Tag Archives: Colgan Air

IMPENDING PILOT SHORTAGE: MYTH OR REALITY?

Pilot shortage A PILOTLESS AIRPLANEimage017

For several decades young aspiring professional pilots have been tantalized by the aviation oracles, as they were continually told that a pilot shortage is just around the corner. Once again, the impending pilot shortage discussion is intensifying. This time it could be for real. However, the next question is: are the young potential aviators listening or do they care? After a couple decades or more of pilot pay and benefits diminishing while training cost increased, far fewer young people are electing to commit to a career as a professional pilot.
Spending up to $200,000 for the required aviation credentials to be hired by an airline for a starting salary of $22,000 a year is not very enticing. Worse yet, the rookie pilot might be condemned to a job as a banner tow pilot, a pipeline surveillance pilot, or perhaps become caught in the ugly web of being a night freight pilot (often referred to as a “freight dog”). The lifestyle of a freight dog can be researched by reading, The Rogue Aviator; (http://www.therogueaviator.com/). While the brass ring is still there on the horizon it will only be grabbed by the more fortunate few. For every professional pilot making $200,000 a year, there are 10 professional pilots making less than $60,000 per year.
After the horrific crash of Continental flight 3407 operated by Colgan air in Buffalo, New York, a congressional subcommittee on aviation safety was immediately implemented. Everyone’s favorite pilot, Sully Sullenberger was in attendance. When asked what needed to be done to enhance commercial airline safety, Captain Sully of Hudson River fame, pulled no punches. He stated unequivocally that paying the pilots an honest salary was a critical element towards the long-term safety factor. Four years later, entry-level pilot salaries, and all too often salaries of more experienced pilots, remain embarrassingly low. “This too, shall pass.”
Now to the good news! This upcoming pilot shortage is for real. In August of this year, the FAA has mandated, with a few caveats, that airline pilots must have a minimum of 1500 hours total time and an Airline Transport Pilot rating to work for a FAR 121 (airline parameters) aviation company. Currently, the minimum requirement is 250 hours. On January 14, 2014 the long-overdue revised duty and flight time limitations for commercial pilots will take effect. The more restrictive limitations will require the airlines to hire more pilots.
The equally critical factor in this equation is that the inordinate number of airline pilots that will be forced into retirement by the age 65 rule, will open many doors for new hire pilots. Furthermore, corporate aviation is booming and those jobs with companies such as NetJets, Marquis Jet, etc. are becoming quite desirable for the professional pilot. Overseas pilot jobs, particularly in China, will be extremely plentiful. The pilot shortage will drive salaries skyward. Everything is cyclical and this current down cycle for the pilot community is destined to improve significantly. I will also state—after a 36 year aviation career that took me to 44 countries with 25 employer changes—that an aviation career can be an exciting Odyssey. Take your pilot passion and create for yourself an adventuresome career.

LEARJET CRASH WITH JENNI RIVERA–TIRED PILOTS?

sleeping-pilot1

 

Last Sunday morning’s crash of a Learjet with renowned singer Jenni Rivera aboard recently jumped into the forefront of the news cycle. The aircraft departed Monterrey, Mexico at 3:15 AM en route to Toluca, Mexico. It was reported the aircraft was it 35,000 feet and made a rapid descent to 9,000 feet, during which time air traffic control communication was lost. At 3:30 AM the aircraft slammed into the high terrain South of Monterrey. All seven people aboard were killed, including the two pilots. The Learjet was chartered from a Las Vegas based company.

The media have not yet discussed or even mentioned the likelihood of tired pilots in the cockpit. It will be very interesting to read the final NTSB report that will hopefully have a report of the two pilots most recent rest period prior to the flight. Based on my experience of eight years flying chartered Learjets I would be near certain that pilot fatigue played a major role in this accident. The world of on-demand jet charter lends itself to frequent scenarios that result in severely fatigued pilots flying high profile wealthy people. A 3:15 AM departure would require the pilots to have been awake since no later than 1:30 AM. It is likely and almost certain that they were prepared for departure several hours prior to the actual departure. On-demand jet charter is fraught with significant delays. It is not likely that anyone would schedule a flight departure for 3:15 AM.

