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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

Special airports

A recent conversation with a non-aviating friend of mine brought up a reminder about certain airports not being of the every day, run-of-the-mill variety. The question was whether or not my airline could just fly any plane into any airport with any pilot on any given day (assuming proper runway length, et cetera).The answer is no.

Every carrier and many corporate flight departments have certain airports that require specific training or operating procedures. At my former carrier, these were called Special Airports. Back in the day of printed approach charts, these airports came with color print charts with photographs, several pages of notes, and a slew of other information that described why they were special. Most of the time, the goal was simply to call attention to an airport that might pose certain challenges based on geography.

For example, KAVP (Scranton-Wilkes Barre) is built right next to a hill in a valley, and the localizer is offset for terrain avoidance. The winds can make this approach challenging. KAVL (Ashville) is another airport in a valley with significant surrounding terrain and some wicked winds and wind shear. KROA (Roanoke) is a bit of all of this, with short runways to boot.

At my current airline, on my current equipment, KAVL is considered special for a different reason: The runway is much narrower than the ones we normally use, so the potential for adverse yaw during an engine failure means that, under certain weight conditions, the rudder may not have enough authority to keep the plane on the runway should an engine quit. The solution is to make sure that the aircraft meets certain minimum weights prior to takeoff. The easy way to do this with a light passenger load is to add some fuel.

Almost every airline that flies into Vail, Colorado, has training procedures that require the first officer to fly in with a captain who has already been there, and the captain usually has to fly there for the first time under the supervision of a check airman. Further, if the captain has not been there in a certain window of time, he or she will again need to go under the supervision of a check airman. Some carriers have a few airports that require a captain to go in with a check airman every so many months no matter what.

Bogota, Colombia, is another airport that is problematic. The terrain is intimidating, and as a result weather deviations are limited. So are diversion options. Throw in the fact that a lot of arrivals come in after dark, and you have bad weather, high terrain, fatigue, and communication challenges all rolled up into one.

Back in the United States, another airport that fit the Special category, even for a turboprop, was Key West. It’s a short runway (4,800 feet), but plenty long for a turboprop. However, the challenge is the extremely close proximity of NAS Key West off the east end, which could lead to some interesting traffic conflicts. It’s also built with no spare room on either end of the runway if you have an overrun. Last, but not least, it can be both windy and wet. Frequent rains in the summer often leave puddles on the runway. Needless to say, flying a jet into Key West is a different level of challenge.

Special airports are not always so obvious. And they’re not always problematic. However, the require your attention and respect. Read up on the notes when you haven’t been there in a while. And remember, just because it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you doesn’t mean that it can’t become a very big deal very quickly if you’re not careful.—Chip Wright

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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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Is the pandemic over?

It’s the question we all want the answer to: Is the pandemic over? In short, no, it isn’t. But things are definitely trending in the right direction.

Unless you have been buried under a rock of late, you’ve no doubt heard that mask mandates are being eased, and travel is suddenly becoming more popular. With that popularity comes certain expenses for the consumer. Rental car companies were forced to sell off large chunks of their fleets last year in order to survive the travel downturn. The result now is that renting a car has become so difficult that some have resorted to renting U-Haul trucks.

Hotels are also filling up. I was trying to arrange for some out-of-town travel recently to New England, and the first four or five hotels I looked at were sold out. The rooms that were left were noticeably more expensive than even a few months ago.

What does all of this mean for pilots and wannabe pilots? In a word: recovery. Or hiring. Take your pick. Americans are setting on a pile of hoarded cash, and Americans have never seen a dollar that they can’t spend. Travel demand has soared as families look to make up for lost vacations and visits with family members they were forced to isolate from while waiting for a vaccine.

This has meant a mad scramble for the airlines. Thousands of parked airplanes have to be brought out storage and brought up to (safety) snuff. Network schedule plans have to be rewritten, and tens of thousands of pilots have to be re-trained, or re- re-trained. This is all taking place at a furious pace, and at the lower end of the list, it means pilots are being hired much sooner than we had dared hope.

As I write this, Europe is in the process of updating its travel restrictions and guidance for vaccinated and tested passengers, and it will undoubtedly mean a flood of people buying tickets and travel plans at a rapid pace. As delightful as this is for the carriers, it will lead to a long game of playing catch-up. For aspiring pilots, it will be a grand opportunity to move into the ranks and start your careers. While the regional marketplace has undergone some seismic shifts of late, it still represents the best avenue to get your foot in the door and begin navigating the industry.

The more new hires there are, the better the news and the bigger the plans. Because replacement pilots must be in place first, more new hires mean airlines plan to bring more planes back into service and resume more service than they had announced. A lower volume of hiring generally means a more cautious approach.

If you’ve been waiting to get in the flight deck, this is the time to stop waiting and get started. The economic recovery is likely to be fairly robust, if unpredictable and a bit rocky. But now is the time to give the aviation gig a go.—Chip Wright 

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Behind the scenes

Like any other industry, aviation has a lot of stuff that happens “behind the scenes” that the average Joe isn’t aware of.

