Just one pilot's attempt at taking an interesting picture every trip, often with a story to go with it. Come along for the ride.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Q & A

I finally have a chance to catch up on a few questions from Patrick of Switzerland concerning transatlantic flying. I figured I'd answer here on the 'trip report.'

Patrick asks:

Relief pilots, you call them FB (flight buddy?) have to be Captain-qualified on the specific type of aircraft (e.g. 757/767). Meeting that requirement, can you bid this position (crew schedule) in order to get to more international long-haul destination or is being FB a non-loved duty because you can't log a landing? 

The FB name probably comes from the term First Officer-B. So it's really like a second first officer position. It pays the same as the co-pilot position. The disadvantage is that you usually don't get a landing on your trip. Almost always the FB position goes junior to FO, but they still run a bit more senior than many of the domestic FO's flying narrow body aircraft. It really comes down to what you enjoy flying the most. My brother (also a captain here) prefers domestic flying, even though he's flown a good deal of international in his career. I prefer the layovers in Europe even though they are becoming more and more expensive with the low value of the dollar. It's nice to work at a major where you can choose what kind of flying you'd like to do.

Patrick also asks:

When your aircraft is ADS-B equipped, that means you don't have to make position reports at all, right? CPDLC requires ADS-B but you can flying without CPDLC over the Atlantic with ADS-B on, so you'll have to make only a position report on HF when switching airspaces.

Right. We tested CPDLC (Controller Pilot Data Link) in the 757 when flying through Miami's airspace a few years back. They aren't doing it anymore for some reason. About the only non verbal way we communicate with ATC anymore is by the position report capability built into a few of our 767's and 757's. All of the 777's have this capability.

This makes life much easier when crossing the Atlantic. Currently, every 10 degrees starting at 50 then 40, 30 and 20 degrees, we have to call up either Gander on the Canadian side or Shanwick on the Ireland side of 30 degrees and tell them our flight number, position, altitude, time estimate for our next position, the name of the next point after that and our fuel on board. They will then relay this information to a separate air traffic controller and also to our company who tracks our fuel and position. So it might sound something like this:

"Gander American one four six, position."

"Go ahead American one four six."

"American one four six position five one north, five zero west, 2230, flight level 370, estimating five two north, four zero west at 2315, five two north, three zero west next. Fuel six zero decimal five. (thousand pounds)

That's not so hard, but getting a word in through the extreme static of the HF radios can be a challenge. Some have likened it to talking into a geiger counter. I believe in a few years, these automatic position reports will be standard on all north atlantic crossings. I can't wait.

While we're on the subject of technology, I'm really excited that we've been granted FAA approval to carry 3 of our airplane manual books in digital form on a laptop. This will save a couple of pounds for those of us who regularly carry a computer anyway. We can also access any part of the manual quickly through the search function. We're told this will start on October 15th. Since this results in opening up a significant amount of space in my kitbag, I hope to bring my good digital SLR camera with me occasionally. Maybe someone will invent a smaller kitbag for us as well, although we're still required to carry the Jepps manuals which are between one and two books per trip.

This is just an intermediate step until we get our class three EFB (electronic flight bag) early next year in the 757/767. Once all of the airplanes are converted, I would imagine we will be able to leave almost all of our books at home. I never thought I'd see the day! We'll be telling junior pilots in ten years, "Back when I was a co-pilot, you had to replace hundreds of pages every week in those manuals! You don't know how good you have it, son!" All the while, they'll be thinking, "Geezer. Get out of my left seat."

Speaking of getting out of the seat, it looks like the retirement age for pilots in the U.S. will be going up to 65 years from 60. This will slow down some hiring a bit, but I suspect a number of pilots at AA will be going at 60 anyway. My guess would be 50%, but no one really knows. I know my dad was fully capable of flying well past 60 and he's still flying formation flights in WWII aircraft even today at age 77. But not everyone agrees with the change, especially those around my seniority. I can clearly see both sides of the argument, but most of those who I fly with would prefer no change to the rule. I won't truly know how I feel about it until I put in my 36th year while looking at 5 more.

The ones mostly affected will likely be you guys who are learning to fly right now. I'm hoping it's offset a bit by all the new positions available in the corporate world, which is set to really take off. (Oh, that was a weak pun.)

Thanks Patrick for the great questions!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Kent , nice article , I read about the ADS-B , well I wanted to share with you that the C172S I am flying have the ADS-B TOO, Its amazing, with the G1000 you can even create waypoints, Using the range knob , clicking on it, makes is to work as a mouse and you can even give it a name , Im amazed.
EGM757

Anonymous said...

Hey there, Kent.

Long time reader, love the stuff here.

Anyhow, came across this ad, figured you'd get a laugh.

It's the 'Bud Lite real men of...." ad:

http://arc.diis.net/p/dl/i.php/bud/BL92.mp3

Neil said...

Some interesting questions there!

Kent Wien said...

Thanks anonymous for the Bud Lite discount airline pilot ad. It was taken off by Budweiser a while back and I didn't get a chance to grab it.

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Grew up in Alaska, went to high school and college in Washington State. Commercial pilot since 1990.

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