Thursday, March 27, 2008

Guns and Planes

After September 11th, US airline pilots pushed for allowing pilots to carry guns on an aircraft to guard against terrorist threats under the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program. While I understand the reasoning behind this, I can't say I agree with it. To me, firearms in a pressurized metal tube just seem like a bad idea. I haven't examined this issue much further as Canada doesn't allow pilots to carry firearms. The debate surrounding firearm use and the differences between Canada and the US's attitude on guns is an explosive one (pardon the pun) and isn't really the topic of this post.

On a recent US Airways flight, a pilot had his firearm accidentally discharge. Check out the pictures that have been posted on many news sites. I think that this could have had far worse results.

Pilot's gun fired during flight

An investigation is under way into how a gun carried by a US Airways pilot was discharged during a flight.
No-one was hurt when the gun went off as the plane was preparing to land at Charlotte, North Carolina, on Saturday.

A hole in a cockpit wall apparently caused by the shot is visible in photos obtained by AP news agency.

Under a programme implemented after the 9/11 attacks, US airline pilots are allowed to carry guns on domestic flights following a training course.

Passengers 'unaware'

The gun discharged just before noon on Saturday aboard Flight 1536 from Denver to Charlotte, as the Airbus A319 plane was at about 8,000 feet (2,440m) and was approaching to land.

The plane was sequestered and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is looking into the incident, spokesman Dwayne Baird said.

He said the airline was co-operating and that the FBI would also probably be involved.

The pilot has been put on leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Mr Baird said he believed the 124 passengers on board at the time were not aware of the incident.

Aeronautical experts disagree on how much risk there is that such a stray bullet could bring down an aircraft.

Psychological tests

Under the TSA's Federal Flight Deck Officer programme, pilots may apply for a licence to carry a gun on board for domestic flights.

They must undergo a week-long training course and psychological tests.

Since April 2003, about 5,000 flight deck officers - captains or first officers - have been authorised to carry weapons, Capt Bob Hesselbein, chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association's National Security Committee, told the Associated Press.

All pilots who qualify from the programme are said to carry the same weapon - a .40-calibre semiautomatic H&K USP - which experts say is extremely unlikely to go off on its own.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pilot to Serve His Sentence in the Community

As a follow up to yesterday's post.

Pilot avoids jail term
By: Mike McIntyre

Updated: March 20 at 03:42 PM CDT

Print Article E-mail Article Mark Tayfel crashed an airplane in a busy Winnipeg intersection and lived to tell about it. Now the former pilot has escaped a jail sentence for negligent actions that killed an elderly passenger.

Queen's Bench Justice Holly Beard ruled this afternoon Tayfel could remain in the community under a two year conditional sentence for the June 2002 tragedy. His conditions include a daily curfew and 240 hours of community service work which Beard hopes will involve speaking to young pilots about the errors he made during that fateful flight.

"The accused is a fine person who's made some terrible mistakes in an otherwise good life. The events are truly tragic and have affected many lives. It's a no win situation for all involved," Beard told court.

"Nothing in this case suggests a need to separate this offender from the community."

Beard lashed out at the airline industry for a "culture" of negligence which allows -- or perhaps even forces -- pilots to often cut corners.

"It's clear the failure to follow aeronautics regulations is very prevalent. The culture shouldn't be one that pressures young pilots to break the law," said Beard.

"Despite that culture, it doesn't excuse pilots who break the law and engage in risky behaviour. Society will not sit by and allow our safety and security to be put at risk."

Tayfel and six American fishers were injured when both of the plane's engines cut out shortly after Tayfel missed his first attempt at landing at Winnipeg International Airport. The plane came to rest on Logan Avenue just west of McPhillips Street.

Tayfel had taken off earlier that morning from a northern fishing lodge without enough fuel on board to get to his destination.

Everyone survived the crash, but Kansas resident Chester Jones, 79, died a few weeks later from his injuries.

"I was very moved by the description of Chester Jones. The loss to his family and community is immense and can never be replaced," Beard said today/

Crown attorney Brian Wilford told court yesterday that Tayfel should spend time behind bars for the reckless risk-taking of not carrying enough fuel and then attempting to land the plane without telling anyone on the ground about his problem until it was too late.

"The moral culpability of Mr. Tayfel is extreme. He had so many opportunities to rectify the situation. And yet he did nothing," Wilford said.

"He endangered so many people... because his concern was his reputation. It is an absolute miracle no one on the ground was seriously injured or killed. I'd say a landing like that couldn't be done again in a million years."

Defence lawyer Balfour Der said putting a good man like Tayfel behind bars wouldn't accomplish anything.

"This man did not set out to crash that airplane, to run out of fuel, to put anyone, including himself, in danger," Der said.

He told court Tayfel could be utilized as a mentor to young pilots in training, speaking to them about his deadly mistake and preaching the value in following aviation regulations.

