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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

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

#aviation #airline #pilot #A320

Happy May Day!

Welcome aboard Part IV (Version 1.0), of the Q's you've been sending me all month.  Our last two parts in this 6 part series is a hodge podge of tech, lifestyle, career and general questions...

Once again, blog reader Dave W wins the prize for most questions asked, so we’ll start with some of his  . . . .

airbus, airline, pilot, aviation, avgeek, blog, novel, best seller, capnaux, cap'n aux, boeing
Cap'ns Paintbrush - almost as famous as his junk Thai watch!
I know you like to carry a paintbrush to clean the panels, what other little rituals or habits have you observed amongst your fellow pilots in your time at the pointy end? Anything weird or interesting?
Haha, Dave, you know me too well!  All Captains seem to have their own personal quirks, some benign, some majorly annoying.  There’s a high percentage of Captains, for example, who just LOOOVE that PA!  They either think themselves tour guides, or stand up comics.  My buddy Cap’n Tony is a born comic, and I love his PA’s.  Sadly, however, most Captains need to “not quit their day job!”   It can drive the passengers—and especially the flght attendants—nuts!

As far as I know, my “biggest quirk” is that I am always tweaking the brightness of the lights in the cockpit.  I guess I’m sensitive to that, so as the sun sets I am always dimming them down.  Some, eh, elder pilots don’t always see so well at night, so they tend to fight me, turning them back up!

Da Cap'n with his favorite Cap'n Aux mug n Cap'n Aux flyin' cap!

Oh, and I DO like my coffee served in a MUG (Right, Mary Mug Ann?!)

What is the typical length of time for a flightcrew from walking down the jetway to ready for pushback? Presumably it depends what state you take over the aircraft in? I'm guessing it is more rare to take over a cold and dark plane given how the airline likes to sweat its assets.
We are required to be at our ships around 1/2 hour prior to departure, but normally we don't need anything near that much time.  It takes all of 10' for us to review the safety gear, check the paperwork, and preflight the plane!  But, if there's a glitch—say, extra fuel is needed or maintenance required—we need to be there early enough to try and get 'er done to try and avoid taking a delay.

For international flights, we'll need a little extra time to maneuver through Customs and such.  Yesterday, we had to deal with three countries in one day—Mexico, USA, and Canada!

And here's a related question by Mark L.:
A lot of paperwork is generated for every flight - how long does it take to review and digest that paperwork and the weather for the routing - and - as a second part to that - how often is it necessary to contact the dispatchers for changes due to weather during the flight.
Yep, there’s a lot of paperwork, Mark!

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The Dispatch Release . . . all 50 lbs of it!
I can review the paperwork (called the “Dispatch Release”) fairly quickly...about 5-10 minutes or so.  95% of the time, it's a no-brainer—no significant weather or other factors.  The Dispatchers do an outstanding job of planning each flight, with the help of excellent flight planning software.  So, mostly I am "reviewing their homework!"  

The flights are often planned several hours in advance, however, so if things such as the weather change, I can always contact the Dispatcher and add more fuel.  This happens only about 1 out of 10 flights.  

The tough part is searching through a virtual encyclopedia of NOTAMS (Notices to Airmen) about the airports, etc.  These are the latest notes issued by the FAA about taxiway closures, construction on the field, NAVAIDS down, etc.  Also important are SIGMETS (SIGnificant METeorological info.) about weather hazards and such.  It can be a virtual search for a needle in the haystack, however, as 99% of the stuff doesn't even apply to us.  But, occasionally, we'll spot one that affects our flight, say a runway closure at ORD, or a line of weather developing over OMA, and we have to plan accordingly.

Do airlines look for hours or a flight diploma or some sort?
—Hamza H.
To get in the door, you need a college degree.  Most require a 4-year degree.

After that . . . flight hours!  This is by far the BIGGEST factor in hiring!

I also found that having a "colorful history" helps.  I was interviewed by my airline's pilot hiring committee just to hear about my experience flying the Alaskan bush, and for the Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle during Hurricane Hugo!  It got me a foot in the door, and ultimately the job!

