Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Buffalo Flight 3407

I was sent a link to an article from the Times regarding the spotlight on Regional Carriers. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/nyregion/17pilot.html?_r=2&hp

Here's how I responded:
It is nice to see someone recognize the issues that plagues us pilots. You ask why we do it? The article said it well, we are 100,000 in debt with the past promise of a glamorous life as a pilot. Our saying when we gather for the preflight briefing is this; "If the flying public only knew" and we laugh and struggle on. I've had less than 4 hours of sleep on numerous occasions at Big Sky. Not because they didn't give us 8 hours but because they only gave us 8 hours of rest. The job is stressful and it takes time to unwind from the daily grind of on going adrenalin. And to get up an hour prior to your crew call to be all spiffed up in your "uniform" cuts into the sleep as well.

I can tell you from what it sounds like there where several factors that led to the crash in Buffalo and here are some of them:
First, fatigue was a main player. It slowed there scan of the instruments which led to them not recognizing their slow speed. They have proven that sleep deprivation and fatigue is more detrimental to your coordination and mental acuity than alcohol.
Second, the state of flight they where in. They where landing, Gear and Flaps where down and they where low. The Captain had no altitude to lose to push the nose down so he did the only thing he could, he pulled back. The media does not understand the fact of a stall recovery requires loss of altitude to gain airspeed (rudimentary physics) and if you have no altitude then you die. Low and too slow is what killed them. That is what happened. Like I said before and I say it again and again; "If the flying public only knew, they wouldn't get on the plane."

Am I wrong by not calling in fatigued when I'm fatigued? Probably, but what am I to do when I can't afford to live in Vancouver, where I'm based, and only have 2 days off a week. In addition a fatigue policy that punishes your pay if you use it. I'm forced to commute in on my working day which forces me to get up a 3 a.m. to catch a 5 a.m. flight to PDX to start my 7 a.m. trip which gets me done around 8 p.m. The airlines force their pilots to live where they live because they open and close basses like their popping m&m's. Example; If you move to PDX then they furlough you and your stuck living in a place you really can't afford to get a job in Denver and then be forced to move there to be furloughed again. The airlines don't pay for you to move and they don't pay for training so you're forced to cover the basis if you want to be a pilot making 16,000 a year. So what Rachael and I have chosen to do is stay where we like to live and I do the best be rested and fly my trips and be a good husband and father as I can.

Do senior pilots have it better?, Hell yeah they do, but what do you call better? One more day off a week with your days off being of your choice. If you commute, you commute on your working day, taking a total risk that you won't make it to your crew call. I don't get paid to go up and sit in a hotel (which costs me) so I can be fully rested for my tip the next day.

Do crews sleep in the isles of the the airplanes like the article said? Yes they do, Pinnacle airlines does what many Regional airlines do called CDO's (Continuous Duty Overnights). They are trips where the crew is on duty for 16 hours which continues over night with a 4 hour or less break at night. These crews have no union representation so the airline walks all over them. The pilots who get these trips are the bottom of the seniority list where they aren't paid much and can't afford to live in the big cities they are based. This forces them to commute in on the same day they have the CDO. It makes no sense for the Regional airline to put them up in a hotel because by the time they get to the hotel after waiting for the hotel van to show up and checking in at the hotel front desk, they might get an hour of sleep. So the airline says stay up or sleep on the airplane. 4 hours on the floor of the airplane is much more useful than an hour plus hassle of going to the hotel. With out a union contract the company isn't obligated to do anything because they're not violating any CFR's. If it is legal by the government it must be safe right? Wrong! So where does this leave us.

1. The media destroying the crew of Buffalo Flight 3407 because they neglect to show or understand the whole story. The people of the flight that went down in Buffalo where great, hard working and experienced people. They had good experience and where competent pilots. Their company didn't allow them to work in a safe fatigue less work environment.

2. The Federal government looking for ways to regulate an already over regulated industry. If you put more restrictions on the pilots as to when and where they can commute in from you put the pilots at a loss due to cost of living.

3. The industry went to hell after deregulation of the airlines. It forced the airlines to compete with each other driving the prices down and the wages with it as well. There are only two variables in an airline. Fuel and Wages. Airplanes have to be fixed to fly but you don't need to pay a pilot to fly the airplane anymore.

4. Pilots have adapted to the problems so they can have a "decent" life. This might cause a few deaths here and there but it is what has to be done. Pilot are replaceable in these days and if you refuse to fly due to fatigue, there are a crap load of people lined up right behind you willing to do it.

I could go on and on but here is the solution. Force the airlines to pay the pilots decent livable wages. And force the companies by CFR 14 regulations to give rest that starts when you check in to your hotel room to when you check out of your room. Our rest starts when the chalks go in the tires (yes we are resting when we are doing our post flight walk around, and waiting for the 30 minute late hotel van, and the sometimes 45 minute ride to the hotel, and the preflight briefing and the preflight check) to 15 min prior to the airplane pushing back from the gate the next day. Even though we are working our tails off to get the flight out on time because it arrived in an hour late. We are what the companies call "RESTING"

The airlines need to be forced to start the time of "REST" when the pilot is in the location and capacity of obtaining rest. Not a hotel van ride, or a airplane isle or a crew room.

I hope this hits home and feel free to share it with your coworkers and friends. It is what it is.

I would like to hear what everyone thinks of the subject. Feel free to leave comments.

1 comment:

  1. Very useful analyze, I’ve made some bets on them this season! Thanks for helping me too see the situation objective. And hey, don’t be sad for the results, it could be worse anytime!