Archive for the FoF Category

What’s it like to be an airline captain?

Posted in air travel, air travel humor, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline pilot podcast, airline safety, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, FoF, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2018 by Chris Manno

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An university colleague asked me, “What’s it like to be an airline captain?”

I tried to deflect. “Well, it’s probably not what you’d think.”

Still, he deserved an answer, but probably not for the reason you’d think.  Academia and aviation couldn’t be more different, and I owed him an answer for exactly that reason: academia welcomed me, shared generously, helped me attain their highest degree and let me teach on their college campuses.

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By contrast, the pilot world is largely closed, both professionally and intellectually. When a pilot asks me about my doctoral dissertation, I usually lose them at my research hypothesis. So, I typically deflect that question with, “It’s hard to explain,” even though it’s really not.

Some pilots “are” captains, but that’s mostly fluff. They’re the ones who cling to social media names like “Captain [insert first name]” or worse, “Cap’n” anything. I suspect they’re the ones who used to go by nicknames like “Flyer Guy” and have vanity plates like “IFLY” or “AV8R.” I even know one guy whose wife refers to him in conversation as “Captain _____.” Big hat, no cattle, as far as I’m concerned.

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Because for me, “captain” was never so much something to “be” as to actually do. When I have the title, it’s only at work and it translates to “the buck stops here” or in more accurate terms, “I accept full responsibility for everything that happens from push-back to block in.” And I’m not solo, because there is a century of aviation history that put me where I am .

Commercial aviation is a communal effort and an aggregate learning curve. In the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Europe, much of Asia, Australia and New Zealand, there’s been a lifetime of hard lessons, trial and costly error, engineering breakthroughs and thorough oversight. That’s been a costly but profitable flight evolution that is responsible for the safe air travel we all enjoy today.

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When I’m the captain, I’m both the beneficiary and the trustee of that collective aviation experience, engineering, oversight and regulation. That’s what it’s like, if you really want to know: I’m the guy saying slow down when everyone else is saying “let’s hurry up;” I’m the one paid to look four hundred miles ahead when everyone else is looking around us now; I’m the one focused on now when everyone else if four states down the road.

I’m looking for “no” when everyone else says “yes;” I’m saying stop when everyone else says go. The easiest thing in the world is to just let things happen, but the more important responsibility is in making them go exactly as they should–or not at all.

That has little to do with vanity plates, forced “cap’n” nicknames, or even titles, which I leave at the airport when I go home, because I’m done “being” captain till it’s actually time to do it all again. And not until.

So maybe that’s not what you’d think being a captain was like, but now you can see that the real substance is in action, responsibility and accountability rather than in the title.

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The buck stops here.

That’s why in over 26 years as a captain at the world’s largest airline, you’ve never heard me say on the PA, “This is your captain.” Besides the fact that I have a name, “captain” isn’t who I am, it’s what I do, a charge I readily accept. I’m a trustee of all that has gone before me in aviation, engineering, regulation and oversight. A good day as a captain is one where you’ve seen to every detail, taken care of every requirement, and, as we say, “haven’t bent any metal.”

That’s the reality of “what it’s like to be an airline captain,” and that won’t fit on a vanity plate. Nor does it need to.

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Over a hundred pages of original, wicked, unapologetic air travel cartoons.

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Air Travel Delays: “Mechanical Issues”

Posted in air travel, air traveler, aircraft maintenance, airline, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, fear of flying, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, FoF, passenger with tags , , , , , , , on April 21, 2018 by Chris Manno

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“Mechanical issues” may sound like a catch-all for airline delays or, to anxious flyers, a mysterious, perhaps worrisome possibility. But it’s neither, and here’s why.

First, you have to understand two main concepts: airliners are complex mechanical wonders, and second, their maintenance and operation is very strictly and minutely regulated–and documented. This second point is essential to the aviation regulatory standard upheld by all major airlines, even though such detail must be correctly, diligently accomplished. That takes time. So, let’s walk through the possibilities.

