Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Do we need a checklist?

The Question:

Do we really need a checklist? (in response to Air Facts: Is Your Checklist Really Necessary)

My Thoughts:

I say "yes, absolutely we need a checklist for our Cessna 152."

Professional pilots and those that fly every day, probably don't need a checklist to fly a Cessna 152. By the time the pilot reaches the professional levels, they have figured out the basic trainer aircraft and can probably fly them without a checklist with one arm tied behind their back.

But, a checklist is not for those normal days when everything is going right. The checklist is there for those days when things go wrong, for when fatigue starts to creep into operations, and/or when distractions start multiplying. At the end of a 4-day trip with five legs flown so far, that checklist will catch the fact that the flaps are not in the correct position. Or, during an inflight emergency, the checklist catches the missing landing gear, or the thrust reversers not being armed. During the emergency, the checklist is a wonderful crutch, perhaps catching the one item that allows for a safe landing or troubleshooting step that solves the problem.

A poorly designed checklist that has the pilot chasing switches around the cockpit will not be used. Too many pages, and the checklist never comes out of the pocket. We’re not getting any younger, so tiny fonts on a checklist are out. A red font color without enough black shading, makes the checklist disappear at night. Using a cumbersome checklist at the wrong time can lead to problems (do the Before Landing well before the Final Approach Fix/short final!). Any checklist is worthless if the pilot does not have a strong checklist discipline to use a checklist, a discipline that starts with the first steps towards a Cessna 152. Start skipping the checklist in the trainer, and that habit won’t be there when emergencies strike, when you most need the habit of reaching for a checklist.

I find pilots evenly split between the multiple page checklists and the short one-page versions. Students seem to prefer the multi-page versions, to help them get used to the processes of flying. Then, if the students fly often, they graduate to the single-page versions, no longer needing to be reminded of every step in a preflight. I also find a multi-page checklist allows for the pilot to re-familiarize with flight after having been away for a while, setting the mood for the upcoming flight. Once aloft, however, the pilots are reaching for the one-page checklist.

During an emergency, the stress level goes up, tunnel vision starts, and the pilot will only remember those things that are overlearned. Those things are habits. If the pilot does not have a checklist habit, or once had one but got complacent and stopped using a checklist, during an emergency, the thought to reach for a checklist may not be there. The pilot has effectively denied themselves the resource a properly-designed checklist will give.

This is why we, the Master CFIs at Qref Media), do our upmost to ensure a useful checklist. We test fly our checklists, ensuring students and experienced pilots can, and do, use each one. I make no claims of being perfect, occasionally a typo does miss my bleary eyes, but if we find a mistake, we get it corrected. We refrain from long legalese warnings that separate procedures and distract from the conduct of the checklist. In some, usually older aircraft, we add in missing steps or procedures, using industry best practices to offer guidance when the Owner’s Manual lacks, or resolve checklist conflicts, even contacting the manufacturer and type clubs for answers when needed.

To keep the font size readable, we split the one-page checklists into two cards, one for the normal procedures, one for the most common emergencies the aircraft or instructor will throw at the pilot. Each item in each checklist is reviewed, do we really need it? We’ll also grudgingly accept a few more pages in the emergency section of the multi-page checklists to allow for QRH (quick reference handbook) style procedures as we know emergencies can be stressful enough for pilots to forget basic items.

We’ve taken the research about checklists and their use and applied it to our avionics and glass cockpit checklists. The question we ask for each procedure is how do I get this box to do what I want, when I want, and will it work every time. Long explanations are left for the manufacturer’s manual and the many training courses out there. Inflight, especially single-pilot IMC, we don’t have time to read or scroll through the why.

I developed the avionics checklists because as an active flight instructor, I would face many GPS units weekly, if not daily. Sometimes even the same unit has different button sequences for different software versions, which makes it more confusing. I like multiple layers of defense against problems inflight, so If I forgot a procedure or the proper button-press sequence, I knew I could go to my checklist, find the procedure, and execute it before the passengers or ATC knew there was an issue. In no way does this replace my responsibility as a pilot to be familiar with the operation of the electronic boxes, the training I do on each unit before the flight, and good old-fashioned practice. However, if using a checklist means I get the job done safely, and without embarrassment, I’m all for it.

The last 50 years of human factors research is clear. Pilots that have good checklist discipline (they have a strong habit of using their checklists) make better decisions during emergencies and make fewer mistakes in normal flying. A checklist is one more layer of defense against pilot-produced problems inflight. The downside is that a poorly designed checklist will cause more problems than it solves, thus beware of the poorly-designed checklist.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Eighteen Study Tips

