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Thoughts on airline crew scheduling

Age 60, Maestro, DPU and Trip Trades

All airline pilots know that the Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act raised the mandatory retirement age for pilots employed by Part 121 carriers to 65. But the legislation, and its accompanying F.A.A. interpretations now imposes certain age restrictions on International operations.

For West pilots, the main restriction is that two pilots, both 60 or older, cannot fly internationally in the same crew. There are no age restrictions for domestic operations. “International” means out of the 50 United States or Puerto Rico. It does NOT refer to whether or not International FARs are used for dispatching the flight.

There are other restrictions pertaining to multi-crewmember operations, but the West does not do any as of this writing.

Currently, PBS does not handle the Age 60 checking; it is done in Maestro. If PBS has awarded trips that result in an Age 60 violation, it is detected by Maestro when the PBS award for the new month is loaded into Maestro.

But how is Age 60 checking done for Drop/Pickup and the ETB (Electronic Trade Board, aka Trip Trade)?

When an over 60 pilot attempts to pickup or trade a trip that has an International (out of the U.S.) leg, Maestro will check the age of the pilot who is in the other seat. If the “other” pilot is under 60, the transaction will be approved, if all the other rules are observed.

Checking by legs is the best way to do the checking, as a International trip could be split into two or more trips, some being Domestic an some International.

If the “other” pilot is over 60, the transaction will not be allowed, and a message indicating “Trip cannot be picked up due to scheduling conflicts. Requires at least one crewmember under age 60.”

July 27, 2010 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

More on “How much do I get paid for my trip?”

More than any other subject, I get questions regarding pay issues.

If they asked me, I could write a book.

But since I haven’t yet written it, let me address some common questions.

Question: I overblocked on a couple of legs. On the last day, my last turn (PHX-LAX-PHX) was swapped to another aircraft type. I got released and sent home early . Yaay! But when I checked Maestro, I lost my overblock. Why?

Answer. The short answer is this:

Your original trip had 21:00 of block time, and 21:00 of credit. You overblocked 1:00 before the last day. The LAX turn was worth 3:00.

You get paid and credited for the greater of what you were -originally scheduled for-, or what you actually flew using the normal pay rules. This has been the rule forever and ever. You came to work expecting to be paid what was published in the pairing package. You did less flying than planned (19:00) as opposed to the 21:00 you were expecting to fly.

Said another way, you lost more time (3:00) than you gained (1:00). You still get paid what you expected to be paid when you showed up for work.

If you overblock more time than the time you lose from cancelled legs, you would gain the difference. For example, if you overblock 3:00, and then not flying legs totalling 2:00, you would gain 1:00 on top of the published trip credit.

Question: I flew all the legs of my original trip. I overblocked on some and underblocked on others. What will I get paid?

Answer: The key here is that you flew your original sequence of legs as published. When that happens, you are paid the greater of scheduled or actual for each leg. In other words, if you underblock on leg 1, you get the scheduled pay and credit for that leg. If you overblock on Leg 2, the get the actual pay and credit for that leg, as the actual is greater than the scheduled.

Again, this only applies when you fly the trip as published, and don’t get rerouted.

July 9, 2010 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

PBS Analyzer tip: Sort by date

Slowly but surely, more and more bidders take advantage of the Analyzer to find good trips, and to discovers errors in their bidding technique.

When you open the Analyzer, it open up with the trips sorted from highest to lowest score.

But most people don’t know the Analyzer can sort the trips in several different orders.

All you need to do is to click on the column header, and the trips will be sorted according to the column.

If you wish to sort the trips by date, just click “Date.” The trips will be sorted from the first of the month to the last. The best part of this sorting method is that all trips reporting on the same date will be sub-sorted from highest scoring to lowest scoring.

This is highly useful when you have numerous parameters, and you want to see which trips on a certain date score the best.

For pilots who like to work on certain dates or days, this is a very quick and easy way to see the best trips on your desired dates of work.

June 11, 2010 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

Encroachment!

Encroachment. What is it? When does it happen?

It’s one thing in football, but it’s another thing altogether for West pilots.

Encroachment is what happens when one pairing goes awry, runs longer than planned (either in days or block time) and prevents some or all of the subsequent pairing from being flown.

When encroachment happens, the first question any self-respecting airline pilot will ask is, “what do I get paid?”

Let’s use an easy example to see how encroachment works.