How common is it for wannabe pilots to start life as a Flight Attendant?
—Dave W.
At my airline, I’ve known about a half dozen or so, of which two or three have made it so far.  Merely anecdotal evidence here, but it does seem to crack open the door for them.  It’s a bit of a double edged sword, however, because you are betting the farm that that particular airline will hire you . . . and you’ll not be able to run around the world, building time at different outfits, if you’re tied down to your flight attendant job.

Besides, the pay is lousy.  How the $*^&^%#@ are you going to pay for your lessons?!

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How often do the Pax send gifts to the cockpit and what is your favourite gift to receive?
Geez, I’m on the wrong flights . . . Never!

OK, once in a rare while we receive a chocolate or something.  That’s about it!  Although, sadly, we won’t eat it because of the potential for tainted food.  But I DO love giving out wings to the kids who visit.  It is just what I live for!

An iPad Mini might be a nice gift for the flight deck ;-)

How much consideration do you give to your health before flying? For instance, I would have no problem going to work with a heavy cold but at which point would you call in sick? Would you normally carry on with a heavy cold etc or do you take the view it's just not worth it.
A pilot has to be 100%.  If there’s an accident or incident, the first thing the FAA will say is, “What?  You were sick and you flew?  Violation!”  So, if I’m feeling something coming on, I probably won’t hesitate to call in sick.  I think, frankly, I owe it to the passengers to give them a flight crew operating at maximum health.

It is a continual challenge keeping healthy on the road.  Getting good rest is a particular challenge, as we’re often sleeping through the day, or next door to the hotel party.  I always kick on the hotel room fan for a little white noise to muffle out sounds, and sleep with earplugs and an eye mask.  With those, I’ll still be able to hear my alarm.

The toughest challenge of all is having a report time the next day that’s, say, 3am body clock time.  That means forcing yourself to sleep at around 6 or 7 pm your time!  Gotta pop some Tylonal PM’s in that case . . . .

airbus, airline, pilot, aviation, avgeek, blog, novel, best seller, capnaux, cap'n aux
Must! De! Stresssss!!!
I'm interested to know how a typical day pans out for you, in terms of how you find the time for writing, blogging, pubbing etc. - seems a full schedule - how do you relax (clean answers only plz!)
Hmm, “only clean answers”—a challenge, LOL!

In the cockpit, I read.  After the Wall Street and maybe a quick glance at the USA Today, I'll read a novel.  I’m 1/2 way through my second reading of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, on which the excellent HBO series Game of Thrones is based.  (And inspired last month's GoPro video, "Flight Gathers ("  So excited that Season 3 has started!

Blogging and writing has taken up a big chunk of my free time (just ask my poor, dust-covered banjo and guitar!)  To maximize free time at home, therefore, I do most of my writing and blogging on the road.  Lots of down time in hotel rooms.  Videos take the largest amount of time, so again, they’re mostly done in the hotel room.  That’s also why I try to pace my posts, and limit them to no more than once a week or two, max, and the videos about 1x/month.

At home, I spend time with my girlfriend, my kids, and my golf clubs.  I especially like playing XBOX (Gears of War!) with my 18 year old boy Tim.  I know he’s gonna be growing up and moving on soon, so I make a point of spending as much time with him as possible.  “Empty nest syndrome” is gonna hit me hard!

I make sure to get a workout in every day, also.  My gf is a competetive body builder, so I gotta keep up!

Hi, a question regarding something you noted in the readers’ questions. You said that you fly about 700 hours a year.  But isn’t it true that commercial pilots can fly up to 100 hours a month?  If so, why are your annual hours not closer to 1200?  Is there a minimum per month that you have to fly/work?
—John H.
Our max allowed flight time is 100 flight hours/month (Part 121).  Believe me, if you're close to that, you're tired.  1,000 is also the max per year, so if you're flying the max each month, you're gonna "time out" and have the last two months of the year off!  (This is actually how some people try to get Christmas off, LOL!)

