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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Good Santa

So, I'm staying at Weber's house in Mogadore Ohio and flying an old Aztec a little for him.  It was great to be doing at least some flying. It was therapeutic for me.  Jim was asking me why I wanted to get back into airline flying, after it had bitten me so hard a couple times.  I don't know if I had a convincing answer for him at the time, but on reflection, I guess it was just because I didn't want to admit defeat and was going to give it one more try.

Back in the days when I was flying with him, Twirly and BS, I came in with this big talk about going to work for the airlines.  Although these guys never came right out and said so, I got the impression they thought it was a pipe dream for me and never even worth the effort to try with the airlines for any of us.  Then Dan came to work there and because his dad already worked for Allegheny Airlines, which became USAir, he was talking about eventually "burning oil", jet fuel, kerosene, instead of aviation gas. Getting an airline job.  It helped me focus on doing the same myself.  It had always been my goal, from my very first lesson in a Cessna 150 and I was not ready to give it up.  Corporate flying jobs were just as risky as airline jobs had become.  Any kind of change in top management in a company could mean that the airplane would be sold and the pilots are on the street.  Badda boom, badda bing.  It's all a risky proposition.

I wasn't hearing from anyone else, so I was really pinning lots of hope on the UPS situation.  That girl was getting prettier and prettier, kind of like they do at 2 AM in a bar.

I would call Doreen at Grandma Ann's as much as we could afford and she would tell me what cool stuff I was missing with the kids.  They were at great ages, Caitlin was 6 and Mike was 4.  I remembered some of the cool stuff that had happened when I was home.

Mike had gotten a toy that was supposed to be an ice cream stand.  I asked him what kind of ice cream he had.  He told me all the regular stuff, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry.  He said he had invented a new flavor.  I asked him what he called it.  He gave me this little Mikey smile and said, "Ogee gogee."  We had a good laugh about that one.  You had to be there.

Caitlin was a good big sister.  Mike had a friend across the street from the house we sold, Jeffrey, who was a little bigger and kind of pushy sometimes.  Caitlin had stepped in and straightened this kid out many times and come to Mike's defense.  "That will be enough of that, Jeffrey."  One time, at Grandma Ann's, Doreen had picked up Jeffrey and brought him over to play.  They were playing with some kind of zip line deal in the back yard and Jeff wouldn't let Mike use it.  Mike had finally had enough of that shit and he whacked Jeff a good one.  They all three took off running around the house and by the time they got to the front, they were all pals again, as if nothing had happened. 

All three of the kids were on a soccer team.  I always liked watching their games.  They looked like a bee swarm as all the kids ran together after the ball.  Jeffrey lost interest and was just standing in the middle of the field looking at a dandelion flower as the swarm buzzed all over the field.  When he reached his hand inside his shorts and started manipulating his unit, his mom noticed and shouted for all to hear, "Jeffrey, stop that.  Chase the ball."

Our entire family was in a little nearby pizza shop once and there was a juke box.  Doreen was putting quarters in it and suddenly Mike jumped out of our booth and started dancing in the aisle.  Caitlin was so embarrassed, she tried to crawl under the table.  It was a dance no one had ever seen before and we called it the Pizza Charlie.

Once Caitlin, Mike and I were driving back home from someplace in my Ford F-150 and I suggested stopping at a little lake to see an alligator that was supposed to be living there.  As I pulled into the parking area, Caitlin got scared and started crying and Mike picked up on that and started crying also.  I had to get back on the road.  Kids kind of influence each other that way.

On one call to Doreen from Ohio, she told me she had taken the kids to see Santa at the mall.  After the kids returned to her, Santa beckoned Doreen.  He said, "Is your husband looking for a job?"  She said I was and asked why he wanted to know.  He told her some mall was looking for a Santa and that Mike had asked him for a job for his dad for Christmas.  It still tugs on my heart strings to think that a 4 year old would be that aware and do that.

It wasn't long after that, that I got a call at Weber's from George, a guy who had taken over running the ground school at Florida Express after I got it set up and then went on to UPS in a similar capacity.  He asked me if I had a pair of brown shoes and told me I had a class date at UPS in Louisville on December 27, 1989, about 3 months after I learned Braniff was going bankrupt.  The next year, I asked Mike if he would ask Santa for his dad to win $50 million in the lottery.

Ground Hog Day - Deja vu all over again.