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When you board an airliner, preflight checks are ongoing. This is especially true if the aircraft has just arrived from another station (airport). As soon as the flight completion checklists are accomplished, the preflight process begins anew by the crew. To waste no time, this preflight inspection goes on even as arriving passengers deplane and departing passengers board.

The checks ensure that all operating systems on the aircraft are up to the very specific standard set by the aviation regulatory agency that oversees commercial flight operations. In the United States, that’s the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Every system on that aircraft has an operational standard to determine if the aircraft is airworthy, and the jet does not move until those requirements are satisfied, right down to individual light bulbs.

Let’s look at that example: a light bulb.

If a pilot on an exterior preflight notices say, a landing light that is not working, this fact is immediately recorded in the aircraft logbook and the airline’s maintenance center is notified. The airline maintenance center will refer to the FAA specified “Minimum Equipment List” (MEL) for that particular aircraft.

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Without straying too deeply into the very complex decision tree of the MEL, there are three possible outcomes for the noted discrepancy (a landing light is inoperative). First, the landing light may be replaced, tested and certified by an FAA licensed and approved aircraft maintenance technician.

Second, the item may be specified by the FAA-approved MEL as non-essential for flight under specified conditions. For example, if the aircraft is about to depart for a destination to land in daylight, the MEL may allow the flight to depart, with proper logbook documentation of the exception.

Third, the MEL may allow for a redundant system to compensate for the component. If the inoperative bulb was a wingtip position light, the MEL may allow the flight to operate with the remaining position light–if the aircraft has two and only one is required (that’s why the aircraft designer put two bulbs there in the first place).

This is the same with all aircraft systems: if there are redundant systems approved by the FAA MEL, the flight may be approved for flight with that waiver to use the backup system, once the discrepancy and waiver are properly documented in the aircraft logbook.

Of course, some essential systems have no redundancy. In those cases, prescribed repairs must be made by FAA-certified mechanics (example: a tire at the prescribed wear limit must be replaced). The discrepancy, repair and results must be properly documented before the aircraft moves.

And there are “consumables.” For example, on my flight last night, when we were doing our “Before Landing Checklist,” we noted that the engine oil quantity was at the prescribed “refill” level. That, like all aircraft specifications, is a very conservative number. It’s as if you were driving your car down the highway and noted that you had just above a half a tank of gas.

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You’d turn to your passengers and say, “The MEL says we must always have more than a half a tank of gas, so we’re going to exit the freeway and refuel now.”

In flight, I sent a data-linked message to our technical operations center noting the requirement for oil service before the next flight, which I also wrote in the aircraft’s paper logbook.

Our tech folks coordinated with the mechanics at our destination to have the oil ready and a certified mechanic to perform the refill. That’s quick and easy at one of our hub airports, because we have mechanics on staff there.

At smaller stations, airlines rely of FAA-licensed mechanics approved for contract mechanical work on specified aircraft. Of course, most airlines have access to normal consumables like oil or tires, but no one has every part on every aircraft stocked at every station.

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If the required item is not in stock, it must be brought in, either from nearby (example: an airline’s LAX station may have an item needed for a flight out of Ontario Airport; staff can simply drive the part from Los Angeles International to Ontario). Other parts may be flown in on the next aircraft from the hub to the smaller station.

But either way, before the aircraft flies again, the prescribed maintenance procedure must be accomplished in accordance with FAA regulations and everything must be documented.

Most major airlines have this process streamlined for efficiency, like when I sent the data-linked message to prepare the arrival station for the required oil service. This was accomplished between flights with no delay. The certified mechanic noted the refill quantity and manufacturer’s details in the aircraft logbook as well as in the computerized records maintained at our airline technical headquarters.

But sometimes a procedure may take longer just by the normal time the process requires (changing a tire will take longer than changing a light bulb). Finally, the availability of mechanics at a given hour may add more time to the required procedure.

