Friday, October 31, 2014

Almost Home

Besides the better pay, work rules, and benefits, one of the reasons that so many young pilots aspire to fly for one of the remaining legacy network airlines is the variety of flying available to its pilots over the course of their careers. The "Big Three" have large networks covering the US, North America, and the entire world, with a large number of different aircraft types of various sizes, capabilities, makes, and levels of automation. Once the new American Airlines is fully integrated, for example, a newhire may find themselves flying an old-school MD83, a Boeing 737, an Airbus 320/319/321, or an Embraer 190. Moving up, they might fly internationally in a Boeing 757/767, A330, 777, or 787 - or they might stay on domestic narrowbody equipment for better seniority. They might delay upgrade for a better schedule, or they might chase the highest-paying left-seat position available. They might give up a pay raise to hold a base they live in or which features an easier commute. The options are many, and few pilots will make the exact same choices over the course of their career.

Personally I enjoy variety in my flying, which is one of the main things that made me wait out a class date at a legacy carrier rather than trying to get hired at an airline like jetBlue, Southwest, or Alaska. Those are fine companies that treat their pilots well, but they are also (for now) single-fleet operators with narrowbody equipment confined to North America. That's what I'm doing now and that's just fine for a few years, but I can't see doing it my entire career. My current airline has even greater fleet variety than American. Assuming that both my health and the state of the economy and my employer stays strong, I'll hopefully bid to widebody international equipment in a few years, do that until I upgrade on the Mad Dog or similar domestic narrowbody, and eventually go back to international in the left seat. Changing it up will help keep the flying from getting stale over the next 32 years to mandatory retirement (I hope to retire sooner...said every 33-year old pilot ever).

For now I'm just hoping to get home to Minneapolis as soon as possible. There is a Mad Dog base there and it's not really that senior, but there is a huge glut of newhires who happen to be from the Twin Cities who are trying to get home. Among the 2010 hires, I have a several friends who have been trying to get back ever since; they've been commuting to reserve in New York for much of the last four years. Considering this, I was thinking it would be a year or better before I could hold Minneapolis, but nevertheless kept it active in my online vacancy bid. Imagine my surprise when, several months ago, a vacancy award was published that had my name and "MSP Mad Dog FO" on it! Some 19 pilots senior to me and 8 junior to me got back to MSP in the same bid. I talked to a chief pilot shortly afterwards, and he showed me slated for a December 1st "conversion date." I was a bit doubtful; letting 20+ pilots go all at once would decimate the New York base. But as time went on and the December 1st date held firm, I allowed myself a glimmer of hope.

The December category lists were just published - and disappointingly, I'm still in New York, along with most of the senior pilots awarded MSP. The contract gives the company wide discretion on when they chose to convert vacancy awards, and they apparently realized that short-staffing New York immediately before the holidays and the return of winter weather was not in their best interests. That's ok. I know plenty of people forced to commute their entire careers. I'll likely commute again at some point in mine. For now, it's good to know that I'm coming home, and I only have to wait a few more months. For December, I'll be over 50% seniority in the New York Mad Dog base, raising the possibility of holding Christmas off in my very first year. I got Thanksgiving off in November. Minneapolis, like widebody international flying, will be there for me down the road. In the meantime I'm enjoying much better seniority than a probationary pilot would usually dare to hope for.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Out of Touch

I just got back from 10 days of sailing in the British Virgin Islands, attending the 33rd Annual Interline Regatta. It's my third year at the regatta, and was a blast as usual. It had an interesting beginning in that I and several teammates just barely beat Hurricane Gonzalo to the islands, flying to St Thomas on Oct 13th on one of the last flights and then catching the second-to-last ferry between St Thomas and Tortola. We rode out the storm on our charter boats in The Moorings' well-protected base in Road Town, and there it was actually a non-event with a bit of wind and very little rain. It turns out that although the hurricane rapidly intensified to Category II+ on Monday night, it also veered about 60 miles north of its predicted track, and so the BVI were spared though islands further east suffered damage. In St Martin, 37 boats were destroyed at anchor and one mariner aboard was killed.

The last rain bands passed by Tuesday afternoon, and after that it was beautiful weather for the remainder of the regatta, though unusual northwesterly winds prevailed in the storm's wake and faded to light air for the first few days of racing before the southeasterly trades resumed. Our group had three charter boats this year, and I alternated skippering a 41' Beneteau and our 50' Beneteau race boat. This is the third yacht charter I've skippered this year, my sixth sailing excursion since last September totaling some 43 days spent afloat. I'm getting more comfortable with big-boat handling as I gain experience, and have been able to get some of my closest friends and family members hooked on it too. For me, the real attraction of the Interline Regatta is not just the beautiful tropical surroundings or excellent sailing, it is the chance to spend ten days enjoying the company of some of my favorite people in the world, free of the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

It was time exceptionally free of outside distractions this year as my phone steadfastedly refused to connect to BVI voice and data networks, and most wifi connections proved similarly unusable. I'm not sure if it was post-hurricane network snafus or a problem with my phone. I've never had those issues in the BVI before. It didn't bother me much, except that Dawn stayed home this year and our only contact was nightly text messages and one phone call when within range of USVI cell towers on St John. I was also out of contact with Flying's editorial office during a critical stage of the publishing process, which resulted in my December column going to the printer before I had a chance to offer input on proposed changes. My editors will attest that I'm an obsessive perfectionist where the column is concerned - much more than I ever have been with the blog - and so while nobody will ever notice the difference but me, it was a bit frustrating. Lastly, the Yellow Cub Club's president was unsuccessfully trying to get ahold of me. I'll write more about this soon, but we recently sold Cub N77532 as it needed a restoration and few club members were willing to be without a plane to fly for a year or more. We bought a nice 1940 J-3C that was restored in the late 90s with the proceeds, but the club needed someone to fly it back from CVG. I had volunteered, but October proved to be a very bad month considering nearly all my off time was devoted to the regatta. Oh well; another club member is bringing it back in the next few days.

Since coming back from my ten days spent out of touch in the BVI, I've been unusually aware of how many people I see with their faces stuck to their smartphones, oblivious to the people around them. It's the world we live in and it's completely useless to go off on a screed about it. But maybe, just maybe, I'll make the extra effort to leave the phone in my pocket the next few weeks and engage with the real live persons around me. The electronic contacts will be there when I get back to them. But you never know when a potential life-long friend is sitting three feet away from you, just waiting to connect over a shared passion for sailing, motorcycles, travel, or flying.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

A Trip to Catalina

Back in August I chartered a Beneteau 43-foot sailboat for five days out of Marina del Rey in Los Angeles with Dawn, my little brother Steve, and friends Lance, Ivy, Kelly, and Rob. We did a 4-day trip to Catalina Island, and then Steve and I spent an additional night anchored up at Paradise Cove near Malibu. We enjoyed beautiful weather and phenomenal sailing conditions, and I was able to get the entire crew training & practice time at each of the crew positions. It was actually my second time taking this boat to Catalina, as "Liberty" was the boat used for my ASA104 Bareboat Chartering course last September. Here's the really cool part: the charter company / sailing school, Blue Pacific Boating, hired Steve to make a promotional video from our trip. Steve is a multi-talented guy, and he did a really nice job with it (including enlisting our brother-in-law Jordan to write & record the music). I don't know about you, but it makes me want to head for the nearest body of water and jump on a sailboat! Watch it full-screen in 1080p.