Also relating to pilot fatigue, the FAA has just determined that the lawsuit filed by UPS cargo pilot union, IPA has no merit. This lawsuit was in reference to the revised crew rest, flight time and duty limitations that are to be implemented on January 15, 2014. These new rules were mandated to enhance aviation safety after the crash of Continental flight 3407 (operated by Colgan air) in Buffalo on January 12 2009. These revised rules for commercial pilots operating in the FAR 121 airline environments were mandated by Congress. As a result of lobbying and special interest groups influence all cargo airline operations were exempt from these new rules— effectively an exemption from operating at a much higher level of safety. As I stated in my book, The Rogue Aviator, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you— unless you are a pilot who might want to get a little sleep.”

The media has barely scratched the surface of this onerous failure to reduce the pilot fatigue factor in cargo airline aircraft. My book, Dead Tired: Pilot Fatigue- Aviation’s Insidious Killer, elaborates on the subject as it points out the obvious; if allowed, corporate profits will always trump any element of safety that might be implemented. Unbeknownst to most laymen, the power of airline unions has been a significant contributor to aviation safety. A review of aircraft accidents operated by nonunion pilots will validate this. The exemption of cargo pilots from reasonable work rules that result in minimizing pilot fatigue in the cockpit will reveal a continuation of aircraft crashes and incidents that were piloted by very tired pilots.

This blog is prepared by Allen Morris, a.k.a. Ace Abbott (pen name), author of The Rogue Aviator: in the back alleys of aviation, (www.therogueaviator.com or http://goo.gl/Y2LhX, and Dead Tired: Pilot Fatigue Aviation’s Insidious Killer (www.deadtiredpilots.com or http://goo.gl/Gzucw.

CARGO PILOTS NEED REST- FAA DISAGREES!

After a few decades of delay, and despite strong urging from the NTSB, the National Safety Council, pilot unions , and any other group or agency that is concerned about aviation, the FAA has capitalized on three years of study and decades of sleep-deprivation research and have reached the following conclusion: Pilots that fly passengers for hire under the stringent rules of FAR 121 which governs all  of the operating parameters for airlines along with the commuter airlines, must have their flight and duty times decreased in order to enhance aviation safety and reduce the increased probability of a tired pilot crashing an airplane. We all remember the Continental flight 3407 (operated by Colgan Air) that crashed in Buffalo, New York with two “dead-tired” pilots at the controls.

There is, however, an interesting caveat relating to this new aviation safety-enhancing legislation, and that is, very simply: cargo-carrying airlines, (such as Fed-Ex or UPS) are exempt from the new rules. The next immediate question is: Do cargo pilots require less sleep than passenger pilots? Of course not, but money and politics have once again trumped aviation safety. We all remember the 1970s Harvard Business School mantra of “maximum utilization of human resources.” This is one more example of that axiom being employed at the expense of aviation safety. An interesting addition to this travesty is that a little research into aviation accident investigations will reveal that far more cargo airplanes are involved in accidents and incidents than passenger carrying airplanes. The cargo “freight-dog” pilots who often operate on the “back-side” of the clock and have their fatigue factor intensified by circadian rhythm dysfunction.

As one might expect, the cargo pilots and their unions have very wisely jumped into this fray and are now filing lawsuits to eliminate this severely mis-guided shortsightedness by the FAA. In December, 2011 The Independent Pilots Association (IPA) that represent 2,700 pilots who fly for UPS, filed a petition asking the federal appeals court to review the rules.

The FAA very recently decided to review the rules after stating that it made “errors” in cost calculations used to justify the exemption. That is a glaring example of a confession of a decision that was made regarding aviation safety that once again placed corporate profits ahead of the possible consequences of a Boeing 747 filled with cargo, (perhaps hazardous material) flown by tired pilots that crashes into the hospital. If there was ever high-level government officials left with “egg-on-their-face” this is a high-level glaring example. 

This blog was prepared by Ace Abbott, author of The Rogue Aviator (www.therogueaviator.com)  

           

TIRED PILOTS CRASH AIRPLANES

 

A recent USA Today article delved into the major factor that undermines airline safety; that, of course, is pilot fatigue. A poll they conducted revealed that one-quarter of the pilots surveyed find themselves on the job in a fatigued state. After the February, 2009 Continental #3407 (Colgan Air) accident in Buffalo, where tired pilots in the cockpit played a major role, the FAA finally responded to the tired pilots syndrome, as a result of some prodding by Congress, and went to work on formulating some updated rules and regulations that would govern the flight time and duty time limitations for airline pilots working under the FAR 121 mandates. This was all-well-and-good with a couple of small caveats. The first is that the final compliance with these new rules will occur nearly 5 years after the initial discussions regarding the importance of the need to prevent lives being jeopardized by tired pilots in the cockpit. The second major shortcoming of the new rules relate to all-cargo airlines. They are exempt!

