Cockpit Chronicles: A captain’s line check

Once every two years a captain is required to be observed by a check airman. And captains over sixty must be checked every six months.

I touched on the line check in the last Cockpit Chronicles, and I’ve had yet another trip with a check airman performing a line check, making it two in the last eight days. Both of the captains I was flying with were over sixty. As a result of the change in retirement age from sixty to sixty-five in 2007, a line check has been mandated every six months for those sixty and older.

I’ve spotted some of the items that check airman are looking for during these checks. Consider this a guide on how to make a check airman happy. I know my demographic here at Gadling will be thrilled to come across this information.

It’s important not to fly any differently when you’re not being checked. You won’t be able to fool these pilots by ‘stepping up your game’ only when they’re around. There are so many rules, procedures and techniques you’ll need to adhere to, that it’ll be obvious to the instructor that you haven’t been paying attention to your training if you try to ‘step up your game’ only when the management pilot is around.

The ‘Check Airman’

At my company, check airmen are captains that are chosen, usually by the base chief pilot, to fill the instructor positions. Some are exclusively ‘line’ check airman, who only perform line checks and the ‘initial operating experience’ for new pilots to the aircraft. Others are qualified to fly the line and also perform simulator checks.

What they want to see.

The following are some examples of what a pilot will be tested on during a six month or two-year line check.Licenses and medicals

The first thing they’re likely interested in seeing are a pilot’s license and medicals. They’re checking to see the medical hasn’t expired and that the license includes an ‘English Language’ endorsement. It may sound silly, but the international organization overseeing many of the rules governing air carriers worldwide, ICAO, requires all licenses to include this endorsement. If it’s not there, you can’t fly, no matter how eloquent a pilot is while trying to talk their way out of the problem.

Briefings

A check airman will be watching to see that a captain conducts a thorough briefing with the flight attendants regarding any security changes, the expected ride conditions and to re-iterate how an evacuation may be handled.

Procedures

In order for 10,000 pilots to fly well together, there has to be a set of procedures and call outs that everyone is familiar with, obviously. So check airmen pay particular attention to these procedures and will often comment if something is done differently. For example, if a pilot were to check the flight controls on the ramp instead of the taxiway, something may be said. Interestingly, in that example, other aircraft in our fleet allow for the flight controls to be checked on the ramp after the pushback crew has departed, so not everything is consistent from one fleet to the next.

Checklists

While it might seem to be nit-picking, check airmen will say something if the response to a checklist item is read back as “closed” when it should be “cutoff” instead. This can especially be an issue for pilots coming from a different brand of airplane that uses different terminology. Old habits are hard to break.

Efficiency

Check airmen are tasked with encouraging fuel saving techniques and they might make mention of this during a line check. Recently a comment was made to me when I opted to use the Econ mode of our FMS to set the climb speed since it was 298 knots, which was very close to the company’s procedure of using 300 knots at that weight. The check airman probably just wanted to be sure that I knew the speed usually set for a given weight. Interestingly, they rarely mention when a pilot brings the flaps out early when flying level at the minimum clean (no flaps) airspeed for twenty miles before starting the approach; a technique that could also save some serious dinosaurs.

PAs

Recently we’ve had some changes in the regulations regarding delays on international flights. You’re going to hear a lot more updates should a delay occur, and there are specific rules regarding just how often captains must update passengers, even if we don’t know the cause for the delay or how much longer we may have to wait. Since the penalties from the Department of Transportation, DOT, for non-compliance are steep, this will be an example of a new policy that will be checked as well.

Systems knowledge

Even though we go through an oral exam during our simulator check rides every nine months, check airmen will be looking for signs of weak areas in the knowledge of the systems of the airplane. These systems can include the hydraulics, electrical, flight controls, FMS computers, autopilot, fuel system, pneumatics and flight instruments among other things. But there’s no oral quizzing during line checks fortunately. The instructors are quick to say they’re just there to observe.

So while pilots rarely have management looking over their shoulders, they are checked often by check airmen.

