Archive for airline pilot

Covid-19 and Air Travel

Posted in air travel, airport, aviation, travel with tags , , , , , , , on May 7, 2020 by Chris Manno

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First, know this: your crew doesn’t want to share the contagion any more than you do. And second, the FAA is doing as little as possible to ensure your safe, contagion-free flight. And finally, much of the solution will require a level of passenger compliance that has largely disappeared from today’s flying public. Let me explain.

Congregating is the essence of air travel: boarding, seating, in flight and deplaning are all mass motions by multiple humans, including passengers, staff, and crew. Aircraft manufacturers have crammed as many seats into passenger aircraft as possible and airline schedules demand minimum turnaround time between flights. Simply put, flying is a time-sensitive crowd activity and your crew is part of the crowd. We want to use the best and most protective protocols and procedures, but that depends on both regulation and enforcement: we as crew want to be protected, and to protect you.

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Which brings me to my second point: the FAA is deliberately dodging their responsibility to mandate and enforce best practices pandemic mitigation in air travel. The first very lame dodge from the FAA was that they are “not a medical or health organization.” And yet, the FAA mandates medical exams, analysis and waivers for every commercial pilot flying an airliner. The sidestep when confronted with passenger and crew health in the FAA jurisdiction of air travel is a leadership failure at the highest level of the FAA.

And the final point: passengers. Passenger compliance with air crew directives is at an all-time low in the thirty-four years I’ve been an airline pilot. People simply will not be told what to do regardless of regulations designed to protect everyone aboard. What are the chances that passengers will followed new and rigid spacing requirements during boarding and deplaning? And what would be the point anyway, given that after boarding, passengers will sit literally shoulder to shoulder with other passengers anyway?

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And for those passengers already demanding the airlines deliberately limit capacity, flying with empty seats: are you ready to pay the higher fare resulting from limited tickets sold on your flight?

Clearly, the answer is threefold, but only two of the critical actions fall on passengers and crew. The first two items are compliance and patience: passengers and crew must adhere to spacing and protective gear requirements, masks must be worn (and, at some airlines regarding crews, masks and gloves must be permitted for crews) by passengers and crew. Compliance cannot be optional, and crew authority must be the final word. No exceptions, no excuses.

But regardless of this very real pandemic threat, the final piece of the puzzle, regulation and enforcement, is presently lost in the bureaucratic and leadership failure of the FAA. So, when it comes to pandemic safety, there’ll be neither FAA regulation nor enforcement, so rest easy.

But when it comes to the spread of the pandemic through air travel, while the FAA remains asleep at the wheel, buyer beware.

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and get into a jet cockpit firsthand.

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Here’s Your Chance to Fly With These Guys

Posted in air traveler, airline, airline pilot, airline pilot blog with tags , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2020 by Chris Manno

Fly with these guys, I dare you. I did–in fact, that’s me, fourth from the left, standing. The “official” USAF photographer had taken the required group photo, then we as The Wolfpack reverted to our original, crude, f*ck this nonsense attitude.

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The details and the people above–including Coke, Beldar, Ruff, Animal, Pulsar, Kirb, Dorf, Landshark, and more fly in vivid detail on these pages:

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In this first Kindle installment, you’ll start flying in a Cessna and end up solo and supersonic in a T-38. Then, it’s off to the Pacific in two different USAF squadrons as a pilot. You’ll live Amazon’s #1 rated aviation new release in full detail: the missions, the pilots, the adventures, squadron life and more.

Then, in May, part two will be pushed to your Kindle and you’ll step into the cockpit of the world’s largest airline, as copilot and quickly, as a captain for decades of airline flying in a multitude of jets.

The paperback will be released in May, but why wait? Climb aboard now and let’s fly.

Order your Kindle copy from Amazon for only $9.99 HERE.

What are you waiting for? Strap in, and let’s fly.

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“An Airline Pilot’s Life” is Amazon’s #1 Aviation New Release!