Airlines build average lines for their pilots in a range of 65-85 hours (each airline is different.)  You can usually pick up extra time, or drop down lower to a minimum amount.  My actual flown hours each month is usually around 60-80, but I typically get paid a higher range of “credit” hours.  (Paid for deadheading, canceled flights, training, etc.)  

Our duty hours—that is, our time at the airport at work, is easily twice our actual time flown.  But most airlines base pay on flight hours, not duty time.  That is why airline pilot hourly rates look so crazy high.  You may get paid for four hours of flying, but you work twelve hours to get it!

AA, AAA, usair, merger, airline, majors, pilot, aviation avgeek

Do you know how the USAirways/American Airlines merger is likely to affect the pilots there, either day to day or long term?
—Dave W.

In 2006, America West Airlines bought out the much larger, bankrupt USAirways, and took their name.  Now, it’s "deja vu all over again" with USAirways buying out the much larger and bankrupt American!

The first merger appears to have worked out fairly well for USAirways management and investors.  But, frankly, mergers have rarely been friendly to the employees.  The America West & orginal USAir pilots are still in court duking it out over the pilot seniority issue, for example.  But I expect that issue will resolve itself fairly quickly with the AA merger.  

Management appears to have learned from its past mistakes and is striving to make this one a relatively seemless integration.  In fact, before the merger was officially announced, USAirways had already inked an informal deal with the major employee groups at American.  That is absolutely uprecedented!

As for the day to day ops, there will be some major shuffling around of crew bases and equipment, which could uproot quite a few lifestyles for awhile.

Overall, I am predicting American Airlines and its employees, new and old, to make a smooth landing—after a couple years of light to moderate turbulence.

We can all hope.

airbus, airline, pilot, aviation, avgeek, blog, novel, best seller, capnaux, cap'n aux

Ok sure I use aviation grade O2 above 12,000 in a Cirrus Piper or Cessna and in your jetliner you have emergency Oxygen. Since O2 is a fire accelerant, why on earth are we using it in an aircraft?
—Vance B.
Good Q, Vance! It is straight O2 but usually we have it mixed into “normal” air.  However, at high altitudes we can adjust it to be pure O2 with ; bottles are limited and self-contained. I think in an accident, there's relatively little amount to cause trouble. The O2 masks in back for passengers are chemically generated, and only work when deployed.


Cap'n Aux, above is a photo of the engine panel for the A321.  It's on my simulator, but its realistic. Can you please explain to me what these things mean?
—Junior M.
Sure, Junior!  You probably have CFM engines simulated there.  N1 and N2 are stages of the compressors in the engine, expressed in % of max.  These are usually how you set the power.  Our IAE engines also have EPR gauges (Engine Pressure Ratio), which is the main way we set power on those engines (but can also use N1/N2 as back up).  EGT is Exhaust Gas Temp, which is used to monitor if the engines are within the desired temp range.  FF=Fuel Flow, in Pounds per Hour.

Here's several great links I found that will help explain them better:

I understand that on take off you advance to 50% till stabilized, then set FLEX (Flexible Temperature - i.e., Reduced Thrust) or TOGA (Takeoff/Go Around) detent. My Q is: I seem to remember reading that the engines have a dead zone where you have to power straight through - you ever heard of this or am I miles wide of the mark?
—Dave W.
You're right on the money!  The older model A1's were found to have a "harmonic zone" where the fan blades would receive excessive fatigue, and wear out early.  Later models addressed this via the ECU (Engine Fuel & Control Unit, which would keep the power out of this zone), but to be safe we were trained to stabilize the power for a couple seconds before cobbing it to takeoff power.  Coincidentally, the "safe zone" is somewhere around the "T", as in "Thrust," on the "A/THR" notation on the Autothrust levers.  We still use that method today.

Upon rollout after landing how do you deactivate the autobrakes, is it by tapping the toe brakes?
—Dave W.
Again, right on the money, my friend!

airbus, airline, pilot, aviation, avgeek, blog, novel, best seller, capnaux, cap'n aux
JFK Airport Diagram.  Note Runway 4R, lower right corner.