Tayfel, 42, gave a tearful apology to his victims yesterday, including family members of the man who died.

"I was in charge of that aircraft. It was my responsibility to get the passengers safely back to Winnipeg. I failed to do that," he told a packed courtroom.

Tayfel declined to speak with reporters following court today. Der said his client is "still in a state of shock" over what happened but thankful he's going home to Calgary.

Der said they are considering an appeal of Beard's decision to convict Tayfel of criminal negligence causing death, four counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and dangerous operation of an aircraft in one of the first cases of its kind in Canada.

He suggested Tayfel's employer at the time of the crash, Keystone Air, should have also been held liable and that his client has been made the "whipping boy" for an industry fraught with problems.

"They're not here in court supporting Mr. Tayfel. They headed for the hills," Der said outside court. He was encouraged by Beard's critical comments about the airline industry and hopes this case sends a strong message.

"These young pilots are really being forced into a tough situation," he said.

An aviation expert called by the defence claimed at trial that the real blame for the disaster should rest with Keystone Air. Robert Lemieux said the company "pressured" Tayfel into doing his flight, despite the fact he'd raised concerns with the chief pilot that his Piper Navajo wasn't equipped with a mandatory auto-pilot.

The device likely would have helped Tayfel make a safe landing in Winnipeg. Instead, he came out of the clouds too high and too fast -- with both engines on the verge of cutting out -- and missed the runway completely. Tayfel then crashed as he tried to swing around to make another landing attempt.

A retired Air Canada pilot took the witness stand yesterday on behalf of the defence and said too many shortcuts are being taken by employers focused on making money, at the expense of young pilots who feel there is no choice but to quietly obey orders.

"These kids get out there and they're expected to do things they know aren't by the book. There's a culture in that sector of the industry where it's get the job done, and if somebody bends the rules a little bit, nobody says anything about it," Dale Andersen said.

He now works as a mentor and counselor to pilots through the airline union and recently spent time with Tayfel, calling him a "mild-mannered, compliant" person who lacks the ego many pilots often possess.

Andersen told court allowing Tayfel to speak about his experience to others would be making "something positive" out of a tragic situation.

Tayfel has no prior criminal record, strong family and community support and is unlikely to find work again as a pilot because nobody wants to hire him, court was told.

Wilford said that's not enough.

"Mr. Tayfel got caught doing what other pilots seem to do quite regularly. Other pilots didn't get caught because they didn't crash. But other pilots must be deterred from even thinking about it," he said.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Update: Pilot to Face Sentencing

In November, I wrote a post entitled The Captain's Decision about how pilots have to be vary of the consequences of being pressured to fly.

Just a quick update on the pilot who was found guilty last November of four counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, one count of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of an aircraft.


Sentence expected Thursday for pilot in fatal Winnipeg crash

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 | 1:52 PM CT

A Winnipeg judge will hand down her sentence Thursday in the case of a pilot convicted of criminal negligence after he crash-landed his plane on a high-traffic Winnipeg intersection in 2002, killing one man and hurting several others.

Calgary-based commercial pilot Mark Tayfel was found guilty last November of four counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, one count of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of an aircraft.

The Crown and defence in his case made sentencing arguments in Court of Queen's Bench on Tuesday morning.

Tayfel also spoke, making an emotional apology to the passengers of the Keystone Air flight six years ago. With a trembling voice, he said he was responsible for getting them back to Winnipeg safely, and he failed to do that.

He said he was deeply saddened when he heard of the death of one of the men several months later, describing it as the "worst news ever."

Tayfel described how difficult the last six years have been for him and his family, including his new wife, although he acknowledged the pain of the passengers' families have been surely worse.

He said he doubted he would fly again.

Crown attorney Brian Wilford asked for a sentence of "real jail time" for what he described as Tayfel's "utter disregard for his passengers' safety."

But defence lawyer Balfour Derr argued that Tayfel does not deserve jail time, saying he has already been punished enough. A suspended sentence with probation or house arrest would be more appropriate, he said.

Tayfel could use his experiences to teach student pilots about the risks and pressures associated with flying for small companies, Derr said.

Tayfel, 42, had been flying six American fishermen from a remote Manitoba fishing lodge on June 11, 2002, when his twin-engine plane ran out of fuel.

Both engines cut out shortly after he missed the runway on his first attempt to land at Winnipeg's airport, and the plane eventually came to a rest in the middle of McPhillips Street and Logan Avenue, a busy downtown Winnipeg intersection.

Passenger Chester Jones, 79, died from his injuries in hospital several weeks after the crash.

Counter to Tayfel's claims that he should not have been held responsible for what happened, Justice Holly Beard concluded in November that he made too many misjudgments and showed a reckless disregard for the lives of others.