You are scheduled to fly two Hawaii trips back to back. Each trip is three calendar days long, with three duty periods, so you are working six days in a row. Each trip pays 15:45, and has roughly 13:00 block.

You leave HNL on schedule, but have to do an air turnback due to a coffee-maker failure. The block time is 1:00 from push to park for the short leg. Parts are hard to find, and you end up in HNL for another 24 hours, thus creating another Long Rate layover. The trip is now four calendar days with four duty periods. This means the trip will be guaranteed 21:00. The extra 1:00 block time won’t be a factor, as the 21 hours GT exceeds the total block time.

All this is normal. But you won’t be back in time to fly the second HNL trip! Your first trip overlaps with the second, which is not splittable, so you won’t fly any of the second trip. Huzzah!

What do you get paid?

The encroachment language is in subsection 4.B.2:

“If a lineholder’’s pairing encroaches onto a consecutive pairing as a result of irregular operations, the Pilot shall receive not less than the originally scheduled or actual pairing credit of the two (2) combined pairings, whichever is greater.”

This language was the subject of much debate during the implementation process. It’s not as clear as it should be.

For the above example, the JIR Committee decided the pilot would be paid 31:30, which is the sum of the original credit for the two HNL trips. You do not get 21:00 + 15:45.

The reasoning is that you were originally expecting to work six days, and be paid 31:30. You actually worked four days, and flew a trip worth 21:00. You’re being paid the 31:30 you originally expected, and got two more days off in the bargain.

But encroachment can happen without trips actually overlapping. FAR and contract legalities can cause trips In this case, the JIR interpretation was different.

Imagine a schedule of two identical two-day trips back to back. The trip is PHX-BOS-PHX with 10:20 block and 10:30 credit. There is only 10:30 home base crew rest between the release time of the first trip and the report time of the second.

During trip 1, you are :45 late leaving BOS, and the winds are unfavorable, resulting in a total block time for the trip of 10:45. You arrive one hour late. The trip now pays 10:45. But the West contract requires a minimum of 10:00 home base crew rest between trips, and you only have 9:30. You’re not legal for the second BOS trip.

In this case, the trips did not overlap, but you were illegal for the second. You will keep your overblock, and be paid 10:45 for the first trip, and you’ll also be paid 10:30 for the second trip.

Here, the encroachment was due to legalities, not due to one trip overlapping the other. In this case, you keep any overblock from the first trip, and get the original credit for the second.

Encroachment; two different types, and two different pay rules.

June 8, 2010 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

5 minute turn-around time; legal or not?

One of the more frustrating things for crew members is to see schedules that are clearly incorrect. One recent example can provide a “teachable moment.”

Here’s a recent pairing I was asked about. Is this legal?

Note the five (5) minute turn time in Denver. Of course, there’s no way to turn the airplane in five minutes. Twenty minutes is challenging.

As it happened, the crew was running well behind schedule, and the pilots felt there was a good chance of running out of duty time.

Crew Scheduling was already aware of this, and had made the “f491 den/phx contr push 2007L w/u 0345z, skld blk 1+35″ notation.

I asked my contact in Crew Scheduling what was going on, that schedules were being built with five minute turns! Who’s fooling who? If CS knew about the 5 minute turn time, why did they agree to such a clearly incorrect schedule?

A long email discussion proved very educational for me, as I learned quite a bit about the workflow in the Operations Control Center, and Crew Scheduling.

Crew Scheduling schedules pilots, and not Dispatch, but Scheduling has to use the times that are updated by the controlling Dispatcher. In the above example, I was told that the Dispatcher had not updated the times to reflect reality. If he had updated the planned departure time from DEN to reflect a reasonable turn-around time, Maestro (and the crew) would have seen it. Is the displayed schedule wrong? Yes. Is it Scheduling’s fault? No.

But just as Dispatch does not control pilots, Scheduling does not control flights. CS can’t adjust the planned times, only the controlling Dispatcher can do that. What CS can do is to make the notation on the pairing to reflect the contract last push time, and Whitlow “wheels up” times. This makes all parties aware that, whatever the planned turn time, or push time, or flight time is, the crew duty legalities are going to call a halt to the operation at some time in the future.

In this case, I was told that CS was painfully aware of the late operation, and that’s why the notation was made. But the scheduler cannot force the Dispatcher to amend the times. Each department has its own rules, and if one side does not get the job done, the other side can’t do it for them.

What can we, as pilots, learn from this?

