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Tag: airlines (page 1 of 13)

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

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

Special engine out procedures, Part 2

There is an old adage that says that being a single-engine pilot minimizes your decision making in an emergency, and there is some truth in that. If your only engine fails, you’re landing.

In a multiengine airplane, you may or may not have options. In a turbine-powered airplane, assuming you have properly loaded the plane and give due deference to published performance data, you will indeed have options. This is especially true on takeoff.

In the FAR Part 121 world that is the airlines, there are certain performance criteria that an airliner must be able to meet, and one of them is the ability to comply with the four segment climb in the event that an engine fails during the takeoff. Most of the time, this isn’t a problem. A properly trained crew can lose the use of one engine, maintain control of the plane, and fly it off the ground safely and figure out where the best place to land will be.

Sometimes, though, terrain or obstacles (or both) preclude the straight-out departure. In this case, there needs to be an alternative procedure. The airlines and manufacturers work the engineers to produce viable options.

These are then tested in the simulator (and probably in a few cases in the real airplane). The procedures are then tweaked and validated and are published. However, they aren’t available in the public domain, because each procedure is ‘owned’ by the airline and/or the manufacturer. Jeppessen, which is the primary producer of aeronautical charts, publishes the procedures as “10-7” pages. And it’s possible that two companies flying the same airplane may have different procedures at the same airport.

Common airports for 10-7 pages, also known as special engine-out procedures, are Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Reno. Most of the time, the issue is terrain, but not always. In a few cases, like Washington National, there may be another issue. Departing Runway 1 at DCA, the issue is Prohibited Area 56 and the fact that a straight-out departure would put you square in the middle of the airspace that protects the White House and the U.S. Capitol.

But terrain is the most common driver of 10-7 development. When I was at the regionals, we had a 10-7 page for Reno that was incredibly complex. The only way to really fly it safely was to brief the first turn and the associated altitude, and then plan on having the nonflying pilot provide a progressive reading of the steps as the flying pilot attempted to fly. In a place like Reno or Vegas, the weather is almost always VFR, so you can plan to maintain visual separation from the rocks. But this isn’t always the case.

Here’s the rub: 10-7 pages are not something the tower is going to be familiar with, so if you have to fly a single-engine procedure, you’ll need to tell the tower that you’re going to be flying a company-specific procedure due to an engine failure. In a high-traffic area, this can get exciting. The best thing you can do is tell the tower to stand by, and do what you need to do to get to a safe altitude and a place where you can trouble-shoot and figure out your plan for getting back on the ground.

A couple of other notes about 10-7 pages: They are often used for a single-engine missed approach as well; and different fleets at airline X may well have different procedures. In fact, it’s possible that some fleets will need a 10-7 page, and others will not.

As a new airline pilot, you can expect an early introduction to 10-7 pages and how to brief them. You’ll also likely get a taste of at least one in the simulator. But, better to see it there for the first time than on the line!—Chip Wright

This is part 2 of a two-part series. See Part 1 here.-–Ed. 

The humble O2 mask

Most passengers—especially frequent travelers—don’t pay much attention to the flight attendant safety briefings. That said, there is actually some good information being passed along, and as a potential professional pilot, it would be wise to start learning some of it yourself.

For instance, how much attention have you paid to the discussion about the oxygen masks falling from the ceiling? You might know that you need to put the mask on during a depressurization situation, but did you pay any attention to the particulars? If not, you should.

The oxygen that you will breathe during a depressurization actually isn’t on the airplane yet. It has to be produced, and guess who does that? You do.

Every jet uses some kind of a pressurization controller to maintain cabin altitude. If the cabin climbs above a certain setting (around 14,000 feet msl), the controller will (should) release the “rubber jungle” into the cabin. If the automatic system fails, the pilots can manually deploy the masks, but first they need feedback from the flight attendants that the masks didn’t fall. If there are a few units that don’t work, the flight attendants can use a tool to pop open the doors of the unit that is right over your seat.

Once the masks are out, there is a catch: Oxygen isn’t generated until you pull the mask toward you. You actually need to give it a little tug, because the hose is attached to a pin that needs to be tripped. When you give that mask a tug, the pin activates a chemical reaction that will then produce the oxygen that you will breathe. This is why you’re told that you should put on your mask first and make sure it’s activated. If the cabin depressurizes at a high altitude, there won’t be much time of useful consciousness, and if you can get your mask working, then you can help a child or someone next to you.