Posted in air travel, airline, airline pilot, airline pilot blog with tags , , , , on March 11, 2020 by Chris Manno

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Reserve your Kindle copy by pre-ordering here.

Your copy will be sent to your device in two parts, the first half delivered on March 21, the final half on June 2. Simply set your Kindle device preferences to receive updates and you’ll receive the entire Kindle book for $9.99 (paperback will be $19.99).

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Pre-Order “An Airline Pilot’s Life”

Posted in air travel, airline, airline pilot with tags , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2020 by Chris Manno

Here’s your early opportunity to pre-order this first-person, real life account:

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An insider-view from an airline cockpit: you’re in the captain’s-eye view, from USAF flying all over the Pacific and Asia, to over three decades in the cockpits of the world’s largest airline, most as captain.

Live the life, an airline pilot’s life, firsthand.

Get your Kindle copy delivered March 21 from Amazon Books.

To pre-order your copy, CLICK HERE.

 

 

Sneak Preview: “An Airline Pilot’s Life.”

Posted in air travel, airline, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airport, aviation, crewlife, pilot with tags , , , , , on February 2, 2020 by Chris Manno

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Here’s an excerpt from the true story, An Airline Pilot’s Life, scheduled for release in March from Dark Horse Books. This story puts you in the captain’s seat in the cockpit of the world’s largest airline.

In this excerpt, you’ll fly what turned out to be a hair-raising approach into a lifelong lesson you–and every pilot–will never forget. The book will be available on Amazon.com next month. Now, strap in and let’s fly.

 

Chapter __

“Maintain two thousand till established, cleared back course localizer runway three-two, contact tower,” the approach controller said in a bored monotone.

Ahead, the McAllen Airport crept onto my map display. My FO read back the instructions, then checked in with the tower.

“American 1410, you’re cleared to land runway three-two,” the tower controller said. “Previous arrival reported patchy fog over the south end of the field.”

That was the problem with McAllen Airport: they only had a non-precision approach—the back course localizer—for landing north. The descent minimums were much higher than on a precision approach, which meant if we didn’t see the runway at a higher altitude, we couldn’t land.

A precision approach like a Cat 2 would let us descend to a hundred feet, at which point we’d likely see the runway. We’d just flown a Cat 2 approach on a Charlotte turn before the McAllen flight due to fog in Charlotte. We were ready to do the same at McAllen, but the precision approach was only from the north end, and that approach would have a tailwind that was beyond our American Airlines limitations.

I’d called the dispatcher before we left DFW to discuss the runway conundrum: the only sure bet was a precision approach. But, as was typical of McAllen weather, the fog usually blew by in waves. If we were lucky, we’d reach the runway in a gap in the clouds. If not, we’d just go missed-approach and divert to our alternate. We’d planned to carry plenty of fuel for that.

After I talked with the dispatcher, I spoke with another captain, a former AirCal pilot I knew from my merger work a few years earlier.

“Yeah,” Steve said, shaking his head, “Fog in the Rio Grande Valley. We’re headed to Harlingen and the same low viz.”

“Well,” I said, “What’s your alternate? We’ll see you there.”

We both laughed, then filed out of Flight Operations for our departure gates.

After the approach clearance, I pressed the arming buttons for the Cat 2 approach, then glanced at the FMS (Flight Management System) “Progress Fuel Prediction” readout. I always did that when cleared for the approach to decide what our options were if we couldn’t land and went missed-approach. Options were all about fuel, which determined flying time available.

We were way ahead on fuel, meaning, we had much more than we needed to complete the approach, fly the missed approach and divert to our alternate and still land with extra fuel.

Knowing that the visibility at McAllen would improve and degrade in cycles, I believed we’d have enough fuel for a second approach, if we wanted to do that. Or, we could simply divert after the first unsuccessful. I wondered what Steve was doing on his approach into Harlingen, where the weather always seemed to match McAllen. That was why we chose San Antonio for an alternate rather than Harlingen, and so did Steve.

“Looking at the fuel,” I said cross cockpit and I pointed at the FMS fuel prediction, “We have enough fuel for a second approach, with clearance on request to San Antonio on the missed approach. Are you comfortable with that?”

