Flight Plan

My flight plan....to encourage, mentor, guide those pining for the sky. I'm also here to virtually open the flight deck door for those who want to take a peek at the many aspects of aviation.....enjoy!

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

That seven letter "F" word

A340 bunk. I spent many shifts in there. These bunks were directly behind the flight deck which experienced noise from the flight deck: door closing, SELCAL checks, flight deck chimes even the flight attendant's jumpseat would hit the wall as it retracted. I'm told the bunks to the B777 located above the flight deck are almost too quiet.

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CBC aired a series this week called Dead Tired (pilot fatigue) and it did a great job of scaring the hell out of the flying public. But maybe this is what it will take? Having said that, the show implies all sectors of aviation have dead tired pilots at the helm. I think with the majors it's far less of a problem than the "Air Rinky Dinks" out there. For one thing, not only do we have to contend with CARs (Canadian Aviation Regulations) but we must contend with pilot contracts which are a little more confining.

True pilots at small companies are reluctant to deny flying because of fatigue, but where I work all we have to do is call crew scheduling and use the "f" (fatigue) word. We are then removed from our pairing - no questions asked.

Dead Tired has not only opened a can of worms regarding fatigue but also poverty wages for many pilots and commuting. The Colgan crash certainly brought to the forefront these very issues.

Here's a few of my experiences.

Years ago I worked for one of those "Air Rinky Dink" airlines trying to build time. In fact, I was still forecasting weather, but flying on the side for a cargo company. I finished a night shift at the weather centre and no sooner did I get home, but the phone rang. "Air Rinky Dink" needed a Navajo first officer to fly to St. John's, Newfoundland via Stephenville and Deer Lake. I tried explaining to them I had just finished an 8 hour graveyard shift. The captain said they were desperately short and suggested I could sleep on the bank bags. And that's what I did. Once at cruising altitude I crawled back onto the tarp and slept. That is, until the captain had to go back and pee in a bottle.

With that same company, we would fly all morning and rest in the back room of a FSS (flight service station) in sleeping bags all day and fly the same route back at night. But like it said in the show, if I or others were reluctant to do this and work for poverty wages, there's 20 others that would.

Many assume aircrew can easily get 8 hours of prone rest while on the road. Well I've been to hotels where there are kid hockey teams running down the hallway, drunks knocking at my door (no they were not aircrew), jack hammers riveting through the building, people snoring incredibly loud in the room next door and several cases of couples copulating throughout the night. I've had jet lag insomnia causing me to be wide awake throughout the night but what does one do?

(One such insomnia case is in my book. September 10th, 2001 I could not sleep. I turned on the T.V in my Frankfurt hotel and watched a documentary on CNN. It talked about Bin Laden and his team were up to something. Well we all know what happened the following day.)

Here is an extreme case what one pilot did. The flight was delayed and it is customary for the hotel staff to slide a memo under the aircrew's door to notify of the new departure time. The Captain heard the note being slid under the door and delayed the flight a further eight hours to get his prone rest.

Another captain's attempt for rest: One crusty eccentric A340 captain I flew with demanded the flight attendants place blankets on the galley floor in order to cushion the sound of footsteps.
Plus he wanted J class (business) serviced delayed until he finished his rest. Also he wanted the flight attendants to wear soft sole shoes or remove them entirely. You can imagine how popular this captain was.

I realize my union is fighting for change in certain aspects of crew rest and that change is needed. Flying to YYT (St. John's, Newfoundland) through the night and back to Toronto may meet our 13 hour restriction, but no where does it factor in landing and taking off in the most weather plagued airport in the system.

Like the show stated, what other profession would spend $50, 000 to $65,000 on getting their qualifications only to get a job making minimum wage i.e. less than a Taco Bell employee?

This industry is unique in so many ways but don't think other industries are exempt from fatigue.

Captain Doug


Chris Taylor said...

How noisy are the bunks on 747s, below the vertical stab?

whywhyzed said...

I found the two segments kind of one-sided. I also read the various comments which CBC listeners posted.

I am an experienced business traveler (30+ yrs) and a part-time pilot and an aviation buff. The flying public has no idea that there are two different worlds out there in terms of working conditions, safety, etc.

Flying on an B-777 is very very different from flying on a regional DHC-8, especially in the US as witnessed on the segment & the Colgan accident. One crew is quite senior and perhaps even have a relief pilot, the other may be severely underpaid and overworked.

One bit in the segment was a bit alarmist and that was the opening segment about the Regionnair pilot who had two jobs and was basically irresponsible in my view.

BTW, my commercial flight instructor was one of those guys who joined an outfit where you had to fork out $5,000. on your first day as a "training bond", which I suppose you got back eventually. All in the interest of getting hours on heavy equipment. I believe JetsGo had the same deal going on, didn't they?

Anyway, it's a sad situation because the flying public wants cheap airfares and running an airline is an expenssive business, especially if there are unions involved.

Just my view, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Well said whywhyzed,

Yet many pilots work two jobs, either flying or something else,
in order to have at least some attempt at decent living conditions or for other reasons.

From the Flight Deck said...

Hi Chris. I heard they weren't bad. The only thing, it was quite a walk. But the 747s are long gone.