The similarities are still painful to think about, let alone write about.  When Pacific Express went broke, a friend I had been talking to on the phone several times that day called and asked, "Do you know what's going on?"  I thought he was talking about a trip swap he and I had been working with crew scheduling and started blabbing about that.  He interrupted and said that it wasn't that, the company had suspended operation and was having all the crews working that day fly all the planes to Chico CA.  They were filing Chapter 11 under the bankruptcy laws of the country.  It was Groundhog Day, in February 1984.

This time it was a day late in September 1989.  Twirly called me, we talked frequently.  He asked, "Do you know what's going on?"  I knew the answer this time, but it still hit me like a ton of bricks, worse than PacEx.  I was 5 and a half years older now, age 44, really long in the tooth to be searching for an airline job.  We had another child in the family.  We lived in a house that the bank owned and I was paying them a mortgage payment every month.  We had just leased a new Taurus station wagon for Doreen to haul the kids around.

Years of flying airplanes had conditioned me to try to avoid panic.  Start thinking of the worst case scenario and look for ways to mitigate your situation.  As long as you are still moving, you are still OK.  It's the sudden stops that cause all the problems.

ALPA held sessions in which they had people try to advise us what we could do.  Priority number one was to get another job.  They had people explain the process of personal bankruptcy, with all its pitfalls.  They told us about unemployment compensation.  It wasn't much.  I bumped into one of the flight attendants at the office and she was cussing the Braniff management.  Somehow we got into a discussion about what a flexible word fuck was, you could use it as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb.......  

I started calculating bottom line stuff and knew that I had to sell the house.  Even if I got another airline job, the first year pay sucked so much that there was no way I could afford the payments.  Perhaps I could work something out with the bank, explaining my situation and my previous stellar credit situation, but I was not going to do that just yet.  I signed up for unemployment and hated doing so, but I guess my employers and I had been paying into that.  It was a drop in the bucket compared to my financial responsibilities.  I could try to sell the house to make a little or to break even, but I could see no way to get out of the lease on the wagon.  We had a garage sale and sold lots of good stuff for pennies on the dollar.

There were bright spots.  My Aunt Ann Cleary lived in Orlando.  She was the widow of my dad's brother, Gerard "Duke" Cleary, who had been a pilot in the Air Force and was at least a small part of the inspiration for me to be a pilot.  We had established contact with Ann, when we first moved to Orlando.  Her daughter, Char, lived in Cocoa Beach on the east coast of Florida, near Cape Canaveral.  Doreen had helped her with her son, by staying there and watching him, while Char went to nursing school.  My parents sent us what little they could.  My flame ass liberal sister in law did nothing. 

Our kids called Aunt Ann, Grandma Ann.  Doreen's parents had both died before I met her and my parents still lived in Pittsburgh, so the kids saw Grandma Ann more than their own grandparents.  She was at our garage sale and we were talking about what we were going to do after we sold the house (if we sold it).  She said we could stay with her, if there were no other options.  I didn't want to do that, but filed it away.

I was looking into the intricacies of foreclosure and calculated that I had to stop making the mortgage payment, because we needed the money for food, etc.  I was trying to determine how long we could stay in the house before the bank foreclosed.  I called the agent who had sold us the house and we looked into what we needed to do to get it ready to sell.  We decided to paint the exterior.  One of the male flight attendants painted house on the side, so I hired him to help me paint it.  He was a good friend and gave me the best break he could, but he needed money too.

I did the same thing I had done when PacEx went broke.  I called everyone I knew, especially in the airline industry, and told them the situation and asked if they knew of any jobs.  Everyone wants to help, but some of the advise is just not useful.  I tried to be as polite as I could.  You don't want to burn any bridges at a time like this.  All of my Flex friends were doing the same things I was doing and we were now in competition for the same jobs, so everyone plays their cards close to the vest.  I reviewed and updated my resume and mailed it out to all the airlines.  I knew that I only had two good opportunities to get hired by an airline, United and United Parcel Service.  Those were the ones that did not now require a college degree.  A few of the others did not technically have the requirement, but they did in a practical sense.  It is a way to thin the vast herd of pilots who are trying to get their attention and get a job.  

