[For the sake of this article, in their responses, I will simply use the word “minimums”]


K.W. Airline Captain CFI, Mooney owner

Looking down on Sedona, AZ

I got an instrument rating right after private and waited a bit to get my commercial. When thinking about personal minimums I divide things into three categories: the airport, myself, the airplane.

For the airport I am most concerned with surrounding terrain or weather conditions and my level of familiarity.  My minimums would vary if say, terrain was high and my airport familiarity was low.

I am the most important part of the equation. I ask myself if I feel tired, what time of day is the flight and if I slept well. I pay attention to whether I am hydrated and eating well. I like to do airport homework a few days before. I consider destination and alternate airport approaches.

Airplane familiarity is something I consider every flight.  When I am in my personal aircraft which I have owned many years, I know the ins and outs of the maintenance which factors in to my decision making.  I have to say, I am very particular when it comes to fuel on board.  My personal guideline is that I always land with 1.75 hours of fuel remaining.

When I was a private pilot did I not have things written down in terms of personal minimums.  But I wouldn’t go to charted minimums with a 15 knot crosswind. Now that I am flying for the airlines, I have had to fly a variety of aircraft and the limitations are built in to our procedures.

Pucker Factor:  I took off from Galveston some years ago. I’m not sure if I didn’t check for icing, or if icing wasn’t predicted (This flight was pre-ForeFlight and and other easy weather tools). It was typical Gulf Coast winter with 600’ overcast. I expected tops to be around 3,000’. It wasn’t that cold on the ground, maybe 45°F – 50°F. While climbing through the clouds at 1,500 ft I completely iced over. It took about 2 seconds. The windows were covered in frost and I couldn’t see anything. Fortunately, I was still climbing and speed was good. A really long minute or two later I saw sunlight coming through the frosted over windows. A few seconds after that all the ice melted off. It was gone as quick as it showed up. Lesson learned, always know where the freezing level is…even on the Gulf Coast.

Hidden Gem:  I don’t have to fly anywhere, even as a pro-pilot. I have canceled a lot of personal flights when I feel I need to. There is no shame in sticking with your minimums and canceling a flight.


D.J., Commercial, Instrument, Mooney owner

Ice buildup on the Mooney wing.

I love flying, but I am a big sissy.  As an instrument pilot, I  have very high minimums. I don’t want to fly approaches down to charted minimums, my preference is to break out at 1,000 feet.  I also wouldn’t launch on a flight to fly solid IFR.  I have no backup vacuum so that is reasoning for wanting IFR to VFR on top.

I also consider the airport and weather conditions. For example, the cross-wind limitation is 11 knots from the POH.  While I know I could do better on a long runway, for me that is a hard limit on a short runway. I am also particular with minimums about fuel, I always want to have 1.5 hours of fuel left on landing.

Another aspect of  personal minimums is consideration of my health. If my sleep was not good night before, I won’t fly. If I am sick I wouldn’t fly. If I am emotionally upset I wouldn’t fly. I do find that flying is a stress reliever for mild stress.  So determining my stress level is vital.

Pucker Factor:   My airplane was loaded with medical personnel as I was headed to Mexico on a humanitarian flight. I encountered un-forecast icing over Julian [San Diego area] at 8,000 ft. The Mooney could not climb.  Every surface was covered with the mixture of rime and clear ice and it flew like a slug [see photo above]. I  immediately talked to ATC and let them know about the icing.  Fortunately, within 20 minutes the ice had broken off, though we could hear it hitting the tail section.

Hidden Gem: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  I took off Boise in dense fog.  I accelerated down the runway in the fog, and once airborne I knew I would never do that again.


M.J. Airline Captain, Master CFII and Cessna owner

Over the Yellow Sea between Incheon, South Korea and Beijing, China

My best advice regarding personal minimums, is to write them down and take them seriously. Never change them for a single flight. If you change them for a current flight, they are not really a minimum. I suggest quarterly updates, perhaps in keeping with your landing currency [every 90 days].