Captain Doug

From the Flight Deck said...

Whywhyzed. I agree with you. I thought the shows instilled fear in the entire industry. Just like the show, Mayday, is putting many people on edge. Maybe it's why a new study found the fear of flying is up to 50 percent of passengers.

Yes, flying a King Air for a small charter company does not compare to a B777 equipped with quiet rest facilities with one or maybe two extra pilots.

Yes, there are many companies requiring a training bond. Jetsgo was one of them. In fact they were called Jetsgo 20,000 (20,000 training bond). I flew with several pilots who lost this bond. Just another typical company capitalizing of the dreams of a wanna be pilot. Shame on them.

Again, CBC did a great job bestowing fear to the flying public. I too thought the Quebec based F/O was irresponsible and he broke the law. Sadly, this is the norm in many places.

Today I was on duty for 12 hours and 15 minutes. It consisted of three legs. Calgary to Vegas to Vancouver and back to Calgary. It made for a long day, but the operation was entirely safe.

Another valid point. The public is waking up, realizing there are shortfalls in the system. They should realize they are getting a high end product with Walmart prices. Something has to give.

From the Flight Deck said...

Anon. It's true many pilots are holding down two jobs.

As well, they have their spouses working adding to the stress of being on the road and raising a family.

Many guys come to work to get some rest. :)

Ian said...

The Boeing 744s of BA have bunks right behind the flight deck - and are quiet-ish.

The Boeing 777ERs and LRs have the most amazing crew rest facilities for both flight crew and cabin crew. As Doung says, deathly quiet with both bunks and big easy recliners for rest in terms of the crew rest for the pointy end.

Fatigue is a constant problem in our industry - and the freighter night owls are the ones I feel sorry for with constant operations under the moonlit skies. It will certainly take its toll. Of that there is no doubt at all.

I operated to the US Midwest at the weekend, tomorrow after 3 days rest, I depart for East Africa - 3 flight deck crew - and home for 4 days and Toronto is finally showing for this Speedbird driver (take note Captain Doug)!

To say that it does not in some way adversely affect you would be completely wrong - but in all cases, as Doug says, the operations of the majors anyway are built around safety - for obvious reasons.

From the Flight Deck said...

Ian. Thanks for the post. You mentioned the media is bending things out of proportion with B.A's situation. Well they didn't exercise much diplomacy on our end regarding pilot rest. Fear is a great manipulator.

Speaking of rest, I have one Orlando turn to complete at the first of the month and then I'm off for three weeks. So the posts are wide to allow for a Speedbird/Air Canada rendezvous.

Mark said...

I thought that air travel was one of the safest, if not the safest, modes of transportation??? Leave it to the media to sensationalize everything and not focus on the safety record.

How does the saying go, "you have more chances of being hurt in a car accident on the way to the airport, than the flight you are heading for"...

If I had my way, I would swap every hour in the car for the airplane.

Hope all is well Doug. Read that you recently did a turn in Vegas. I head there May 20th for the long weekend. First time. Can't wait.

I know that "Mayday" may not be great for those who are fearful of flying, but I still think it is a great show. Being a general aviation enthusiast, I thoroughly enjoy it. It's a good learning show.



From the Flight Deck said...

Hi Mark. Just in from Calgary. Captain Doug got to grease it on runway 05 tonight although a business jet in front took some time clearing the runway.

Actually, statistically speaking aviation is the second safest mode of transportation. The first is the elevator!

Mayday is a great watch from an aviation enthusiast point of view, but for a layman that thinks this is the norm instead the rarest of rarest, it's enough to make them
not fly again. I get that all the time now, people asking me what I think of Mayday.

I noticed one trend on the Vegas flights. Everyone is in a good mood going there, but not on the return. No wonder it's called "lost wages."

I pointed that fact out yesterday to the in-charge while passengers were deplaning in Vancouver. One passenger overheard me and said, "I'm in a good mood, but I didn't gamble.


Aviatrix said...

I haven't watched the CBC documentary lately, but my feeling is that the duty time regulations in Canada are sufficient, but they MUST be adhered to. The moment the company interrupts the pilot's rest, or the pilot stays up to watch the end of the hockey game or fudges a journey log entry so as not to miss out on revenue flying the next day, the trap is set for fatigue and the pilot may not be able to catch up. Pilots have to put their feet down about company interruptions, but the paper under door guy: a bit much.

Oh and on my last flight home from Vegas I wasn't in such a great mood: I threw up. It turned out I'd caught some 24 hour flu or maybe food poisoning off the breakfast buffet. It's a funny memory though, because a fellow passenger asked sympathetically, "Are you not used to flying?"

From the Flight Deck said...

Aviatrix. Great comments about crew rest. I too think they are sufficient overall, but a little tweaking is needed especially when factoring in time zones.

I'm certain Transport Canada will be mandating changes in reference to the Colgan crash. Rumour has it, Westjet is already changing things.

Sorry to hear about you sickness. Food poisoning, now there's another issue a pilot has to contend with.

Happy Flying.


P.S The three CBC news clips are not that long because they removed the commercials. Just click on the CBC icon.