Route, Root, Rout

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.

4 Responses to “Route, Root, Rout”

  1. I just wanted to say I love your blog. It’s like reading literature. I can see where your lovely daughter and grandsons got their love of language.

    Well except for Graham who CANNOT. LIKE. THIS.

  2. Can we talk more about how airline travel is safe again? Not long ago I was looking down, scuffing my feet, feeling all silly for ever being afraid but now visions of tired crabby pilots trying to control their careening, lightening engulfed 100-ton tricycles amidst the static of the tower giving them crucial landing information (but not really caring what happens on account of how they’re so tired…and crabby) are taking over.

  3. luckyjet1 Says:

    Sally, nothing is safe. It’s kind of like the Kate Hepburn character said in the Aviator movie “Nothing is clean Howard, we just do the best we can”.

    It is everybody’s job to make the industry as safe as practical. Pilot fatigue is one area where some improvement could be made easily. It wouldn’t be without cost though.

    Driver fatigue is a HUGE problem on the highway. For the most part your pilots could actually sleep for the majority of the flight with no problems related to airplane control the least bit likely. On the other hand while driving the threats from other drivers are several orders of magnitude greater.

    Except for taxi, takeoff, and landing airplane flying is not a very precise activity compared to staying in your lane while driving.

    Feel better? Write a few Congress-persons anyway. Just don’t tell them I sent you.

  4. Wait! Are you telling me that you *aren’t* the supreme czar of aviation? I am now calling all sorts of things you told me throughout childhood into question.

    Oooh and what’s an RJ? In airline speak I mean.

    And Winecat, Graham would love literature if more of it were about kittens.

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