Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Under the Microscope...?

I think the "powers that be" are onto me. Two of my last three trips, I've been flying with check airmen. It's a little bit disconcerting to fly with a check airman. You're in a bit of a limbo land. You're not being line checked, at least not officially. I've never heard of a check airman giving demerits to a first officer they were flying a regular trip with. But you're still quite a bit more careful to fly the book when the captain's main job is enforcing that book.

Increasing the uncertainty in my case was the fact that both check airmen were new and without reputations. In fact, I didn't find out one of them was a check airman until day three of the trip! If they'd been check airmen for a while, I'd know whether they were complete Nazis or were laid back about minor stuff. Was I under the microscope? Or were they kicking back and enjoying a regular trip, glad to not be worrying about training and enforcement for once?

I make it sound as if I'm a completely nonstandard pilot when I'm not flying with a check airman. I'm really not. I fly by the spirit of the book and by most of the letter. Many check airmen are satisfied with that. A few, though, feel that they must pick out any small details I'm getting wrong. And most pilots are regularly doing something "wrong." For an example, refer to my last line check.

Here's another example: Our flight standards manual states that whenever you are hand-flying the airplane, you should not make auto flight control system (AFCS) inputs yourself, you should direct the non-flying pilot to do so. The proper execution sounds like this:

ATC: "Megawhacker 347, turn right heading 090, direct to BANDR when able, climb and maintain 6000."
PNF: "Up to 6000, heading 090, direct BANDR, Megawhacker 347."
(PNF sets altitude alerter to 6000 and pushes ALT SEL.)
PF: "Push IAS twice. Select heading 090. Select my nav source to LNAV. Input direct BANDR on my FMS. Push Nav."

That just makes my head hurt. It's far easier to reach up and push a few buttons yourself. The Megawhacker is pretty stable. It's not going to roll over because your attention was diverted for two seconds. And therefore most pilots will do at least a little button pushing while hand flying, except on checkrides and line checks. Cooperate and graduate, as the saying goes. But what about when flying a regular trip with a check airman? I still fly to the very letter of the book, while grating my teeth at some of the asinine procedures written by desk jockies who seldom fly the line.

Of course, I can only escape an anal check airman by knowing every asinine detail in the book. Apparently I do not. Today I was kicking back with my feet on their usual footrest, the bottom of the instrument panel, when the captain told me that "your feet aren't supposed to be there. It's in the book." I was incredulous until he pulled out the flight standards manual. Sure enough, there it was: "The instrument panel and center console are not to be used as footrests." Nevermind that maintenance puts anti-skid material there for that express purpose.

Most of the check airmen on the Megawhacker are nice guys who I'm happy to share a layover beer with. But God Almighty, if I have to fly another four day trip with one, I'm going to reach an absolutely disgusting level of standardization.


dph said...

And the bosses that be will be happy to see that level of standardization, another cog safely flying the large cog of their airline.


Sam said...

A cog not leaving footprints on the panel, at that... [grin]

Aviatrix said...

Nevermind that maintenance puts anti-skid material there for that express purpose.

That made me laugh out loud. Who writes these things? At least you don't have to dress as a polar bear and communicate with the passengers in rhyme.

John said...

Is it possible that they're considering promoting you?

Sam said...

They are, John. As soon as my seniority allows me to hold a captain slot. In like five years!

LoadMasterC141 said...

That brings up a question Sam. You have alluded to the answer before, but why did you pick Horiz...err your current airline?

I ask this because the upgrade time would scare me away in an instant. I know they pay well and are relatively stable, doing their own flying rather than under the banner of a major, but that upgrade time....gosh.

As I begin my career change from a $70k/yr job, money has been a big issue. I am waiting a year just to pay off pretty much every debt I have. However, my wife and I would not survive on FO pay and her teacher salary for more than 3 years.

For that reason, I have eyed up regionals like XJT and Skywest, because upgrade is relatively quick. $40k/yr will put us in the "Comfortable" range.

If this were not a concern, I would rather fly for American Eagle, because, like your company, they are never in danger of losing their contract, and it is a safe bet that an AE guy is going to fly for AA before another equally qualified candidate. But the upgrade time...yikes!!! It is like 7-8 years right now. I hear it is going to get better as AE has finally admitted a large shortage and AA is going to start bringing the flowbacks back, but still......

I guess I would rather take a little bit of a risk with a contract flier like XJT and look at a 3 year jet upgrade to the left seat.

Just me though. I am curious as to why you picked the way you did, knowing you are intelliegent enough to have been able to way your options.