“Comfortable” was the key word: not “okay,” which to me meant I can stand it but I don’t like it. “Comfortable” meant my FO felt there was no worries in the idea. And he agreed.

“In the event of a missed approach,” my FO told the tower, “We’d like vectors to a second approach, with clearance on request to San Antonio afterward.”

“I’ll relay that to approach,” the tower controller said.

As we neared our descent minimums, there was no telltale lightness or gaps in the fog—just depthless gray. I executed the published missed approach and as we climbed past the departure end, the fog vanished. We’d been a minute too early for the fog bank to blow by, but that was encouraging nonetheless because we’d possibly catch the gap on the next approach.

I glanced down at the fuel prediction once again before committing to the approach and also checked with my FO.

“Are you okay with another approach?” I asked. “We could just bail out to San Antonio now. It’s no big deal.”

But he agreed: we had enough fuel to fly this second approach, go missed-approach and fly to San Antonio and still land with extra fuel.

But, at the minimum altitude, we were still in thick gray fog. Again I executed the missed approach and my FO told tower, “We’re ready for clearance to San Antonio.”

The tower controller acknowledged the request and told us that departure controller was ready with that clearance.

We switched frequencies and as we climbed to our enroute divert altitude, the FO made contact with departure control.

“Climb and maintain ten thousand feet,” the departure controller said.

That would have to change. We’d planned a much higher cruise altitude to ensure a minimal fuel burn. With the ten thousand foot cruise altitude set in the FMS, the fuel prediction showed us to land with less than planned fuel.

Then the same laconic voice on departure control frequency stabbed me in the heart.

“Be advised that San Antonio is calling their ceiling and visibility zero,” he droned. “They’re not accepting arrivals. State your intentions.”

Just like that, we were instantly screwed and I knew it. The fog had rolled up the Rio Grande valley much faster than our weather shop and dispatch had predicted. I desperately needed that two thousand pounds of fuel we’d burned on the second McAllen approach, but it was long gone. And if we’d left those fifteen minutes earlier, we might have made it into San Antonio. There was no one to blame but myself, because I’d made the decision to fly that second approach.

“How’s the Austin ceiling and viz?” I asked the controller. Less than fifty miles more flying beyond San Antonio. If we could get a higher altitude, we might conserve enough fuel to land in Austin with an uncomfortably low fuel total, but what were the options?

“Their ceiling and viz are dropping rapidly,” the controller said. “You’d better plan minimum time enroute.”

We coordinated a higher altitude but the fuel prediction still showed a frightfully low fuel total at Austin—if we beat the fog rolling up from the south.

I’d failed Cecil’s second dictum, “Know when to get the hell out of Dodge.” If we couldn’t land in Austin, the next option was Waco almost a hundred miles north. That arrival fuel total would be horrifying, if we even made it that far at all. I’d relied too heavily on the FMS technology and not enough on my instinct, which usually was, there’s nothing you’re going to see on a second approach that you didn’t see on the first. Just get the hell out of town. The MD-80 didn’t even have a fuel prediction function.

There was no panic in the cockpit, though we both knew instantly what we were up against. There was just intense concentration, with an ample side order of tension.

We climbed into the twenties, then I had another critical decision to make. Do I pull the power back to an endurance speed that burned minimal fuel? That would add time to our transit, which could mean the difference between landing before the relentless fog bank swallowed up the field and having to race further north.

The longer we waited, the cooler the evening air would become, and that was the insidious culprit: the fog wasn’t really “moving north” so much as the temperature-dew point spread was diminishing as the sun set. When it reached zero, there’d be fog, from the surface to at least a thousand feet.

It was an all-in bet, keeping the engine power high to minimize enroute time, albeit at the expense of arrival fuel. The new landing fuel prediction was about half of what I’d normally accept, but the minimal time gave us at least a fighting chance to fly the approach and find the runway at descent minimums.