I started thinking about possibly getting a job with a corporation, flying a company jet.  I began thinking about what I could do to support my family in anything close to the way I had been able to up to this point, if I was unable to come up with another flying job. Working my way to learning that flying was such a perfect occupation for me, made that last part very difficult to contemplate.  I was afraid that I would not be able to put as much of myself into another profession and would end up hating it.  I was now in such a tight crack, that I could not afford the time or money to go back to school.  Just thinking about all this now is making me feel bad.  At that time, it was almost physically painful.

One advantage I had on selling the house, was that I had a GI Bill loan.  This meant that it was an assumable mortgage.  Not to get too deep in the weeds, partly because I don't remember the details, I could have a buyer assume my mortgage.  

The perfect buyer came along.  A real estate agent brought a man and woman to see the house.  He was a dentist and she was his dental assistant.  They were not married.  He had a wife or ex-wife in Puerto Rico.  They had tried to close on another house just days before, putting it in the name of the woman, because Doc did not want his wife to be able to get her hands on it.  The dental hygienist could not qualify for a loan.  Their agent started looking for homes with assumable mortgages and found us.  Our agent explained all this and the risk that was involved.  If they defaulted on the loan, I was responsible.  I was already considering foreclosure, so I felt this was more hopeful than that.  I could always fall back to that position.  Doc was putting $12,000 down, so I felt that would not be easy to walk away from.  If they stayed in the house for a few years before defaulting, I would hopefully be in a position to resume the mortgage and rent or sell the house again.  We closed on the house about a month after we put it on the market.

I had talked to Grandma Ann and said I hoped she was serious when she said we could stay with her for a while.  She said she was.  One of the problems with that was that Caitlin had started school and we would be living in the district of a different school.  We had an older couple, Jim and Helen, living next to us who had kind of adopted our little family.  We were great friends with them. Jim was a retired Naval Aviator, a Captain, and when the school system came snooping around, he told them we were living with them.  Stories like these were keeping me going through a very tough time.

I shot gun blasted resumes and applications to all the airlines and some corporations.  Then had to sit back and wait to see what fell out of the tree.  My old friend, Jim Weber, (Sky King Himself) was managing a Fixed Base Operation at the Akron Canton Airport in Ohio.  He let me come up there to do a little flying for him.  Otherwise, I was just curling up in the fetal position and trying to maintain my sanity.

I got a response from UPS and had my first interview with them in Dallas.  My old friend, Bob, one of the guys who had been twice bitten by Braniff, was there in training.  He had been hired by UPS and was learning to be a flight engineer on the Boeing 747.

He had started the process with UPS after Braniff bought Florida Express and was called for an interview.  He asked if he could postpone the interview, because things were starting to look pretty good at Braniff right after the contract was ratified.  That day, as he was walking in his uniform out the concourse to our gates, he saw that the shut down process had begun.  He immediately recognized it for what it was and made a left turn to a row of pay phones to call UPS and ask if the interview he had just asked to postpone was still available.  They said yes, he took it and was the first of the Branflakes to be hired after the bankruptcy.  He started about a month later.

When Bob heard I was coming to Dallas for an interview, he told me he would be there in a hotel room with an extra bed and that I could stay with him.  When I got there, I told him I was thinking about mentioning to UPS that I had previous airline management experience and trying to explore that possibility with them.  Bob had been a check airman, director of training, chief pilot and director of operations for Florida Express.  He sat me down in that hotel room and spent an hour talking me out of trying to get into management with UPS.  The first and biggest issue was that the management pilots at UPS were not on the seniority list.  They were kept separate from the line pilots.  The assumption for why they do this is that they are being maintained as a scab force in the event the line pilots go on strike.  That was enough for me, but Bob went on to explain that they had so many of them, that they were tripping over each other and were just rearranging the magazines and writing useless bulletins and shit like that.  They wore suits, not sport jackets, Bob emphasized, every day.  He knew me and said I would hate it.  I can't tell you how correct he was.

My thought was that by going into management, I would be able to make more money.  The starting pay for line pilots was much lower, as I have said, but it did not get better for years.  I don't remember exactly how bad it was, but I learned that if I did not upgrade to captain, it would take many years to return to the income I had been earning at Braniff, let alone Florida Express.  But, it was a job and I really needed one.  I took Bob's advice and did not mention the management deal and neither did my interviewer.  Despite my constant state of worry and depression, I felt I did well.  I was soon called for another interview, this time in Louisville.

