Archive for December, 2007

Baby, why’s it so cold in here?

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2007 by luckyjet

If you haven’t heard Eddie Murphy’s routine about his granny complaining about the room being  drafty you should find it and buy it or download it or something. It is really funny.

Meanwhile if you fly in an airliner you will notice that it is just about always either drafty or too hot.  You might think that the airplane manufacturers and airlines could manage to get it a comfortable temperature. Once again pesky physics and command hierarchy gets involved to complicate things.

As for being too stuffy or just hot on the ground during the summer months this is usually a result of airlines cutting operational costs by using the ground based air conditioning systems . This allows them to delay starting the little APU turbine engine for your ground air conditioning needs and it saves a little fuel. It is a great idea for saving some jet fuel, it just doesn’t work very well. So, when the airplane is on the ground and it isn’t comfortable complain, complain and complain some more.

The flight attendants have NO control over the temperature on most airliners, and only a little on others. So the flight attendant, already multi-tasking by being either fabulous or glamorous and checking your seat belt at the same time, has to talk to the pilots. The pilots, already multi-tasking  by standing around and looking smart, have to tell the ground crew. “Hey guys, it’s a little hot up here … could you cool it off for us?” Sure, right away sir!

The thing is that this is a guy working on the ramp under the airplane where it might be twenty or thirty degrees hotter than it is in the shade, loading baggage, servicing lavatories, and trying not to get run over by a valued co-worker. He really is busy, and the equipment sucks.

In the air, especially on a long flight, ole man Kepler and his danged laws of thermodynamics start to really become evident. It is really cold at high altitude. About forty below zero on a good day. Interestingly, Fahrenheit and Centipede are the same at minus forty one.

After about an hour at cruise all of the aircraft structure becomes “cold soaked”.  A term meaning it is about as cold as it can get and ready to suck up heat from anything around it. Even you and your babies. There is a little insulation in the airplane walls but not much.

Anything not heated or insulated from the aircraft structure will freeze pretty quickly. Ice quickly forms on the inside of the airplane in places where moisture from all the people breathing contacts uninsulated aluminum. 

It is terribly ineffective to heat up people and metal stuff by blowing warm air in the general direction. Thing is, warm air is all we really have to offer. Actually, really HOT air is available but people cook easily so the air can only be delivered at about 110 degrees maximum without it feeling stuffy while you freeze your body parts off .

To be comfortable on a long flight Bring Your Own Blanket. Do not put an airline blanket on you if you can help it. They are nasty things. If you have a window seat use the blanket between you and the airplane wall, it should be pretty comfy.

If it is too hot in the air tell the flight attendants so they can tell the pilots. The pilots are already comfy since they have the controls. It’s a lot like banging on the pipes to tell the building super in the basement to turn on the heat for you. But you would have to live in some place like New York to know about that sort of thing so you would already know about complaining. Sometimes we freeze a group of passengers just because we don’t like them.  Sometimes we do it so the Flight Attendants will call us and while they are on the phone we can ask for coffee and snacks.  Great fun!

Happy Landings

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Timing Is Everything

Posted in Uncategorized on December 14, 2007 by luckyjet

Aviation and the Airline Industry in particular is not like most businesses. There is, and probably always will be, an excessive public fascination with air travel. The very act of flying is in itself pretty much clearly something that we don’t do naturally.  And yet hardly anybody really knows much about it.

A few didja knows . . .

Until today airline pilots were required by Federal law to retire at age 60. That’s it pal, out of the pool. No towel, no social security. Probably a fraction of your pension. Just scram.  Today the Senate seems to have passed a bill that will allow pilots to work up to age 65. Assuming little Bush signs the bill into law it is a done deal. What about the guys that were made to retire last week? Last month? Last year? Four years ago?

All of the preference horsepower a pilot at any Airline has is based on seniority. Preference for the type of airplane he will fly (big ones pay more), what schedule he will get, and where he will be based is all awarded based on longevity with the company. As pilots quit (hardly ever), lose medical certification (happens sometimes), die, or retire, everybody moves up a number on the seniority list.

Now the advancement music will stop for about five years. Unless the airline is growing rapidly and adding more airplanes thus hiring more pilots everybody that is a First Officer (co-pilot) will still be one for about another five years.

Timing is everything. Lawsuits are inevitable. There is probably not a hoot in Hell chance that anybody already retired will be hired back by any of the airlines.

Back in the old days when pilots made a lot of money nobody wanted to fly past age 60. Now that pilot compensation is in real terms less than half of what it was 30 years ago and most of the pension fund money has been raided to buy fuel the majority of us need to keep working.

Maybe you should start tipping your Captain. Slip him a fiver on the way out. Maybe a ten if the landing was nice. If everybody did it the crews unions could relax about pay raises and the old pilots would be able to get by just fine without eating cat food.