I was listening to JFK TWR Live ATC, and the the controller said: "Virgin 26 Heavy, Winds 040 at 8, cleared for takeoff 4R." I know it's a wind check, but aren't they saying it backwards?  Isn't that a tail wind?
—Junior M.
I could see how that would be confusing.  "4R" refers to runway "Zero-Four Right."  It's called that because it's the Right side of two parallel runways, both facing the compass direction of 040°.*(see below)  That is, approx. Northeast.  The wind, however, is being reported as from 040, at 8 knots.  In other words, a headwind!
airbus, airline, pilot, aviation, avgeek, blog, novel, best seller, capnaux, cap'n aux

That way you can do the math on any crosswind component without confusion.  (Ex: Rwy 4R with winds 060 would give a 20° right crosswind componenet.)

Enjoying your blog and videos. I have a couple questions...
—Tyson P.
I often hear about situations where an aircraft is held on the ground and barely takes off before the crew's duty time expires. But doesn't that mean that they will run out of time while flying? What if they are vectored and arrive late to the destination airport? How does this work?
Yes, I just talked about a flight like that in a previous post.  Once out of EWR, I took off 8 hours after pushing . . . and minutes before "turning into a pumpkin!"

Here's the gist: We are limited to 8 SCHEDULED flying hours in every 24.  But, if you've already pushed and are then delayed (by weather, traffic, etc.), it's exempted.  We have a saying:  "Good to start, good to finish."  If we START the day with a PLANNED under-8 hour day, it doesn't matter how much we get slowed up, we're still good to finish all the legs in that day.

The safety valve in this is the DUTY TIME limit.  But again, "Good to start, good to finish."  We can't SCHEDULE more than 14:30 duty day, but we can go over that in the course of the a max of 16:00 hours total duty period.  (This is not a hard FAA rule, but a legal interpretation that the airlines use.)

If we are ON THE GROUND AND PROJECTED to fly the PLANNED flight UNDER that time, then we are good to go.  Again, once in the air, if delayed, oh well.  We could theoretically go OVER that 16.  But if we see that the PLANNED flight time will take us OVER that 16 BEFORE we take off, we are "dead in the water" and have to return to the gate and get a new "team of horses" to fly!

What apps or services do you use to keep track of the weather other than the normally provided pilot weather briefing you receive? 
I like the iphone/ipad app, "RADAR US."
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It's my "go-to" app b4 every flight!  It's the fastest one I've found, and gives me an animated loop.  Sometimes that bogs down tho, or I just want to look online, so I like to go to  They have all the maps n such there as well!

airbus, airline, pilot, aviation, avgeek, blog, novel, best seller, capnaux, cap'n aux

As for entertainment, it seems pilots are hooked either on Angry Birds, or on the ATC app, "Flight Control," where you're an Air Traffic Controller!

You have declared an emergency after take off that requires an immediate landing - because the Airbus A320 family doesn't have fuel dump capability, what additional precautions do you have to go through for an overweight landing?
—Mark L.
In our QRH (Quick Ref. Handbook), we have a "heavy landing procedure." We'll get to it if we have time.

Burning/fumes?  Eh, we'll talk about it later on the ground over a frosty!

airbus, airline, pilot, aviation, avgeek, blog, novel, best seller, capnaux, cap'n aux

*When talking about compass directions, we are referring to Magnetic North, not True North.  That is because the compass in the airplane will be showing Magnetic North.  See wiki on "Magnetic Declination": 
— — — — — — —
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..."

A day in the life of an airline pilot

Technical Questions, Part 1

Technical Questions, the Sequel

PART IV, 2.0
Question Potpourri, the Sequel

Posting ALL WEEK LONG, May 7-12!
aviation,blog,avgeek, blogger,karlenepetitt,iflyblog,av8rdan,capnaux,ronrapp1,smrtflighttrain

Hotlinks to sites:

05.06.13 iFLYblog - Brent Owens (Intro Post)
05.07.13 Flight to Success - Karlene Petitt 
05.08.13 Adventures of Cap’n Aux - Eric Auxier
05.09.13 House of Rapp - Ron Rapp
05.10.13 Airplanista - Dan Pimentel
05.11.13 Smart Flight Training - Andrew Hartley
05.12.13 iFLYblog - Brent Owens

Posting May 20th @ 11:00 PHX
(bumped back for a few surprise extras):
Cap'n Aux answers readers' Q's—Part IV, 2.0

airbus, airline, pilot, aviation, avgeek, blog, novel, best seller, capnaux, cap'n aux

YOUR Q's, the final round!

