Thursday, April 21, 2011

Never rush. Ever.

I have some important advice that I think can help any pilot reading this, whether they are waiting to solo or have 20,000 hours. You remember learning about "get there itis?" and telling yourself you'd never risk your license and life to get somewhere if the weather was bad? Or having a scary "never again" experience? Great! Get there itis is the cause of a lot of head scratching accidents.

But how many times have you rushed through preflight prep? Maybe you haven't yet. But you will, at some point, be in such a flustered hurry that you'll mess something up. 

Maybe you're a calm person by nature and you never rush. But if your environment changes you may find yourself being forced into a hurry up role. 

Unfortunately when you fly for an airline, on time performance is king. And you'll be given planes that have issues, or get your paperwork late, or find something wrong with the aircraft on your preflight. And inevitably, you'll be told "we don't have time for that." 


So here's some sage advice from someone who hasn't been in this industry long, but has been in it long enough to recognize a few things.

The ground personnel don't have pilot's licenses. That gate agent angry about a maintenance delay isn't about to fly on that airplane. The mechanic may NOT have done the whole procedure and you'll be the party pooper who delays the flight to make sure everything's legal. Just do it. Don't worry about being popular. And don't do it just when you think the FAA is watching. Have personal integrity. 

Take the same amount of time on your walk around. Do the same cockpit prep you always do. Always double check your flight plan against the release (or the charts). Always check your NOTAMs, MELs and CDLs. You (and the other pilot, if there is one), are the FINAL authority on whether or not that aircraft is safe and ready to depart. It's your life and your ticket on the line.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

MDPC - Punta Cana

Note to self: the Dominican Republic does not run on island time!

See? I'm making an effort to write more. Keep reading and leaving comments and I'll keep writing!

Today is day 1 of 4: pretty easy day, a flight down to FLL and then flights to Punta Cana and back. You may think that the DR runs on island time but you'd be mistaken! The slam dunked us into the airport, leaving us high and fast. The A320 series aircraft are very "clean" aerodynamically. Less drag means a lot better fuel efficiency than most jets, but also means that you can't slow down at the same time you're descending.

The best technique with Fifi is to get down at a higher airspeed, then slow down when you're level. Today we had another aircraft (who shall remain nameless) come running up our behind! It was a Boeing, which can get down in a hurry at a faster speed than we can. Sometimes non-Airbus pilots just don't realize that, and in this case they ended up doing S turns on final to get some distance between them and us.

I could go on and on about how the responsible thing would have been to start slowing when we did (and we made a radio call to warn them we were slowing to approach speed), but I wasn't flying their airplane. I was just watching them come up behind us on TCAS.

Punta Cana is BEAUTIFUL, by the way. The terminal is made to look like it's a bunch of thatched roof buildings! Adorable. I'm adding this town to my list of places to visit for more than 30 minutes!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The pairing from hell returns...with avengance.

So thanks to crew scheduling, we actually have a pairing that looks like this, one I'm "lucky" enough to fly 3 times this month:

ACY-PBI-DTW-RSW <- day 1, 7:50 minutes of block
RSW-DTW-LGA-MYR-ACY <- day 2, 7:44 minutes of block.

The first time I flew this pairing I ended up with 16:41 block over the two's possible to fly more than 8 hours/day as long as it's something outside company's control - in this case our flights flew over block because of strong headwinds and weather deviations.

Last week our first day went pretty decently, we only arrived an hour late, in just after midnight instead of at 1:40 A.M. the last time around.

By the way, RSW tower closes from 0000-0600 local. So we're 0 for 2 landing with a controller in RSW this pairing. The horror! How did we manage? It's called a CTAF and position reports. It's not a big deal. I'm looking at you, CNN/Fox News/ABC News/media at large. (steps off soapbox)

Unfortunately last week we had a mechanical issue as we were trying to leave RSW. The A320 seems to be susceptible to mechanical issues that aren't even "mechanical." In our case we had some computers (that manage the PA system as well as our lavatory/cargo smoke detection) that refused to stay online. We thought it had something to do with the airplane not wanting to accept the ground power, however we couldn't test this theory as our APU (aux power unit, an on-board generator) was deferred.

After about 6 hours of troubleshooting company decided to ferry an A319 over from FLL, which we then took to DTW. We didn't depart until 8 hours after we were supposed to. Luckily 90% of our passengers were nice about it. The other 10%...karma will get back at them eventually.

Since we arrived in DTW so late they had already found another crew/airplane to take our last three legs. Instead we had to deadhead home the next morning (our day off, boo!). And since we don't have any direct flights from DTW-ACY during this part of the year, we had to deadhead through PBI. Ouch.

On the bright side: I got an extra 6 hours of pay out of the ordeal. Which makes up for the 6 hours or so that the captain and I spent helping maintenance, which of course we were not getting paid for. C'est la vie.

I head to ACY tonight as I have an early show tomorrow. Tomorrow and Wednesday I have a nice, easy pairing and a long FLL overnight (yay I can go to the gym!). However, Thursday and Friday I have to fly the pairing from hell again.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

something good finally

I realized (thanks @jasonensminger) that i neglected to actually post about last week's trip! And here I am on another trip. Time flies! I went to visit my parents and completely forgot.

Last week I had a pretty easy 3 day trip. Our first day was uneventful, a miracle in my option when you have to go to LaGuardia twice. We had a nice, if short, layover in NYC, just enough for me to hit the gym and get some sleep.

Our 2nd day we headed to FLL and flew a Cancun turn! First, you really get a better sense of close Key West is from Cuba when you're in the air. From over EYW you can easily see the coast of Cuba. It's standard practice to enter Cuban airspace on flights to the Southern Caribbean, and airlines make arrangements with the Cuban government (through the US State Department) for those rights. Overall the Cuban ATC is fantastic, although local traffic typically speaks Spanish with the controllers.

As for CUN - wow, what an airport! The ground crew was extremely professional, the gate agents nice, the cleaners had the airplane interior sparkling and smelling like a Bath and Body Works before we left. The terminal is brand new with clearly painted lead in lines for the gate. After push back the ground crew performed a FOD walk, looking for foreign object debris that could damage the aircraft.

Mexican ATC is pretty laissez-faire so you can't expect the explicit taxi clearances that you'd get from US ATC. Ours was "follow United to runway 12R." Hmm, ok!

Day 3 started out rough - no one wants to wake up at 3 am. It was worth it for the flight to LGA. Flying over the ocean up the east coast we had a fantastic sunrise to enjoy. Heading into New York we were cleared to descend to 4000 feet and "fly direct to the bridge and then proceed north up the river." Best. Clearance. Ever.

This is apparently an old school LGA approach, where you fly to the Varranzano Bridge (which I'm sure I didn't spell right), then turn left, head right at the Statue of Liberty (!!!) and fly up the Hudson river. At 4000 feet. It was a fantastic tour of New York City. Immediately below and to our right I could see Ground Zero, the Empire State Building (which is even more impressive from the air), the lights of Time Square and Central Park. All in the early morning clear-as-glass air. North of Manhattan just make a right turn to intercept the final approach course and shoot the visual approach to runway 22. A-mazing. Definitely one of the top 3 flights of my life (one of the others was my very first flight in a jet, in which we did much the same approach).

Blue skies!!