1.    Find a study method or two and use them. Many use flashcards. Write the checklist name on one side, the checklist on the other. If you were able to get the flows, limitations and emergency memory items, know them all before you arrive for ground school. If you were able to get your hands on the expanded checklists, know your limitations, flows, and memory items, then start working on the expanded checklists. Each flow item might have a seven-item checklist with it, know what those items are and what you are looking for. The harder you work before class, the better prepared you’ll be once you get there.
2.    For limitations, you could make a worksheet like the ones available on this site. Run through the worksheet every morning and every night, and in a few days, you’ll find the knowledge starting to stick. When you’re first starting, only put the number correct at the top of the page. Dating them so you can see your progress and the ones constantly missed helps motivation.
3.    Know memory items verbatim. If the company says “Reverse Thrust – Apply Maximum until Stopping Assured”, be able to spit it back that way. It’s standardization. “Thrust Reversers – Maximum” doesn’t cut it. When everyone says and does the checklist the same way, you can then work together immediately with the rest of the pilot group, and better be able to adapt to unusual situations.
4.    When trying to memorize verbatim, one technique is to write the material on one side of the flashcard, and write the name of the flow or memory item on the front, as well as the first letter of each word in the checklist. For example: “1. Reverse Thrust – Apply Maximum until Stopping Assured” becomes “1. R T – A M U S A”
5.    If you have time, learn required limitations verbatim as well as being able to explain what they mean. Then start working on the other limitations. You are responsible for all of them, so make life easy on the line and know them before starting ground school.
6.    When in class, indoc is not the time to slack. Pay attention in class, take notes, review those notes at night, read all the assignments, take notes on those assignments. There will be a test (or three). Ops Spec (C055 & C078), duty limits, exemption 3585, when you can board, what happens when a pax gets disruptive, baggage weights, limits, memory items and so on. Don’t read ahead of the assignments if you haven’t mastered the previous and assigned materials. Make flashcards, the process of making them will help you to learn the material.
7.    If you have a relevant question during class, ask it. Chances are the five guys next to you have the same question. However, class time is very limited, sometimes you may need to hold your question until before or after class.
8.    There are plenty of gouge sites and commercial sites charging you for a version of the  material your company provides and is paying you to learn. Read your company materials first. If you insist on using third-party materials, use the questions, look up the answers in company materials.
9.    When in class, what your previous airline did doesn’t matter. You were hired by the current airline to fly it their way. Pull the big red FLUSH handle in your brain and dump that previous aircraft and company. Learn and master this one.
10.  Many companies have paper tiger rooms that are available 24/7. Take advantage of them. If you can, find your sim partner early and get together to run flows, callouts, and maneuvers. Reach for each control. If you make a mistake, start over from the beginning. Once you and your partner have mastered the basic flows, start adding the expanded items. Switch up with other classmates occasionally if possible. Flight instructors know that you best learn materials when you try to teach it, so practice teaching your classmates the materials, and have them practice teaching you.
11.  If you’re exhausted by the end of that night’s homework and practicing flows, callouts, and maneuvers is impossible, go to bed. Get up early and hit the flows in the morning, before class. Thirty minutes of practice while refreshed and awake each morning before class adds up and you’ll be able to spend more time on assigned reading each night. By the time you’ve completed indoc and systems, you should have a good handle on the requirements and CPTs/formal paper tiger practice will be much more productive, as well as once you hit the sim.
12.  While reading through the manuals, you might have a question to ask the instructor. One instructor gave everyone a pack of large Post-It notes, and instructed everyone to write their questions and stick them on the page. In class, ask the questions. It worked. Page markers are useful, especially when organizing your notes.
13.  During systems, one student took time at the end of each day to type up his notes. His studying included the re-phrasing of his notes into the computer system, plus he discovered the gaps in his knowledge. The next day in class, he filled those gaps. His study was efficient, and his tests were easy.
14.  Another pilot, when faced with a new aircraft, and/or company, sits down the night he receives the aircraft systems books, and makes flashcards. Every switch, button, knob, and so on gets a flashcard. On the back he lists what happens when the switch is moved, knob turned, button pushed and pushed again, light illuminates, and so on. He first tackles the overhead panel, then works his way across the cockpit. You can get bogged down in EICAS messages, skip those until the major systems are done, then come back and card the important EICAS messages. It takes time, and more complicated aircraft might take several hours for this process to be completed. The systems exam is the first deadline, the oral exam the second, the checkride the third, and once out flying, each flight is the continual deadline.
15.  Now that you have a ton of flashcards, make your studying efficient. Some systems use 7 boxes for flashcards, I use three. The first box holds all the new cards. The one on the right are the ones I got right. The ones on the left are the ones I didn’t know. When I start a flashcard session, I start with the box on the left, then add the new ones. I’ll usually hit the left box items twice in a study session. Every other day, moving to third day, then week, and so on, I review the box on the right. If I miss one of those, it goes into the left box.
16.  When faced with a long open book exam, usually at the end of indoc and usually with a time limit, just like you did on your knowledge tests, go through and answer every question you know immediately, saving calculations and those needing research for later. Pay close attention to wording. You might think you know the answer, but one question might state “beginning” while the source in the manuals states “ending”. This is also a test of your attention to detail. The second time through, answer all of the questions that need calculations or research, but don’t spend more than the time it takes to look up the index and/or chapter table of contents, then read a few paragraphs on the page to find the answer. If the answer is not readily apparent, skip it and go to the next. You’ve probably earned a passing grade at this point. Now go through the exam again and research the tough-to-find answers. Finally, review the test making sure each question has an answer. These last two steps will take you from barely passing to the 90% and higher, which allows better absorption of trick questions or areas the entire class misunderstood. This process does not work on those exams that do not allow for review of previously answered questions.
17.  Sometimes the company will show you how to read the releases, then you won’t touch them again for two weeks, after systems. Every other day or so, re-read the practice problems and work them. The faster you become at calculating weight and balances plus takeoff numbers, the more sim time you’ll have to practice maneuvers.
18.  Once the company allows it and you have your crew badges, try to jumpseat on a company flight or two, solely to observe the procedures in motion. 
Good luck with the studying!