During an instrument training and checkride you have to fly down to published minimums. After rated you will need to develop your personal minimums. Do you have one set of minimums for takeoff airport and landing airport [plus alternate]?

I have a lovely, and frequent passenger who isn’t a fan of bumps.  Therefore, when I have passengers on board, I adjust my minimums for wind and turbulence.  My maximum cross wind on landing is 10 knots for passenger comfort. It is important that I consider weather, my currency, proficiency, passenger comfort, day/night, and complete a runway analysis every flight.

Pucker Factor: I would describe my example of pucker factor by a story of one of my flights home from OSH. There was weather over the Rockies, starting right over Boulder, CO and continuing pretty much all the way to our Plan A destination at Grand Junction. My passenger was a fairly experienced CFI, but I was PIC for the trip. We discussed the weather issues (afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains) before takeoff on that leg and agreed on a couple points. First, we established a couple decision points, the first of which was over Boulder. Our criteria at that point was, could we see over the Divide adequately to attempt to cross Rollins Pass and continue, or turn around? Plan B was to divert to Ft Collins, where a friend had offered to put us up for the night. So, we knew what the concern was, had established our decision criteria, and had our options defined. We set another decision point near Eagle, CO, with a Plan C to land there and wait out the storm at a hotel for the night. As we approached Boulder (DP1), we assessed the situation and agreed that the pass looked good to continue, so we pressed on with Plan A and discarded Plan B. Did that again at DP2 and continued along. This portion was a little sketchier, but we both monitored the conditions and the way back to Plan C (landing at KEGE) remained good. In the end, we were able to continue with Plan A and had a very nice dinner at KGJT, and then a great flight on the final leg the next morning.

Hidden Gem:  As pilots we are responsible for two types of environments:  the strategic environment [on the ground planning]; and the tactical environment [in the air reality].  The strategic planning environment is measured, concrete and methodical.  The tactical environment is situational, reality-based, and fluid. Make sure you take both into account on every flight.


I hope you enjoyed this month’s installment.  Please consider using one of the AOPA templates to write your minimums down whether VFR or IFR.  If you have feedback about the interviews, please feel free to use the comment section below.


In the meantime, keep up with online safety seminars, join your state aviation association, and stay involved with your local airport.  Make sure that you consider all aspects of minimums; airplane, pilot, and environment before you yell. “clear prop.”

My flight plans include 4S2 Hood River, Oregon, and KOSH, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  As my Dad used to say when we touched down, I am looking forward to another successful trip of “Haywire Airlines”

 

 

 

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

Into the Alligator’s Mouth: Installment 2

The choice was before me, stay an extra day in LA with friends departing first flight after annual in instrument conditions into busy airspace, or leave a day early in crystal clear blue skies.  That small decision could have turned into a big implications had I not considered my personal minimums which happen to include the aircraft.

Last month we began our journey into the mindset needed for the functional implementation of personal minimums.  As I pondered minimums in a pandemic, I reached into my address book of pilot friends, to ask questions about minimums, guidelines, self-restrictions and the like.

I spoke to range of folks from pretty newly minted private pilots, to those working on an instrument rating, commercial, CFI and DPE.  I talked with female and male pilots with hours ranging from low hundreds to 25,000.

How far do I put my head in an alligator’s mouth before I can’t get it out?

I had a fabulous time talking with the 12 pilots and I got a “hidden gem” or a “pucker factor” from each of the conversations. My hope is that our words might start an honest discussion on ways that we can keep ourselves safe in the airplane or on the ground. Because in the end, cheating on your minimums is cheating yourself.

For the next few months this series will center on the psychology of personal minimums.  Like most relationships, we will focus why we create them, why we commit them to paper [or not], when we fudge on them, what we learn from them, and what we hope never to again experience.


Interviews

For the interviews I asked starting questions and interchangeably used personal minimums and personal guidelines.  The reason for this is some pilots initially thought when I spoke of minimums, I was referencing charted instrument approach minimums.  The following answers will be in their voice, the first person.