But now back to the bright side. The FAA, the DOT, the airline management folks and the unions, did an excellent job of evaluating all aspects of pilot fatigue and the revised rules deal with the many variables quite well. The new rules reduce the maximum time on duty from 16 to 13 hours. Research has revealed that after 13 hours, the diminished functionality of the pilot is equivalent to someone who had a .05 blood-alcohol level. As an ex-non-sked charter pilot who experienced too many 20 hour duty days, I will readily attest to being in the cockpit in this awful physiological condition. Research has also revealed that after 13 hours of duty, the rate of mistakes that result in accidents increase by 5 times over one who is well-rested. After 8 hours of duty the accident rate increases exponentially.

The new rules will very definitely save a lot of lives and crunched aluminum air machines. Amongst the very positive changes is consideration for the “circadian rhythm monster” which is as insidious as single-time-zone pilot fatigue. This is well addressed in the new changes along with a requirement for flight crew and management training regarding pilot fatigue—it addresses developing an awareness of fatigue in the cockpit and possible countermeasures. Most importantly, the new rules state that if a flight crew member informs the company that he/she is too tired to fly, there can be no action taken against that pilot. In certain realms of aviation the pilot that tells the boss he has to cancel a flight to get some rest, he would be fired.

And now comes the monster caveat: The revised rules do not apply to all-cargo operations! That is correct. The question is: Will that cargo-laden Boeing 747 (for instance) make less of an impact when it slams into the school or hospital than a passenger carrying 747? That is an easy one—emphatically no! Why did this anomaly arise? It has to do with the bottom line of the cargo carrier and the power of the lobbyists in Washington that influence our government. A quote from the rule-makers is as follows: “The final rule does not apply to all-cargo operations, although these carriers have the ability under the new rules if they so choose.” It should be noted that the instances of airplane crashes with tired pilots in the cockpits of cargo airplanes is off-the-scale higher than passenger-carrying airline crashes. The all-cargo loophole should be fought tooth-and-nail by all pilots. The passenger pilot can shortly fine himself in the “night-freight-dog” world. For more information about the professional pilot’s trials and tribulations of pilot fatigue I suggest that you read The Rogue Aviator; in the Back Alleys of Aviation.

This blog is prepared by Allen Morris/aka Ace Abbott, author of  The Rogue Aviator   (www.therogueaviator.com)

NEW PILOT HIRE MINIMUM TIME WILL ENHANCE AIRLINE SAFETY

DOES THIS TURBOPROP HAVE A FEATHERED ENGINE?

 

Did you know that the co-pilot on your commercial flight could be hired with only 250 hours total flight time. For some pilots that is three months of flight time. Do you want a pilot who has three months experience piloting your aircraft in to JFK in a snow storm? Many of the regional/ feeder airlines have implemented programs that involve the new hire pilots who are very inexperienced to pay from fifteen to twenty thousand dollars for their training. This concept is very effective for the bottom line of the airline but it is counterproductive to airline safety. This concept along with the pilot fatigue in the cockpit dilemma, are two areas where the FAA should be held in contempt. A copilot has to be able to safely continue a flight and get the aircraft on the ground in event of an incapacitated captain. Many of these very low-time, inexperienced pilots would be incapable of doing so in many of the challenging flight regimes that the regional carrier might encounter. The uninformed passenger books his flight with the belief that he will have experienced well-trained pilots in the big jet. He then gets into the cramped quarters of the “feeder airlines” small turboprop aircraft and the copilot could have less than 500 hours total flight time.

An interesting statistic regarding domestic flights is as follows: Five of the last six commercial airline accidents in the United States were operated by one of these FAA certified regional air carriers. The last accident, the highly publicized Buffalo, NY crash of Continental Flight #3407, operated by Colgan Air, was piloted by a very tired and inexperienced flight crew. The copilot informed the captain as they entered icing conditions that she had never before flown in icing conditions. PBS Frontline produced a revealing expose’ of this accident and the dysfunctionality of the regional air carriers. It is hosted by the veteran aviation journalist, Miles O’Brien and is titled “Flying Cheap.” It can be accessed by going to PBS.ORG. Also, a book titled Squawk 7700 will throw additional light on the “commuter airlines.”