Sample Questions:
—What was the funniest thing that ever happened to you on a flight?
—Have you flown any celebrities?

Posting in early June
(bumped back for the extension of our excellent Question series):
"Around the World in 80 Jumpseats"
A Pilot's Eye View of the World from the Cockpit Jumpseat!






  1. Awesome post again! Dave - how the heck did you have the time to put all those questions togather???? :)

    And - I know - frosties are on me next time - thanks to Operation "Africa Invasion". Now - it's your part - get the darned trip!! :)

    1. Haha Mark I'm definitely motivated to bid for FLL again! ;-)

      So glad Op Afrika was a success--let me know how Daddyo likes the book!

      Dave asked me a barrage of Q's awhile ago, which prompted this series...and then hit me with another barrage once we got rolling, LOL!

      Always happy to oblige!

  2. EXCELLENT.........CAP............!!!!!!......Damn you can pack it in..........I don't how you find the time.........Sure your a pilot.........;)))).....
    ......and my Buddies Dave and Mark.........complimenting...... this 'Post' quite nicely................and that damn OCD paintbrush......looked way way better when it was brushing up against MissTWA on your IPad......back in the day.....before I was cast into the 'FIRE's of Facebook............IT'S EVIL I TELLL YA EVIL................GRRRRRRRRRRR...!!!!........

    Hey Dave those sure are some 'Fancy Wancy' Q's your asking..............Mmmmmmmmmmmm..............LOL.....
    Loving my JFK........airport diagram........!!!
    Thanks Cappy.......another fine....'Adventure'........your are making me look bad.........
    Safe Flying to my Cap!!!!!


    PS.....Next time you bid for FLL......Pick stop at MSY........and pick me........up...........!!!!!!

    1. Sigh...I miss those awesome MSY overnights back in the day, Miss T (back b4 I knew ya)! Hoping for a return some day. I literally had my last MSY overnight CANCELED due to the approaching hurricane Katrina!!

      Actually the paintbrush had been a gift to me from a Cap'n when I was an FO...been with me since!...and I can see you're getting quite "consumed" in the fires of FB--knew you would, LMAO!!

  3. A brill post again! The time and effort in putting all the pics in to aid the explanation - just great! I almost feel guilty asking you so many q's but you know how it is - you always think you're the only geek in the world and I was worried you wouldn't get enough in! LOL

    Great to see the infamous paintbrush!

    That Dispatch release - you sure you're not confusing it with the bar bill when you last visited Mark??

    Hoping to visit the States later in the year, will have to find out what part of the country everyone's in
    (and no, I'm not joining FB!!)

    All the best and well done!

    D from the UK :)

    1. You're too damn smart, Dave--why do you think I have that look of dismay while reading the tab! It's hard to keep Mark in the lifestyle to which he's become accustomed--those plane spotters really throw 'em back!

      Seriously though, I delight in answering your Q's, and have had a great time putting these posts together. I think you'll have to fight Miss T for custody rights over the now-famous paint brush. She already won custody of the Thai watch!

      Make sure to let us all know when you're joining us in the States. I at least will come see you, lol!

      Thanks again, D from the UK!

  4. I bear witness about the MUG!! Anything to keep my Captain..ALERT and AWAKE!! To keep us all his precious cargo safe!!

    1. Thanks Mary Mug! Staying awake here, Boss!! ;-)

  5. Happy May Day four days removed. Which technically means Happy Cinco De Mayo! And yes... the empty nest will be upon you before you know it. Loved all the answers.

    1. Happy Cinco back! Yes my two "children" are 1 foot out the door...sob! ;-)

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Start your travel in next May to your lovely destinations and enjoy a good time out there. Thanks for sharing this nice post.
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