This time, UPS paid for an airline ticket to Louisville and a hotel room.  I had to go to a doctor's office in downtown Louisville while I was there.  What I remember about that, is that when I came out of the office to the street, some guy approached me for a hand out.  I told him my sad story and that I was there to try to find a job and couldn't afford to take anything away from my family back in Florida.  He just shrugged his shoulders in defeat and walked away.  I didn't feel any better.

The Airbus

Two of my good friends at Florida Express had been working for Braniff during their first bankruptcy.  They had been hired in all the crazy hiring spurt I mentioned a long, long time ago, when I was trying to get hired at Braniff myself, but they would not call me for an interview.  Not having a college degree was their reason.  Now I was here with these two guys, who had been ass bitten by Braniff One, been recalled by Braniff Two, refused the recall to stay with Florida Express, then been snagged by Braniff Two, when they bought Florida Express and stapled us to the bottom of their freaking seniority list.

We talked about this quite a bit.  We were all uncertain about our future with this company.  We were afraid that the new owners were scammers, who would suck all the assets out of the company, then declare bankruptcy.  That had been their modus operandi at other companies.  Several guys were starting to leave, to work for other airlines.  My old pal, Tom, had gone to American.  A couple guys went to work for United Parcel Service, who was starting their own airline, based in Louisville Kentucky.

We were in the middle of contract negotiations and what is called a "slow down".  One evening, the Orlando chief pilot was hanging around the ramp outside our operations room and pleading with crews to stop the slow down.  He said the company was in the middle of trying to raise $100 million on Wall Street to expand the airline, and that they were going to lease brand new Airbus A320s.  This is a plane, similar to the Boeing 737, but with modern technology that made it less expensive to operate.  He knew that pilots love to hear that their company is expanding and getting new airplanes.  We were mostly saying, "What slow down?"  Once again, we were thinking, "If we don't get ours, you don't get yours".  It is not unlike a game of chicken.

The Airbus A320s began to show up and pilots were being trained on them.  Soon the stalemate was broken and we had a TA, a tentative contract, that we got to study and then vote for or against.  This was my first experience with an airline union and I was amazed at how quickly the union leadership made the transition from rabble rousers to contract salesmen.

It's a little complicated, but we soon learned that our BAC 1-11 copilots were getting screwed on their pay rates and were really pissed.  They had supported the captains who had done so much to pressure the company to negotiate in good faith under the Railway Labor Act, which puts unions at such a disadvantage.  All of us complained at union meetings and the system chief pilot got wind of the discrepancy and intervened on our behalf to make a correction that fixed most of that problem.  I can't remember his name, but always thought he was an upstanding guy.  I had had a small encounter with him while the negotiations were ongoing over my captain's authority and he saw my point.  I would say he was a pilot's chief pilot.

The BAC was going to be parked.  I guess we had taught them that they were a maintenance liability.  We had been acquiring B-737s and some of them were actually worse than the BACs.  There were still going to be two hubs, Kansas City and Orlando, but I was not going to be senior enough to hold a captain's slot in Orlando.  For the first time in my airline career, I was going to be required to commute.  I was not looking forward to that.  The good news was that the pay was going to increase substantially and I could remain a captain.

One of my friends, who had worked for Baniff One, had been trying to get an interview with UPS.  He was well aware that their airline was known as the "Freight Nazis", but knew the company had deep pockets and would not be as precarious an employer at Braniff One, Florida Express or Braniff Two.  Some of the guys who had left and gone to UPS were still commuting between Louisville and Orlando on our jump seats and were telling the horror stores about life as a UPS pilot.

I was thinking about this avenue myself.  I knew that some of these kinds of stories are exaggerated.  I remembered back to my years working for the Thorofare Super Markets company in Pittsburgh, that one of my friends there had gone to work for UPS as a package car driver.  I had mentioned to my boss that I wondered what it was like working there and he said the pay was good but the company was brutal to employees.  I took that comment with a grain of salt, but it is tough leaving the known for the unknown, especially when there are scary stories about the unknown.  It didn't matter, because soon I was drafted into the Army.

I wasn't going to be drafted into the Army this time, but I had to think about the impact of any change on my family, not just myself.

I had a bid on the 737 as a captain in Kansas City, would be making lots more money and would be flying all over the country.  It was a lot to consider and there were many unknowns.  Pay at UPS was considerably less than it would be at Braniff under the new contract.  It was even less than what we made under the old contract and you have to go through a really lousy first year on probation at a really lousy pay.  Not an easy decision at all.

