Saturday, November 27, 2010

American To Buenos Aires, Nothing Special In The Air



My trip to Antarctica begins with a flight on American Airlines from Miami, Florida to Buenos Aires, Argentina. This evening’s flight is on a Boeing made 777 which is an awesome airplane. It is an approximately 9 hour flight to Buenos Aires where there is a 2 hour time change from Miami.

Tonight's flight is not full and I end up in a middle section aisle seat just behind the airplane wing area. This airplane has a 2,5,2 seating in coach. There is only one other passenger in my 5 seat row and he makes a quick claim to three of the seats.

He generously leaves me with a solo pillow and blanket. I find it a bit comical as he sets up a bed even before we leave the gate.



SAM 035 It is a bit surprising that there is not much leg room on such a huge airplane like the 777 which is used primarily for international flights.

Fortunate for me, I am sitting behind two young kids that are not yet familiar with the seat recline button.

Besides they are to busy playing games on their seat back video display.



I don't think I can spend almost 9 hours with my knees touching the back of the seat in front of me. I am going to have to find a way to make a “mini-me” bed with the remaining free seat next to me. Luckily, I have taken a shower in the last few days and I am wearing a new pair of socks. My “mini-me” bed ends up with my feet just inches away from the head of my seat row neighbor.


SAM 033I wake up and we are about two hours from touching down in Buenos Aires.

Having by passed dinner, I am looking forward to breakfast. A croissant, jelly, yogurt, a miniature Minute Made orange juice and luke warm tea makes me wish I had stayed awake for dinner.




Ironically, my breakfast disappointment is soothed as I pop in my Sony ear buds and enjoy a nice selection of on board jazz music provided by “American Airlines After Dark”.

Our arrival in to Buenos Aires (EZE) is slightly delayed as there is an unusually high amount of arrivals into the airport. Apparently, the downtown domestic airport (AEP) is closed for construction and all flight operations are temporarily at EZE. This temporary situation means that we have to deplane using air stairs.



SAM 040American Airlines 777 First Class Seating



Passing through Business and First Class as I leave the airplane, I realize where the “Something Special In The Air” was on this flight. Here there are seats with enough leg room for the tallest NBA player that can also be turned into beds.

Unfortunately, I think that “Something Special” requires an NBA player type bankroll, I am just not there yet.



SAM 042 Air Stair Deplaning, Buenos Aires









SAM 041 American Airlines 777




SAM 044 Overall, American did a good job getting us to Buenos Aires, a mostly smooth and on time flight.

I was hoping for “Something Special In The Air” but I guess that’s not going to happen on American unless one can afford to fly Business or First Class.




Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Exposing Some Of “The 35 Secrets Your Pilot Won't Tell You” About Landing



landing It has often been said in aviation circles that a landing is nothing more than a controlled crash and to a certain extent that is true.

Although passengers might disagree, most pilots consider a good landing one that does not require any paperwork to be filled out.




Picture 029 Now a great landing that is a horse of a different color. It is one where passengers are hardly aware that the airplane is on the ground.








Picture 044Landing at Princess Juliana International Airport, St Maarten



A smooth (great landing) can happen at any airport with the right conditions and piloting skills despite the following secret your pilot won't tell you. 

“At some airports with really short runways, you’re not going to have a smooth landing no matter how good we are: John Wayne Airport; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Chicago Midway; and Reagan National.”

Although these airports can present pilots with some unique challenges I have experienced some smooth and not so smooth landings at most of them.


VSI There are several factors that go into a smooth landing but the basic concept is that the aircraft must have a near zero rate of descent when it contacts the runway.

This is the goal of every pilot if he or she wants to make a smooth landing. With a shorter runway there is not much room (landing area) for finesse therefore the flight path to the touchdown area  must be adjusted accordingly.





Picture 1571 Weather conditions like wind, rain or snow can affect a pilot's ability to make this happen as the airplane transitions from a descent to a landing.

Experience and skills allow some pilots to compensate for these conditions better than others. However, I am sure even the likes of Chuck Yeager has had a few notable landings every now and then.






Emirates Air Landing Emirates Air Landing


How can you tell the smoothness of a landing if you are not a passenger?

