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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cap'n Aux Answers Your #AvGeek Q's - Part II

#capnaux #blog #Airbus #A320 #airline
Welcome aboard Part II of our #Aviation Answers series!

This week, we talk about the life of an airline pilot, and a "typical day at the office."  But first, a couple missed questions submitted by Dave W. from last week's "Have you Ever...." questions:

1) Have you ever been aware of a mobile device being on or used in flight, and has it affected your systems?
Yes!  I was skeptical about the effects until, on one flight during Game 7 of the World Series, we noticed our instruments going a bit whacky.  Turned out there were a dozen guys surreptitiously listening to their am radios, desperately trying to listen to the game!  I had to make several announcements, finally scolding them over the PA into compliance!  To compromise, we gave them frequent score updates!

Last year, I also had serious radio interference from several bobbleheads in back trying to use walkie talkies!  There's a chance that they could actually have been, shall we say, "foreign agents" testing the systems.  I chat about both incidents in my post, "Go Ahead, Make Cap'ns Day" (

Bottom line:  there is not enough data to conclusively say how much any given device affects each type of airplane, so to err on the side of safety, the FAA has made this blanket rule.  Yes, it's annoying, but can you imagine 100 people "accidentally" having their cell phones on at once?

far side cartoon airplane airline disaster
Fumbling for the recline button, Ted unwittingly instigates a disaster.
2) Have you ever hit the wrong button leading to unintended consequences - e.g. the pa system (I heard of a pilot that broadcast his pa to the cabin over the airwaves in error so several other pilots responded with amusing replies)
We have a saying in this business that applies to just about everything:  "There's two types of pilots, those that have, and those that will!"  There are good reasons we have two pilots up front.  Humans make errors, and two heads are wayyy better than one!

We get to skewer an unintentionally-broadcast PA victim every few months.

And yes, I am in the "Those that have" category!  Once, instead of calling the Flight Attendant for a heads-up, I almost broadcast over the cabin PA that I "had to use the little pilot's room."  Almost..

But I DID tell ATC that once!  Oh, man.  You shoulda heard the comebacks on that one!

Part II:  A Day in the Life of an Airline Pilot

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Once again, Bill K. wrote in with some excellent questions:

What do you look for when you walk around the aircraft, prior to departure?
Our preflight inspection is fairly simple, logical and straightforward.  Dings, dents, flat tires, and the like.  Airline pilots can't even pull a panel—we need a mechanic for that!  But, we do inspect our bird very closely.  In the cockpit, there's documents, safety equipment, avionics and computers to check as well.  Anything amiss and we'll immediately call Maintenance.

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Planes are machines, and as such subject to wear, tear and failures.  Finding something is very common.  But it's no big deal!  Passengers are always worried that we're "pushing it," not "telling them everything," and compromising safety.  What they fail to remember is, Hey, it's OUR butts on the planes too!

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We just hope the repair doesn't delay the flight!

See "Zen and the Art of Aircraft Maintenance" (

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How often do you have to receive training?  Simulator?
It depends on the airline and its procedures, but at my airline we do Recurrent training once a year.  We have a day of Ground School, followed by two days of Simulator flying.  I just posted a vlog about that, in fact:  "Let's Go for a (Simulated) Airplane Flight!" (

blog airline airplane aviation avgeek cap'n aux airbus boeing
Adding up my flight time!

How do you track the number of hours you have flown?
The only records I'm required to keep are the flights required to stay FAA-current.  So, in general, I let the Company do the record keeping.  They have very accurate records, as required by the FAA.  I gave up on logging every flight about 20 years ago!

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Most pilots use this "Little Red Book" to log their flights,
and then enter these into their Logbook later.

I fly an average of 700 hours a year, so I estimate I have over 18,000 hours total time now.  That's nearly 3 solid years spent in the sky!  So at this point, does every little hour really matter?!

What is a typical workweek / 4 day schedule like?
I typically fly a 4-day trip per week.  If I fly a 1, 2, or 3 day trip, it's like stealing a day back!  Sometimes I'll have to fly up to the maximum of 6 days on/1 off.  But somewhere in there it makes up for it, by giving me 1-2 full weeks off.  By and large, a decent schedule.

blog airline airplane aviation avgeek cap'n aux airbus boeing philippines
Off to the Philippines for a month!
(But, that's another blog post!)
What kind of vacation benefits do you receive?
I'm at the max, 4 weeks/year.  I just blew it all taking the month of February off and traveling through the Philippines.  But, normally, I'll space those weeks out across the year.  You can usually expand a week of vacation into 2 or 3 if you wanna milk it right ;-)

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Why is seniority so important?

—Junior M.
Seniority is everything to an airline pilot.  It dictates whether you're on reserve or have a schedule, if you have to work weekends, redeyes, etc.  And, perhaps most important of all, when you can upgrade to Captain as well.  That's why pilots fight so hard over it during mergers.