Dear Regional Airline New-Hire Pilot:

Dear Regional Airline New-Hire Pilot:

Congratulations! You’ve earned a flying job with an airline! You’ve beaten out 10,000 or more applicants for this coveted slot. Some of you may have started flying only a few years ago, some much longer. In any event, welcome! This flying job is the corner office with a much better view than any penthouse office.

Here are some tips to get you through the training and keep you out of the pitfalls that have cut many an aspiring pilot’s career prematurely short. This career can be fun and exciting, but it does take some hard work at times.

1.    Set three alarms a few minutes apart. Might as well get into that habit now. Don’t hit snooze, get up with the first alarm. Set the last alarm to give you enough time to get downstairs to the airport shuttle. Remember, cell phones can suddenly change time zones, front desk computers and reps forget or are not reminded to make the wakeup call, you could have set the alarm incorrectly, the alarm clock radio could lose power, or a variety of excuses for not alarming. You, on the other hand, have very little in the way of excuses for why you missed your show time. On probation, and for many companies, even after probation, being late is a firing offense. Don’t go there.
2.    Pack lightly. If you can’t carry it on, or gate check one bag (plus flight kit and/or lunch/computer bag), you’re taking too much stuff, even for a 7 day trip. For the two months of initial training, a second checked bag will be acceptable, but avoid it if you can.
3.    Smile, smile, smile. Your flight got delayed, cancelled, re-routed. Then the hotel didn’t have your reservation, and by the time everything got settled, you got four hours of sleep. When asked how was your trip, your trip was fine.
4.    Thank you. A thank you might be what got you the job. Remember to use the phrase generously once on the job. The gate agent with the key to a seat on the airplane home has only dealt with whiny, selfish, demanding, and usually unreasonable people all day. You might be the only ray of sunshine that day. The gate agent might not reciprocate, but you’ll avoid further irritating the gate agent, and avoid her desiring to take out her frustration on you. One call to your CP and you’ll not be in a pleasant place with respect to your job.
5.    Pack the night before. If by chance two of your three alarms failed, you’ll be able to absorb the lost time and still make your show time without panic.
6.    Keep you ID secure. Put your ID badge into the same spot every night, preferably into a pocket of a uniform item you never travel without. You don’t want to miss your flight nor want to experience the joy explaining to the CP and TSA about why someone attempted something nefarious with your badge.
7.    Stay out of the CP’s office. About 2% of the pilots cause the CP’s 80% or more of the work. Refrain from activities that would cause you to come to the CP’s attention in a negative fashion.
8.    Alcohol. Some guys can handle sipping one drink 12+ hours from show the night before. They can take it or leave it. If you can’t, avoid it. Avoid situations where the brews are cheap and easily refilled. One $1.50 special is not worth a career. If you need help, get it. Employee Assistance Programs are confidential until it is time to approach the employer, and the FAA, many airlines, and the rest of the pilot group would rather have you sober and working than on the streets after having caused an embarrassing incident. Because of the 24/7 news media, TSA, and passengers spring-loaded to assume the worst, many professional pilots avoid alcohol entirely while on trips.
9.    DUI/DWI can end your career. While you might consider a low-paying entry-level job to be just that, there are plenty of well-paying career flying jobs out there. You can’t get the time needed for those jobs if you’re sitting in jail.
10.  Build a bridge and get over it. If a personality conflict develops, stop it, even if the other guy is a Packers fan. Find agreement, agree to disagree, change the subject, let the other guy be right, put on your big boy pants and move on. This is not high school.
11.  Eliminate the “frat party” mentality. You might be just out of college, or even still attending online. Great! Enjoy the freedom of being an adult. But, as a professional pilot, you now have duties and responsibilities that require you to act like an adult, not a frat boy just off pledging. This means you will need to study, possibly harder than you’ve ever studied before. You will have plenty of late nights during new-hire school, but they’ll be from studying, not partying. Wait until you’re past probation to party.
12.  Be nice to everyone. The hotel staff knows you’re new-hire crew. The company may even ask them how you behaved. The Golden Rule Plus applies here. You have to take it, but you can’t give it.
13.  Flight plan the household for your absence. Create a QRH for the ones at home. If the water heater blows, there should be money and a number to call for a plumber. If a kid gets sick at school and the other parent is working, have a neighbor, friend, and/or baby-sitter to be the caretaker until the other parent gets home. You already have procedures for local weather events and fires, I hope…
