Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Back to School

I just got done with three days at the schoolhouse for my annual recurrent training. Yes, I'm aware that it's a little strange to do ground school after my trip to the sim. I certainly wouldn't plan it that way, but the schedules often conflict and force the company to do it backwards. And really, rather little of the information presented in ground school would help in the sim anyways. Even when an attempt at a good honest systems review is made, there simply isn't enough time to really bring you up to speed. You need to study on your own before going to the sim.

Each day started at 8am and lasted until 5pm, with a one hour lunch break plus lots of coffee breaks to keep everyone awake. Caffeine consumption is a major part of airline life under normal circumstances; during ground school, it doubles. I normally won't drink the coffee on the airplanes (I'm a bean grinding, french pressing coffee snob) but will mine the grindy dregs of the breakroom pot in an effort to keep from falling asleep in class.

It's not that all the information is worthless, there are definitely some gems that get passed along each year. There's just a whole lot of useless crap that goes with it, most of it mandated by the FAA. Systems review actually makes up a pretty small portion of the material, and that is so crammed that little new knowledge is gained. I will say that the part-time instructors (part-time line pilots) and the full-time instructors who have time on the line are far superior to the instructors who've never flown the airplane. We have one instructor who was paralysed in a motorcycle accident and no longer flies, but is particularly excellent at relating the systems to our actual line operations. He makes the Megawhacker electrical system a joy to learn, and that's saying something.

One thing that's sure to be discussed at any recurrent ground school is any accident or incident that happened during the preceding year. In this case, the big one was an incident we had a few months ago at Seattle; one of our Megawhackers ran off the end of runway 16C after a Cat III approach, for a variety of reasons that I'll save for another post. The interesting part is that the captain involved was actually sitting in this class, which made discussion of the incident rather awkward. He eventually did share his perspective on the event; it was rather gut-wrenching. I've flown with him several times and found him to be a good captain and a nice guy. Although the captain is ultimately responsible for his actions, there were some training and checking issues on the part of the company and FAA that I think strongly contributed to the outcome. Like I said, I'll expound on that in a future post.

We also had several bigwigs throughout the flight standards and training departments in to talk to us about what's coming down the pike. Our manager of turboprop flight standards was there to inform us that in response to the overrun incident, the company is drafting a bulletin that requires all pilots to adopt the landing technique of slowing to 50 kts immediately upon touchdown and then taxiing to the appropriate exit at that speed, no matter how long the runway or how nice the weather. I think a lot of pilots are going to have trouble with that one - not so much that it's a horrible idea as that it's the continuation of a trend in micromanagement we've been seeing over the last several years. You'd be shocked at the detail our flight standards manual goes into on how exactly they want us to land the airplane in different situations. Late last year they prohibited making Flaps 15 landings except during Cat III operations or if performance requires it, and only the captain could land Flaps 15. That caused an uproar among the pilots, first officers especially. I'll actually address this in another post in the near future, but suffice it to say that the pilots made their views known to the manager of turboprop flight standards. He didn't care, of course. That's okay - seeing him dodge pointed questions was more entertaining than usual Recurrent Ground School fare.

Anyways, it's all over now. I have two days of reserve to finish out the week, and then it's the new bid, in which I have a regular line. I had an easy time of it during my two bids on reserve - too easy, in fact. I only flew 6 days this month. My per-diem check is miniscule, and Dawn's sick of me moping around the house all week, so I'm putting myself back to work. I have layovers at a few places that are brand new for Megawhacker pilots, so that should provide yet more fodder for future posts.


Fred said...

As always, an interesting post, Sam. That the captain involved in the incident was actually there in class is entertaining in some respects. I'm looking forward to the promised post about the incident.

Pilots seem to have an inordinate attraction to analyzing accidents and incidents. I can understand why though.

Anonymous said...

senses that promised posts will follow an unexpected and pleasant career change, and a break for Sam & Dawn.
Was reading my favorite and the worlds best selling aviation magazine when I said to myself, I'd like to see either FL 250 or FL 390 on staff.

Sam said...