1) Crew Scheduling has to use the times that are in the system. You may need to speak with the controlling Dispatcher to get him to update the planned times to reflect reality.

2) Make sure that CS knows you’re running late, and coordinate with them about your Section 12 duty day limits, and Whitlow limits. Ask the scheduler to make sure the pairing notes are kept up to date.

Section 12 limits. The short version is that you’re legal to push off the gate if your planned flight will complete within the maximum Actual duty day shown on the chart. To calculate this, use the taxi-out time shown on the flight release, the flight time shown on the release, and the taxi-in time shown on the release. Add 15 minutes for post-flight duties. Add 30 minutes for post flight and Customs if the leg requiring Customs is the last leg of the duty period. Add these times up, and then work backwards from the maximum Actual duty day entry in the chart.

If you push off the gate in compliance with Section 12, and THEN encounter a delay, do NOT go back to the gate. Whitlow becomes the controlling limit. Of course, you must be rested enough to complete the flight.

You are NOT required to waive your Section 12 duty limits. Whether you elect to waive them or not is up to you, but make your choice clear to the scheduler. Don’t zing them at the last minute.

3) If you are being scheduled into what seems to be an impossible situation, be proactive. Call CS. Know your contract, and know how to calculate your Section 12 and Whitlow times.

4) If the above example was, say, day two of a four day trip, CS would certainly have the option to reroute you, and cancel the DEN-PHX leg if you timed out in DEN.

But if this was the LAST day of the pairing, all parties have to be very careful. CS has agreed it cannot knowingly give you a schedule that will result in your leaving PHX, then timing out and being stuck in DEN, and encroaching on a day off.

Enlightened self-interest may be useful here. Call the Dispatcher, call CS, and do your best to make sure all parties have the most current information.

May 28, 2010 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

Feeling Merged? Worried about bidding?

While we all know that mergers are fraught with tension, uncertainty, and an overall sense that the world as we know is about to come crashing down on your head, there may be one small bit of solace to those contemplating a US Airways/United Airlines merger.

We both use the same PBS bidding system from Ad Opt.

When United was investigating switching from traditional bid lines to preferential bidding, I spent quite a bit of time discussing our PBS system’s strong points and weak points. Their scheduling guys took copious notes, and it paid off for them.

In many ways, United has a newer and better implementation than we do at US Airways. While the underlying Solver is the same at both shops, UAL has more bid options than we do.

One interesting example of something UAL has that we don’t is the Global Bid. A bit of background is needed to understand it.

One of the few significant drawbacks of our PBS system compared to traditional bid lines can be understood if you look at how pilots bid for Christmas off. In a bid line world, if you want Xmas off at all costs, you simply bid for all the regular lines with Xmas off, and then all the reserve lines with Xmas off. In other words, you know exactly which regular and RV lines are built with Xmas off. Of course, we won’t consider what happens if you have a conflict, and have to pick up a trip over Xmas to stay above minimum guarantee.

In our PBS implementation, you can bid any number of ways to hold Xmas off as a regular lineholder. You can even use Conditional bidding to say “I want Xmas off as a lineholder, and if I can’t hold that, than I want to bid a RV line as long as I am RV line number XX or better.”

But the main problem with this Conditional bid is that it’s not possible to predict what relative seniority it takes to hold Xmas off. You might end up on RV and work Xmas.

When I told the UAL Pref Bidding guys about this, it was a potential deal-breaker for them.

Ad Opt had to solve this problem, or risk not getting the (very big) UAL contract. They solved it. United calls this feature the “Global Bid.” Using the Xmas off example, the Solver is able to figure out who can hold Xmas off as a regular lineholder, AND as a reserve.

The main drawback is that this is very, very, computationally-intensive. United’s run times for December were well in excess of 36 hours, and their categories are smaller than our PHX A320 category. Our run times for December have been less than 10 hours at most. Also, I’ve been told the Global Bid makes the solution hard to troubleshoot, as the number of variables is far greater.

Having said that, the Global Bid does address one of the biggest holiday bidding complaints we get.

So, if the merger comes to pass, you’ll feel right at home with the new airline’s PBS setup. Thank heavens for small favors….

April 11, 2010 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

Too many calls, and too few decisions

The following has to be one of the most absurd examples of Crew Scheduling changing its mind every few minutes. Read this actual email from a real reserve pilot, and then see how it played out. Try not to laugh out loud.

—–

Hi, Guys.

XXX recommended I write this down for y’all to know what’s happening… All times local MCO unless noted. Trip XXXX/ZZMarch.