Route, Root, Rout

Posted in Airplanes n Stuff on December 3, 2007 by luckyjet

People often ask “Do you fly the same route all the time?” Hardly ever. Just about all airlines do the schedule pretty much the same way but all are just different enough to make it difficult for pilots to tell who has the best deal.

All of the hundreds of possible monthly schedules for each crew base are published on a certain day of the month. Each pilot submits a preference order of all the different “lines”. Usually in seniority order, each schedule is awarded. The ones left over at the end are made up according to some or another terribly complex set of rules and assigned to some poor devil that for whatever reason is last on the seniority list.

The very best and very worst schedules are “Reserve”.  These are the guys that are on call to replace anyone that is ill, missing, “illegal”, or “fatigued”.  The best of it would be if you were never called and still got paid. The worst would be if the valued co-workers in your scheduling department jerked you around all over the country with about as much organization and planning as a group of junior high school girls trying to arrange a trip to the mall. Actually, that’s an insult to junior high school girls.

Up until a few years ago the regulations for being on call were very loose. The FAA stance on the issue had always been to allow the airlines to pretty much self regulate regarding fatigue. Since we are dealing with “trained professionals” the idea was that if somebody is too tired to go fly they will tell you they are fatigued. No matter that people either get up early or late, in the past the rules allowed airlines to call a pilot out pretty much 24 hours a day. That has changed somewhat. Now pilots on reserve call out must be either AM or PM with guidelines and limits. The guidelines and limits are fairly complex by regulation, and each airline has a separate set of union work rules that add another level of complexity.

The bottom line is that typically pilots aren’t allowed more than 8 hours in the seat with the airplane moving per 24 hours. That is unless they exceed 8 hours, then they can’t block more than 9. Unless they block more than 9, then they really aren’t supposed to exceed 10. But all those limits are directly related to duty time. Generally a 12 hour work day is the maximum unless it is more than 12 then it is limited to 14.

So, you could  legally have a crew that has been on duty more than thirteen hours and at the controls more than 8 hours shooting an instrument approach down to about 50 feet to an icy runway.  It couldn’t be legally planned that way in advance but it occasionally works out that way.

The regional carriers kick the living shit out of their crews on a regular basis.  Just ask a pilot how his schedule is the next time you fly on a RJ.  They often have 8 hours rest between the time the airplane is parked and the morning start up. This doesn’t allow for time to get to the hotel and back since local transportation time can be part of the rest period by regulation. Eight hours sleep is one thing these guys will not get. 

Not all airlines use their pilots to the same level of “productivity”. As fuel costs go up like crazy there will be increased pressure on all airlines to get more work out of fewer pilots. 

If I were the ” Supreme Czar of Aviation” (as I well should be) pilots would be paid in real terms about what they were in 1965. Duty days would be limited to 8 hours and your ticket prices would be about $10 per flight hour higher. I don’t know how good you feel about your work after eleven hours or so but I’ll bet you are better at it earlier in the day. Then again, I appreciate well rested relaxed awareness more than most people do.

Happy Landings.

Whad He Say?

Posted in Uncategorized on December 1, 2007 by luckyjet

Task Saturation. It is an impressive phrase meant to describe being too busy to take on a new task and manage it effectively.

About every time an airplane lands the tower controller will issue taxi instructions to the pilots during the most physically demanding part of the landing. We hardly ever comprehend what is said. It would have just fine to get the instructions before landing but they dont want to bother us till we are trying to turn a hundred ton tricycle with wings  back into a ground vehicle. The transformation can be tricky.

We hear all the time about people smashing thier car while talking on a cell phone.  This happens for more than one reason.

The first is that there is an obvious juggling act required to hold a phone with one hand and drive with the other. Since just about everybody uses thier dominant hand to hold a telephone,  they are driving with the non-dominant hand. This can add up to a simple physical challenge if  an unexpected opportunity to demonstrate some driving skill should arise.  Not usually overwhelming but it is enough to take away what otherwise might have been a slim margin of performance.

The second and more profound challenge talking while driving presents is mental. This will occur with a “hands free”  phone as much as any other. Driving, like most activities that require skill, is not an evenly distributed challenge. For the most part it really doesn’t require much in the way of thinking. When a challenge arises it often comes up quickly. It seems that we are not nearly as able to shift gears if we are having a conversation already.

Really complex physical skills like playing the violin, landing an airplane with gusty winds, or steering clear of a crazy woman in  a Suburban will completely dump the part of your short term memory responsible for speech. It stands to reason that if  a complex task will override speech skills then talking might impair the ability to perform tasks.

Ask anybody who is playing the violin a simple question. Any answer you might get is likely to be short or weird. A few seconds later the violinist will make a mistake. This is an example of task saturation.

Be careful out there, a large percentage of drivers are on the phone. Many of them are distracted by kids in the car. Many of them are kids. Many are drunk. Way too many are drunk kids, distracted by kids in the car, and on the phone.