Main Frame

You may remember that I mentioned that one of my first assignments when Dixon hired me at Florida Express was to travel to all of our our stations, at the end of the spokes of our hub and spoke system, and teach the gate agents how to do the weight and balance and performance calculations.  This was quite a challenge, because they did not really understand what I was talking about and did not have much interest.

It didn't take long for the company to come up with a much better plan.  There were PCs at each gate counter with software to do all the calculations and print out the paper work to give to the crews.  All the agents had to do was enter a few numbers, such as airplane tail number, fuel on board and passenger count.  This was a great system and worked for us for several years.

When Braniff took over, the Florida Express pilot management group explained how well our system worked and recommended the entire airline use it, but NOOOOO!  They had a wonderful main frame computer they had been using for centuries ( I think they called it the Abacus II) and we were all going to use it, because it was wonderful and they were Braniff and we were just a bunch of Branflakes and what the hell did we know.

The way their system worked was, that when the main entry door was closed and we were ready to depart, we would call the station operations frequency and then they would call back with "the numbers" we needed to go fly away in our jets after they had been properly crunched.  Wonderful.

The problems began at a hub, because there were so many planes and only one operations frequency.  There was too much congestion at a very busy time.  The poor person responsible for doing all the work on this in ops could only talk to one plane at a time and they were all clamoring to be the first to call for "the numbers".  Aviation VHF radios may only have one person talking at a time.  If more than one try to transmit, there is nothing but garbled noise on the frequency, then everyone says, "blocked" or "stepped on" or something like that.  Fun.  

The ops peoples started telling the crews to block out from the gates and then wait for "the numbers".  In order to do that, we had to call ground control (air traffic control in charge of plane movement on the ground between gates and runways), ask for a clearance to push back and then complete the pushback and engine start.  Essentially, they were rolling the shit downhill to the ground controller.  We had planes parked all over the place, waiting for "the numbers".  

You may recall that I told another story in which I pointed out that most controllers are not dummies.  After about a week of this goat rope, the controllers started asking if we had "the numbers" when we called for push back clearance and the planes began to wait on the gates.  The incoming, next bank was then cluttering up the ramp and taxiways, instead of the out going planes, but it was giving everyone late departures and the airlines hate that.

Despite this, the Braniff brain trust never did fix the system.  We Branflakes were not impressed, especially since this was playing into our methods of encouraging the company to bargain with the union in good faith.  With the main frame and the BAC 1-11, we were causing major pain.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Grumpy Rides Again.

Braniff had always had a big hub in Dallas.  During the transition of absorbing Florida Express, the main hub was moved to Kansas City, with a small hub in Orlando.  I think part of the reason the original Braniff failed, is that it shared the Dallas hub with American Airlines.  There is more to it than that, Braniff made lots of mistakes and American engaged in cut throat business tactics, but having more than one airline at the same hub can be a mess.

The marketing people decide that certain times are best for flights to arrive and depart and then try to jam all the flights into and out of the airport at the same time.  The term for these mass arrivals is bank.  If you add another airline, with the same idea about when is the best time to have a bank of airplanes at the airport, you have planes stacked up in holding patterns in the sky and lined up on the taxiways on the ground.  There are not enough runways or gates to accommodate the onslaught.  The companies play nasty games with each other to gain any advantage possible.

I thought moving to Kansas City was a good move, but what do I know?  It is centrally located in the country and we were now part of a nationwide airline.  Braniff had the place to itself as a hub airport.  

Florida Express had endeavored to avoid large cities and the big hubs of other airlines.  Braniff had a completely different strategy.  The airline was now going to the bigger cities from coast to coast.  Of course, the BAC was not suited to the larger cities and routes.  It was still used to feed the hubs from smaller cities, on shorter legs.

Airlines establish hubs as a way to serve nearly every airport in the country and to keep their passengers in their own system.  By hubbing and spoking, you can offer flights from anywhere to anywhere.  The passengers just have to go to and through a hub, most frequently by changing planes there.  

Kansas City (MKC)

There were a couple ways where the BAC routes could work their way between the Orlando hub and the Kansas City hub.  For example, we had been flying to and from Indianapolis from day one.  Now we had some flights that went on to Kansas City instead of returning to Orlando.  From there, we would fly to some other smaller cities and back to KC.  My favorite such city was San Antonio Texas.