Showed up in lobby day 2 about 05:25 for a 05:40 van to MCO. Cap’n XXX gets cell call @ 05:28 that we are now rescheduled for a 15:00 departure, 13:30 van.

We return to rooms.

XXX gets call on hotel phone later, maybe 08:00, that we are now rescheduled for 11:00 departure, 09:30 van.

We suit up and return to lobby around 09:15.

Captain XXX gets cell call @ 09:17 that we are now rescheduled for 15:00, 13:30 van again.

We return to rooms, and I have message waiting on hotel phone about reschedule, and to call Daily to confirm I got it. I call Maureen (?) at 09:42. She apologizes for the confusion, puts me on hold, then returns. She said she thought she heard something about another reschedule, but false alarm. So 13:30 is confirmed.

We’re pretty hungry by now, so we walk to Denny’s for breakfast, and return to rooms.

XXX gets call on hotel phone approx 12:45 that 15:00 departure is cancelled. Estimate is for a 20:00 ferry to PHX, and oh by the way, we’ll still be “legal” for our 08:52 PHX time departure in the am for FLL, getting in at 22:00 PHX time. So 22:15-07:52 = 9:37 prospective rest.

F/As deadheaded back to PHX on next available.

Around 14:45 XXX gets call on hotel phone that Rosen Center is booked up for the night, and we are being transferred to the Holiday Inn Airport, van due in 15-30 minutes.

We suit up again and take the van to the Holiday Inn, where we are still on standby for possible ferry tonight.

So we have an issue of when did our rest terminate, what with all the phone calls, etc? I submit that the latest time one could even begin to justify would have been the 09:17 call to XXX to send us back to our rooms again. From that time, (and arguably before then) we have effectively been on standby, and as you know, standby is not rest.

——-

As soon as I heard about this, I got in touch with my contact in Crew Scheduling. He agreed this was egregious (I love that word), and that Scheduling needs to have a plan in place when the crewmember is called. If the call is to inform the crew of an impending problem, the crew gets a callback in a short while.

There are several take-aways from this:

1) You are not obligated to answer your phone while on rest. If you DO elect to answer the phone, the Company gets one “free” call that does not count as interfering with your rest.

2) You may get agree to accept further calls without interfering with your rest, but that’s up to you.

3) Don’t let yourself get jacked around like this crew did. If the line-level scheduler is not able to formulate a plan, politely ask to speak with a Supervisor. Note the names and times.

4) Here is a useful links about crew rest and company contact.

http://www.thegearmonkey.com/temp/ALPA%20Duty%20Time%20Regs.pdf

Q-34. I am scheduled for a nine-hour rest with a report time of 0600. However, the air carrier requires that I answer the phone beginning at 0500. Is the hour I am required to answer the phone counted as rest?

A-34. No. If the air carrier imposes an obligation to answer the phone, it is a present responsibility for work and is not rest.

Q-35. Can the air carrier call me once during my designated rest period either to give me an assignment or to change my rest period?

A-35. Yes. The FAA has consistently interpreted Section 121.471(e) to mean that a certificate holder can contact a flight crewmember one time during a required rest period. Once contact is made, it cannot be made again without interrupting the rest period. That interruption would restart the required rest period. However, the flight crewmember is under no obligation to answer the telephone or contact the air carrier during a rest period.

April 11, 2010 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

What does “on-line” mean?

The phrase “on-line” is used 31 times in Contract 2004, including the JIRC Notes.

It’s an important phrase, especially in the context of reroutes and getting sick while on a trip.

If you can’t get back to domicile on the last day of a trip, Section 25.W.3.c applies:

…When circumstances beyond the Company’s control prevent the Pilot from being returned to domicile as provided in Subsection 25.W.3.b., the Pilot shall be returned to domicile on the first available on-line flight. The Pilot may be required to serve as an operating crewmember on the return flight.”

Obviously, in the pre-merger days, “on-line” meant America West flights. But post-merger, it means something different.

West pairings are built with DH legs on East metal. East pairings are built with DH legs on West metal. Crew Scheduling will move crews on “opposite metal” when needed during irregular operations.

I have heard numerous complaints from West pilots who have been told by schedulers that “Sorry, we won’t deadhead you on East metal” even if this makes it impossible to be returned to domicile in compliance with the contract, especially 25.W.3.