Questions:

  • Do you have a current set of personal guidelines or minimums for your flying?
  • If yes, do you have them written down?
  • If so, do you ever review them or alter/update them?
  • What are the areas you consider when you think of your own minimums?
  • Have you had a time where you cheated on your personal minimums?
  • Has there been an experience in the airplane you would like to share that gave you a “pucker factor” that others might learn from?”
  • Do you have a “hidden gem”, or learning tip, to share?

*[For the sake of this article, in their responses, I will simply use the word “minimums”]


B.S., Active CFII, Captain for major airline, Citabria owner

The way minimums are taught in the airlines is by policy manual. The pilot themself is a part of that policy which includes sleep, wellness and emotion. As a CFI I make a similar policy manual with students and actually have them sign it.

Are they Iron clad rules?  Yes and no. It is important to make them realistic.  If you say, “I am never going to fly unless I have 5000 OVC,” you will end up cheating. If you cheat on your minimums you might as well not have them at all. As you become more experienced and comfortable, you can lower the minimums. Make sure to revise as needed. If they become expired then they are useless.

As an instructor I impose limits on the student for solo flight. Gradually  the transfer of the responsibility from the instructor to the student pilot takes place. Many times, I ask my students to put themselves in a Pro-Pilot position and think of having passengers in the airplane, even if alone.

Another technique is to mentally put yourself in the back seat and become a passenger. Pro-pilots have to be willing to make a plan that might disappoint your passengers or yourself.

Pucker Factor: I was ferrying a Cessna 310 across the country for its new owner in Northern California. He made it abundantly clear that he wanted this airplane NOW. “No problem” I said, contemplating flying the twin from Tulsa, OK to San Jose, CA. Eight to ten hours of coveted multi-engine time would make a wholesome addition to what was the first in my collection of logbooks. An Eastbound cold front was racing me to the Rocky Mountains, and I had to make good time. Unfortunately, the prevailing Westerlies hampered my progress. So, I pushed it for the new owner. It got dark, no problem. One generator had failed, no problem. There was another generator still generating. Nighttime over the mountains with strong headwind and downdrafts while unable to maintain altitude and having no supplemental oxygen – no problem.

Until it was…

When a downdraft takes you below the menacing mountain peaks on both sides of your airplane, it turns out that not only does the VOR receiver become dead weight, but radar contact with ATC is lost too (GPS was not a thing yet for GA). “You’re below my radar coverage. Radar contact lost, squawk 1200, good day,” they said. Good day? Dead reckoning between mountain peaks at night in turbulence is nowhere I ever want to be again. The lights of Tonopah, NV never looked so glorious. (This is probably the only time that the words “glorious” and “Tonopah” have ever been used in the same sentence.) A landing was made, the ground was kissed and a vow to never succumb to external pressures was indelibly etched in my personal minimums.

Hidden Gem: Emulate an airline pilot. No matter what you are flying regard yourself as a professional.


JA Private Pilot, Instrument student when interviewed, now Instrument rated, Cessna owner.

I had my personal minimums written down for private pilot but have not updated since, but will for Instrument check ride.  I keep in mind three broad areas: weather, airplane, and pilot.  With that said, my comfort level has expanded with my IFR training.

I always take extra caution when going into unfamiliar airports. I particularly like Foreflight’s runway info, NOTAMS , weather, and I use their comment section.  I also use AirNav to assess runway conditions, airport facilities and read comments.

I do tend to stick with a basic minimum of 3 miles visibility, but when you think of it, that isn’t much.  I have come up with a minimum about cross-winds which is 5-7 kts.  With passengers who haven’t flown much I have adjusted minimums on wind and turbulence for their comfort.

In regard to the aircraft, I am careful about pre-flight and engine run-up.  If something is missing [piece of equipment, fasteners, etc.,] then I would not fly. A mag check fail would equal a no-go for me. Even for VFR if something failed, I wouldn’t fly as it isn’t worth the risk.