But rejoice for the FAA has stepped forward and will be implementing new minimum flight time standards for new pilots. The new minimum hire time for any FAR 121 airline will be 1,500 hours total time, with a few reasonable caveats. Ex-military pilots are only required 750 hours. In most cases this is a very reasonable compromise. The other exception is for graduates of University or College flight schools. These pilots will only require 1,000 hours total time. Perhaps most importantly, all pilots will have to receive “type-rating” training specific to the aircraft that they are flying. This requires a much more advanced aircraft knowledge and aviator skills specific to that aircraft. Hopefully, this certification will be done with FAA inspectors rather than company check airman who might be pressured to “sign off” the new hire before he/or she might be up to speed. These new regulations will move the safety quotient of commuter airlines up a few notches but I still want to be on the big jet with the 10,000 plus hour pilots.

This blog is prepared by Ace Abbott, author of The Rogue Aviator

WINTER WX OPS; BEWARE THE ONEROUS ICE-MAN

 

 

 

 

ICE IS FUN IF YOU ARE A POLAR BEAR

In my previous post I pointed out that the big jets are very safe. Today’s discussion will focus on the issue of smaller airplanes that succumb to the trials and tribulations of winter flying. I will commence this discussion with a personal anecdote which is also an excerpt from my book, The Rogue Aviator: {. A few years later, long after he had recovered from this small airplane trauma, Ace once again ventured off into that otherworldly realm of propeller airplanes: a family ski trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Flying over the mountains of southern Tennessee, Ace encountered icing conditions and was unable to climb above or to descend below the icing level. The rented Cherokee Six had no deicing equipment, and after a VOR approach to very low ceiling and with visibility near minimums, the family exclaimed another great sigh of relief during the taxiing to the tarmac.}

While accumulation of ice on the airplane is one of the primary pitfalls that affect the private pilot, sometimes even commercial pilots encounter icing problems that result in uncontrolled flight into the terrain. The Continental flight 3407 (operated by Colgan Air) is an example of such. Throughout the more northern latitudes, particularly around the Great Lakes, the pilot who has no deicing equipment on his aircraft must be hyper-vigilant against this often insidious “airframe-ice monster.” The Florida pilot, headed for a winter ski trip (note: above scenario) is particularly vulnerable since that pilot rarely gives any consideration at all to the potential problem of icing. The copilot on Continental 3407 stated that “This is my first experience flying in icing conditions.”  As is the case in all aspects of aviation, experience plays a large role.

Flight instructors, chief pilots, check airman and maintenance as well, should now be focusing on reviewing deicing or anti-icing procedures, including the use of ground deicing fluids. And if you think aircraft icing is only a problem for the smaller airplanes or less experienced pilots please refer (Google)  the Air Florida accident at Washington National airport on January 13, 1982. Poor pilot technique and/or inexperience in the cockpit can severely diminish the longevity factor in large airplanes as well.

A major player in the increased accident rate during the winter months is the very subtle but often debilitating phenomena called, “get-home-itis”, or in the case of scheduled passenger flight it might be “get-these-PAX-there so they can make their connection.”  All passengers on all airplanes should engage in their own vigilance since there have been many flights that were aborted just prior to take off when the passenger looked out the window and observed ice and/or snow on the airplane. When it is all sorted out, this type of intervention will likely be well-received by the flight crew. During the takeoff roll on the ill-fated departure form DCA the copilot felt that something was awry but his response was not as proactive as it should have been. Captains, co-pilots, cabin crew, and passengers should be maintaining a high level of awareness regarding all aspects of the winter weather operations.

The sad statistics are staggering regarding small aircraft (including regional carrier turboprop aircraft) accidents and incidents during the winter months. The bright side of the equation is that the snow at the end and side of the runway can provide a cushioning effect when the air machine goes slip-sliding off the runway. Slick runways add to the pilots headaches during the winter and it is my premise that landing at LGA in a snowstorm with gusty crosswinds and an icy runway is far more challenging than “dead-sticking” your airplane into the Hudson River. For more clarification or validation of this subject,  please refer to “Sully Sullenberger.” Gallantly battle the throes of old man winter for he is a fearsome adversary!

“Keep your airpseed up in the turns.”     Ace Abbott