In all cases, the aircraft records must be meticulously documented, which takes time as well: approvals must be granted, remedial actions certified, and everything recorded both in the aircraft on-board paper logbook as well as the aircraft records at the airline’s technical center.

That takes time.

If the delay is predicted to be too long, we might be assigned another aircraft for the flight, which also takes time: passengers, cargo, baggage, and catering must be transferred to the new aircraft. So, if you’re waiting on board during a maintenance delay, it’s probably because swapping aircraft would take longer, or there isn’t another aircraft available.

To summarize, airliners today are complex machines with multiple parts and systems, all of which have MEL specified operating minimums. Not all replacement items are available system-wide, and and even where mechanics are immediately available, remedial processes can take time.

The “mechanical delay” we experience is due to the airlines’ unwavering adherence to very specific FAA standards.

The good news is, that’s why air travel on major airlines is as reliably safe as it is.

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Fear of Flying: Turbulence In Perspective.

Posted in air travel humor, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, fear of flying, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, FoF, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , on April 2, 2018 by Chris Manno

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It’s not unusual today to hear about travelers who fear air travel for a variety of good reasons. Fortunately, there’s help dealing with such fears readily available on social media in the form of special interest groups.

There are several Facebook groups centered around “fear of flying,” but here’s the best  one I’ve found:

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In this group, we (I am a member) in a closed forum for everyone’s privacy, using real names, share techniques and experiences that have helped many of our  members successfully get airborne on an airline trip that they’d previously felt was out of their reach. To join, click here and request access–it’s free.

My role there, besides providing cartoons of questionable taste,

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is to share what I’ve learned in 40 years as a professional pilot: 7 years USAF pilot, 33 years American Airlines pilot, 26+ as captain. I truly believe that much of the anxiety that comprises fear of flying can be attributed to fear of the unknown. Here, and on this Facebook page, we bust the myths and fill in the blanks to empower air travelers so that they can embark on a trip with family and friends with quiet confidence.

Here’s one of the most frequently discussed anxiety-producing flight effects we’ve discussed there recently:

Turbulence in flight: is it dangerous? The answer: no. Annoying maybe, startling probably–but not dangerous. The fact is, just like any fluid–the ocean, a river, a lake–the air has eddies and currents that change with velocity (both the fluid and the vessel) which may result in bumpiness.

But, your aircraft is designed with more than enough strength to handle any      turbulence.  Without getting lost in the mathematical and engineering jungle, here’s a thumbnail design sketch. Aircraft manufacturers were given design standards to meet that basically derived a “load[1]” limit the aircraft must withstand in normal flight. To that they added a generous margin and called that the “limit load factor:” the aircraft must withstand this force without suffering any damage or distortion of the structure or flight controls. To that increased margin they again added an additional percentage of force the jet must be able to sustain without experiencing structural failure and that is called the ultimate load factor.

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To put limit and ultimate load factors into perspective, those forces are beyond that ever experienced by an airliner in flight and quite frankly, approach the limits of human ability to tolerate such forces. In other words, the strength envelope is way beyond the endurance of our “2 mile per hour man.” That means your remarkable aircraft is built to superhuman strength standards and will tolerate external forces in flight and even on landing that will protect you well beyond any forces you could possibly encounter in flight.

The next tier of wonder is how aircraft designers maintain Sherman-tank strength standards in a vehicle light enough to fly not only smoothly but also economically and in of thrust required to sustain flight, efficiently. This is achieved through the ongoing evolution of composite materials that are lightweight but even stronger than older, heavier metals, and advanced engine technology that has produced powerful, lightweight and efficient engines.

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This is once again part of the “aviation learning curve” that is the driving force behind commercial aviation: new technology, advanced materials both metal and composite, that are lighter and stronger than in decades past.