Once the canister is activated, it generates a tremendous amount of heat, so you don’t want to reach up and touch it. It can—and will likely—also produce a bit of a burning or foul odor. You don’t want to mistake that for a possible fire. It is instead a sign that the system is working as advertised. There may also be a bit of dust or smoke, both of which can generally be ignored.

What the flight attendants don’t tell you is this: The canisters only produce enough oxygen for around 12 minutes of breathing, though you may be able to get 15 minutes out of it. Worse, the oxygen is a continuous flow. It doesn’t matter how deeply or slowly you breathe. The good news with that is that if you (or a seatmate) pass out, air is available. The bad news is that if you pull down on two masks at once, you will still only have the 12 minutes of air to use. So, if you are in a row of three seats by yourself, you might have 36 to 45 minutes of air to use if you use them consecutively.

Why so little time? The assumption is that a depressurization at altitude is going to be followed by an immediate and rapid descent to (preferably) 10,000 feet. Since passenger jets are limited to 41,000 feet, the crew would be trying to lose 31,000 feet. In 12 minutes’ time, that works out to around 2,600 feet per minute, which should be very easy to do. Keep in mind that this is a worst-case scenario, because very few full jets can reach FL410.

So, next time you board, pay attention to the safety briefing. There are nuggets of information in there that really can save your life. And in this case, they will also be on a checkride if you are looking to fly professionally.—Chip Wright

Dear FAA

Dear FAA,

I am writing to you from the comfy confines of my pandemic-imposed quarantine-like shutdown, and like many Americans, I have gotten a fair number of things done around my house that needed doing or that I was told needed doing, or that I was told that I wanted to need to do. But I digress.

Doing these things made me realize that there are some housekeeping items that you should have addressed while airlines around the world were basically grounded. In fact, much of general aviation wasn’t flying much either, so you wasted a lot of good opportunity, which is almost as bad as wasting my tax dollars.

In the event that the world shuts down again, please consider using the following as a To Do list:

Clean the runways. Runways everywhere are covered with discarded rubber from tires, and these black patches are slicker than ice when they get wet. Speaking of ice, when that rubber gets snow and ice on it, slick doesn’t even begin to describe what one must deal with. The severe decrease in traffic is a great time to get the rubber cleaning equipment out of the garage and put it to use, so chop chop.

Fix the lights. There are, I’m guessing, millions of lights on and around airports. Runway lights, taxi way lights, approach lights, sign lights, and probably lights I’m not even aware of. Some of them I’m not aware of because they are burned out. I have yet to figure out when lights need to be fixed, but it must be some formula I don’t understand, because some are always (it seems) notam’ed out of service. With fewer airplanes to avoid, this would be a grand time to get all the lights working again. Even the Motel 6 leaves the lights on for people.

Paint! There is no better time than during an aviation-grounding pandemic to whip out some brushes and rollers and start painting taxi lines, runway stripes, lead-in lines, hold-short lines, taxiway markers, spot numbers and anything else that has paint in, on it, or with it. I’m going to cut you some slack on this one, because paint is hard to stay on top of, especially since it needs time to dry. It fades in the sun, gets scraped by plows, runover by vehicles large and small, and pounded by rain and even lightning. But, too many airports have too many lines that are too hard to see, especially at night and in the rain, and this really needs to be fixed, pronto.

This list could keep you busy for a while, so consider this a good starting point, but not necessarily an end point. Pilots everywhere will be grateful and less likely to get lost on one of your aerodromes.

Many thanks, and peace out,
Chip—Chip Wright

Bad overnights

It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while, you have a layover that is just an awful experience. I’ve had a handful in the years since I started doing this.

Most of the time, it comes down to personal comfort. Air conditioning that doesn’t work isn’t all that uncommon, and in the summer, that can make for a long night as you try to sleep and not sweat like you’re camping in the Sahara.

Noise is another common issue, especially around raucous holidays like New Year’s or the Fourth of July. But it’s also an issue with everything from family reunions to weddings to a hotel full of kids in town for a sporting tournament. Loud arguments—or the opposite—in the room next door can also be an issue.

The one thing about noise, though, is the hotel will almost always do whatever they can to contain it or stop it. Crews are generally supposed to be placed in pre-designated places, such as the upper floors or the longest walk from the elevator, all in the hopes of keeping noise down. In my experience, the worst times for noise are when you need to go to bed much earlier than usual because of an early wake-up or a long day coming up. The hotel also knows that if noise is affecting one person, it’s probably affecting others (or will), and they won’t hesitate to call the police if necessary.