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Seniority is usually based on when you're hired at a company.  For mergers, however, it's a whole different story.  There's no one perfect answer, and each situation is different.  It wouldn't be fair, for example, if a younger, financially healthier company bought an older one that was in bankruptcy, and then merged the seniority list by date of hire.  All those pilots at the "old" company, who's jobs were saved, would be on top, and those that saved them, from the "younger" company, would be "stapled" to the bottom!

This exact situation happened when America West Airlines bought out bankrupt USAirways and took their name.  Even as the "new" USAirways heads into a new merger with American Airlines, the pilots are still fighting in court over the AWA/USAirways seniority issue.*

How do you get your schedule ? I know you have to bid, but how - online, with a password ?  
We use an online, computerized bidding system called PBS, like you described.  Each month, we bid for our preferences—whether to work weekends, nights, where we want to fly, etc.  We can make it complicated or simple.  Then, the computer builds our line for the month according to our preferences.  The senior pilots get most or all of their preferences, the mid level pilots some, the junior pilots...good luck!

Some airlines still bid the old way, by hand.  They spend hours each month scouring over the pre-printed lines for the next month, and list their choices in order.  Then, they are awarded whatever line they can hold according to their seniority.

Do you always do the same route, with the same person?
Almost never.  In the old days, when we bid for whole lines by hand, we would fly with the same pilots and flight attendants for the whole month.  But now, with the computerized PBS, it's way, way easier and more efficient!  As a result, however, I'll normally fly with one FO for one trip, then a different FO for the next.  We are always switching flight attendants from flight to flight, because they still bid by hand, and work under different rules.

As relates to CRM (Cockpit Resource Management, mentioned in Part I; Wiki:, in one sense you don't get to "bond" with that crew for the month.

airplane! autopilot blog airline airplane aviation avgeek cap'n aux airbus boeing
Otto is my Copilot!
On the other hand, you don't get stuck with that "quirky personality," either!

blog airline airplane aviation avgeek cap'n aux airbus boeing
I don't much care where I fly.  OK, maybe I do!
Toughing it out in PVR.
As for what I prefer, I mostly bid for flying day trips, partial weekends off.  I don't care so much where I fly.  So, the destinations are often mixed up.

Do you always fly in the same aircraft?
The same type of aircraft.  At my Company, the A320 class Airbus consists of A321, A320, or A319.  I'll often fly all 3 in one trip, and hardly notice the difference!

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Do you prefer short or long flights?
My favorite trip is one that has one leg per day, usually a long one like PHL-PHX.  I don't like the multi-leg days, as one little delay can create a domino effect, and suddenly your 8-10 hour day becomes 12 or 14.

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How do you balance the need for the flight attendants to do their job, versus, the need for them to "sit down?"
Excellent Question!  Part of their job is sitting down.  In fact, it's the best place for them.  Passengers see them as nothing more than stewards and waitresses in the sky, but that's NOT why they're in the plane!  They are an integral part of the safety system.

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In rough weather, and for takeoff and landing, they need to be at their stations—ie, jumpseat, evenly spaced throughout the cabin, to deal with emergencies.  In an evacuation, they will be properly positioned to deploy the slides if need be.

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Mostly, I need to eyeball the weather ahead, listen to other aircraft ride reports, etc.  If something looks iffy, I'll order them back in their seats.  As always in this biz, it's better to be safe than sorry!
Would you discuss Captain's Emergency Authority, and, have you ever had to utilize it?
We partially discussed this in our first post, but I'll go a little deeper here.

FAR (Federal Aviation Regulation) 91.3 states, "The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.
"In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency."

Basically, it's the Captain, or "Pilot in Command," that needs to make sure the airplane is being operated safely and within FAA regulations at all times.  If an emergency arises, however, that may lead to the pilots busting an FAA regulation, they are exempted as necessary to meet the needs of that emergency.

sullenberger usairways blog airline airplane aviation avgeek cap'n aux airbus boeing
Hey you, Cap'n Sully!  You're under arrest for violating FAR regulations...
er, um...congratulations, Cap'n!  You're a HERO!
Is it legal, for example, to land an Airbus A320 in the Hudson River?  If you did it for kicks, they'd lock you up and throw away the key!  But shuck two engines with a sky full of Canadian geese, and I'd say the FAA wouldn't complain too much.  Of course, Cap'n Sully did just that with his "Miracle on the Hudson," saving his passengers and crew and becoming a national icon.

What are your responsibilities, when you are not the pilot?
Another good question.

blog airline airplane aviation avgeek cap'n aux airbus boeing airplane!
Cap'n Roger Over, you're doing it wrong!
Only ONE of you should be at the controls!
And FO Kareem, what the heck are you doing with 4 stripes?!
To clarify, there are two pilots aboard the modern airliner, a Captain and a First Officer (FO).  (We won't go into International Relief Officers, Flight Engineers, etc.)  Both are FULLY qualified pilots.  One has more seniority, and is therefore in the Left seat, the Captain's seat.  Both work together as a team, but ultimately the Captain is the final authority to, and is fully responsible for, the safety of the airliner.