Aircraft manufacturers continue to improve designs, producing safer, stronger, more efficient airliners year over year. I’m often asked my preference between the two largest commercial airliner aircraft manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus. I honestly believe both manufacturers produce outstanding, safe, and capable airliners, though I’m a lifelong Boeing pilot at heart. That said, one of the most capable and naturally talented airline pilots I know—my son—flies an Airbus. They’re both great aircraft.

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Me hitching a ride in my son’s Airbus 320 cockpit as he flew us to O’Hare.

That’s the kind of real-world, insider info and firsthand experience we share in this Facebook group. Join us, if you’d like to learn and share.

Also, I wrote this book for the group and periodically, reduce the Kindle price to zero for a few days so everyone in the group can get the book free:

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In this book, I walk you through a normal flight after providing you with a realm of behind-the-scenes experience in the airline pilot world. You can get a copy HERE, or just join the group and wait for the freebie offer.

Either way, if your travel options are limited by fear of flying–yours or a travel partners–just know there are assets available that will get you safely and confidently into the air. The choice is yours.

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[1] In laymen’s terms, “load factor” refers to the number of G’s, or the force of gravity, the aircraft must be able to tolerate.

 

Fear of Flying: Free Kindle March 25-26

Posted in air travel, air travel humor, air traveler, aircraft maintenance, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airline seat recline, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, aviation weather, cartoon, fear of flying, flight, flight crew, flight delays, FoF, jet, jet flight, mile high club, passenger bill of rights, passenger compliance, pilot, travel, travel tips, weather, wind shear with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2018 by Chris Manno

If you are a victim of fear of flying, either directly (you are fearful) or indirectly (a friend or loved one won’t fly), here’s a resource, free:

Cockpit insight, practical coping strategies, explanations and … cartoons!

Get your FREE Kindle copy–CLICK HERE.

Fear of Flying: Flash Sale 30% Off

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airlines, airport, fear of flying, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, FoF, passenger with tags , , , , on September 29, 2017 by Chris Manno

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This book has helped many overcome their reluctance to fly, opening up a whole new world of travel and adventure for themselves and their families. The foundation of the book is, the more you know about your flight, the less that fear of the unknown can run wild with your imagination.

Here’s a free sample and at the end, a code for 30% off.

Chapter 2: It’s All About You

No, seriously—it really is: no other area of either transportation or technology has ever been more specifically and consistently engineered, designed, regulated and enforced with you, the passenger, as the focal point than modern air travel.

Sure, there’s a National Highway Safety Commission and various government agencies regulating driver’s licenses, and there are standards for auto and truck manufacturers. But those are nothing compared to the rigid airworthiness standards to which all commercial aircraft are built and tested, and nowhere near the year-round scrutiny given to pilots through unrelenting FAA checks in flight, in the doctor’s office, and in recurring background checks.

That’s a wonderful, unique thing in an increasingly complex and high speed world of transportation, and safety statistics show how air travel has advanced above and beyond all other modes of travel.

There’s a learning curve in the airline industry that has improved steadily since the early days of airline flight in the 1930s: accident rates have steadily dropped year over year and aircraft and engine reliability has increased in a parallel vector.

I recently had an aviation magazine editor ask me what I would cite as the primary cause of engine malfunctions that lead to a flight cancellation. I answered honestly that I’ve been flying on my particular fleet for over six years and I’ve never experienced an engine malfunction in that entire time.

That wasn’t so about twenty years ago, before aircraft and engine technology had advanced to its present state of reliability. But that’s the aviation learning curve: since the late 1990s, the advent of constant, data-linked engine monitoring now sends a wide array of engine parameters from the jet in cruise to a maintenance and engineering data analysis center that catches nascent faults and liabilities way before they become failures.

Last month I received a message in flight from our maintenance and engineering center asking me to check the vibration reading on a particular engine, because it was reading a bit high to them on the ground. Engine failures “on the wing” as we call them, are so rare that they actually make the news when they happen.

There’s a learning curve success story: decade after decade, we’ve developed new technology and hand-in-hand with strict regulatory enforcement, the airline biz has lowered the flight risks and added new layers of accident prevention and aircraft reliability.