I’ve had two memorable experiences with middle-of-the-night fire alarms as well. One was in Raleigh-Durham in the summer, so at least it was comfortable outside. The hotel was one that often had a majority of its rooms used by crews from different airlines, and this was one of those nights. We were outside for well over an hour, from about 2:30 to 3:30 a.m., and all of us were upset. Some of us never got back to sleep. I can’t speak for the other carriers, but ours wound up with a number of fatigue calls that cancelled flights the next day because so many people hadn’t been able to get adequate rest.

The second one was in Buffalo in March, and the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament was going on. Several of the teams were in the hotel, and the rumor was that the alarm was pulled by a student from another school in hopes of affecting the games. This one also lasted about an hour.

One night that didn’t affect me so much did affect my crew as well as most of the hotel. It was the night of the time change in the spring, and the computer in the hotel that handled the wakeup calls malfunctioned, and phones all throughout the building began ringing in the middle of the night, and then an hour earlier than scheduled. I hadn’t checked my phone (this was in the pre-smart-phone era) before I went to bed, and it was just as well: It had been unplugged by a previous guest. Mine never rang, but when I got downstairs, my crew had been there an hour because they couldn’t sleep, and a dozen other guests were ready to tar and feather the poor guy working the desk. But I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Most of the time, sleep comes fairly easily, and occasionally you wake up with no idea where you are. But, as with any other job, bad nights are going to happen. It just feels worse when it happens on the road. That said, there’s always the next night’s hotel to catch up on your sleep.—Chip Wright

The smallest airplanes are getting bigger

When I first started to do any kind of regular travel, let alone fly for a living, turboprops were very common. Dash 8s, Brasilias, ATRs, Saab 340s, and the venerable Beech 1900 were ubiquitous in small towns all over America. Some of the flights were part of the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, and they were subsidized by Uncle Sam in order to provide some degree of air and mail service to the various Smallvilles of the USA.

Passengers, however, never did love the “puddle jumpers.” They were loud, they shook, they vibrated, and they were perceived to be less safe. After deregulation, small commuters sprouted and eventually began to work hand-in-glove with the jet drivers to produce the current hub-and-spoke system, while in some cases marketing a few flights on their own.

In the 1990s the concept of the regional jet gained steam, and while pundits and critics said it was doomed to failure—too few seats and too high an operating cost—the RJ revolutionized travel. The days of the turboprop were numbered, and by 9/11, with a spike in fuel prices and change in travel demand, the turboprop was on its last legs. Fifty-seaters dominated, because of comfort and speed, but those same high fuel costs became an issue for the RJs as well, and the real push for larger small jets began.

Nowadays, as we wade through the COVID-19 pandemic, the 50-seaters by Bombardier and Embraer are the airplanes facing demise. Some have been converted into corporate jets or cargo planes, but most are being sent to the desert. The CR7 and CR9 are now the Bombardier mainstays (the verdict is still out on the C-Series, since sold to Airbus and marketed as the A-220), while Embraer is making the most of its E-Jet series. Both have become major players, to the point that Boeing felt it necessary to buy a portion of Embraer and Airbus of Bombardier.

It’s interesting to see how the smallest airplanes have become bigger. Turboprops with 19 seats didn’t require a flight attendant, and they were cheap to operate. But jets offered far more opportunity and a better experience for the passenger at a premium price. The race now is to determine if there is a true market need for something in the 100-seat range, similar to the old DC-9s and early 737s. There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus, and airlines would rather fill  up an  airplane up and leave folks behind than fly even one empty seat.

(The same thing has also happened on the other end of the spectrum: The A-380 has proved to be a flop, and the 747 is being phased out of passenger service in favor of smaller, lower-cost twinjets like the 777 and 787.)

As the E-190 appears to be near the end of its run in the United States—American announced plans to park theirs, and jetBlue has been planning to do so for some time—the smallest mainline jets will be the 737-700/A-319 variants, which seat 120-137, depending on configuration. The gap between large RJs and small mainline jets will be either a target of opportunity or a bit of a no-man’s land as we move forward.

For pilots, it means that more and more will get their introduction to airline flying in some of the most sophisticated aircraft in the sky, and not in the old steam-gauge turboprops.—Chip Wright

Coronavirus recovery

In 25 years of airline flying, I’ve either been involved in or observed  several full or partial shutdowns of airlines or the industry as a whole.

In 2001, I was employed at Comair for the pilot strike, and the shutdown of the airline was an organized, four-day process as the company moved to get airplanes and crews in position before the pilots would stop flying. A few months later, we were part of the industrywide immediate cessation of operations when the tragic events of September 11, 2001, occurred.