To be sure, if the next available on-line flight is an East flight, a West crew cannot serve as an operating crewmember. But the operative word in “may be required to serve…” is “may.” Your right is to go back on the on the next available on-line flight. If you cannot work the flight, that does not mean you can’t ride in back.

Recent discussions with top Crew Scheduling management have clarified once and for all, that “on-line” means “US Airways” flights.

It’s been decided, once and for all, that “on-line” means any US Airways flight; East or West metal.

So, if you need to be brought home on the next available on-line flight, it does not matter if it’s an East or West flight; you can go on either.

Don’t take no for an answer!

February 8, 2010 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

Where have all the RVs gone?

Sing this to the tune of “Where have all the flowers gone?” (Apologies to Pete Seeger)

Where have all the RVs gone?
Long time passing?
Where have all the RVs gone?
Long time ago?
They’re assigned to flip flops every one.

When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
——

Astute browsers of Maestro’s reserve staffing report have no doubt noticed the following:

Before 1400 the day prior, the Available number shows the number of RVs that day. But after 1400 the day prior, the “next” day shows 0 in Available.

In other words, at 1200 on the 5th, the Available number for the 6th shows the number of available reserves. At 1401 on the 5th, the Available number for the 6th will show 0.

What happened at 1400 to make all those reserves seemingly disappear?

It’s because, after the next day’s RV award has been completed by 1400, all the RVs have been assigned to something, either a shift or a trip, and hence are no longer “available.”

The staffing report is programmed to count the number of pilots with the RV non-fly code. Once assigned to a shift or a trip, the RV code is removed from their line,

January 24, 2010 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

Annual block hour limit

As the end of the year approaches, some of the hungrier pilots among us may find that a DPU or Trade Board transaction is denied.

We all know about the company business practices that limit flying to 29 block hours in 7 days, and 99 block hours in a calendar month.

Not many know that there is a business practice that goes back a long ways that caps annual block hours at 980 hour per year. This has been programmed into Maestro.

Even before that, it used to be 920, which was absurdly low.

The reasoning for the 980 annual block hour limit is like all other buffered limits below the FAR maximums; if we exceed the actual FAR limit, we get pay protected, so the company wants a small margin to limit how often this happens.

December 29, 2009 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

It’s Involuntary Assignment time of year again; make sure you know the rules

Management often has trouble with staffing the airline over the holidays. One tool that may be used when Scheduling gets in a jam is Involuntary Assignment.

For those of you who don’t recognize the term, Involuntary Assignment, or IV for short, used to be called Junior Assignment under the previous contract.

IV rules are contained in 25.V Involuntary Assignments. For those of you still using paper contracts, see page 25-42.

INVOLUNTARY ASSIGNMENTS
1. All involuntary assignments shall be paid at 150% and credited at 100% for the leg or duty period affected, as applicable.

2. Involuntary assignments shall be assigned to legal and available lineholder Pilots in inverse seniority order by Position.

3. Before Crew Scheduling may involuntary assign a lineholder Pilot, following the award of pairings at 1400 PHX for the following day, the number of pairings in Open Time that report in a standby reserve duty shift must be equal to or greater than the number of remaining reserve Pilots in that standby reserve duty shift. Crew Scheduling shall not intentionally staff reserve Pilots solely to take advantage of this Subsection 25.V.3.

4. If Crew Scheduling involuntarily assigns a lineholder, the following limitations shall apply:
a. The assignment cannot be made earlier than twenty-four hours (24:00) before the scheduled report time and the pairing’s report time must fall within the standby reserve duty shift in which the conditions provided in Subsection 25.V.3. were satisfied;
b. An involuntary assignment shall not reduce a lineholder Pilot below ten (10) calendar days off per bid period;
c. A Pilot shall not be involuntarily assigned while on vacation or on blocks of days off that touch a vacation block;
d. A Pilot shall not be involuntarily assigned more than twice per bid period;
e. A Pilot may not be assigned to an involuntary assignment that would project the Pilot above the credit hour cap; and
f. Crew Scheduling shall only use a Pilot’s contact numbers when calling to make an involuntary assignment.

Also, 25.K.2 states:

2. Reserve Pilots may not be involuntarily assigned on a Golden Day.

There are other important points to know:

• Reserve assignments on a moveable day off (DO) are not considered Involuntary Assignments. Inbound Reserve pilots being “tagged” are not considered Involuntary Assignments.

• Scheduling cannot compel you to change an existing trip on your line to make the IV assignment fit. Any changes to your existing line you may choose to make are up to you.