During one of my trips to San Antonio, I had the misfortune of flying with our old pal, Grumpy.  You may remember that he was the older guy, who retired from the Navy.  I guess his demeanor as a grump served him well in the Navy, but it did not always work well at the airline.  He had upgraded to captain for a short time, but was demoted to first officer when Florida Express had shrunk.  At Braniff, we were all frozen in our present positions and Grumpy was really grumpy about that.  He had head bumping episodes with several captains, including me and the flight attendants did not like him very much.  You could tell, because they did not visit the cockpit as much when I was flying with him.

One morning, after a layover in San Antonio, we were eating breakfast at the hotel's restaurant, when a Braniff captain approached our table.  He introduced himself to me and asked if he could ride the jumpsuit to MKC.  I said yes and we chatted briefly, then he left to meet us at the van to the airport.

Grumpy was offended that this guy did not address him and this began the 'captains are assholes' narrative of the day.  Grumpy began telling stories about some of his run ins with captains.  This was intended to let our jumpseater and me know that he had contempt for all captains.  

One story was about an incident with a young captain named Pete.  Grumpy told us that he called him "Pressurization Pete", because Pete had advised him about a technique to use when adjusting the pressurization system, that reduced bumps in the feel of the pressurization changes.  You may have felt some of these bumps as sudden changes in the pressure in your ears.

When I told Grumpy that I had taught that technique to Pete when I flew with him as a first officer, during my first year at Flex, he just had a smirk on his face.  

Grumpy went on and on and there was no doubt what he was doing.  I could see that the jumpseater was getting the point.  That is when I told them the story of my newly upgraded friend, Tom, back in my USAir days.  I congratulated him and told him that now he could be the asshole, instead of working for him.  He said, "Denny, the first thing I learned when I moved from the right seat to the left seat, is that all the assholes are not in the left seat."  Our guest burst out laughing.  

As we flew on to KC, the traffic was backing up and we were cleared into a holding pattern.  When you are cleared to hold, there is a speed limit as you enter and maintain the hold.  Sometimes you can even slow down before you get there, if you advise Air Traffic Control.  Why hurry to a holding pattern, eh?  Apparently Grumpy had forgotten that and entered at our cruise speed.  Because of the nature of our conversation, I was slow to correct him.  I didn't want to embarrass him and get him more stirred up than he was.  That was probably a mistake, but it was one of those situations where there are no good options.  As he was making the first turn, he said something about how long the turn was taking and I said that might be because you are way above the holding pattern entry speed, then told him what it was.  He slowed down, but not before the controller said something about the size of our holding pattern.

When we were cleared out of the pattern, to proceed toward the airport, Grumpy maintained the holding pattern speed, instead of increasing to our cruise speed.  I could tell from the conversation between the controller and several turbo props behind us, that we were becoming a moving road block on the arrival into MKC.  I told him to pick it up and he got that Grumpy smirk again.

Then, as we were cleared for the approach, he did not seem to be aware of our location relative to the final approach fix and the glide slope intercept point and he maintained cruise speed and blasted through the glide slope.  I mentioned that and told him he needed to slow down and configure to land and get on the glide slope.  Long story short, he scared the jumpseater and we had to go around and land on another runway.  In retrospect, I should have been giving him dual instruction from the time we were given a holding clearance.  He simply was not as good as he thought he was and was distracted by his contempt for any and all other human beings.


If you've been reading since the beginning of the blog, you know that I had to struggle to gain confidence at several stages in my adult life.  The first time was in the Army, when I was becoming a drill sergeant.  Next was the several year period after I got out of the Army and was trying to decide what I was going to do to support myself.  Although I was aware of the option of just sitting on my ass and collecting benefits from the government, it was never a serious consideration for me.  This would have fallen in the same category of trying to avoid the draft.  My entire family would have been very disappointed in me.  Homey just didn't play that shit.

My confidence was doing pretty well during the 5 years at Butler Graham Airport.  I was able to carry much of what I had gained in the Army into that, although there were the uncertainties of trying several different occupations that did not work out and a failed marriage.  I just remember comparing myself to others.  I was doing as well as people I admired and better than those I did not.

Going to my first airline pilot job in California, my confidence took a bit of a nose dive for almost a year.  The four year layoff from professional flying just prior to that, combined with the dramatic change in the nature of the flying made me feel behind the curve.  I'm not sure what it looked like on the outside, probably not great, but mostly acceptable.  However, I was comparing the way I felt with the way I had felt during the last several years at Butler.  Shaky.