Just watch for the amount of smoke produced when the main wheels touch down. If your eyes start burning then you can bet a few passengers on board are going to need to see a chiropractor.



catch2 However, you can rest assured it was not the airplane or certainly not the pilot's fault, it was the asp-fault!






Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Revealing “The Secrets Your Pilots Won't Tell You” About Airline Fueling.


Despite recent articles in popular magazines like Reader’s Digest, there are no “35 Secrets Your Pilot Won't Tell You” that should change the way you fly or prevent you from having a pleasant airline experience. Sensationalizing the issues for the sake of selling more magazines is a general disservice to the flying public.


Baby Me Since the 1980's I have been involved in aviation and my experience tells me that understanding the so called “secrets” and being a more realistic and informed passenger is what can still make flying fun.








pitts My First Airplane




Capt Kang A captain at a major airline is quoted as saying, “I'm constantly under pressure to carry less fuel than I'm comfortable with”.

In my opinion this is pure Jerry Springer 101, stupid sensationalism. Watch out seat belts are going to start flying!





The amount of fuel an airline is required to carry is determined by longstanding Federal (FAA) laws and regulations. At minimum, for a domestic flight a commercial aircraft must have enough fuel to fly to it's original destination plus to an alternate airport (if required because of known or forecast poor weather at the original destination) and then for an additional 45 minutes of flying. For international flights airlines are required to carry more fuel compared to a domestic flight.



Ac Fueling In addition to the minimum legal fuel requirement airlines carry more fuel based on weather and historical known delays (air traffic control, airport construction, etc). This is known as contingency fuel.

The final amount of fuel that is carried is agreed upon by the flight dispatcher and the flight captain.

However, this is not a simple process. Every airplane has weight limitations for fuel, passengers and cargo. On a given flight if you fill up the airplane with fuel then you can limit passengers and cargo.





Delta 747-400 can carry 382,000 pounds of fuel!


Airlines work to optimize this combination sometimes using complex computations and historical data. Carrying more fuel than necessary is an additional expense. A heavy airplane burns more fuel whether the extra weight comes from passengers, fuel or cargo. Unfortunately, only passengers and cargo pay to be on the airplane. With thousands of flight operating daily this combined cost can be significant maybe tens of thousands of dollars per day. Yes, it does affect the bottom line but airlines are in business to make money and the bottom line matters like in any other business.



peter_graves--300x300 The important issue here is I would not want to be on an airplane operated by a captain that felt “uncomfortable” before we even left the gate or one that picked a bad day to quit sniffing glue.

As a passenger, I trust the airline and it's employees to put my safety first.

The captain of my flight is the last line of defense for this to happen and he or she should not be “uncomfortable” in doing so.




The real secret here is not the amount of fuel put on the airplane but a captain that operates in a situation that he is uncomfortable with. FAA rules, company policy, common sense and safety demands that no crew member should voluntarily operate a flight in an uncomfortable situation.



Continental 777 Theses rules, policies and contractual responsibilities protect employees from being pressured into doing something that can eventual be unsafe.

The captain has final authority to operate the flight and should not do so if he or she is pressured or uncomfortable. Passengers deserve better.



Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jet Blue, To Richmond (RIC)



JET 012 Having to attend a “Mandatory 40th Birthday Party” in Richmond, Virginia, I am flying Jet Blue direct from Ft. Lauderdale airport.

Flight 1282 scheduled to leave at 12:45pm actually leaves the gate about 9 minutes early.





JET 006 Today's Jet Blue flight is onboard a Brazilian made Embraer E-190. The E-190 is a comfortable cabin with two and two seating.







JET 010 Jet Blue E-190 Leg Room Seating



JET 008 About 30 empty seats on a Saturday morning I end up in a row by myself that has lots of leg room and storage space for my backpack.






Jet Blue offers onboard entertainment from DirectTV, bring your own headset or purchase one for $2 and it is yours to keep. Sure is nice to watch ESPN College Football while cruising at 39,000 feet.


JET 023 About twenty minutes into the flight we are offered complimentary snacks and beverages.

From Doritos Munchies Mix, Chifles Plantain Chips to Arizona Iced Tea and Coke products, Jet Blue customers have a nice selection to chose from.