In fact, often people within that industry may not be aware of some of it either. After all, how often do you go to a restaurant and think about all the stuff that goes on in the kitchen before you get your food? Someone has to know how much of what to order, and someone has to determine how much of each food to make ahead of time based on demand and popularity.

The airlines work the same way. As you read this, the calendar will be indicating summer. And not just any summer, either, but the first summer after the strangest summer any of us can remember, along with a weird winter that didn’t seem to want to end. Many airlines already have a small team of people working on next winter’s operations. Deicing fluid needs to be ordered well in advance, with supplies adjusted based on expected fleet plans at each airport/hub, training manuals for all affected work groups need to be updated and harmonized, and equipment needs to be maintained, replaced, and repaired. Just getting the manuals updated is time consuming, because at some airports the work is contracted out to a company that handles multiple airlines, so everything has to be written as simply as possible.

Deicing equipment only gets used a few times a year, so functionality checks start early in order to find issues that result from leaving stuff sitting around for months on end. The folks who train the trainers also need to be brought up to speed early so that the training pipeline gets started, staffing can be adjusted, and schedules accommodated.

Another big behind-the-scenes area is the long-term scheduling of flights. Every airline calls it something different, but it’s basically the same: where will we be going, and with which airplanes, in 12 to 24 months. The three big seasonal peaks are Thanksgiving, which is easy (in the relative scheme) to plan on; spring break; and summer vacation, specifically the month of July.

My airline is constantly putting out communications about the next one or two summers, because those busy months drive the training schedule for pilots, and to a lesser degree, flight attendants. Big events factor in as well. For instance, last year, the Olympics were supposed to be a major focus point. COVID changed that, and this year the Games may be held with no crowds. Next year, the World Cup is on the docket, but it’s too soon to say how COVID may or may not affect that event, and that doesn’t take into account which teams may or may not qualify.

Maintenance is another never-ending cycle of planning and contingencies. Airplanes are subjected to some form of light maintenance every day or so, but they also need to be scheduled for “heavy” inspections based on the manufacturer recommendations. These checks pull the airplanes out of service for a few months at a time, and they are scheduled a year or more in advance. A majority of these events take place outside the United States, especially for wide-bodies. That is yet another variable that needs to be accounted for.

There are also unexpected events, like the grounding of the 737 MAX, which was down for two years, got released to fly, and then was partially grounded again. Airlines can accommodate some of these curveballs, but too often the only resort is to cancel flights and issue refunds.

Just like a restaurant that has to plan for a big social event, the airlines have to constantly tweak their plans, and often there are a lot of partners involved and a lot of unexpected ripples that have to be dealt with in the process. It’s part of what makes aviation such a dynamic, exciting industry: There is never a dull or a still moment. But there is always something that needs to be done.—Chip Wright

Sports charters

As we move into spring and summer, the airlines are heading into some of the busiest charter work that they do: basketball tournaments and Major League Baseball. Charters are not the money-makers that they used to be, but they still turn a guaranteed profit for the airlines, and they are an important part of the business model.

College basketball can be among the most challenging, because it is so unpredictable. Nobody knows when a team is going to be eliminated or move on to the next round, so the schedule has to take that into account. Usually, when traveling by charter, the schedule is built to take in the best possible option, which is that the team in question will make the next round. If they lose, then they usually have to sit around for a day or two or three in order to return home on schedule.

If the team is lucky, the contract with the airline can include the flexibility to leave early if they lose, but this is entirely dependent on the airline and its ability to have a crew and an airplane in position, to say nothing of the catering that must be done according to the terms of the contract. Catering and food are a big part of these arrangements, so don’t underestimate their importance.

Baseball is much easier to predict, because the schedule is laid out in advance. That said, baseball charters can be demanding, difficult work because of the hours. Most charters (of any sport) include three total flights at a minimum: one to get the airplane into position, one to actually fly the team, and one to get the airplane back into the regular schedule. The fee charged covers all three, plus whatever crew-related expenses there will be. Most baseball (and football) teams negotiate with a single carrier, and they often use different-sized airplanes based on the trip, with long flights usually requiring a bigger airplane.

For the crew, the job begins with getting the airplane into position, usually by flying it empty to the pick-up point. This is the easy part, and also the most important. It’s also where the problems usually start, because if a game goes late—or really late—it messes up the schedule.

Let’s say a baseball game goes 12 or 13 innings—not common, but not unheard of. That can easily add an hour or more to the schedule. The standard post-game order of events doesn’t change: showers, press obligations, packing, et cetera. The team loads up on buses and heads to the airport. The airplane can be loaded fairly quickly, but being late is being late.

Since most games are played at night, the flight is usually a red-eye of sorts, so the big battle is fighting fatigue. But the job isn’t done. Dropping the team off is usually even quicker than loading them up. However, because charters usually start and stop at FBOs or company hangers, that means the airplane may have to be cleaned or fueled before it can go to the gate. Or, worse, it may have to be flown empty to another city to work a flight. As a pilot who has done these three-flights-in-a-night adventures, I’m here to tell you that the last ones aren’t a lot of fun.