Sam said...

1. Wanted to stay on the West Coast if possible.
2. Wasn't willing to work for a bottomfeeder for a quick upgrade (ie Mesa).
3. Had friends at this airline.
4. It was uncertain whether UA and DL would be around for long, so Skywest was looking uncertain. This could still become an issue, with UA basically hanging out the "for sale" sign.
5. Experienced pilots cautioned me not to play the numbers game, because upgrade times can change so quick - both up and down.

And finally, I think pay scales matter a whole lot more than what you think you'll be taking home in three years. From a practical standpoint, you want to go somewhere you can afford to be stuck in the right seat. Furthermore, I believe the depressed payscales at many regionals are contributing to the destruction of good jobs at mainline carriers. We're destroying our own careers through shortsightedness.

You're right, objectively going with the airline I did has slowed my career progression by several years. I'm still glad I went with them. I love living and flying where I do, I make a comfortable salary for a FO, and I really like our pilot group. And I have yet to worry about a major airline's bankruptcy impacting me negatively.

Sam said...

Also...have you been following what's going on at XJT? Quite a bit of uncertainty as COA has cancelled the contracts on like 69 ERJs and XJT scrambles to find a place to put them. This at a time of surplus of 50-seat jets...something like 10% of the worldwide 50 seat jet fleet is currently parked/mothballed! Even if everything works out the kind of expansion you've seen there is not going to continue...neither will three year upgrades.

LoadMasterC141 said...

Yeah I have been following the 59-Jet saga at XJT. I have spoken at length with a guy who has given me advice on ATP Flight School, who is at XJT. They are quietly optimistic at this point.

And I must agree with you, there certainly is a good attraction to being at a stable regional airline. There is also an attraction to taking a bit of a risk and flying for one like XJT. Again, a few people I have read about in forums and such, at XJT, will or are upgrading at the 3-year point right now.

I kinda knew why you picked what you did, but I was also wondering if there was any reason I had not considered that you might have shed light on.

I have a long time to decide which regional I would prefer. Like you said, the industry is so fickle that at that time, I may have to take anything I can get…who knows.

Best case scenario….AA blows through the flow backs and starts hiring regular AE guys. AE starts hiring like crazy, and I get in at a good moment that will put me in line for a 3-4 year upgrade. Oh yeah…it all needs to happen in the summer of 2008, when I will be ready to be hired…hehe. All sarcasm of course.

Truly, I only want to get enough PIC turbine time to go find a corporate gig; I have a few
”ins” now.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Sam, thanks.

I found it strange that even when the aircraft if being "hand-flown" as you put it, you still have to make changes to the automatics? Why is that done? To "follow" the flight progression so it can be switched to the autos at any point?


Sam said...


The flight director is on basicly full-time unless you are flying "raw data" for proficiency purposes, which we do occasionally when the weather is nice. The inputs to the AFCS are the exact same whether autopilot is on or off. The only difference is who is manipulating the flight controls to follow the flight director: me or the autopilot.

This is a good topic for a post, actually. I'll do it soon.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification, Sam! I should have known both grammatically and flying my PMDG B747 in VATSIM that "flight director" !== "autoplit".

aluwings said...

"Nevermind that maintenance puts anti-skid material there for that express purpose."

I was involved with the cockpit design steering committee for the original Bombardier RJ during a 'hiatus' from flying duties (i.e. medically grounded for a while.) We had a great go-to with the Bombardier (actually then it was still Canadair) engineers over just this topic. As the RJ was originally developed from the Canadair CL 600 series, the parking brake handle was a 'T' located on the lower Captain's inner 'knee panel' i.e. exactly where pilot's WILL put their feet when relaxing. I asked the engineers what provisions they'd made for the pilot's foot rests and was that little 'T' strong enough to take the weight of a size 13 shoe for many hours.

The engineers resisted making any changes to the brake handle, and insisted that pilots must be "just told" not to put their feet up - and besides they might scratch the expensive CRTs. Well, the fight was on between the customer pilots involved in the design, and the engineers about the realities of pilot's needs for comfort during their many hours on the flight deck vs. the expense of redesigning the brake handle.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think we won this one and the PB handle was relocated to the center console... ?

(and FWIW, the A320 was the first airliner I flew where engineers actually designed a variety of comfortable footrests into the flight deck!)

Sam said...


Yeah, on the CR7 at least the parking brake is located just behind the center pedestal. It looks like a somewhat inconvenient location...but a lot less inconvenient than on the "footrest!"