JET 014 On flights over 3 hours and 45 minutes buy-onboard meals can be purchased for $6. No cash, credit or debit cards only.






This afternoon it turns out to be very smooth at 39,000 feet. Watching NC State and Georgia Tech playing, if my inseat TV had a bigger screen I would be inclined to believe I was in sports bar minus the rowdy sports fans.



JET 019 ESPN College Football On Jet Blue


We arrive in Richmond a few minutes early and I am very impressed with this flight on Jet Blue. Give Jet Blue a try the next time you fly, I am betting you will also be impressed.



Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Airlines Report Profits And Record Load Factors


In recent weeks most US Airlines have reported record load factors for air travel.


Picture 1593 For August 2010, Southwest Airlines reported a rise in traffic along with a 15 to 16% increase in revenue per seat mile from a year ago.







For the same period, Delta Airlines, the world's largest reported a decrease in domestic traffic but an increase for international traffic.

This overall increase in traffic and air travel demand has lead to decent quarterly profits for most airlines. However, the airline industry still has a long way to go in orders to make up for the almost decade of losing money.



For consumers, I believe this increase in traffic and air travel demand will lead to higher ticket prices. Although disappointing to many, airline ticket prices have remained depressed for too long and have stagnated the airlines returning to profitability.

Even at these increased prices air travel is still a bargain and consumers must be reconditioned to realize this. Airlines can do their part by improving their customer service and flight performance. I notice recently that some airlines are upgrading their in flight services including bringing free pillows and blankets back.

$900 round trip to Europe may not be such a bad deal if the airline provides you with a pleasant flight experience.


Spain 219 Visiting Spain in the summer, The Alps in the winter or Holland in the spring can be priceless if you are not jaded by poor airline service or ticket prices that are too high.





Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Simulators Not To Blame For Airline Safety


simulatorCaters_450x375 According to a USA TODAY analysis of federal accident analysis, flaws in flight simulator training help trigger some of the worst airline accidents in the past decade.

I beg to differ.




Except for severe mechanical failures most aircraft accidents are caused by lack of good pilot judgment. Simulators can only teach skill sets not good judgment. Good judgment comes from applying one's experience for which there is no substitute. Anyone can master flying a simulator but be a dummy when it comes to real life experiences.


FSX-box-artwork-Deluxe Just purchase a Microsoft Flight Simulator for $39.99 at Target and in six easy lessons you can become a pilot. Unfortunately, this is the approach the FAA, ALPA (Professional Pilot Union) and some airlines have taken in the past.

Airlines under the oversight of the FAA have allowed pilots with only 250 hours of flying experience to operate jet aircraft.




Prior to this reduction in pilot hiring experience most airlines would not offer employment to pilots with at least 1500 hours of experience. A huge difference in experience level when it comes to operating an aircraft.


Picture 1489 As usual the FAA and NTSB places the blame where it hardly belongs. In the Colgan Air crash that killed 50 people near Buffalo on February 12, 2009 in an ice storm, one of the pilots had never flown in ice.

Lack of pilot experience.



The other pilot had failed several performance test during his career but remained employed as an airline captain. Poor employer judgment.

A December 20, 2008 Continental Airlines crash in Denver that injured six and destroyed an airplane, the NTSB in part blamed deficient simulator training. However, again no amount of simulator training can replace experience and good judgment.


Snoop Each pilot should be aware of his personal and aircraft limitations.

Good judgment and experience allow you to respect those limits. If a pilot cannot control an aircraft that has not had a severe mechanical failure then hat pilot has exceeded both limitations.


Airplanes are not designed to take off in any conditions. Safety requires that pilots use good judgment when operating an aircraft. You can simulate certain conditions all day long but it will never substitute for experience and good judgment.

As USA TODAY noted simulator training is credited with saving thousands of lives. However, I would suggest this happens because of pilots being able to apply real life experiences to what they learn during simulator training. Most pilots acquire their experience outside of flying simulators and are only required to have simulator training once a year. Once a year simulator training can only begin to touch the surface of the problems USA TODAY suggest in it's report.