For my personal evaluation I use IMSAFE going through each of the letters in the mnemonic.  I always ask myself about sleep, and how I feel.

Pucker Factor: I was headed to French Valley for lunch.  The winds were okay on launch, but when got there I noticed there wasn’t much traffic, unusual for this popular airport.  Checking the ASOS the winds were now above my personal limit. I landed fine, but I was a little surprised, and  it did take quite a bit of concentration and focus.

Hidden Gem: Fatigue can bite you. There were a  couple times where I disregarded fatigue and went ahead an IFR lesson anyway.  My performance was greatly degraded. I won’t make that mistake again.

 


EE, Active CFI, Aeronca TC-65 Defender owner

My minimums are not written down, however  I grew up with flying.  My Dad worked for the FAA as a check pilot.  As such I suppose there was a lot of trickle down knowledge.

I have found a lot of pilots overlook personal minimums because of ego, which proclaims “I can do that!”  In regard to flight instruction when someone does something stupid in the airplane it is usually an instructor problem. IE: not having student fly a close-in pattern for downwind. Many CFIs don’t know how to get into the head of the private pilot, and teach the mental aspect of how to fly. I am a hands off instructor, and will sit back not touching controls as long as possible. This helps students  because it teaches them to be ahead of the airplane, for example knowing what it is going to be doing ten seconds from now.  When assessing students in regard to wind limits I have to remember that a student’s capabilities are always changing. Conditions with big gusts are out of the question at beginning of training, but close to solo, would most likely be a yes. Much like a CFI assessment of a student, we need to assess ourselves and raise or lower our minimums accordingly.

Another bit of wisdom I picked up from my Dad, “Don’t be in a big hurry to get there.” I have waited out weather on long trips to Wyoming for days. For visibility I prefer 5 miles. I have to say I am a real stickler for ceiling requirements.  I land with at least an hour of fuel on board.  I consider my wellness as a pilot too.  For example, last week I had three teeth pulled and the doctor gave medications for pain. Since I did need the medications, I decided to cancel flying for the week.

My 1941 Aeronca Defender, has no electrical system.  One time a mag went out and I was 300-400 rpm low, putting along at 65 mph. My thought process was “Should I put in a field or try to get back to airport?”  I assessed the situation and since I was  VMC I chose to fly a route where I knew I  could land if  needed.

Pucker Factor:  Flying to home to Schaumburg Airport which was reporting  30 kt cross-wind with gusts to 27.  I  first did a low approach and went around.  I felt everything out and concluded, “I will be able to land here,” but there was a pucker for sure.

 

Hidden Gem: Make sure to look at your physical health as objectively as possible to make sound decisions.

 


I hope you enjoyed this month’s installment.  Please consider using one of the AOPA templates to write your minimums down whether VFR or IFR.  If you have feedback about the interviews, please feel free to use the comment section below.

In the meantime, keep up with online safety seminars, join your state aviation association, and stay involved with your local airport.  Make sure that you consider all aspects of minimums; airplane, pilot, and environment before you yell. “clear prop.”

For me, I am looking forward to some fabulous capital improvements at my home ‘drome Oceano Airport [L52], and planning my cross country to Oregon this month and on to #OSH21 this summer.

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

Customer service and COVID

“Customer service,” unfortunately, is not usually synonymous with the airlines. We’ve all heard or experienced the horror stories of lost bags, exorbitant fees, lost kids, and heaven knows what else. But in this era of COVID, customer service is taking on new meanings and new challenges.

In the post-9/11 world, it is all but impossible for a pilot to leave the flight deck to deal with an unruly passenger, yet more passengers seem to be more aggravated and aggressive than before.

With the proliferation of masks, there has been a rise in cases of people who don’t seem to be willing to fully comply with the new rules, though the rapid spread of the virus has helped to some degree. In my recent travels, I’ve seen a number of confrontations that could—and should—have been avoided, and in this case, most of the blame falls on the customers, not the airline.