The following year Comair also weathered a scheduling computer system crash over the Christmas holidays that was anything but orderly. In addition, I’ve watched strikes at other airlines take place, and I’ve seen the fallout of employee job actions, failed websites, and the grounding of fleets of airplanes at unexpected times.

All of these events led to the inevitable restart of operations of some sort, and in the case of 9/11, the spool-up was also followed by the near retirement of fleets of airplanes, mostly the venerable 727.

As we work our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, we are witnessing similar events. We can use these to get a bit of an idea of how the industry will begin the return to service. The closest comparable event is 9/11, and that isn’t even all that close in terms of the damage. Every airplane in the United States was grounded, but only for four days. The rest of the world continued to fly, and even though demand was diminished when flights resumed, it was better than it is now.

C-19 has stopped travel around the world. At one point, 16,000 of the world’s 24,000 airliners were parked at airports around the globe. Entire airlines were shut down or announced that they had or planned to go out of business. People stopped buying tickets, and fewer people flew in a month than normally fly on a single day. Flights in April and early May were averaging 10 or so people.

As in 2001, airlines began announcing  plans to eliminate entire fleets of airplanes. In the United States, Delta and American announced retirements of multiple fleets, to include the MD-88/90, A-330, 757, 777 and E-190, with rumors of the B-717 also being put to bed. Eliminating these airframes will reduce costs dramatically with respect to spare parts, fuel, training, and the occasional equipment swap. Carriers in other countries are planning to park the A-380, the world’s largest airplane, and one that never really found a niche.

In the last few days, there have been some signs of optimism. Ticket sales starting in July have begun to show some positive activity, and passengers are showing a bit more tolerance for close-to-the-neighbor seating in order to get where they need to go. United has quietly made plans to bring more than 60 airplanes out of storage for the July schedule, and Southwest is strategically adding flights as well. While all of the airlines have announced plans to emerge in the fall “at least” 30 percent smaller, it’s clear that they will take into account demand for travel as they add flights and try to bring the daily cash burn to at least zero.

As we move into the fall, everyone will be holding their collective breath on two fronts: How many employees might be furloughed, and how severe might a second wave of C-19 turn out to be? Furloughs are on everyone’s mind right now, and most recognize that the airlines will probably have no choice. But if demand continues to rise at a somewhat predictable pace, hopefully any time on the unemployment lines will be short. The larger issue is the unknown of the resurgence of the virus this fall and how people might react to it.

Some travel will be lost for good, and many leisure trips won’t be taken. But business travelers will continue to fly, and the airlines will adapt to the new demands and whatever cleaning procedures will be ongoing. Ticket prices will undoubtedly rise. More airplanes will come out of storage, but not all. An airline or two may fail, victim of too many dollars going out and not enough coming in. But in time, the system will work itself out. It always does.—Chip Wright

Preparing for the post-COVID job market

As the airlines begin to regroup to adapt to the new realities of a COVID-19 world, pilots who are trying to get into the industry must surely be confused and even discouraged, which is perfectly understandable.

But the world still needs airlines, and airlines still need pilots, and low-time pilots still need jobs. There is no sugar-coating the fact that low-time pilots will be delayed in getting that first job and those precious FAR 121 turbine hours. But those opportunities will come.

For now, you need to keep your applications up to date, current, and accurate. You also need to stay in touch with your network and follow up any rumors to cut through to the facts and truth of what is going on. Bad information is acidic, and it won’t do you any good at all. Seek out the truth, and keep your ears to the ground for opportunities and openings.

In the interim, fly as often as you can, and if you’re a CFI, look for any teaching opportunities that might arise. There may not be many, but it may not be as bad as you might think. You can also look for opportunities to take airplanes up for owners just to fly them, and if you can work a deal to get an airplane to fly on the cheap, this would be the time to build some hours and stay current.

What you can’t do is just give up. Even if you have to shift gears into other work for a while, you need to keep your sights on your goals and dreams and continue in the direction you have worked so hard for. The industry has been through upheaval before—nothing like this, to be sure—and it will eventually turn the corner. The strong will survive, and there may even be some new entrants if carriers fail and leave assets to reuse. But people and cargo are going to need to be moved.

Even if you’re outside of the industry, you can work on currency and maintaining a list of good contacts while staying abreast of what is going on. Once the economies around the world get a foothold, the return to growth is likely to be steady, if not quick. Nobody knows when that will happen.

But you do have the choice to be ready versus being left behind.—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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