Getting Paid Not To Fly
10/29/2013 Life is Good
Sometimes I feel like the luckiest human alive. This is one of those
Sitting in 18A sucking down a Diet Sprite eastbound at
thirtysomething thousand feet. And I'm on the clock. Getting paid to fly
rocks, getting paid NOT to fly rolls!
The cool thing is that I still enjoy flying; even with the necessary
regimentation there's great satisfaction in a well-flown flight, getting
folks there comfortably, efficiently, powering up at 1000 feet on
approach, smoothing it onto a runway and making the best turnoff without
making anybody notice. It's satisfying. I'll miss it when I retire
which, thankfully, is still 14 years off.
Of course getting paid to sit back here and work on my projects is
another incredible bonus. Some of these airspace illustrations are
kicking my rump so I need to spend time there. It is gratifying when
they come together, though.
Even if Footflyer keeps growing I'll still fly for work. It's just
too easy and too much fun. Of course there are certainly days where I'd
rather be home. I could do without that second trip into an icy Chicago
but hey, I'm moving to FL. Yes, I'll still fly into those places but at
least every trip won't begin and end there. Bonus.
Airline pilots are in the golden age of aviation. Some will grouse
about "the old times" but I'm enjoying the new times. Lets face it, 1)
the job has gotten easier, 2) it's gotten safer and 3) they still let us
touch the controls. You can choose how much manual flying you do. If you
want to hand fly the entire flight, have at it. But once you're ready,
turn on George (the autopilot)--he'll fly you all the way to within a
few hundred feet of the destination runway.
There are, of course, moments where you're really earning the pay but
those are so infrequent. I can count on one hand the number of tense
situations. Every flight comes with it a circle of decreasing options
that must be planned for. But in domestic flying, there are usually
numerous options within that circle at all times. Like bad weather -- I
don't stress about holding. Settle on your alternate, calculate how much
fuel you need to leave holding with then execute the plan. It's not even
stressful. No, the hardest part of the job is maintaining high vigilance
in an environment that operates smoothly and relatively predictably
nearly all the time.
I've heard pilots complain that today we are "children of the purple
line," referring to the snaking line that guides us on the navigation
display. And you bet it's nice, follow that line--but I've used all the
old navigation back to ADF and am thrilled about the improvements. It's
part of our increased safety.
Needless to say I'm just as thrilled as you about that increased
safety, too. Airlines have done a brilliant job of recognizing where the
risk is and mitigating it. The process is, unfortunately, soaked in
blood from past accidents, but at least they're doing something about it
and the final product is impressive. More than anything, the safety
comes from automation that sings out when the airplane gets into an
"undesirable state" (euphemism for "crashing -- do something"). But also
procedure changes. I've been REALLY PLEASED with many of the changes at
my own airline. Management mostly gets the importance of human factors.
I suspect the days of piloting airplanes with human hands are
numbered. Computers don't get distracted and, done properly, will
further enhance safety. Give it a few generations and pilots will still
be in cockpits but they may not have manual controls in the same way. I
hate to say it, but the system will likely see even more safety
improvements then. I'll get push back from pilots on this but the data
is pretty clear. The current mix of automation and human control is
error prone. There is still room for improvement. Several recent
accidents were humans flying perfectly good airplanes into the ground in
situations where the automation would have been able to work it out
either through sound programming or the continual attention they can
pay. It pains me, of course, but I'm a big fan of evidence-based
For now, I'll enjoy flying the baby Boeing as well as double dipping
here in the back.
OK, enough of that, my moment has been shared now back to the