We entered a long, shallow descent toward the Austin airport. I held the speed at two-hundred-fifty until just about twenty miles out, then we “threw out all the shit,” as Coker would say, dropping the gear, the boards and the speedbrakes to slow to approach speed. We broke out of the overcast well above minimums, which was a huge relief, then I flew her to a normal touchdown.

I don’t recall ever being so glad to slow a jet to taxi speed as I was that night. It had been a hell of a day, a long one at that, including three Cat 2 approaches, two go-arounds and a divert at emergency fuel levels.

The passengers never knew the ugly details, other than what should have been just over an hour of flying time turning into nearly three, plus ending up in Austin instead of McAllen. Nor did the flight attendants, really. There was no point telling either of them, as far as I could see.

I told the agent we’d need crew hotel rooms for the night, because we were done. We’d been on duty for twelve hours and besides that strain, the uncertainty of the Austin divert left both of us in the cockpit fried.

The agent invited me inside to operations where the dispatcher was on the line.

“Captain,” said a female voice I didn’t recognize. She must have taken over the shift from the original dispatcher. “We’re going to refuel you, then you’ll fly the passengers back to DFW.”

“No,” I said. “That’s a bad idea. We’re both done for the night.”

“We need you to fly these passengers back to DFW.”

“That’s not a good idea, so, no.”

“Are you refusing a direct order from dispatch?”

She must be new, I thought to myself.

“Call it whatever you want,” I said. “We are done and we’re going to the hotel. Don’t call me back—I’ll be in crew rest. We’ll be ready tomorrow after we’ve had a decent night’s sleep.”

Then I hung up the phone. The next morning, I got a call from Doug Anderson, the DFW Chief who’d recommended I try the F-100. He listened carefully, then said he agreed with my decision, even ending the day in Austin, and supported me one hundred percent. That was typical: whether it was Doug, or Zane lemon after him, I never had anything but full support from the DFW Flight Office.

When I mentioned to Doug the shockingly low fuel we had left after landing, he simply said, “I’ve landed with less.”

I rounded up the crew and we ferried the jet back to DFW empty. On the very quiet, short and routine flight home, I added an addendum to Cecil’s “get out of town advice.” There’d be no multiple approaches, at least not without holding for a significant time to allow conditions to improve. Back-to-back Cat 2 or 3s? Right then and from then on, I’d just get the hell out of Dodge.

Look for An Airline Pilot’s Life in paperback and Kindle format on Amazon next month!

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An Airline Pilot’s Life

Posted in air travel, airline, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, airlines, airport, aviation with tags , , , , , , , on January 12, 2020 by Chris Manno

Want to live the airline pilot life from an insider’s view? Here’s your chance: for the past two years, I’ve been writing an insider, no-holds-barred true story from day one in my forty-plus years of airline and Air Force flying.

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It’s over four hundred pages of details and the real-life, true adventures of flying jets for a lifetime, both USAF and at American Airlines for nearly thirty-five years, twenty-nine as captain.

Watch this space for upcoming excerpts, and the official release date in both paperback and Kindle from Dark Horse Books. Now, the manuscript is in its final rewrite stage:

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Soon, very soon, you can have your own copy, and live the life yourself. If you enjoy the stories and adventures that are the JetHead blog, you won’t want to miss this true story.

Stay tuned.

Airline Cartoons LIVE

Posted in air travel, air travel humor, air traveler, aircraft maintenance, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airlines, cartoon, fear of flying, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2019 by Chris Manno

The best airline cartoons just got better: now you can watch them come to life. Just tap on the image.

Of course, you can still enjoy the static version,

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the best of which are in the cartoon collection, available in paperback or Kindle format from Amazon here,

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but meanwhile, here’s a sampling from the “live” cartoon channel on YouTube, which you can subscribe to free for updates.

There are plenty more cartoons on my YouTube playlist, which you can access and subscribe to here.

Just one more way for you to enjoy the best, frontline airline cartoons.