14.  Tell life to wait. Pay bills early, stop paper delivery, have the post office hold your mail. Arrange your life so that you can dedicate a month or two to the learning process. If a hotel is offered, take it. Get away from the house and family and the problems they bring. Talking to the wife and kids is fine, but keep conversations short, and don’t be talking to friends about whatever when you need to be studying. As much as possible, instruct family members to handle situations themselves. You don’t need the distraction. They’ll need to do this while you’re away flying the line. In the same vein, it’s not fair for you to get mad if the situation wasn’t handled the way you wanted it to be. Use the CRM skills you’re learning and find agreement. It will take patience and understanding from all parties. When you’re in ground school, you need to be in ground school. Close the mental box labeled family and open the one labeled pilot until you’re done studying for the night. Then you can open the family box slightly and reconnect.
15.  If a true emergency develops at home, you may need to postpone training until the situation is resolved. Postpone before failing training. If the company is mad because you left to go to your wife’s hospital room after a nasty car accident, the company might not be where you want to work. A hangnail or a water heater explosion might not be an emergency needing your attention and permission to repair.
16.  Study. Study. Study. More tips in the next post.
17.  Take some time for yourself each day. It may only be 15 minutes, but not taking this time is a fast track to burnout.
Once on the line
1.    Respect your elders. The captain has more experience than you in that airplane. However, none of us are perfect, thus you need to catch the captain’s mistakes and prevent him from being embarrassed. Don’t worry, the captain will catch many more of your mistakes.
2.    Respect yourself. First year pay is low and you may qualify for food stamps. So, get them, but refrain from standing in line while in uniform. Pay might be embarrassingly low, but if you embarrass the airline, you may end up with no pay and be looking for another job. Keep yourself looking and behaving like a professional. Some things won’t go right, you’ll face delays, possibly training delays, early calls, crew scheduling, cancelled appointments, and so on. It does get better.
3.    Welcome to the seniority list. Your performance goal must be excellent or you should find another profession. However, while perfection is expected, it won’t get you upgraded faster than the other guy. Your time will come, eventually. Those that fret over every month’s move in the numbers burn out quickly. Those that relax and enjoy themselves, sheesh you’re flying and getting paid too, are far more pleasant to be around and seem to live longer.
4.    No slacking! Once you complete IOE, you’re released to the line. Keep observing your captains and learn their job as well as yours. When you get to upgrade initial, you don’t want to be cramming last minute. Upgrade teaches how the airline expects you to be a captain; it’s not new-hire systems ground. Some places find that around year three in the right seat, FOs start to slack. Don’t do that! Keep the elephant manageable and take it in small bites. Each month, pick a system and become an expert in that system.
5.    Studies show crews that follow policies and checklists are 85% less likely to have an incident. Why be one of the 15%? When on the line, continue to follow policies and checklists, then you won’t be sweating recurrent either.
6.    Jumpseating is a privilege. Ask the Captain of that flight for permission, no matter what the last crew’s response was. Be happy with anything received, even a seat at the gate to wait for the next flight. Show up early enough to have multiple flights to get back to base and have the funds to buy a ticket if the need arise. If the weather is turning sour, show up early enough to miss the weather as well, even if that means an extra day in the crashpad.
7.    Avoid the F/As. There are some wonderful people working as F/As. There are some that can’t wait to have a sugah-daddy or sugah-momma. Others are extremely jealous of your position for some strange reason and will do anything to destroy you.
8.    Jokes are fine and dandy, but know your audience before telling them. Also, know what time to tell them. Remember anything said with the beacon on is recorded and could be broadcast on the evening news. Remember too, anything said to the controllers is being recorded by thousands of wannabes and busy-bodies, anything juicy is bound to be broadcast on breaking news, which always seems to happen during the biggest Hail Mary play of the game. It sucks to have the game interrupted to hear your cheery voice telling a controller something best kept to the bedroom behind closed doors.
9.    The uniform. Polyester might seriously chaff, but if it is the company uniform, smile and enjoy. Remember there is a reason why there are Halloween costumes for folks to pretend they are police officers and pilots and why there are cautions to watch out for the F/As. Some gals just love a man in uniform (Change this as needed for your situation).

Congrats again on getting hired. We hope the above tips help you in training and beyond.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Making a Checklist

The question:

Should I make my own aircraft checklist?

The answer:

I write checklists for Qref, see qref.com, so I am biased for the ones we’ve made, but I’ve also learned a few tricks for making an effective, efficient, and safe checklist. Making your own checklist can be a great education, but it can also be a lot of hard work.

