Captain Steve Answers More of Your Airline Questions
For a few months now, we’ve been soliciting reader questions for Captain Steve, a pilot with a major U.S. airline. You can find his first few batches of answers here, and he’s back now with another round. You can leave new questions for him in the comments section below.
I am told that in order to save fuel, the discharge of cabin air has been throttled down so less bypass air is routed from the engines to cabin ventilation. Of course, this means we are all breathing the exhalations of everybody else and sickness results. True? — Norm
Good Question. It is true that bleed air from the engines is used in the environmental systems of the aircraft. It is used for water pressure, lavatory functions, and as asked here, in cooling/heating and to pressurize the cabin to a habitable level. At a typical cruising altitude, 35,000 feet for example, the air is very thin, dry, and approximately 55 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. There is a degradation of thrust when bleed air is siphoned of to be used in things other than thrust.
But there is no such issue as you state it to my knowledge. Fact is that we can turn fans off in order to change circulation patterns. But typically, most of these procedures or techniques are designed to ventilate the cabin in the event of smoke or fire procedure. We operate the cabin pressurization systems and others the same as we always have. The air quality is vastly improved from the days of smoking on airplanes. In those days, mostly on older types of aircraft, we did some preventative measures of cycling some recirculating fans in order to clear the cabin of smoke if it became a problem.
Today’s aircraft are very well designed. We rarely need to make adjustments to temperature or circulation patterns. This is more of an urban myth than fact.
Is there any way to obtain information on my commercial airline pilot before I fly … like how long he’s been flying, education, what he/she is or isn’t trained to do? — Tracy Moore
Tracy, There is a great way to get this info, ask the pilots. We all love to brag about our training and backgrounds. I think you will be amazed and impressed at the variety and high level of training and experience most major airline pilots have.
Which specific regulations does the Captain think the airline industry would be better without? — blue92
I don’t know if it is the regulation you have in mind. I would like to see the playing fields kept level for all airlines, new and old. I would like to see a much more stringent “stress test” of all new entrants into the markets.
I would like to see us compete in unfettered international markets. Many foreign carriers are subsidized by their home governments. This affects the nature of true competition.
I also feel the small commuter and regional carriers are extremely weak in their experience required in order to be hired and to be qualified to fly you from home to Point B. The level of experience and oversight at these small carriers has been swept aside in the interests of profits. These are good pilots but many need much more experience in order to be at the level you would expect.
Are there areas where more regulation might be needed? Or perhaps different approaches/stiffer fines/etc. for violations of certain existing rules? — blue92
Sadly, I think that there needs to less regulation in some ways, certainly less corporate oversight. Our current system was and is working, but it can be better if it is simpler.
Follow my logic. Everyday, I make sure that I dot the “I” and cross the “T” because of bureaucracy repercussion of rules. More rules, more threats. This cycle takes more time for me and less time for me to devote to taking care of the business of putting together a safe plan to move you and my aircraft from one airport to another.
Remember many of us have been doing this for almost 30 years. I have seen more mistakes and mishaps that resulted in the loss of friends than I care to see between my civilian and military career. I think of that everyday as I make decisions. I don’t really need another rule to be safer. What I need is leeway to allow me to utilize my experience in making decisions. The law is clear. “The Captain is the final authority”. That means, no matter what the reasons, if something goes bad, it is my fault. So I am just like every pilot I know: very careful. I try not to get in a hurry and distracted.
I learned a great piece of advice many years ago from a very senior captain I flew with a lot, Dave K. I asked Dave how he always keeps his cool and handles things so calmly. He turned to me and said, “I never argue because I never get mad; I don’t have to get mad because I am the Captain and I always win the discussion!”
In the end, I use this almost everyday. I use it in dealing with the problems that are encountered in my operations. If it is to help the ticket agent, great. If it is to help resolve issues with the crew, great. If it is to help the most important person, you the passengers, even better.
I often travel between LGA and an airport in the southeast. Coming back to LGA it only takes me 20 minutes to get to my departure airport and 99 percent of the time when I get there the Internet updates and the departure screens tell me everything is on time. I get through security and end up waiting sic to eight hours because either the plane is not there or ATC at LGA won’t let us leave. I have heard I could track my plane’s whereabouts if I had its tail number. How can I do this and evaluate the extent of the backup at LGA? — Egidio
Good Question; there are many, many resources to help you track flights — too many to single out. The iPhone has some great ones. Many more are for Mac and PC’s too.
But find one that can help you execute this knowledge. If one flight is delayed going to an airport, then all of the flights are probably being impacted almost equally. So if you headed to LGA … check all airlines headed to LGA from where you are. See what the consensus reports on the flight monitors show.
Continental’s website is one of the easiest to use to track it’s own flights. They use a prompt that shows the current flight you inquired about and the inbound aircraft’s status. I commute from the midwest to NYC’s airports on a weekly basis. I have commuted to work for 23 years. I know what you’re talking about. I do find that the web applications seem more accurate. Some favorite Apps are Flighwise, FlightAware, and Flight Update Pro. These are all well done. The FAA has their website to report known delays too. Hope this helps!