More than once, I finished a basketball charter pulling into the gate as the crew working the first flight of the day was showing up. It was a mad dash to get the airplane ready to go as we slogged off to a hotel or grabbed a seat in the cabin to go home, another baseball team or university (hopefully) grateful to us for a job well done.—Chip Wright

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

Sterile cockpit

A headline of late was of a pilot in the San Jose, California, area going on a rant that was broadcast on the radio. This is not the first time this has happened, and it probably won’t be the last. The usual culprit is a stuck mic switch.

The FAA has announced an investigation into the incident, and it’s safe to say that if the guilty individual is found, there will be some kind of disciplinary action and/or a fine.

Aside from sounding unprofessional, the transmission apparently took place below 10,000 feet, when an airline crew is supposed to be honoring sterile cockpit procedures. The FAA says pilots are supposed to limit conversation only to flight-related discussion below 10,000 feet. Considering that a number of accidents have been attributed to violation of sterile cockpit—to say nothing of other incidents—the FAA is going to wield its power.

Most modern transport-category radios have an auto-shutoff feature that will shut down transmissions after a certain amount of time. This incident is the reason why—not so much because of what was said, but because a stuck mic can create a safety issue if other pilots or controllers can’t transmit and receive over the stuck mic.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this, because the other pilot will be in the crosshairs as well for what appears to be a lack of effort to bring the conversation back to the appropriate topics.

It would be naïve to say that sterile cockpit violations don’t happen every day. They do, but that doesn’t excuse it. We all need to be aware of where we are and what we are saying, and anytime we are using a radio panel, we need to make sure that what is meant to stay in the cockpit actually does. It’s easy to miss it when your mic continues to stay hot, but a subtle indicator is the change in your own voice in your ear when you’re using the radio versus the intercom. But that’s the problem: It’s a subtle change, and all too easy to miss. Some radios also have a transmission symbol or indicator, such as a “T” or a “TX” that appears on the screen. Some … but not all.

This incident needs to be a reminder of the need to honor the sterile cockpit. It’s easy to get complacent, but it certainly isn’t impossible to comply. In fact, some pilots I’ve flown with have personally requested that anything below 18,000 feet be considered sterile, the rationale being that even the teens can have a lot of traffic and opportunities for missed radio calls. While that isn’t a necessary step, it’s not an unreasonable one either.

In general aviation, the rules are much more relaxed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with your own conditions that might be “sterile.” It could be an altitude or within so many miles of an airport, or some other definition that you feel will reduce the risk of an ATC mistake or error. Whatever you decided to use, just remember that whatever you say may not only be recorded, but broadcast live on the internet, and the FAA may want to discuss it.—Chip Wright

Missing the classroom

Training, it seems, never ends. Back in the day, all training took place in a classroom, a teacher lecturing and sharing wisdom, knowledge and a few lies, students dutifully taking notes and pretending to understand what was being said, all the while taking the lies as true gospel.

Nowadays, less training is done in the classroom, and more is done on the student’s own time. Ironically, the general aviation world got a bit of a jump on this with the introduction of self-study books by Gleim, ASA, and a few others. Ground schools, once immensely popular, began fading away.

Nowadays, the trend is to do virtually everything, well…virtually. Even when I was going through new-hire training at my current airline, the actual learning and introduction of most of the material was done through Computer Based Training (CBT) in the hotel, and the classroom time had almost nothing to do with what we were supposed to be learning. This was less true when we began to learn the systems of the airplane, but not by much.

Today, all continuing education is completed on our personal time. We get paid once it’s all done, but we are still giving up some of our personal time so that the airline can save huge sums of money on the costs of hotel rooms, transportation, per diem, et cetera.

A friend just finished training on a new airplane, and we were commiserating how different the learning environment is today versus what it was in the past. We both agreed that the old days were better for learning. There is just something better about listening to a teacher who actually knows the airplane tell you how things work in the real world. The opposite, of course, is having to deal with instructors who have absolutely no real-world knowledge of the airplane, and instead just regurgitate what is on the PowerPoint slide or what they themselves have been told—and that was pretty common for a while.

The classroom setting had a lot of advantages: It facilitated open discussion; questions could more easily be addressed, and confusion minimized. The structure of the day also helped, since most blocks of time were 50 to 60 minutes, which kept you on a predictable pace. Not so much today. I just recently had to finish an online course for 737 MAX return to service, and it was drudgery. Most of it was the same material I had learned when the airplane first came into service, but even the new material was often boring. Worse, I won’t be flying the airplane until at least spring, if not summer or fall, so I may have to do a review when it comes up on my schedule. However, unlike the initial rollout, I will get some sim time, and I’m looking forward to that.

We now do continuing ed around the calendar, and we can space it out or cram it all together. Both systems work, but waiting until the last minute is both stressful and hellacious. Either way, it’s too easy to get distracted and not learn as much as we might, but the old days simply aren’t coming back, and that’s a shame. I miss the days of the “There we were…” stories, as they often made it easier to remember the nuances of whatever was being described.

Now, I just click “Next” and watch the timer creep closer to the next slide.—Chip Wrightзайм великий новгородзайм на счет кивимоментальный займ без отказа

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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