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How to Be a Decent Airline Captain

Posted in air travel, air traveler, aircraft maintenance, airline, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, aviation, fear of flying, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, FoF with tags , , , , , on April 9, 2019 by Chris Manno

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Here’s my perspective after more than 27 years (and counting) as a captain at the world’s largest airline. When you are lucky enough to attain that fourth stripe, your challenge—and it’s a big one—is to transition from a team player copilot to a decent captain. Yes, I said “decent,” because before you can be good or even excellent, you have to be at least decent.

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Here are my Top Six “decent captain” benchmarks:

1.Focus: There’s a wide spectrum of distraction that spills into your purview as the disparate functions that produce your flight, all of which have complications, setbacks and shortcomings, begin to rear their ugly heads. Don’t get into the weeds with the messy details. Hold firm that “when everything’s right, we’ll fly” then stay out of the sausage-making that is the flight dispatch process. Your job isn’t to fix anyone’s problem, but rather, to hold firm that nothing moves until everything is done properly. In fact, I often make myself scarce when there are maintenance or other logistics problems because they really don’t need another voice in the chaos. I just make sure Flight Dispatch has my cell number and tell them “Call me when everything’s ready,” then head for a crew lounge.

2. Go slow. Not, “drag your feet,” but take it slow and steady, especially when everyone else is rushing, as is typical in the process of turning around a jet and launching it off again. Everyone else in the process is urged to maximize the pace to satisfy time constraints. Your focus is to not rush, not let your crew rush, because you’ll answer for whatever mistakes are made if they don’t take adequate time to fulfill all requirements before the wheels move. You be the one not in a hurry, and reassure the crew that they must pace themselves and not rush.

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3. Stay out of the way. That starts in the cockpit: your First Officer knows what he or she is doing, and they have a lot to do. Stay out of their hair and let them work. Ditto the cabin crew and even the agents. That’s not to say “hands off,” because ultimately, you’re in charge of and accountable for everything that goes on with your flight. But the thing is, if you let people do their jobs—silently observing that everything’s in order—your crew will operate more efficiently than if you micromanage. Don’t interfere in the FO’s preflight flow, just observe that everything’s done properly with a minimum of your input, which a competent copilot really doesn’t need.

4. Never argue. Seriously: you’ve already won—you are the captain and have the final say. There’s really nothing to argue about or no confrontation necessary when you say, “When this is done, we’ll leave. And not until.” Then, as in the “focus” step above, be sure Dispatch has your cell phone number and make yourself scarce.

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5. Trust your instincts. Almost ten years ago, the FAA issued a warning circular based on aircraft manufacturer analysis that stated the automation in today’s airliners has exceeded the human capacity to do backup calculations. You must realize that often problems are layers deep and only surface late in the dynamic, real-time process that is flight. It’s not unusual to admit we “don’t know what we don’t know,” so better to trust an instinct that tells you “something’s just not right” and go to Plan B. And that’s key: have a Plan B, and C and D if necessary. Always have a plan, a backup, an out. Ultimately, if something “just doesn’t feel right”–it probably isn’t.

6. Ask the right questions. This is vital in flight. When complications arise as they always do, don’t ask your First Officer “what do you think of my plan?” You really don’t need that answer as much as this one: “What am I not thinking? What am I missing?” The FO can offer critique or support for “your plan,” but you really need to know what your FO is thinking, what you might be missing, and what you might not have considered.

Mike Tyson said, “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” Everyone thinks they know how to be an airline captain–until they actually have to do it. That, like a punch in the face, is a reality known only to those who actually wear the fourth stripe and bear the actual responsibility. Life becomes a new kind of serious in the left seat, no matter how it looked from the right seat or anywhere else.

So work on my Top Six, and dedicate yourself to becoming a decent captain. Nothing beyond that is possible until you do, and nothing will work well for you if you don’t. Good luck.

 

My workspace.

My workspace.