Here are some suggestions on writing checklists:

  • Make sure you can read your checklist during the day AND at night, including under a red flashlight. (Yes, I'm aware of the NASA study that says civilian pilots should use white lights at night, but in my experience, many pilots are using red or blue flashlights.)
  • Make sure your font size is large enough that you can read the checklist. The average age of the active pilot population hovers around 45, not exactly spring chicken's eyes.Adjust accordingly.
  • Pilots that fly frequently tend to not use the checklist unless is it out of their way while flying. This means don't make it bigger than an IFR chart, front and back. It's why we create two pages for our Qref Card checklists, one for normal procedures, the other for emergency procedures. For our Normal Procedures checklist, everything from Preflight through Run-up is on the front, Takeoff through Shutdown and Securing is on the back.
  • For those that don't fly frequently, we offer the multi-page checklist that goes into great detail for each procedure.
  • Include POH supplements in the checklist. One manufacturer has five checklist items that change four times through the supplements, and when the aircraft has all four items installed, they don't tell you which setting to use. If you can't find the answer from the POH and supplements, ask the mechanic. If the mechanic doesn't know, ask the factory. They'll find out. (My inquiry caused a revision to the POH so us mere mortals can understand what is needed)
  • Find yourself forgetting something every time? Put it in your checklist.
  • We check circuit breakers several times in the preflight process. Why? It's been our experience that if a circuit breaker is going to cause a problem, it'll do so during one of the preflight checks. Find the problem on the ground, not in the air. It might be a good idea to do the same with your checklist.
  • Does the manufacturer POH give you 11 pages on how to wash the airplane and 2 on how to fly it? Some of the procedures, especially the vexing emergencies, come from FAA publications and long experience watching students make the same mistakes over and over again. What is the first step of an engine failure? Turn towards safe terrain!
  • Number the items on each procedure to make it easier to find your place should you be interrupted. If that is not possible, restart the checklist. We find pilots better able to recover and remember their spot if the items are numbered versus bulleted or listed without numbers.
  • If making a book checklist, order your emergencies by system and type. Tabs are helpful as well.
  • Nothing prevents you from solving several performance problems ahead of time. Instead of interpolating, use the most conservative numbers. It's what the airlines do. Run all calculations at least twice to ensure you come up with the same answer. Test fly these.
  • Many pilots run the before start checklist as a "Do" list. The takeoff checklist is run as a "Review, then Do". Climb through Before Landing checklists are mostly ignored if in a multi-page checklist, or "Do then Review" if a single page checklist. After landing and securing are both run as "Do" checklists. We try to make each procedure able to be completed in the pilot's preferred way. Make your checklist in your preferred way.
  • If a checklist has you chasing a bumblebee around the cockpit, looking here, there, and everywhere, sit down in the cockpit and find a better order. Some times this will not be possible, and sometimes you'll find a way only after you've flown the aircraft a few times or an instructor provides some direction.
  • Find and read every study you can on checklist design and human factors. We've come a long way in the last twenty years.
  • Test your checklist in the cockpit before flying.
  • Test fly your checklist, preferably with an instructor on board. You may need to make changes and test fly again, possibly a few times.
  • Finally, if you laminate your checklist, do so with non-glossy “luggage tag” thickness laminate. IIRC, this is the 5 MIL thickness. Make a few at a time, so if you accidentally leave one in a rental aircraft, you’ll have another to replace it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Get Out of Debt

The Question:

I’m buried in student loan debt, and my flying job only pays $22,000 a year. What do I do to pay all the bills, especially the late credit card bills? Calls from collection agencies are driving me nuts!

My Thoughts:

The following thoughts do not substitute for legal, financial, or tax advice from a competent lawyer, minister, accountant, tax preparer, witch doctor, CPA, spouse, or other internet resources. Regulations may have changed. I would highly encourage seeking professional help, even if it does cost some.

Further, I don't know what these new rules of money are. If you pay down your debt, the bank rewards you by reducing your credit line. If you keep a revolving debt, you get charged. If you invest, you lose, period. If you save, you lose. If you spend, you get the benefit of whatever you purchased, for a short period of time. If you recycle, you get charged. If you reuse, you get charged. If you earn a dollar, the gov't takes 40-60% of it. If you win a dollar, even more gets taken. There seems to be no reason or rationality to it anymore.

On to the thoughts. First, CEASE any collection agency from calling you. Tell them "Under the Fair Credit and Collection Act, do not call me again regarding this matter." Then send 'em a letter stating such. If the collection agency has really been driving you nuts, or calls after you’ve told them not to, send them a certified letter to their physical mailing address, a PO Box does NOT count. Need a trick to getting their physical address? During the “don’t call” conversation, ask them which address you should use to Fedex a payment. For computerized calls, use a phone that is not your own (the FBO’s would do, or a pay phone), speak to the secretary and ask for the mailing address. Don’t give them account info or anything else.

Now that you only don’t have to worry about calls from collection agencies so you have the silence needed to figure out your situation.

Write down all of your debts. All of them. Credit cards. Student loans. Parents. Friends. Relatives. Alimony. Child support. Taxes. Medical bills. etc. Put down the monthly payment due, interest rate, billing address, customer service contact number, and payment due date. Getting them in one place is the first step.

Next, figure out your monthly income. That's per diem, wages, extra work, and so on, after taxes. Ticking off Uncle Sam will not improve your situation.

You can fun around with a budget or not, some folks can live with them, some can't. I can't, so I make it easy.

Take 10% of your monthly income off the top and pay it to yourself. These are your investments. A U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April 2005 that retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401Ks can not be touched by collection agencies. Exceptions might be by the IRS, child support, and alimony- a bankruptcy lawyer could tell you more. What this means is you can save for your future despite being in a debtor's hell. With a Roth IRA, you can always take out your contributions without tax penalty, so if really desperate you have something that can allow you to still eat. You can build your six month emergency fund into your Roth IRA and the collection agencies can't touch it. Treat this money as a last resort, it is why you are working, for yourself.

