Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pay your dues...

It's coming out in the media, through the coverage of the Colgan 3407 crash, just how little regional airline pilots make. This isn't a surprise to any of us who fly the line, we've been through the same thing.

The First Officer aboard the Colgan Dash 8 made just over $16,000 last year. She was commuting from the Seattle area because she lived with her parents. Many of us have additional housing at our base, but this can get very expensive. They're called crashpads. It's usually set up in a house, with several bunk beds in each room. They're intended to be used only a few nights a month, if you have a trip that starts early in the morning or ends late at night. While I only paid about $250/month for my crashpad in Ft. Lauderdale, I paid $400/month for the one in San Juan. This was on top of the $800/month in rent I was paying for my house back home in Port Orange.

Most of the alumni from Embry-Riddle (including myself) graduated with tens of thousands of dollars worth of student loans that we used to finance our flight training. And we go to our first job and make, what, $20-30/hr? And yet, we are all professionals. We don't give less than 100% at our jobs because we don't make as much as we know we should. Our number one priority is the safety of our passengers, who trust us to be our absolute best.

Here you can look up the pay scales of all the regional airlines.

When you hear "oh this pilot is making $25/hr, that's a lot of money!" what you have to remember is that we don't get paid for 40 hrs/week like a normal full-time employee. We're paid from block out to block in, i.e. from when the airplane pushes back from the gate to when you pull into the gate at the end of the flight. All the time we're at the airport in between flights, even if it's 4 or 5 hours, we're not getting paid*. The average airline pilot pulls between 75-85 hours a month. So basically that $25/hr comes back down to more like $12.50/hr. That doesn't sound fair for someone's who's responsible for the safety of 50 (sometimes more) passengers, does it?

So maybe some good will come out of this. At least the optimist in me thinks so. However, the more realistic expectation is that this issue will, once again, go nowhere.

GirlsWithWings said it best: "So, regional airline pay front page news again. At least until some star decides to buy/adopt/birth another child."

Here's a great bit on "Wal-mart in the cockpit" by av8rdan a fellow blogger

*Cape Air does actually pay you for all your "duty time," when you show up in the morning until when you leave. But they also pay less/hour, so it's a trade off.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A bit of discussion on tailplane icing and Colgan 3407

I was alerted by TheGimliGlider through Twitter today of this great video on tailplane icing. Watch

I remember, actually, seeing this video a couple years ago, whether it was at Embry-Riddle or during my CAL internship. And it's definitely worth a watch, especially if you're a pilot.

What I came away with is a definite feeling that the Captain and First Officer on Colgan 3407 felt that they were experiencing a tailplane stall. This, I believe, is evidenced by the CA's response to the stall by increasing back pressure against the stick-shaker and stick-pusher, which is a warning system used to prevent and correct a stall situation.

The FO's first response was to bring up the flaps and prompt the CA to see if he wished for landing gear retraction. This is part of the recovery procedure for tailplane icing, as the configuration change (specifically the lowering of flaps) usually causes the tailplane stall to finally occur.

According to the previous video, tailplane icing is evidenced by extreme nose-down pressure. Perhaps the CA mistook the stick-pusher for this control pressure? I'm still not sure as to why he ignored the stick-shaker in the first place, but due to the icing already observed by the crew (as stated in the CVR) it was a sensible assumption to believe that they were encountering a tailplane stall.

This brings me to the use of autopilot during the flight. I've spoken to a few Dash8 pilots, and all of them said that autopilot should never be used during icing conditions. This is reaffirmed by the video. AP prevents you from noticing the increased use of trim (since when activated, the AP assumes this function as well) and the lightened forward control pressure.

It's always said that an accident never has just one cause, it's a result of a chain of errors and events that ultimately lead up to the accident. As pilots we're charged with breaking this chain of errors, which could have started with us, or started with an airline policy or culture.

Safety is everyone's highest priority. The tragic events of Colgan 3407 remind us that we always have to be on our toes, we constantly have to educate ourselves and must consistently be on the lookout for that chain rattling at our cockpit door.
I'm going to try to update more often now. At least there's been a lot of material in the news and in my personal life.

Today is the hearing on Colgan 3407. I've read the CVR transcript, it's pretty terrifying that the airplane did what it was supposed to do and yet we still had a crash. There's really no excuse for pilot error anymore, not with the sort of training we're given nowadays. I'm not in safety (though it's what I'm going to get my Master's in when I start that in a few weeks) but I know from experience that you're asking for trouble if you have a left-seat to left-seat upgrade between two different aircraft types. The accident would most likely have turned out differently if the captain had responded correctly to the stick shaker. 6.7 seconds of stick shaker is outrageous.

If I had flown the Dash 8 I could give better commentary, but from what my friends who are flying the Q400 tell me, you NEVER have the autopilot on during icing conditions. NEVER. And I think we're looking at, once again, a crew fairly new to the airplane using the AP to compensate for the workload they had.

The FO also had complained that she was sick and exhausted. She commuted from the Seattle area to the east coast for the trip, on a red eye. Now that's personal choice, but it's not smart. When I was based in SJU, my trips usually started at 0500. I commuted from MCO on a flight that arrived in SJU at 1500 the day before. This killed one of my days off, but the only other flight I could take arrived at 2100 that night, and I didn't want to risk being exhausted the next morning. You have to make sacrifices and realize your own physical limits.

As for calling in's a problem in the airline world. Personally, I get one or two sinus infections every year. I have a deviated septum and when I get a sinus infection it tends to last for 2-3 weeks. You can't call in sick for 2 weeks when you're flying the line, so at a point, you have to just decide to grin and bear it (usually at the point when I can survive without dayquil). You're not 100% but crew schedulers aren't airline pilots and don't understand that you need a few more days off.

It's funny how obvious, common sense things get a bit convoluted when they get mixed in with airline procedures.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Back to our regularly scheduled programming...

As usually happens in my life, EVERYTHING HAPPENED AT ONCE last month.

David found out his base was changing - so we had to figure out where, when and how he was getting up there.

As soon as we found out where and when (Hagerstown, MD) and May 1st, I started to look for jobs.

Unfortunately, this meant everything else in life had to kind of stop. So my CFII went on hold (even though I should have had it done in 2 weeks, but I underestimated the tediousness of the CFII) for a few weeks. Ok, a month. Don't judge me!

Went to Sun n Fun for two days, saw some amazing airplanes and a few amazing people. I didn't really take pictures because my point n shoot is not suited for airshows. Dad and I went on Friday and stayed for some of the night airshow. My favorite airshow performance is always the twilight Aeroshell show. I have a love for the T-6 Texan that's unrivaled by any other airplane, and I love the combination of the roar of the Pratts with that calm stillness of twilight. Oh, and whoever came up with the idea of lighting up their exhaust? Genius.

David and I were lucky enough to run into a lot of our friends from Embry-Riddle on Saturday, so we had company. The 99s have a great house on premises with A/C and a bathroom, so I usually base myself out of there for Sun n Fun. Met some very nice ladies, as always! We attended the ERAU Alumni luncheon and I was lucky enough to win a pair of Vidalo HD sunglasses! They were a special pair with Elaine Larsen's signature embroidered on the case. Elaine is the driver of a jet dragster sponsored by Embry-Riddle, and she's just a wonderful person. Her husband is her crew chief and is so supportive! It's great.

So that's my Sun n Fun summary.

I just got back from a few days in Maryland, as David and I took the Autotrain (which is always worth the money) up north. We looked for apartments, which was harder than we thought, but we should have a place soon. David's just waiting until I get a job offer. I interviewed with a flight school at KHGR last week and am waiting to hear back from them. So in the meantime I came back to Florida to complete my CFII (zzzzz) and get some more personal things taken care of. Which I should probably get around to doing :)