 

 

A 737 Pilot’s Thoughts on the Boeing Aircraft

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, aviation with tags , , , , , , , on March 13, 2019 by Chris Manno

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I’ve been flying the 737-800 for just over 11 years and in that time I’ve logged over 6,000 pilot-in-command hours in the aircraft. Here’s my simple appraisal of the jet based on this firsthand experience: the design and engineering of the 737 is superior to every other airline jet I’ve also logged over a thousand pilot hours in, including the DC-9-80, DC-10, and F-100.

The 737-800 Next Gen and Max are safe, reliable, engineered and built to the highest standards in the commercial aircraft industry. I’d rather fly a Boeing jet than any other airliner flying today.

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I’m not alone in this thinking: the pilot’s union–my union–which represents the pilots of the world’s largest airline, issued a statement that says the Boeing 737 Max is safe to fly. The FAA has issued a similar statement. The FAA oversight of U.S. airline operations has resulted in an air travel system that is the safest in the world.

In my experience, the current media hysteria–especially on social media–is pointless and counterproductive.

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The social media hysteria over the 737-Max  is absurd.

The reality of the situation is this: both Boeing and Airbus have made advanced airliners affordable and available worldwide. The problem is, not all countries have the aviation oversight infrastructure to ensure the safety of flight operations, to include regulation, inspection, enforcement pertaining to maintenance, pilot standards, training standards and pilot experience.

Passengers in the far corners of the world see a shiny new Airbus or Boeing jet at their departure point and make assumptions about the above factors based on the modern appearance of the airliner–but often, the exact opposite is true: there is little or no aviation oversight, low pilot and maintenance experience levels, poor or no record keeping,  little inspection or enforcement, and generally a low-quality flight operation.

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Every US pilot of a 737 is trained to recognize and handle every abnormal situation that occurs in flight, which is a factor in every airliner flying, regardless of make or model. The flying public can be certain that their pilots in the United States, Canada, Europe, most of Asia and all Down Under airlines have the same training, experience and capabilities. Period.

The news hype–especially the screaming of digital media–is a tragic side effect unrelated to the facts of the recent airline accidents so widely reported. The reality is, above and beyond the chaotic noise of social media and and the reckless bandwagon pronouncements of those who’d promote themselves or an unfounded agenda: once the investigation is complete, we will have answers–not until.

Meanwhile, I will continue to fly the Boeing 737 Next Gen and Max based on my firsthand experience that assures me the aircraft is well-engineered, sturdy, reliable and most importantly, absolutely safe.

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A Pilot’s Diversion Strategy

Posted in air travel, air travel humor, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airport, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2018 by Chris Manno

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“Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.”

–Iron Mike Tyson

The factors that shape a diversion strategy are both quantifiable and variable. Variables include weather, traffic density, airport crowding, holding pattern location, and what I call wild cards, which I’ll discuss later.

Quantifiable factors include altitude, speed, distance, time and fuel. Though there are many foundational points upon which to anchor a diversion strategy, I center mine on the one controlling factor common to every other facet of the decision: fuel.

That’s one very simple and unifying parameter that is reliably quantifiable and easily revised accurately. So, let’s start at the beginning with known fuel numbers. First, what is your required (you, the pilot, determine this) minimum on-deck fuel? Set that number in stone. For example, in a 737-800, I want 6.0 as a minimum in a divert situation. 5.0 is adequate, but in a divert situation, you really need to pad everything.

Next, the added fuel for holding. Dispatch adds holding fuel to a release when you and they agree on how much you’ll likely need based on destination variables like weather, construction, traffic density and more.

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The reserve fuel added for holding presumes you can hold for a specified time, fly an approach to a missed approach, then proceed to a landing at your alternate with your agreed upon (6.0, in my example) fuel.

But in the fuel planning phase, no one knows exactly where you’ll hold nor at what altitude. So, you have to work backwards from your approach to your holding fix: how much fuel will you need from holding to missed approach? Flight planning systems figure an estimate, because again, you can’t know for sure where you’ll be sent to hold.