He miscalculated the amount of fuel needed given the weather conditions and also decided to press on with the flight despite being aware of the possibility that the Piper Navajo aircraft was not equipped with a mandatory auto-pilot system, she ruled.

Any thoughts on what the judge should do?

Question - Re: Minimum Age to Start Flying Lessons

The question was asked: How old do you have to be to begin flying lessons to eventually become a Pilot?

My Response

In Canada, there is no minimum age to start your flight training. The two restrictions for starting your flight training really young may be:

1- Individual flight schools may have bottom age limits that are dictated by policy or insurance requirements; and,
2- You have to be tall enough to be able to reach all the controls and rudder pedals.

When you first start your training, you'll be flying with a flight instructor and except for the above possibilities, there are no minimum limits for that. However, there are age limits involved if you want to get your licence and fly by yourself.

In order to solo, or fly by yourself in an aircraft, you need to obtain a student pilot permit. You must be 14 years old and you are also required to write and pass an exam called the PSTAR in order to obtain this. A great study guide for this exam can be found at Robin's Flying Start

If you want to carry passengers, your two options are to get a Recreational Pilot Permit, which allows you to carry one other passenger, or a Private Pilot Licence which will allow you to carry more than one passenger and allow you to add other ratings to your licence.

The minimum age for a Rec Permit is 16 years old and the minimum age to obtain a Private Licence is 17 years old.

If you want to continue on and are considering a career as a pilot, the minimum age in Canada to obtain a Commercial Licence is 18 and the minimum age to obtain an Airline Transport Pilot Licence is 21.

Check out Flight Crew Licensing for all the different requirements for each licence and rating.

If you can afford it, getting an early start on flying is a great idea. The quicker you have your licences, the quicker you'll be able to build up experience. I wish that I started earlier than I did.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Flying Exhausted

Just a quick follow up to the last post. There's a new thread on AvCanada about Flying Exhausted. They've included a poll the results of which as of March 18th, 2008 @ 7:28pm Halifax time were:

I have fallen asleep while flying before. There was another pilot and I had discussed with him that I was just going to close my eyes for a few minutes. In my opinion at least, it's better to be upfront with the other pilot about what you're doing. I felt I would be much safer if I had a short nap than if I struggled to stay awake.

I have also had it a couple of times where one of the Captains I was flying with fell asleep. He told me ahead of time that he was going to close his eyes for a bit, although he ended up sleeping for a couple of hours. I was alright with that though and the peace and quiet was nice. If there were any problems it would have been easy to wake him up and I didn't feel tired at all.

When I was flying the C207 as the only pilot, I did have one day where I had to fight very very hard to keep my eyes open. It wasn't late at night, but for whatever reason, I was feeling very tired. It was tough, but I turned on all the air vents, got cold air blowing, tried to sing to myself - anything to keep me awake. It worked, but it can be tough sometimes.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Night Flights

I've recently found the web service Yahoo Answers and the section that deals with aircraft questions. I've been answering a few questions there. One question I recently answered was:

On an overnight (Red Eye flight) what do you do to keep awake?
Are you able to get coffee from the cabin?
Is it true that when you start with an airline, it is more likely that you will have to do overnights?

The reason i am asking these questions is because i am currently studying to get my commercial license and airline transport permit with Transport Canada.

Here is my answer:
Overnight flights can be one of the most challenging aspects of being a pilot. Although I am not an airline pilot, I used to fly Air Ambulance flights, many of which were overnight, and found them to be very tough on the body.

There are a number of ways that pilots and airlines deal with this situation.

As a pilot, most (but not all) of the time, you’ll know in advance when you’re going to be doing an overnight flight. As a result, you’re able to adjust your sleep schedule accordingly. Having a nap in the afternoon prior to your flight and/or making sure you stay up late the night before. Eating healthy and not smoking also helps a little bit, but these are more general lifestyle factors than specific mechanisms to help you stay awake.

During the flight itself, pilots stay awake by chatting, reading, eating, drinking coffee and listening to different radio frequencies. Although cockpit doors are now locked, pilots have a flight attendant ‘call’ button and the flight attendants are able to access the cockpit to bring coffee, food or just chat. (And also deal with important inflight information).

Airlines deal with the situation with different policies. On the longer flights, there will be one or two Cruise Relief Pilots assigned to the flight. “Creeps” are usually junior pilots who sit in the flight deck during the cruise portion of the flight. The original Captain and First Officer do the Take-Off and Landings and then take turns relaxing in the crew rest area. On some aircraft, there are a couple of seats in first class that are reserved for the crew. On other aircraft, like the newer Boeing 777s, there are private crew rest areas on top of the main cabin.