• If you are reached on your cellphone at 7 PM while in the boondocks of Alaska, with a call for an IV trip at 0700 tomorrow AM, simply tell the Scheduler that you cannot report in time for the trip.

• Check Airmen may not be assigned to fly as First Officer in the right seat unless the captain in the left seat requires training. If this happens, the original First Officer would have to be displaced and pay-protected.

• You can only be contacted for an Involuntary Assignment at the telephone number(s) listed in Maestro. You cannot be IVd with an ACARS message, nor may you be tagged in the jetway.

The most important points to remember are:

• You must be -personally- contacted at your listed telephone number(s). Your answering machine is not eligible for an Involuntary Assignment, nor is your youngest daughter who says she’ll give you a message.

• If you are -personally- contacted for an IV assignment via a phone call at your listed number(s), and all the requirements shown above are met, then you are obligated to fly.

December 19, 2009 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

Month to month variations in the number of regular lines of time

All pilots need to remember some givens about the amount of flying from month to month.

1) Holiday periods have more.
2) Peak summer vacation periods have more.

and the main point of this posting…

3) Some months have 30 days and some 31.

So what, says you?

If each day of any given month has X credit per day, and you have a 30 day month, you have 30X total credit for that month.

If you have 31 days in a month, and the same average credit X per day, the month is going to have 31X total credit.

That’s a roughly 3.3% change (1/30) in the credit available for line building just from the additional day!

All else being equal, that’s a 3.3% difference in the number of lines.

For example, if you have 400 lines in a 31 day month, you may expect 386 lines in a 30 day month. (400 * .967)

December 11, 2009 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

From the “This truly sucks, but it’s legal” department

Joe Reserve pilot asks:

Question. I’m a three day reserve. Open time for today shows a bunch of truly nasty three day red-eye trips. But there’s one trip reporting today that’s just one leg to Reno, and one leg back. It’s a split trip that pays on block time, but that’s OK, as I won’t have to be up all night. So, I Aggressive Self-assign the trip, and it’s mine. But a couple of hours later, Scheduling calls me, and takes my Aggressive Self-assign trip away from me, and makes me fly one of today’s nasty all-nighters I wanted to avoid.

Is this legal? Say it ain’t so, Joe!

Answer. Joe says, “I hate it whens this happens. It’s legal, due to what I deem to be a loophole in the contract.”

To explain this issue, let’s review the relevant rules for aggressive self-assignment on RV days. If you self-assign a trip today that reports tomorrow, you’re still on the hook for an assignment today. If you get one, that wipes out your self-assigned trip. This has never been in question.

See 25.L.1 f for the details.

But the issue here is what can happen if you self-assign today for a trip today. Can CS change that trip?

Normally, when a reserve pilot is assigned a trip, he is free from any responsibility to be contactable until report time.

See 25.R.3:

“A reserve Pilot assigned a pairing on the same day the pairing is scheduled to depart shall be free from all duty until report time.”

So, how does CS change your trip, if you don’t even have to answer the phone?

Here is the justification:

25.W.5

“Reschedule and Reroute of a Reserve Pilot
a. Crew Scheduling may reschedule or reroute a reserve Pilot in accordance with this Subsection 25.W.5. even if the reserve Pilot’s pairing operates as published.

b. Reschedule of a Reserve Pilot Prior to Report Time
i. If Crew Scheduling reschedules a reserve Pilot more than two hours (2:00) prior to the Pilot’s originally scheduled report time, the Pilot may be immediately reassigned to another pairing or continue the standby duty shift.”

Scheduling is saying that it has the right to reschedule/reroute a RV pilot’s trip, even if the trip is operating normally. So, with 2:00 notice before report, the reserve pilot is rescheduled before report to a completely different trip. CS will call the pilot, but if he does not answer (as is his right) he’ll just get a checkin message when he shows for the trip he thought he was going to fly. Don’t forget that new trips done as Reschedule before report cannot report earlier than the original trip.

This is not how the Aggressive Self-assign was supposed to work, but 25.W.5 is being used to get around the Reserve pilot’s ability to choose which open trip he would like to fly. It appears that such Rescheduling before report does not happen all that often, but it certainly results in angry Reserve pilots when it does happen.

December 2, 2009 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

A curious example of a Self-tag that didn’t happen

Even though self-tagging continues to be one of the more useful sections of the contract, it remains a mystery to most pilots. But there are a few aficionados who use this rule to best advantage, and that’s good.