Normally, Captains and FOs trade off flying duties from leg to leg.

The "Pilot Not Flying," or PNF, handles everything but the operation of the airplane itself.  He/she answers the radios, gets the weather, makes the PA, communicates with the Flight Attendants.  Anything NOT involved with directly flying the plane, the PNF does.

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What are your responsibilities, when you are the pilot?
The "Pilot Flying," or PF, flies the plane.  Period.  Under normal circumstances, that's the PF's sole job!  If anything whatsoever happens, first and foremost, the PRIME DIRECTIVE is FLY THE PLANE!

Secondly, both PF and the PNF should always know where they are and where they're going.  This sounds silly, but planes have been lost due to simple disorientation.

Back to the "Prime Directive."  If I, as the PF and Captain, need to handle something else, a "non-normal" or emergency, I will FIRST positively transfer control of the flying duties to the FO.  Only THEN can I address the other issue.

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We learned this most basic tenet when we lost United 173 in 1978 (wiki:  They ran out of fuel and crashed, killing 10 and injuring 24, because of...
a burned out light bulb.
— — — — — — —
If so, I invite you to COMMENTSHARETWEETLIKE, EMAIL &/or +1 below!

It's right after "Cap'n Aux links and just before the next post.
It looks like this: 
— — — — — — —
"Cap'n Aux, have you ever..."

Technical Questions, Part 1

Technical Questions, the Sequel

Question Potpourri

PART IV, 2.0
Question Potpourri, the Sequel


*Brad over at Airline Pilot Chatter did a great job explaining the realities of seniority:

Posting April 10 @ 11:00PHX:
Cap'n Aux answers readers' Q's—Part III

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Now we get technical and detailed about the A320!
Sample Q's:
—What are some of the controls in the cockpit, and how do you use them?
—Bill K.
—What is the Cost Index, and how do you use it?
—Dave W
Once you are cleared for a visual approach to a runway, can you still do an ILS?
—Zack S.

Posting April 17 @ 11:00PHX

blog airline airplane aviation avgeek cap'n aux airbus boeing

Cap'n Aux answers readers' Q's—Part IV
YOUR Q's that you've been sending me during this series!
Coming Soon:
Cap'n Aux's First GoPro Vlog!

blog airline airplane aviation avgeek cap'n aux airbus boeing cockpit

"Flight gathers, and now my watch begins..."






  1. I love these questions! And your answers too. 4 day trips... ours can be up to 12. A day of ground school for recurrent. Ours has gone wayside. (by the way...never get rid of that class.) I, too, stopped logging my hours. Thanks for a great post!

    1. Yikes!! 12??? is that legal, Karlene?! 24 hours "rest" in a hotel room? I'm sorry but that sux!! And no recurrent ground school, eh? We also have "distance learning," ongoing, online computer training to refresh/update. I wouldn't be surprised if they bump that up and eventually eliminate the gs.

      thanks for the comment!

  2. Hey Eric, Great post!

    Thanks for the replies, genuinely interesting to even a seasoned geek like myself :)

    Looks like Gulfstream Girl in the walkaround pic? - good choice!

    Thanks for taking the time with this, I'm looking forward to the Vid footage with that new GoPro of yours....

    All the best

    Dave W

    1. You're welcome, Dave! Thanks for your great Q's!

      Yes, I found that G.G. pic during a search for preflight, and used it before finding out who she was! I thought y'all would like a pic of a young, pretty girl preflighting rather than another grizzled ol' geezer type!

      Slaving away at the GoPro now...but lots of gr8 Question/Answer posts on the schedule as well!

    2. You mention seniority, is a pilot's seniority a closely guarded secret or are you all aware of each others? Do you work on percentages? eg if you were number 2,000 out of 8,000 you would be in the top 25% Just curious and I hope it's not a touchy subject! :)

    3. No the seniority list is freely published and updated by the company once in awhile.

      We are all keenly aware of each others' seniority, to the point that, if someone dies, the first question is, "How did he die?" The second, "Was he senior to me?"

      It's nearly that bad!!

  3. Another excellent post! And - some incredible questions to answer for you!!

    Looking forward to the vlog - going to mail you a couple of questions for part III today as well!! :)

    1. Thanks Mark! You've sent in some great ones, lots more to come!!

      And...the GoPro vlog is coming SOON!!!

  4. Yep Cappy ......ANOTHER FINE MESS YOU HAVE HERE.....FOR A "grizzled ol' geezer type!...YOUR STILL KINDA CUTE.....

    CAPPY HAVE I TOLD YOU......LATELY THAT F/B IS THE EFFIN 'DEVIL'..........???!!!!.....THOUGHT SO...........CHECK YA LATER.......LOVE!!!!!!!!!!..

    1. Glad you like, Miss TWA! I always aim to please ya!

  5. Good series Eric. Always something new and interesting around here, so we keep coming back! Happy Landings, -C.

  6. Travellers and passengers like to reach the plane and get ready to enjoy their sweet journey in there. Wonderful post.
    compare airport parking


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