Real Answers from Real Pilots

General Ground Ops Questions

Mentors,

I was wondering if you could explain a bit more of the ground ops that take place at the the beginning/end of the day.

1: When starting up the aircraft for the first flight of the day, what state do you find it in (Cold/dark in parking vs ‘warmed up’ at the gate already)? In cold weather, how is the aircraft warmed and does this happen before you get to it or during your preflight?

2: I’ve heard pilots say that after a flight they only have about 15min after shutdown before they can “clock-out”. It sounds like they power everything off and leave the aircraft for ground to manage while they drop paperwork. How accurate is that?

3: Also, how common is it to find a mechanical problem large enough to delay a trip? If the aircraft is put OOS, is there often a ready backup you switch into and continue the flight?

4: (Just for fun) I’m a bit of a foodie, find any good eats in your travels? Maybe a little hidden gem that surprised you?

Chris,

Great questions, let’s get to them.

  1. if it is truly the first flight of the day (the aircraft could have done a red-eye the night prior), the aircraft is generally completely shut off. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t lights on in the cabin, there are as there is a ground service electrical bus that powers those independent of the cockpit systems, but it does mean that the cockpit is completely dark with no systems on. If for some reason maintenance has come onboard before us, and they often have, then the airplane will be powered up and running off of ground electrical power, i.e. the airplane is plugged into the gate. Airplanes are not like cars, there is a process to turning them on that must be complied with, but once you learn it, it is easy. In cold weather we will either have the airplane attached to a ground based heater. In extremely cold weather, maintenance will often run the APU (auxiliary power unit) all night. This s a small turbine engine in the tail of the airplane that provides electrical power and pneumatic pressure to various systems, including the heating system. All of this usually happens before we get there. If it doesn’t, there can be problems when we arrive as the aircraft can take a long time to warm up, sometimes the computers don’t even work well when the airplane is extremely cold.

  2. Once we park at the gate, we either leave the aircraft powered if it is going out soon, or depower it and shut it down completely if it will be there for several hours. It only takes a few minutes to depower the airplane, a good pilot can be off the airplane before the last of the passengers are. Our paperwork is all electronic now, so there is nothing for us to turn in.

  3. Not very, although it happened to me on one of my last trips. Maintenance personnel usually inspect the aircraft several times per day, as do the pilots prior to each flight. But things do come up, on the above mentioned trip, we were just starting to push back from the gate and a ramper noticed a large pool of hydraulic fluid on the ground. This is obviously not a good thing and ended up with us needing to swap airplanes. At hub airports there will oftentimes be another airplane, but no in the sense you are probably thinking of. Instead of having spare airplanes sitting out on the ramp all day, the company has rolling standbys, meaning airplanes that are planned to be on the gate for several hours before their next flight. This allows us to take that airplane that has a few hours until its next flight, while maintenance works on our broken airplane, hopefully fixing it in time for the other flight. At outstations, we simply wait until the airplane is fixed, or cancel the flight.

  4. Now, I am not a foodie, but I do have a particular weakness for Mexican food. In Mexico City I found a taco joint that is incredibly good, while also incredibly cheap. It isn’t fancy, but it tastes delicious. Tacos el Caminero https://www.google.com/maps/place/Tacos+el+Caminero/@19.4342332,-99.1550563,114m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m8!1m2!2m1!1smexico+city+hilton!3m4!1s0x0:0x8b0d19027614da71!8m2!3d19.4342534!4d-99.1547938

Great questions, thanks for asking them. Feel free to ask more as you think of them.

Chris

Chris,

  1. Almost 100% of the time the airplane is already powered up using ground power (I can probably count on 1 hand the times I’ve found a “cold/dark airplane”). Most airport gates also have external air (those that don’t there are external carts that can be brought over) which provide heat in the winter or a/c in the summer. Some work better than others so you will on occasion start up the airplane’s APU (Aux Power Unit) and use that to warm things up if needed.

  2. After the flight you can take as much time as you need but you’re only getting PAID for 15min. It generally doesn’t take much more time than that to shut things down. Depending on the airline or operation, many have drop off points around the airport, others you have to go to the crewroom. Either way no biggy.

  3. Again that depends on the airline and operation. I’ve been fortunate that both the airlines I’ve worked for (ExpressJet and Hawaiian) both have fantastic maintenance. All planes get a thorough overnight check where mx is supposed to fix any known issues and hopefully find any others. That said things do pop up. If they can be remedied they will if not sometimes there’s a backup handy, other times there isn’t. Again I’ve been fortunate and have had a relatively small number but I’ve have had them all. Some cause no delay at all, some a short delay, some a long delay, some an aircraft swap and even the rare cancellation. All part of the job. Btw, that to me is the main reason I get to the airplane as early as I can (within reason). There are many pilots who won’t show up to an airplane until they are actually required to. The “I’m not getting paid so why should I” crowd. While I understand what they’re saying, 1) I HATE pushing late (I’m somewhat goal oriented) and 2) I always feel a certain responsibility to my passengers. You never know who’s in back or why they’re flying? Maybe they’re hurrying home to see a sick/dying family member or have an important job interview? I don’t know but as I said I always feel the need to get my pax to there destination safely and on-time if I can.

  4. While I hate the term “foodie”, I guess I qualify as much as anyone and I’m actually pretty well known at my airline as the “food guy” (I often get random calls from pilots or FAs I don’t know saying “hey I’m in XYZ, where should we eat?”). Honestly this forum (and the day) isn’t long enough for me to go through my ridiculously extensive list (I’m serious). What I have found to be a very effective tool in my quest for the best eats on the planet is an app called “TV Food Maps”. Basically you turn it on wherever you are and it tells you any place that’s been visited by any of the Food Network or Travel Channel shows and what they ate there. If it’s on the app and I’ve been to that city you can bet I’ve eaten there. Probably the thing I miss most about flying for the Regionals. We flew EVERYWHERE in the US and that afforded me much more food discovery opportunities.

Adam

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It was interesting reading some of the differences between Adam’s experiences and mine. It shows you just how different the airlines can be.

It is!

Thank you both very much. I’ve been nosing around aviation for a while now so I did already know a lot of what you said, but this did answer all my questions.

I don’t care for the ‘foodie’ term either, but it’s simpler to just go with it sometimes. And my phone nearly flipped out of my hand I was moving so fast (to look up the app you mentioned). I’ve said for years I want to sit down and go through some of my fav shows to write down addresses.

I understand the last-minutes pilot arrivals. I have worked Fire/EMS for a couple decades now and am usually partnered with someone who shows up later and then wants to half-ass his morning check. I’m the guy that shows early, warms the truck in the winter, and gets the little conveniences in order before the actual check.

And while i’m at it, I have a couple more questions,
Is ATP a good school?
Is it worth the money?
Do I REALLY need a degree?

Just kidding, I can read. Have a good one

7 Likes

Chris,

You had me going there, then I got a good laugh out of that one :slight_smile:

Chris

Same here :blush:

That made for a really good laugh! :rofl: