I wrote about this before. I wrote about it many times. I read about it everywhere, from skybrary to slate. It is a hot topic for discussion in many a cockpit. I even saw an Airbus presentation that claims that it is the last frontier in search of safety.
My opinion here is unsolicited, but I will say it anyway. When paper-pushers took over from stick-and-rudder pilots, flying became less important. Efficiency is what matters. I know of airline that have “report cards” for pilots based on how much fuel they saved and how many sick days they took.
There is a pressure to “save” money for the airline. This meant that the regular line pilots were flying more night flights and getting less rest. Work more alone and less as a team.
Let me compare for you a flight I took a few years back with my first carrier with my latest red-eye flight.
I came to duty with a twelve-hours notice for a morning flight of 5 hours. The destination was decent and the duty was simple. Day 1 is five hours, spend the night. The flight back was on the next day.
I slept well, woke up fresh, studied the airport and weather and joined my Captain at the Crew Center. Two hours before our scheduled wheels-up time and Over a coffee we sat down. A dispatcher joined us on the round table. We discussed the marginal weather at destination, opted for a change of route and some top-up fuel. We also decided on a different alternate airport, that was plan our Plan-B.
Because our Plan-A was an airport with expected low fog, we needed to be sure to have a sturdy back-up. One with good weather and facilities to help our airplane and passengers. That was the day I started calling passengers “Pay-Check Dispensers”
In case we can’t land in the destination, we needed to land somewhere before we run out of fuel, I liked having a choice. More fuel loaded.
We then joined the cabin crew for 15 minutes of friendly discussion. This included safety items, weather brief, etc… Of course, we discussed where we were going to eat that day in our destination. Those 15 minutes made us a team for the day. With that sense of camaraderie we walked up to the terminal. Flying past security and onto the plane that was being prepped by an engineer. He briefed us on a few minor snafus. We could accept them, or we could finish ask for a fix. We decided, we can live with them.
The TRC (Turn-Round Coordinator) came in and briefed us on our flight. Special loads (read: paint that can corrode the airplane) and more trivia. We left after all our pay-check dispensers joined us in the back.
We flew to that airport, I hand-flew to 20,000 feet on the way up and from 15,000 feet on the way down to our destination. We needed the computer to support us on the way down. We asked for it and it was there. We still couldn’t get low enough to land and we decided to switch to Plan-B.
En-route to the Plan-B airport the mother-ship beamed down. She said that we can leave the plane in Plan-B airport and leave. The crew who were going to it back from Plan-A are in the bus to Plan-B Airport.
I hand-flew the very short flight between the two Airports. I got some good tips from the crony in the left seat as he laughed about my attempt to handle the big jet. I got a “C-Minus for handling, A for effort.” At least that’s what the nefarious character in the left-seat thought.
Finally, we let go of our pay-check dispensers and we took a bus to our hotel. Bags will follow later, once they get the plane to Plan-A airport.
I got the call for a “short-call standby,” meaning I had to rush to the airport as soon as possible. This was my third short-call this month. When I have a short-call duty, I sit at home, showered and shaved. Doing little-to-no effort, this was a long day of waiting for a call.
I called my wife to let her know that I will be back by mid-night and put on my uniform. The call was for a twelve-and-a-half hours of duty. Two-thousand miles going, an hour on ground, another two-thousand miles back. I vaguely recall this flight being a night-stop. Now it’s a turn-round.
I walked into the new “Crew Briefing Center,” it looks new. I walked up to a digital screen (are there non-digital screens, anymore?) to check that my pattern is on there. It was. I then walked to a kiosk. Shiny, spotless and looks state-of-the-art (read: expensive).
I “RFIDed” myself to the kiosk and I got to see the Flight Plan on the screen. The Flight Plan tells me how much fuel I need, what my Plan-A and Plan-B airports are, how much weigh we are going to haul, etc…