About the time I upgraded to captain at PacEx, it was starting to hit a rhythm and I was feeling better.  With today's perspective, I don't think I was a good copilot and did not like being a copilot.  When I moved to Flex, I was one of the most experienced pilots on the plane and had former airline experience. I think the folks down there overrated my abilities at first, but eventually, I was living up to them.  It was feeling good.

I tend to jump around a little chronologically, but I am trying to establish an understanding of the roller coaster ride of my aviation career.  Most of the time in Orlando was on the upswing.  Things were getting better and I was feeling better about the life I was making for myself and my family.

Florida Express was about a four and a half year chapter and Braniff was about a year and a half.  At some point and I think it was late in the Florida Express time, something started happening and it is hard to describe.  I noticed that I was having a hard time focusing to the level I had come to know was necessary during critical segments of flight, such as approach to landing.

I was spending more time in an airplane seat than I was in a car seat.  I had more than 5000 hours of flight time during the 7 years in California and Orlando.  That is a lot for airline flying.  There are all kinds of regulatory limits on the number of hours a pilot can fly in a day, a week a month and a year.  

As a comparison, I had flown 5000 hours during the 5 years of general aviation flying at Butler, and that was really a lot in that period of time, but it was not unusual to work from 9 AM to 9 PM as a flight instructor in the summer.  This does not mean I flew 12 hours per day, but I was on duty that long and frequently flew nearly 8 hours on days like that.  As I transitioned into more air taxi and corporate type flying, my hours per day, week month and year began to decline.

One of the problems with flying so much and beginning to feel comfortable in the airplane is the possibility of complacency.  I am not sure if that is what I was experiencing at Florida Express, but I found myself not having the kind of mental intensity that I should have at certain times of a flight.  Perhaps the fact that I was noticing this situation indicate that it was not complacency, but just too much flying.  I needed to slow down a little.  Eventually my focus returned to normal.

Friday, September 2, 2016

No Wholesale

The contract between Braniff, Inc. and the pilots represented by the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) became amendable soon after these new owners took over.  The Braniff pilots' Master Executive Counsel (MEC) came up with the negotiating slogan, No Wholesale.  Their symbol was the word Wholesale covered by the international symbol for No.

The MEC is the name for elected ALPA leadership for each individual airline branch of the union.  The pilots at each airline negotiate their contract with the company in the hope that each new contract leap frogs the previous ones in pay and benefits.

The United States federal law that governs railroad and airline labor negotiations is called the Railway Labor Act.   This act came into existence because strikes by railroad employees threatened to completely shut down the American economy.   You can read up on this all you want, but for our purposes, let me simply say that the act gives the companies all the aces in the deck.  The National Mediation Board oversees all airline negotiations and controls whether the pilots of an airline can go on strike or not.  The presidents administration controls the NMB and the politics don't always go the way you might believe they do.  Don't doubt me on this, I can provide several examples, but that is not within the scope of my story right now.

One of the high cards the pilots do have is the fact that they control the airplanes and there are regulations and procedures that must be complied with.  Another high card is the fact that airplanes break and must be fixed.

Contracts under the RLA don't have deadlines when they expire.  They become amendable and serious negotiations don't really begin until sometime after that date, frequently much time after that date. The pilots just keep working under the terms of the previous agreement, until the NMB decides that an impasse has been reached, then there are several hurdles and flaming hoops to jump over and through all while watching a major goat rope.

Things kind of ride along as usual, until the pilot group starts getting restless and tries to do something to force the company to get serious.  They can put ads in papers and on TV, but most people don't give a rat's tookus about what some rich airline pilots are whining about.  Of course, the Braniff pilots were not exactly rich.  Remember that we pilots at Florida Express were paid far below the standard of the industry and had to take a pay cut to get in line with the Braniff pilots.

The biggest thing pilots can do is what is euphemistically referred to as a "safety campaign".  This is when they study all the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) and company procedures and start operating the planes to the letter of the law, so to speak.  When the pilots are happy and operating normally, they may be taking some liberties with some of that to operate more efficiently.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think they are operating unsafely, it is just that some of the regulations and procedures are overly restrictive and it is impossible to operate on time when following them precisely.  They are written for a lowest common denominator situation.