These check rides usually result in something being learned and are a good way to ensure that every pilot is working in the most standardized way while flying the line. The vast majority of check airmen are helpful and friendly, although I can’t say that most pilots are truly happy to have them aboard. And knowing that fact probably makes the check airmen job all that more difficult.

As a first officer, I’m not eligible to work as a check airman and I’ve vowed to stay away from the job for the rest of my career. At our company, there really isn’t a significant pay premium to work as an instructor, and you give up most landings and opportunities to actually fly the airplane while you’re performing a line check or IOE training. And your schedule is often dictated by whatever the pilot you’re checking can hold. While I appreciate those who choose to step into these roles, I know my place in life is as a line pilot. There’s nothing better. Except perhaps as a line captain, but that will have to wait for a future Cockpit Chronicles.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Europe expands high-speed train system with new bridge

high-speed train, train, EU, Europe
A new bridge across the Ill river in Strasbourg is a major step forward for the European Union’s plans for a high-speed railway reaching from Paris to Bratislava, the BBC reports.

An earlier bridge had only one track and could only carry trains going a maximum of 100 kph (62mph). The new bridge has two tracks and can deal with trains going 160kph (99mph). The Paris-Bratislava line is one of a network of high-speed railways being built across the EU, but with a price tag of 63 million euros ($84 million) just for the bridge, construction is being affected by the economic crisis. Some countries have already cut back funding and delayed projects. Still, high-speed trains are becoming increasingly popular across Europe because they’re more comfortable than planes, and more convenient since they take passengers from city center to city center.

The French city of Strasbourg is close to the German border and home to the European Parliament. It’s also attractive to tourists for its medieval and Renaissance architecture.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Galley Gossip: Can a mother of two young kids become a flight attendant?

My name is Stephanie and I am thinking of becoming a flight attendant. My only concern is my two boys ages 5 and almost 2. How can I have time to be a mom and work? I love to travel and I hear benefits are good. Can I work flights after bedtime? But when will I come back?

The most difficult thing for a flight attendant, Stephanie, is being flexible in terms of scheduling. Making long term plans is next to impossible when you never know what you’ll be working month to month – or even day to day if you’re on reserve! Even if you are able to hold a schedule, that schedule can always change at the last minute and the only thing you can do about it is continue on with the trip or quit! Keep in mind if you do quit mid-sequence, you’ll have to figure out how to get home as you’ll no longer have travel benefits.

Two years ago I had a trip that was scheduled to land on Christmas Eve. With thirteen years as a flight attendant, I was finally able to hold Christmas off! I couldn’t believe my luck. But on Christmas Eve the final leg of our trip canceled. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the entire crew got reassigned, which meant none of us would make it back in time to celebrate the holiday! I wound up in Toronto at an airport hotel when I should have been at home with my family eating turkey and dressing like everyone else.

Unless you have an amazing support system twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the kids, this may not be the job for you – at least not right now! It’s why so many flight attendants start working at an early age or later on in life after the kids are grown. Trust me it ain’t easy juggling the job with family, especially when you’re brand spankin new with little to no seniority.

SENIORITY – Refers to a flight attendants years of experience. Years of experience with an airline is based on date of hire. Seniority is everything at an airline. It determines what trips a flight attendant can “hold” and whether or not a flight attendant will serve reserve. Basically it determines whether you’ll be working days, nights, weekends, and holidays, as well as where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone. So there’s no telling when – or if – you’ll make it back home.

Here are a few more things to consider…

THE PAY: No one becomes a flight attendant for the money. While the benefits are good, the pay is not. Most flight attendants that work for major U.S. carriers make less than $20,000 annually their first year. Smaller airlines pay even less than that! I know a flight attendant that works for a regional carrier and she makes $14,000 a year! AND she works holidays without incentive pay.

WEEKS OF TRAINING:
The majority of airlines provide their own training. (This is why it doesn’t make sense to go to one of those “flight attendant schools.”) My airline required seven and a half weeks of unpaid training at a facility near the airlines corporate headquarters. Years ago I worked for a low cost carrier called Sun Jet International Airlines that only required two weeks of unpaid training. It was conducted at a hotel in Houston. Can you handle being away from your children for weeks at a time in order to earn your wings.