Figure out your monthly expenses: Rent, mortgage, insurance, phone, utilities, and so on. Write 'em down. Put down their billing address and the contact number. If the due dates are scattered through the month, call 'em and see if you can get them closer together. Then you only have to pay bills once per month. BTW, the car insurance payment and the medical are recurring expenses that you know you will have, they are monthly expenses. Take the amount and divide by 12 to get the monthly amount.

Take 20% of your monthly income and pay it to your debts. Total up all of your debts, divide by the number of debts. This tells you how much you can pay to your creditors. One of the biggest steps you can do to resolve your debts is pay your creditors the same amount each month, every month, no matter how small nor how much you owe. If the minimum monthly payment is within a few dollars of this amount, make the adjustment to meet those mins. A few dollars over the 20% won’t hurt. However, 30% or more can really hurt.

What if the minimum payments are exceptionally higher than the 20%? You’ll have to make some decisions. Can you call the creditor and have the minimum payment reduced for a year? Many banks are willing to do this, some will have specific criteria. Balance the amount of information you give them with withholding information from your creditors. Collections agencies, no way, don’t bother to call and apply for “programs.” The only thing collection agencies understand is money, thus simply send them money each month.

Take your monthly income, subtract the 10% for your investments, monthly expenses, and 20% for the debts. What's left goes to your weekly and special expenses. Start with a 50/50 split, adjust as needed. Special expenses are things like a new TV, replacing the refrigerator, or the new toy for your car you've been eyeing. Weekly expenses are things like food, eating out, a car wash, a pair of jeans, and so on. Perhaps with this job, eating out is a monthly expense. For me, it works better as a weekly expense.

With the 50% for the weekly expenses, divide it by 4.33. That's your weekly allowance. You can take it out in cash at the beginning of the week, or transfer it to your checking account, whatever works for you. When you're out of cash, you're done spending for the week.

Need to build up a cash cushion in the checking account? First, get an account not attachable by creditors (more later). Second, use a monthly income amount BELOW your actual income. Third, don't cheat yourself thinking the slowly building money there is for your use. When you've built the cushion beyond a sufficient amount, give yourself a paycheck, distributing 10% to yourself, 20% to the debts, and the rest to the monthly, weekly, and special expenses.

Now, for the creditors. . . Man, they are a nasty bunch aren't they? Many willfully violate the regulations, saying anything they can to get ignorant debtors to pay them. They get bonuses based on how much they collect. They can't stand inconsistency, lies, false promises, and so on. They only understand money. So, use the following three rules:

1. Cease any creditor that harasses you.
2. Withhold as much information as possible from the creditors.
3. "Make regular payments you can afford, no matter how small, to every creditor you have."

How do creditors find out about your banking accounts? You tell them. So, withhold as much information as possible from the creditors (nope, no bank account, nope, no job, nope, no mattress, nope, no credit card, etc.). With them not calling every blasted day, it's a lot easier to do.

Whoa, this could kill your credit, but it’s probably already shot if collection agencies are calling. Being late with payments, not making payments, and being insolvent kills your credit worse. BTW, you can get apartments, jobs, girlfriends, and so on, even with poor credit. In today's financial world, credit doesn't mean jack anymore. There is no debtor's prison, except from the IRS. The IRS, though, is far more reasonable than most collection agencies. The IRS knows the rules and plays by them. You can negotiate payments with the IRS and with the income level of a first year regional pilot, the IRS is typically willing to negotiate.

If a collection agency repeatedly violates the Fair Credit and Collection Act, you can sue them, and they can end up paying your debt and paying you damages. www.budhibbs.com for more details.

If you walk away from the unsecured debt, it will stay on your credit history for seven years. You could still get the occasional collection call after the seven years, but if you don't pay or negotiate anything, it won't reset the seven year clock. Many credit cards have gone to binding arbitration agreements, so don't be surprised if a collection agency pulls the arbitration judgment racket on you. I suspect there will be a class action lawsuit against the binding arbitration racket some day. In any event, it's hard to attach a lien on accounts they don't know about, and you are not required to give up your account information in the current racket binding arbitration. If in court, that's a different story, and spend money for a competent lawyer's advice. Once the account is written off, it no longer collects interest.

If you go the “write-off” route, be prepared for a 1099 form at the end of the year, the debt write-off now being shown as income for the IRS. There are exceptions for this for mortgages and other debts, see http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/tax-consequences-settled-forgiven-debt-29792.html for more details.

There are two choices with the monthly payment money you are no longer paying towards the debt you’re choosing to write-off: 1. Save some of it for a settlement payment, knowing that when you make the settlement payment, it will restart the seven year clock on your credit history unless you negotiate otherwise. 2. Never pay the debt, period. Remember, this is a business deal, not a calculation of your worth as a human. Just ask the CEO of the airline that has gone bankrupt for the umpteenth time, pushing wages artificially low, while the CEOs and others take golden parachutes.