25.T.7

“A Pilot may self-assign or trade to operate an additional pairing during a calendar day wherein the Pilot is already scheduled for duty to the extent permitted by Section 12 or the FARs, which­ ever is more restrictive.”

However, there are issues if you want to self-tag a trip that is from another domicile.

I got a call from a LAS-based pilot whose four day trip began with a deadhead leg from LAS to PHX. That was the whole first day.

The pilot found a PHX trip in open time that was PHX-STL-PHX. He wanted to glue it to the front end of his four day trip.

Since it was an out of domicile transaction, he had to call Scheduling. In domicile self-tagscan be done with Maestro. Unfortunately, it was disapproved. The pilot did not agree with the disapproval, so he called me.

After reviewing the details, I reluctantly had to agree with Scheduling.

The PHX-STL-PHX turn got back to PHX just minutes before his original trip reported in LAS! The pilot had counted on the fact if he gave Scheduling a courtesy call, he did not need to physically be on the first leg DH from LAS to PHX, so there would not be any problem with going out on time the next morning.

Section 8.K

A Pilot scheduled to deadhead on the first leg of a pairing shall notify Crew Scheduling of the Pilot’s intention not to come to domicile to deadhead at least two hours (2:00) prior to the scheduled departure of the deadhead leg. Such notification shall be considered the Pilot’s check-in.

8.K.4

4. A Pilot may be required to come to domicile if that Pilot has been rescheduled or rerouted.

Here’s the rub.

While 8.K does allow you to not be on a front-end deadhead, 8.K.4 does NOT prevent you from being rescheduled before report. The same thing applies to tail-end deadhead legs.

There could easily be a change to the trip that requires the crew to work the first leg, rather than deadhead.

If the hopeful self-tagger had been required to work the first leg of his four day trip, the whole plan would have fallen apart.

That’s why the transaction was not approved. You have to get back from the tagged trip in time to report as scheduled in domicile for the original trip. You can’t plan on finishing in PHX just before a LAS trip and not doing a DH leg to make it all fit.

This oddball example notwithstanding, I wish more people took advantage of self-tagging.

December 2, 2009 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

Pilot cost per passenger block hour

Plenty of pundits post their thoughts about the airline industry, and some are more thoughtful than others. I chanced across this post discussing pilot pay, and found it thought-provoking.

“In the past seven years, while inflation increased by 20%, the average hourly cockpit wage cost for the average passenger fare dropped by 29%”

There are lots of ways to look at how pilot salary costs affect the airline bottom line, but this one is a bit different.

This is a bit longer than my average post, but it’s worth your time to read it , and click the link to finish the whole piece. The first part is geared towards civilians, and the costing section is towards the end.

This is an article Robert Herbst, an active airline pilot and airline analyst.

October 31, 2009

The Pilot Story You Won’t See on TV Tonight-

Today, like most every day, just over 44,000 of the world’s most experienced airline pilots employed by the 9 largest airlines in the United States will accept full responsibility for over 1.5 million lives sitting behind their locked cockpit doors. Over the next 24 hours, these unnoticed pilots will make over 13,500 take-offs literally around the world. Through every imaginable type of weather, they will be in command of over 36,000 hours of flight time. And, if today is like most days, you will never hear or read about even one of those flights.

There is nothing simple about putting hundreds of lives into an aluminum tube using jet engines to propel it 35,000 feet above the ground traveling close to the speed of sound to eventually land safely on a stretch of concrete most anywhere in the World. Make no mistake about it, flying is dangerous. It is only made less dangerous by the dedicated men and women who work in the industry putting the safety of their passengers as their number one priority.

When an unexpected in-flight emergency occurs, there is no shoulder on the road to pull over, call 911, and wait for help. It won’t make media headlines today, but like every day when something breaks on an aircraft or someone makes an unintentional mistake, some pilot will use his/her training, knowledge and experience turning an in-flight emergency into a routine landing that will save hundreds of lives.

Every day some licensed mechanic uses his/her experience to repair some part of an aircraft to prevent a future tragedy. Many times every day, flight attendants use their training, experience and on board medical safety equipment to keep passengers alive after a heart attack and deal with a multitude of other in-flight issues.

This year we witnessed how decades of knowledge, experience and training gave two previously unheard of pilots the ability to land a commercial jet with no engine power on a river and not lose a single life. Unfortunately, we also learned how mistakes from the cockpit cost the lives of so many in the Buffalo crash. And just this past week, pilots were reminded of the consequences of not doing their job in a responsible way.