Other airlines have implemented official monitored or planned cockpit rest procedures where only one pilot at a time can have a nap. The big problem is when both pilots fall asleep! This is somewhat controversial as some airlines want both pilots awake the whole time they’re in the cockpit, whereas others recognize that giving the pilots the opportunity for short naps will allow them to be more awake for the challenging approach and landing phase of flight.

Depending on the airline you work for, you may end up doing more night flights when you first start out. Seniority is a big factor for airline scheduling. The pilots that have been at an airline longer get first choice at choosing their flights. Sometimes, overnight flights may be less desirable and the more junior pilots get stuck with flying them.

The issue is slightly more complicated however. At most airlines, pilots get paid more the larger the plane they fly. The larger planes typically fly more long haul routes. Therefore, it is usually the higher seniority pilots (those who have been there the longest) that fly the biggest planes. There will likely be the requirement to fly more long overnight flights on the bigger planes than on the smaller planes. Therefore, higher seniority pilots might fly at night more.

One of the best pieces of advice given to me when I was training was to “Guard your Sleep”. Going to a flight, either at night or during the day if you’re not well rested can be a safety concern. It requires planning ahead, but it can be done.

The great thing about flying at night though is that you get to see some amazing Northern Lights!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Question - Re: University Degrees for Pilots

I received a question from a reader the other day:

Hey! I am looking into getting into the industry. My question is do you suggest getting a university degree these days on top of everything else? My mom works for Air Canada so she knows many pilots and many have told me that having a university degree makes you a lot likelier of landing a job with a major airline.

Getting a university degree en route to becoming a pilot is a tough decision. I don't think that there's an overwhelming right or wrong answer and what will work best for a person depends on a number of factors.

Major Airlines, specifically Air Canada, use a 'points' system when determining who they will interview. Points will be awarded based on education, flying experience (both hours flown and type of aircraft those hours were acquired on), language proficiency, work experience, leadership qualities etc. I do not know how many points get awarded for each category.

About 8 years ago now when I was just finishing my training, I was able to meet the pilot hiring coordinator for Air Canada. When I asked if she had any tips, her response was "get a degree." What I have heard however, is that a university degree is granted the same number of points as a diploma from a recognized Aviation College such as Confederation, Sault College or Mount Royal. This is not confirmed though.

Even for Air Canada, having a degree will not automatically get you a job at an airline. It is also imperative to have a lot of flight experience. Depending on about a million different factors, when you're done your training, it will generally be 5 to 10 years before you have the experience to be hired by Air Canada. Even though their stated minimum hour requirements are 1000 hours, most successful candidates have at least 2000 hours, with most having more.

Having a degree will also not really help you in getting your first flying job. Operators that hire low time pilots generally don't care if you have a college diploma or a degree, rather, they want to see that you have a good attitude and can work hard. Having some work experience, being in the right place at the right time and making good connections will all help in finding the first flying job.

I am a proponent of getting a degree. I think that having a degree (or two) will open a lot of doors in life when combined with experience. It not only opens up options outside of aviation if you lose your medical or get laid off, it allows you to possibly move into management roles within an airline later on. I also think that taking some time to go to school and enjoy the 'university experience' is a benefit to every one. It gives people a couple years to grow up and learn responsibility. Obviously, not everyone needs this though. Though I personally have really enjoyed my university experience.

On the other hand, there are people who don't really think it is worth getting a degree if you want to be a pilot. Their point of view makes sense and I do believe that getting a degree isn't right for everyone.

Getting a degree, whether it is in conjunction with your flight training at schools such as University of Western Ontario, Waterloo, Seneca College or University College of the Fraser Valley or separately, usually takes 4 years and can be quite expensive. During this time, you generally don't do much flying. If however, you did you flight training independently through a local flight school or through a shorter, 2 year college program, you would be finished your training a lot quicker and out flying sooner. Once flying, most pilots building experience can get anywhere between 500 and 1000 hours a year and be earning money at the same time. Most airlines hire pilots with between 2000 and 4000 hours of experience and the quicker you're out flying, the sooner you'll have that experience.

Of the pilots that I know that are working at Air Canada, some have degrees and some do not. I know pilots who have been hired on at Air Canada Jazz both with and without a degree or Aviation College Diploma. I know pilots working for WestJet, some of whom have a degree and some don't. I know a pilot with an Economics Degree, lots of turbo-prop and jet Captain experience who was turned down by Air Canada but is working at WestJet. I also know a pilot who has two degrees that was turned down by Jazz.

So, as you can tell by the somewhat rambling response, there is no right or wrong answer.

Things to consider:

  • Are you the type of person that likes education?

  • What is your financial situation like?

  • Are you ready to jump into the work force, or will a couple of years at university or college be good for you?

  • What are the options of flight schools, colleges or Universities near where you live?

The main thing to know though is that getting a degree from a particular school will not guarantee you a job at an airline or let you skip the generally low paying, not glamorous first few years of flying.