Every airline is now not only requiring a mask, but also requiring passengers to acknowledge the new rules when a ticket is purchased and/or during the check-in process. There are also numerous announcements made at the airports (which have their own rules), as well as on board the airplanes.

Flight attendants routinely remind everyone of the requirements for a mask, usually as a part of the first public announcement, and then regularly thereafter. On top of that, most captains are also emphasizing the need for a face covering, with reminders that noncompliance will not be tolerated.

In my 20-plus years in the airlines, I’ve never seen such a universal effort to ensure compliance using such harsh measures. Instead of just offering a verbal warning, noncompliant passengers are being escorted off the airplane, and are quickly finding themselves on a list of passengers who are banned from that carrier until at least the end of the pandemic, and maybe longer.

Pilots can still help defuse some situations on the ground, but in flight, they are relying on the cabin crew and potentially any crew members riding along on the flight. There have been several cases of pilots witnessing a disruptive situation from afar, and stepping in to offer support of the employees on the ground (usually the gate agents).

Because the overwhelming number of passengers are folks who fly only once or twice a year, they may be dealing with situations where they have to keep the mask on for longer stretches of time than they are used to. This may make them uncomfortable or just frustrated. That’s understandable. But there are also other folks who are not totally sold on the stated efficiency of aircraft cabin filters, and those are passengers that we can’t afford to lose. Just about every flight in the air these days is losing money. Tickets are cheap and seats are empty.

It is imperative that we all be sensitive to one another, but it is also imperative that we understand that we tacitly agree to abide by certain rules when we go to certain places. That includes, for now, the masks. Speaking up so as to be heard, as well as speaking slowly and clearly, also help. Sometimes someone just needs to be vent and be heard. Often, if they feel some validation when they need to talk, they will readily go back to full compliance. Give eye contact and a genuine ear.

This new norm is going to be with us for a while, and we all need to work together to get to the other side of the pandemic. In the meantime, we all need to use our best “customer service” in all facets of our lives.—Chip Wright
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Navigating the COVID-19 airline world

I’ve been tooting the horn on progress in the airline industry for several years now, so you can imagine my shock and dismay at the developments in the economy since mid-March.

The C-19 pandemic has obliterated the prospects of a thriving industry that just a few months ago didn’t have enough pilots, airplanes, runways, or cheap fuel. Now, billions of dollars are being lost as the airlines are forced to park hundreds of airplanes, while the ones they are flying are largely empty.

I was asked recently what a day at work looks like now, and in a word, it’s surreal. I haven’t flown in three weeks because my trips have either been cancelled, or I can’t get to work because there are no flights.

When I was last there, the airports were empty. I’ve seen terminals that had more people in them at 3 a.m. than I’m seeing at 3 p.m. There are more employees than passengers. Restaurants are closed or have a limited menu. The retail shops are completely locked up.

You don’t realize how big even the smallest terminals are until you see them completely empty. Miles of security line barriers look silly and out of place now. The TSA personnel are bored to tears. Some flights are so empty that the gate agents don’t even use the PA system to announce boarding. I’ve had as few as 10 people on one of my own flights, and I’ve ridden on flights of multiple carriers that only have one paying passenger on board.

For years, I’ve had to endure periodic memos and initiatives on saving fuel and being on time to minimize clogging up either airspace or taxiways. Saving fuel now consists of carrying an extra 30,000 pounds—up to five hours’ worth—because the fuel farm at the hub has too much fuel and can’t store any more. Never in my career did I see that coming.

When the flights are only carrying a few people, it’s natural to want to push back 20 to 30 minutes early, but we’re being asked not to because of busy gate space. That sounds laughable, but the issue is real. So many airplanes have been grounded that some airports are out of room to store them. Many are stored at the gates, and airlines are minimizing the number of gates they are using. So, being early is still a problem.

Some large hubs are using runways to store airplanes. Right now this isn’t a problem, but it could be. Not only might the runways be needed, but airplanes are so big that if you need to move the one in the middle of a row of twenty, it could literally take all day to rejuggle everything.