Contrary to what many have been led to believe, commercial jets do not just fly themselves. While technology has improved reliability and added many safety features, jet engines still fail and weather will always be a significant factor which requires knowledgeable and experienced pilots to navigate safely through.

Many passengers are surprised to learn only a few runways are equipped to allow an automatic landing. The fact is most landings are being hand flown by pilots as over 95% of the runways commercial airlines use do not have the technology required for auto pilot landings.

Note: Every auto pilot landing has pilots diligently monitoring the instruments with their finger on the switch to take over if any ground or aircraft system fails.

So what does it really take to be a commercial pilot?

Since I have flown commercially for the last 40 years, I’d suggest I’m qualified to share a few facts you may not know.

First, similar to a doctor taking years to get qualified in the operating room, there are no -entry level- pilot jobs at the major airlines. Before being hired by a major airline you will likely have a college degree and either been trained as a pilot in the military or have spent several years acquiring thousands of flight hours experience on smaller aircraft.

Fully depending on the airline’s growth, it could take as many as 20+ years to move from a co-pilot to captain.

Airline pilot wages, benefits and working schedules are based on company seniority. If a pilot leaves one airline he/she will start at the bottom of the next airline’s seniority list as a new hire.

Once hired by a major airline, regardless of your prior experience, you will go through several weeks of training and testing before being qualified on that airline’s specific aircraft operations. Every time you move to a different type of aircraft or move from co-pilot to captain you will again require more weeks of training and testing.

Every 9 months for the duration of a pilot’s career, he/she will go through several days of training and check-rides to make certain they are prepared to deal with dozens of emergency procedures.

You will routinely and unknowingly, have a company and/or FAA inspector show up for your flight and sit in the cockpit to monitor your performance.

Pilots have to pass a medical check every six months with an annual EKG required as you get older. Due to very stringent medical requirements, approximately 15% of airline pilots are forced to retire before they reach their mandatory retirement age. Commonly used medications for typical colds and medical issues are not allowed to be used by pilots on duty.

Unacceptable performance on any of the above will remove a pilot from flight status and depending on the circumstance, a pilot can be terminated.

FAA has strict limits on the maximum number of hours pilots are allowed to fly: The maximums are 1,000 in a year, 100 in a month and 30-32 in 7 days (international flight limits are slightly higher than domestic). In order to actually get an hour of flight time, depending on your seniority and the airline’s schedule, you can expect to be away from your base from two to four times actual flight hours. For the most part, you only get paid when the aircraft is moving (Note: Pilots do not get premium pay for working holidays or weekends. Pilots can also expect to miss many special events as they are working a multi day flight sequence.)

Before every flight, an airline captain must sign a release stating he/she is accepting responsibility, and authority for an aircraft valued at tens of $millions carrying hundreds of lives. Similar to a surgeon in the operating room, there is a large support group of fellow employees to make it possible for all of the objectives to be safely accomplished. But in the end, it is the captain that must use his/her knowledge and experience to make critical and occasional life saving decisions.

Is the job worth it?

Actually the important question should be: In the future, is the job -going- to be worth it for those individuals you want and expect to be responsible for so much?

Since 9/11 and the bankruptcy or reorganization of every legacy airline, pilot hourly pay rates have been reduced to what they were almost 20 years ago. In addition, work rule changes force pilots to work more and longer days than they ever have. Fatigue is a growing problem as long scheduled days get even longer when weather and maintenance delays are encountered.

Note: Pilots from United (UAL), Delta (DAL), Northwest (now merged with Delta) and USAir (LCC) all lost significant amounts of their pensions as those airlines went through bankruptcy after 9/11.

Recognizing the above, how much of the average passenger airline ticket fare is now used to pay pilots to accept the responsibility they have? Not very much!

Tables below use industry data to calculate the average -cockpit- wage cost for two pilots per hour of flight for the average passenger fare.

Note: Data considers reported passenger revenue kept by the airline and does not include taxes and airport fees. USAir data includes America West pro forma. Delta and Northwest merged in October 2008. Aircraft movement is considered flight time for this report.

For year 2008 the average cockpit wage cost per average passenger fare per hour of flight was $3.73. See figure 1 for specific airlines.

Click here for the rest of this interesting article.

November 4, 2009 Posted by | America West musings | Leave a comment

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