CREW BASES: Most airlines have crew bases in a handful of cities. That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to work out of the city of your choice. In order to be based in a certain city, there must first be an opening at the base. Crew bases are awarded by seniority. At my airline New York is the most junior base in the system, so it was no surprise that the majority of my classmates in training wound up there – myself included. New York is where I’m still based, even though I live in California. That makes me a commuter.

RESERVE: Flight attendants on reserve have no life. At my airline we bid for a schedule of days off only. We get twelve of them. The rest of themonth we’re on call. This means we must be ready to go to the airport at anytime – day or night. We’re given at least two hours from the time crew schedule calls us with a trip to the time we have to sign in at the airport. One night I ordered Chinese delivery and was out the door and on my way to the airport to work a flight to London before the food even arrived!

NOTE: How the reserve system works varies at different airlines, but most flight attendants serve straight reserve. This means they’re on reserve until they have enough seniority to hold off. If the airline is in a hiring frenzy, you may not have to be on reserve for very long as newer flight attendants will bump you off. But if you’re hired at the end of a massive hiring streak, you could get stuck on reserve for a very long time. I’ve been working at my airline now for fifteen years, I’m based at the most junior base in the system, and even I am still on reserve!

Photo courtesy of Santheo and Tawheed Manzoor

Daily Pampering: October Triathlete Camp in Luxury Hawaii Resort

Mauna Lani massage
It can be difficult to find the perfect balance between vigorous work and pleasure, and this is an excellent example of a successful pairing. Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows on the Big Island of Hawaii has a new Iron-Fit package for October 2010 which will have you feeling relaxed and rock solid — triathlon style.

Triathlete Luke BellThe resort will be hosting Team Mauna Lani, comprised of Ironman champs Tim DeBoom from Colorado, Matt Lieto from Oregon, John Flanagan from Oahu, Belinda Granger from Australia and Luke Bell also from Australia (pictured at right) this October. You can train right alongside them for Hawaii’s most elite endurance events. Beginner and amateur athletes are welcome.

General Manager of Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows, Brian Butterworth, says, “We are inspired by each athlete’s commitment and passion for competing at the elite level and are very excited to be part of their journey. We hope Team Mauna Lani will encourage more people to take up endurance sports and train in one of the best locations in the world.”

The Iron-Fit package at Mauna Lani includes:

  • Daily tri-road bicycle use (the roads nearby are ideal for cycling and altitude training)
  • A daily personal trainer
  • A daily sports massage
  • Access to Mauna Lani’s world-class fitness center and 25 meter lap pool
  • Access to the private secluded beach for ocean swimming
  • All the spoils of this luxury resort, including golf courses, gourmet food and a beautiful spa

Just try not to get amazingly fit when you have a daily trainer and daily massage. And, while you’re training and becoming one with the environment, it’s good to know that Mauna Lani is an eco-friendly hotel. You can read more about their green programs here.

Iron-Fit packages start at $700 for a standard single and rise to $1,350 for an ocean-front double room. If you have a spouse to bring along who thinks you’re crazy, park them by the pool, hand them a cocktail and everyone wins.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Photo of the Day (09.27.10)

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who mix together all of the food on their plate and those who like to keep food segregated. Personally, I’m a mixer. I like to get some potatoes on my fork before stabbing a piece of turkey. Or allowing the rice and beans to hitch a ride with my ropa vieja on their way to my mouth. For some people, though, such mixing is akin to culinary anarchy.

Bento boxes in Japan are perfect for the OCD epicurean. This photo by Flickr user Marisoleta shows just how beautifully organized the bento boxes are on Japanese trains. If you prefer that your food have borders, then bento boxes are the way to go. I, however, suggest that you put two pieces in your mouth at the same time. Let the flavors mingle. Live a little.

Have a picture that shows how you eat on the road? Or, even better, just some great travel photos? Submit your images to Gadling’s Flickr group and we might use one for a future Photo of the Day.