A better way to address the problem is to make sure airlines hire pilots with an ample amount of experience who also demonstrate good judgment. Basic to being a safe pilot, from day one, pilots are taught and required to know their aircraft limitations. Over time experience teaches your personal limitations.

Combining the two with good judgment and you increase the chances of becoming not only a safe pilot but a retired one. No simulator required.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cape Air From Martha's Vineyard



Map picture

As one of only two passengers going to Providence, Rhode Island from Martha's Vineyard, I am in for a treat.


Cape 003 Returning to Martha's Vineyard Airport (MVY) on Bus No.9 ($2.00) from Oaks Bluff, I check in at Cape Air about 45 minutes prior to departure.

Since the airport is so small there is no hurry to process passengers through TSA security. I am told this will take place about 15 minutes prior to departure.



Martha 091 At “The Plane View” airport restaurant I relax as I have a steaming hot cup of soup. For $5.75 it is chicken and dumpling soup loaded with dumplings and carrots.

From my table I have an “Obstructed View” of the tarmac and other passengers boarding their flight to Boston.




Cape 005

“Now boarding all passengers for Cape Air Flight 1369 to Providence”.


Myself along with the other passenger make up “all passengers” and we are quickly processed through TSA security. Met at the exit door by a Cape Air employee, we are escorted and then boarded on the flight.

To my surprise it is the same pilot, Captain Kim that brought me to Martha's Vineyard that will be flying us back to Providence. This time I get the opportunity to sit upfront next to Captain Kim. I am sort of a honorary Cape Air Co-Pilot.

Expecting the views to be even better than my trip over, I ask permission to take pictures and receive quick approval. My Canon Rebel is ready. 


Cape 006 Taking The Runway At Martha’s Vineyard









Cape 009 Airborne From Martha’s Vineyard









Cape 010 Captain Kim At The Controls









Cape 012



Cape 015 Lonely Passenger








Cape 019 Cessna 402 Flight Deck Instruments








Cape 021 Rhode Island Sound

Although busy as we are getting airborne, at our cruising altitude of about 2500 feet, Captain Kim takes the time to share with me a little about her life as a pilot. Having been employed at Cape Air for about thirteen years she currently flies six round trips a day between Providence (PVD) and Martha's Vineyard (MVY).


Cape 024 New Bedford In The Distance








I wonder if she has any aspirations to work for a “Big Airline” but Captain Kim is quite comfortable with her situation. Even though she can probably make more money elsewhere she is happy being at home every night which can be very rare in the airline business.


Cape 027 Providence Arrival








Twenty five minutes passes to quickly as we are soon lined up for landing at TF Green International. Captain Kim again does a nice professional job safely transporting a few more passengers across Rhode Island Sound.


Cape 029

I hope her skills and experience are well rewarded by Cape Air. Thanks, Captain Kim.


Monday, August 16, 2010

130 People Survive Colombian Airline Crash


Map picture


While attempting to make a landing early Monday morning at San Andres Island, an Aerovias de Integracion Regional SA Boeing 737 was involved in an unfortunate accident. San Andres Island is a Colombian Island located in the Caribbean, 120 miles east of Nicaragua. Although it can be considered a miracle that only 1 person was killed, I believe part of that miracle relied on the flight crew training, experience and skills.


Colombia CrashOfficials are investigating the possibility that the airplane was struck by lighting. However, it is a rare occurrence that lighting strikes cause accidents.






f09a349736b183523bec Airplanes in general are designed to withstand lighting strikes which can occur often around thunderstorms.

Thunderstorms (depicted in yellow) and their effects like windshear (rapid change in wind speed and direction) are best avoided especially when landing.


What needs to be learned here is what actions could have been taken to avoid accidents like this from happening again. If thunderstorms were close to the airport maybe a landing attempt should have been delayed.

Sometimes even with adequate experience it can be difficult to estimate the effects of a storm on airline, airplane or airport operations. Furthermore, if a flight crew is fatigued their judgment can easily become impaired and safety comprised.

With accidents such as this many questions are raised. We must not be quick to rush to judgment but allow investigators to do their work. Hopefully their conclusions will help us all as passengers or crews to prevent or survive such unfortunate events.