By contrast, the automobile and highway transportation sector’s safety record has stagnated and even regressed over the same time period as air travel has improved: the traffic accident and fatality statistics have actually worsened as more cars hit the road and as speed limits are raised. Little is done to regulate or retest drivers other than observation and apprehension by a law enforcement officer. Even less is done to determine accident cause factors and develop technological and regulatory improvements to lower passenger risks.

By comparison, the air travel safety imperative is unprecedented, the standard uncompromisingly high: everything involved in air travel is geared toward passenger safety. Licensing of pilots, certification of training, manufacturing standards and operating restrictions for airlines are so constrained that if an equal measure were applied to the highways and drivers, the roads would be vastly safer—and nearly empty.

No government inspector climbs into a big tractor trailer rig to ride along and evaluate a trucker firsthand several times every year.

There’s not a government regulator assigned to a trucking company to monitor records, safety and training not to mention vehicle maintenance and repairs. Truck manufacturers have some rudimentary safety and fuel mileage standards, but the vehicles are not inspected by government licensed and tested mechanics daily.

No automobile driver is required to renew a driver’s license every nine months with a graded road test, plus oral and written exams, not to mention a government controlled physical exam with a specified doctor reporting results immediately to the government, never mind the periodic background check and the no-notice, no-refusal “we’re going to ride with you” spot evaluation.

By contrast, your flight crew—front (pilots) and back (flight attendants)—are constantly monitored, tested and certified.

That why air travel safety has improved annually while highway safety muddles along or actually regresses, and annual traffic fatalities remain at staggeringly high rates. Yet, the paradox remains: hardly a mention of “fear of driving” is made even in the face of thousands of lives lost on the highway annually, while fear of flying is a very real dilemma.

All of aviation is not safety-driven as is airline flying. In the military, the mission was primary, my safety as a pilot secondary to that. We accepted that, and many still do flying for our military.

By contrast, the entire airline aircraft design, engineering (we’ll talk about that later) and  manufacturing industry all telescopes down to one objective: you, and your safety. Same goes for the training, licensing, nonstop testing and evaluation of pilots, dispatchers, air traffic controllers and aircraft mechanics. In military terms, you and your flight  are the mission.

That’s the compelling force that drives the airline industry, and it’s all about you. While that might be hard to see when you’re enduring the hassles of security, and check-in, and boarding, it’s a powerful awareness to keep in your hip pocket: rest assured, everything about the jet you fly on, the crew that flies and maintains it, and the air traffic controllers who guide it have you as their focus. You are the mission.

So, recognize this windfall for what it is. Compare your clear priority in airline travel with the abject failure that is highway safety, a risk you live with every day. Air travel is actually your safest place, the one technological juggernaut where it really is all about you.

We’ll go into more specifics on who’s flying your jet, but for now, keep in your hip pocket the monumental safety success that has been designed around you the passenger, making air travel the safest mode of transportation you will ever take.

Remember the objective stated in the foreword to this book: empowerment is the key here. You’ve made a choice to learn about flight, to consider whether you want to give it a try. That’s real control because at any point, you can stop. You really are in charge and anything but powerless.

Stay with that decision for now, knowing it’s not set in stone—you can change your  mind—and let’s expand your fact-based knowledge of airline flying.

Quick Reference Summary

  • Aircraft design, engineering and manufacturing is regulated with you as the central priority.
  • The air travel learning curve in the United States has refined the industry and minimized risk factors over many decades.
  • High-tech, data-linked systems monitor aircraft systems performance and preempt failures.
  • By comparison, the risk factors associated with everyday highway traffic far outweigh the well-managed factors of air travel.

Order  your copy now with and use this 30% off discount code at checkout    2N7CUXXU 

Regular price: $9.99 Your price: $7.99 Order now–offer expires October 7, 2017

To order, CLICK HERE.

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