BTW, no matter how bad your credit stinks, in two years of timely payments, and other steps, you can have good credit once again.

Student loans: If you have a Federal Direct Student Loan, you can consolidate all of your student loans with the Federal Student Loan Agency. CALL THEM!!!!! Nelnet, Sallie, Nellie, and a whole host of others will be so disappointed that they can't run you over with high interest rates. Consolidate the loans into an income contingent repayment schedule. A first year FO typically qualifies to have a zero dollar payment. There's also forbearances and deferrals, as long as you communicate with them. Furloughs, first year FO pay elsewhere, new job, no job, disability, sick kids, the government, in a rare form of bureaucratic foresight, understands and can adjust the payments accordingly. But, you gotta tell 'em!

So the guidelines:

1. Pay no less than 10% of what you earn to yourself.
2. Pay monthly expenses using one list, in one location, all at one time.
3. Pay daily expenses using a weekly cash allowance.
4. Pay special expenses using separate accounts (or socks).
5. Pay no more than 20% of what you earn to your debts.

With creditors:
1. Cease any creditor that harasses you.
2. Withhold as much information as possible from the creditors.
3. "Make regular payments you can afford, no matter how small, to every creditor you have."

(Portions excerpted from Guy Picard's "Turning it Around: A Book for People in Debt")

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Qref Syllabi, Checkride Checklists Now Free

News Release

For Immediate Release

Contact:   Doug Stewart, SAFE Chair
                           SAFE@SafePilots.org, (cell) 413-281-6788

Qref Syllabi, Checkride Checklists Now Free
Training Reform Symposium Continues to Yield Positive Results

Santa Paula, CA—As founding members and an early provider of member benefits of the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE), Qref recently announced its support for the goals of pilot training reform. Consequently, Qref is now offering PDF versions of its syllabi and acclaimed checkride checklists at no charge.

Acting on a recommendation from the training reform symposium, Qref joins ASA, Sporty’s, and SAFE in providing free syllabi. According to a Qref representative, “We praise ASA’s and Sporty’s lead on this and challenge other courseware providers to similarly offer online versions of their syllabi at no charge. With a wide selection of syllabi freely available, instructors and students should be able to find syllabi that work best for them. All of aviation will benefit from this.”

Qref syllabi address all FAA requirements as well as the reality of learning to fly in today’s complex and highly regulated environment. With a combined thirty years of flight instructing experience, the syllabi have been excerpted from Flight Instructor Notebooks created by Bridgette Doremire and Gene Hudson. Additionally, Qref’s Instrument Rating Syllabus was designed for use with flight simulators, allowing students to practice in a simulator before proving their knowledge and skills in flight, thereby reducing costly flight hours. The free Qref syllabi and checklists for Private, Instrument, and Commercial are available at http://www.qref.com/aviation/lesson-plans/


FMI: www.PilotTrainingReform.org, www.SafePilots.org, www.qref.com

Direct link to Syllabi & Checkride Checklists: http://www.qref.com/aviation/lesson-plans/

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Rudder Skills

The Question:

My student seems to have a hard time working the rudder properly. Is there anything I can do to help this on the next lesson?

My Thoughts:

For the next flight, it's time for a rudder coordination exercise. During the preflight briefing and in the air, advise the student that you are "putting on your instructor's hat at times during this lesson." Ensure during the briefing that the student understands rudder theory, adverse yaw, and practical rudder use.

Inflight, conduct the clearing turns, have the student line up on a handy landmark, and start working the rudders. Make sure she is sitting upright in her seat, remind her to feel the aircraft weight down her spine and through to her tush. Step on a rudder pedal hard. Ask her which butt cheek has the weight on it. Re-center. Ask again. Step on the other pedal, hard. Ask again. Now direct the focus outside. What is the nose doing as you step, center, step?

Have her try it.

Clearing turns.

Now, lined up on a good landmark, go from cruise to slow flight, then back to clean, keeping the nose lined up. Then change configurations, each time, "don't let that nose move! It's moving! Stop that nose!" Back to cruise, start a descent, 500 fpm down. "I saw that nose moving!" Recover, climb, recover, down again, rinse & repeat until the nose is wired to where it belongs.

Then add configuration changes to the climbs and descents. Next work airspeed changes with configuration changes with climbs and descents.

If you think she's getting good, have her roll in and out of turns. The first time, you'll have to look carefully yourself, but if she's turning left, you'll probably see the nose walk off to the right. "What's causing that?" The answer is not "not enough rudder," the answer is "adverse yaw" and the action is "more of the proper rudder."

If the nose does not initially walk off in the opposite direction, you may need to demonstrate, even exaggerate with the other rudder to get the nose to walk.

Practice that skill for a while. You know it is time to move on when the light bulb is shining brightly overhead and your student is smiling confidently.

Now, if you've been an especially devious instructor and still working on your student’s independence, you have managed to fly out of the practice area and are over a somewhat unfamiliar area, away from complicated airspace. At the appropriate time, announce "Great job. I'm taking off my instructor's hat now. Let's go home." Fold your arms, lean back, close your eyes, and shut up. A yawn is optional. After counting to sixty, you can open your eyes and pretend to be a passenger, albeit not a too distracting one. Observe what develops, although you can offer a lifeline or two, and an occasional, “is that your final answer?” Remember, this flight training stuff is supposed to be fun.