I've probably scared the hell out of potential passengers with that, but rest assured that the pilots would never intentionally do anything that was unsafe.  For example, the regulations say that we must write any and every mechanical discrepancy in the logbook as soon as we become aware of it.  There are many minor discrepancies, that have no impact on safety of flight, that will not find their way into the logbook until such time as they can be repaired without impacting the crews ability to stay on schedule.

Now, without getting too deeply into that and without saying anything that will get anyone (me) into trouble, let me say that we former Florida Express pilots at Braniff (Branflakes) had the perfect tool for contract negotiations in the BAC 1-11.  If you have been reading my blog posts leading up to this point, you know that it was an old, tired, worn out airplane.  It also had some inherent design issues.  Having owned several small British roadsters, I had learned that the Brits don't seem to understand how to make reliable electrical systems in vehicles.  The BAC had a little more electrical control of its systems than similar planes of its era.  For example the DC-9 used cable and pulley systems much more.  (Old airline joke:  Why was Douglas not more involved in the space program?  They didn't have a cable long enough to reach to the moon.)

The BAC (pronounced bock) planes that we bought from USAir and British Aerospace had lots of hours and lots of cycles on them. The wiring was old and things were alway shorting out and it was too expensive to simply rewire the planes.  What I'm saying is that there were lots of mechanical problems to go into the logbook and we had been flying the planes for years and knew all the deficiencies.

Writing every little deficiency in the logbook requires that a mechanic must deal with the write-ups   This means that it must be cleared by either fixing it or deferring it under the Minimum Equipment List (MEL).  OK, I guess this is going to open a whole new can of worms for the white knuckle flyers.  Airplanes are designed with lots of redundancy.  Two engines, two generators, so and and so forth.  Some of these components can be deferred, to be fixed at some later time and to allow the plane to complete its schedule.  For example, with an engine driven generator inoperative on the BAC, you could keep the APU running inflight and use its generator.  If that became inoperative, you had to have one of them fixed.  It's all covered in a very complex and elaborate manual on the plane.

All of this takes time and causes delays.  The daily schedule of an airline is tight and complex.  After deregulation, they began to operate hub and spoke systems.  A large fleet of their planes arrive at nearly the same time at one of the hub airports, then passengers do a big ant pile thing in the terminal, get on another plane and continue on to their ultimate destination.  (I just scared the white knuckle crowd again with those words.)  This collection of planes at the hub is called a bank.

When a significant number of planes in the bank have mechanical deficiencies to deal with, the mechanics are overwhelmed.  It takes less time to defer them, so the planes are sent out with less redundancy than they came in with.  Then, when they get to an airport on one of the spokes, a loss of a now essential component can shut down the operation of that plane for a while.  This all causes delays and cancellations and costs the airline money.  It also hurts their reputation and bottom line.  That is why the advertising by the pilots group can be effective.  Savvy travelers know that when they see such advertising, there will probably be delays with that airline and it would be wise to book flights with the competition.

Another example is the way we fly the plane.  Our manuals and all of our training have us fly a squared off approach pattern to the runway.  When weather permits and we are in a normal operating mode, we accept visual approaches, which take responsibility for traffic separation from the controllers and give it to the pilots.  The shape of the approach pattern can be modified from the long, squared off patterns we are trained to fly and make the traffic situation at the busy airport operate more efficiently.  When we don't accept the visual approaches, things are slowed and traffic can back up.  That is a trap the airlines set for themselves, because they try to schedule too many planes to arrive at or depart from an airline at the same time.  The limiting factor is the number of runways that can be used.  Then you have more than one airline using an airport as a hub and they also try to schedule all their flights at the same time.  It is a marketing thing, but it creates traffic problems.

My friend, Warren, was now the BAC 1-11 chief pilot for Orlando. He told me that he had attended a meeting of all the top pilots of the airline about the issues that were being created during the contract negotiations.  He said that he explained to the others that the pilots were nihilistic.  He liked using words like that, but he was probably right.  Our attitude was, 'If we don't get ours, you don't get yours'.  Our parent company, Dalfort, was trying to raise $1million in some Wall Street deal, claiming they were going to use it to expand the airline.  They had started leasing new Airbus 320s and looking like things would be upgraded.  The company bought a big new home for Fibber McGee in Orlando.  We were not going to let all that happen, if we were not brought along for the ride.  The Branflakes were especially on fire about all this, because we felt we had been screwed by both the company and the Braniff pilot group.