And here’s where we encounter a few wild cards: we’re not sure where or at what altitude we’ll hold, so we really can’t confirm a fuel flow or total enroute burn. Also, we can’t rule out spacing and delay vectors enroute to the initial approach fix, nor non-optimum speed and altitude assignments along the way. Same thing with the missed approach: there could be multiple vectors, speed restrictions and worst of all, a much lower altitude for the cruise leg to your designated alternate.

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Throw in another factor: priority. If you’re planned to land at the same time as international flights that have been airborne for eight or more hours, you may find—contrary to what ATC might say—that you are vectored around or behind these flights. All of these factors can radically affect your fuel burn for the worse.

Step one: as you enter holding, you can and must determine the probable fuel burn from holding to your destination. Add that to your on-deck minimum. In my example:

Holding at an intermediate STAR fix:

6.0 + 2.5 = 8.5

Now we need to add the planned enroute burn from missed approach to your designated alternate. From DFW to TUL, a typical alternate, that would be an unadjusted 4.5. But we need to adjust that, adding a significant pad for the wild cards I cited above. I’ll add another 2.0. We have:

8.5 + 6.5 = 15.0

So, 15.0 is your bingo fuel: at 15.0 we’ve lost the ability to go missed approach and divert. What’s the next step? Figure the minimum fuel from your holding position to your alternate. Add a pad for the wild cards, and you have your bingo from holding.

If it takes me 2.5 to get from holding to TUL, I add a pad (1.0) and add that to my on-deck minimum:

3.0 + 6.5 = 9.5.

So, 9.5 is my bingo from holding direct to my alternate.

Why the difference? Simple: if you’re holding for a variable that may clear (weather, closed runway, traffic sequence, runway change, and more) you may have an option besides divert. As long as my enroute burn from holding to destination is equal to or less than the burn to my alternate, once the holding cause is eliminated (“DFW is now VFR”) we can proceed safely to our destination and land with 6.5 or more.

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And here’s another wild card you can play: ask for a different holding fix. Chances are, in major airport areas (ATL, JFK, MIA, ORD, LAX) the answer will be no. But in many other places, ATC may grant your request. You can even fudge it by adding “for weather” to your request, which sounds the same as what it really is: “For whether or not we can hold longer.”

A different fix offers one more good option: if you’re not in a stack, you won’t have your fuel burn incrementally increased as you’re assigned a lower altitude. Add to this asset an EFC synergy. Some pilots like to “Go Ugly Early” and divert if their EFC exceeds their planned holding time. But, if you’re sitting high at a comparable fix away from the descending stack, you can safely loiter till your EFC just to see if the EFC shortens, as it often does.

For example, if you’re given a 50 minute EFC and have planned for 35 minutes of holding, chances are decent that if you’re still holding at 20 minutes, that EFC might be cancelled or revised to within your holding fuel.

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A second wild card is to find a different suitable alternate, possibly close-in. For example, instead of OKC or AUS for DFW, if the weather movement allows, AFW, DAL and even SPS (daytime only) maximize your loiter fuel and when you’re refueled and outbound, you’ll be cleared from tower to approach, rather than tower to departure then center, which may get you slapped with a traffic flow wheels-up delay.

Other good reasons for choosing a different alternate include crowding (you don’t want to be the last jet in line for fuel or a gate) and even time of day for staffing requirements. Finally, if you’re going illegal as a crew as soon as you divert, do you really want to spend the night in Abilene, or would Austin be more “sensible?”

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Regardless, the bottom line is this: your minimum on-deck fuel. Add generously padded buffers for the wild cards, plus figure both from missed approach and direct divert. Monitor both figures. The 737-FMS will display both direct and missed approach fuel predictions—monitor both. We also often put in three or four different potential divert airports and monitor both figures for all of them.

As captain, I ask two things of the first officer. First, “What am I missing?” Not, what do you think of my plan—I really want to know what I’m not thinking of and what would be better. And second, I have the FO pick a divert alternate, and monitor both numbers. That keeps us both in the loop, keeps both sets of eyes on all the fuel numbers and finally, two heads are better than one. They both need to be fully in the game.

And that, fellow aviators, is one pilot’s strategy. Good luck and fly safe.

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