Follow-up practice would include a brief series of rudder coordination exercises in the practice area, to be repeated when rudder skills start to diminish. Another is a trip to an airport with strong crosswinds, to work approaches to the runway with the strongest crosswinds. Landing may or may not be advisable, and if you do land, if the winds are near the max demonstrated crosswind, come to a full stop before attempting to turn. You will feel the wind attempting to weathervane the aircraft.

Towards Flight Student Independence or Checkriditis

The Question:

As we get closer to the checkride, my student is reverting. He’s forgetting procedures, PTS standards, even clearing turns. What should I do?

My Thoughts:

This sounds like a case of checkrideitis, but also that the student hasn’t overlearned the procedures. The student needs to overlearn procedures enough so that he or she can perform even with the stress of the checkride.

To alleviate this, I tell the students that the more they know and the closer they get to the checkride, the less I will know. It is a game, but a functional one. On the next session with the student, I explain how that as the student gets closer to the checkride (ooohhh "checkride" that'll fire the nerves up), it will seem like I am becoming dumber and dumber. I let the student know that I will start acting like an examiner and be very quiet in the right seat, only jotting down the occasional note.

Then, on the flight, I guide us towards safe terrain and airspace, and shut up. If the student asks, I will list what maneuvers he's to perform. But, unless imminent pain is about to occur, I don't interfere. On my notepad, I will list everything the student does right, including looking for traffic. Once, when the student does perform something right, or makes a proper decision, I will challenge him, "Do you think that is correct?" If the student inquires back, I will shrug my shoulders, do the stupid look, and say "I dunno," and scribble something on the notepad.

On the postflight brief, I will tell him he knows what he did wrong, and list what he did right. I will also suggest that if the student doesn't know the PTS, then how can he know what he did wrong? I will remind him to reread (read) the introduction, because if he thinks one exceedance of a maneuver fails the ride, then he should fail, but for not knowing the PTS.

Other tricks I've used have included multiple flight lessons in a day, so the student didn't have their family and work life interfere with the learning and remembering; chair flying through a lesson, the student talking his way through it; refusing to fly unless the ground information was learned; and clipping the solo wings - very slowly and deliberately, with good-humored joking about my being a mother hen. Sending the student up with another instructor and even with the DPE has also worked.

We’re instructors. We find the roadblock(s), and find the way(s) around it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Crew Tracker

The Question:

What is a Crew Tracker?

My Thoughts:

Airline pilots and flight attendants, reserve and line-holders alike, fear the crew tracker. Assigned by crew schedulers, the crew tracker mercilessly stalks down their prey, a pilot or flight attendant. Their only goal is to stock airplanes with crew members. They are not normal human beings, with a personality that makes the most hardened criminal shake, an intimate knowledge of all the possible hiding places, an encyclopedic knowledge of the contract, and beady little eyes, able to see through the phone line to know that the claimed beer is really a soda, or the desired crew member is hiding in the ceiling. Former airline pilots now working as FAA Inspectors and NTSB Investigators tip-toe lightly around the crew tracker, twenty years post-airline. They've heard stories and wonder, no one daring to look, is their name on that clipboard? Even chief pilots are not immune from the effects of a crew tracker, for when the tracker has problems, so does the chief.

The crew tracker is generally unlikable for the news they bear is never good. They never seem to be caught up by TSA, food, or even a need to use a restroom. They have patience beyond that of Marine Snipers and similar abilities to blend with their environment. They'll wait for hours for their prey, an unsuspecting crew member, going merrily about, thinking of the trip home. Suddenly, a crew tracker materializes in front of the hapless crew. From what seems to be the same brown clipboard comes an assignment, maybe it's one trip, or maybe it's another three days of trips. In the jetway, no one can hear you scream.

Sometimes the tracker's arrival is forecast by ACARS. Officially and properly nailed, the crew solemnly performs what they had hoped was their last landing, the jovial atmosphere long evaporated. Some surrender to the inevitable, others go kicking and screaming, but to fight is futile, if one is legal, one goes. Only the new-hires hope for a tracker, for them it means more flying, even if there is a ten hour sit, it's still flying. The new-hires soon learn. And the trackers resume their disguise.

In times of bad weather, crew must report in to the trackers, the trackers seemingly able to reproduce on whim and be in several spots at once. One must know their contract and be able to out-spout the trackers, as when the weather lets loose its fury, so do the trackers. That easy out-and-back you had to SAN, hah, you're on the next flight to BOS. That well-scheduled four-day with lots of flying and an early release, forget it, you're on your way to RDU for a 5 hour sit.

There are no friends, and no favors are remembered. Seniority doesn't matter, if you're the only one with a pulse that won't time out. Even being at the schoolhouse won't save you, when times are desperate, 10 guys in class just became 5 flight crews with no worries of timing out.

If you ever step into the airline world, beware the crew tracker! Beware!!!!