As I sit here, the outlook on bookings isn’t good. The airlines that took CARES Act funding have to maintain staffing through the end of September, but based on what we see now, there is likely to be a bloodbath of furloughs come October. It will take some time to work through all of the pilots, since there will be so much training involved.

The feeling is that the flying public needs to regain confidence in travel, and they are looking for one of four things to happen: a treatment, a cure, a vaccine, or herd immunity. None of those are looking great right now, though a vaccine may be closer than we had hoped.

The other piece of this pie is that people need to have something to fly to. The Florida amusement parks are talking about staying closed until 2021, and restaurants will take a while to return to normal, either in capacity or on the menu. Food shortages are possible as well.

This is going to be a challenging recovery. Two airlines—Trans States and Compass, both under the Trans States Holdings umbrella—have gone out of business, as has Jet Suites. Overseas, South African, and Flybe have shut down. Others are likely to follow, and all of the legacy carriers in the United States have acknowledged that they will be substantially smaller come fall. It’s clear that they are now hoping to save the holiday travel seasons. But with billions in debt, soon to be made worse, it’s possible that there will be some more consolidation.

On the positive side, governments at all levels are doing everything they can to help keep the global economy alive. There is a clear goal of trying to let the economy regain some traction in hopes that it restarts relatively smoothly, if not quickly. Only time will tell if that’s going to work.

So what is a prospective pilot to do? Some things are simple: keep applications up to date, making especially sure they are accurate. Stay in touch with your network. Fly when you can, and at least stay legal. If you can provide any aid to those in need with an airplane, do so. And most important, stay healthy. Odds are the airlines are going to offer early retirement packages to senior pilots, and a number of them will jump on the opportunity. That will move things along, especially since retirements are just now picking up.

There will be some “right-sizing” at the regionals as well, and it will bear watching to see exactly how they retool their operations. But there will be room for opportunities for the RJs as well, since they can go to cities with lower demands and help restore a market for their partners. In other cities, they can hold the fort until the majors can bring in larger equipment.

We’ve all heard that we will recover from this, and we will. But it will take time, patience, and fortitude. But a recovery will happen.—Chip Wright

Weathering the C-19 pandemic, part 2

I’ve been flying during the sudden contraction in air travel caused by COVID-19, and the sudden changes have been jarring, to say the least.

I had to leave home as the bottom was falling out, and that meant being prepared for just about any contingency. First, I packed some extra clothes in case I got stuck somewhere. That’s already happened once, and it may happen again.

Second, I’ve tried to keep up with options for getting home if I get stuck somewhere. There are myriad sources a pilot can use to see what flight options might still be on the table if your own airline cuts service or pulls out of a city temporarily. I use Flight View Free, as well as apps for each airline I might use. There are also a few groups on Facebook that airline employees can use to check loads and options.

Third, a number of people began carrying their own food on trips. I did add a few snacks to my bag, but I opted not to take a lot of extra food. Instead, I’ve been using Uber Eats, which has eliminated a lot of delivery fees in order to encourage folks to support local restaurants. Grocery stores are still open, and they are a great option. I’ve also bought food from airport vendors to take with me.

Fourth, my wife and I have been in constant touch, and in a bind she can drive a day to come get me if I can’t get home. On the few occasions that I’ve been too far away for that, we have been tracking rental car availability and pricing. I’ve also reached out to a pilot or two with their own airplanes who may be able to come get me.

This is an unusual time, to say the least, and when you’re at work, there isn’t much you can do but ride it out. In cities where I know people, I’ve reached out to see if I can stay with them if push comes to shove. I know the company will do whatever it can to get me home, but they are overwhelmed right now, and it may well be faster and easier for me to solve my own problems.

I’d like to say that everything always works like a well-oiled machine in times like this, but we all know that isn’t the case. It wasn’t the case after 9/11, and it isn’t now. But with a little forethought and some ingenuity, you can find a way to work around this. And where determination isn’t enough, patience will have to be.—Chip Wright

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