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Captain's Authority Questions

Old 10th May 2010, 00:59
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Captain's Authority Questions

Hello All,

I do not want to mention my company's name here publicly, but am curious about how things work at your individual airline.

Lately, my company has started to put some pressure on Captain's to:

1- Accepting aircraft with a Legally deferred (MEL) item,
2- Tracking/monitoring Captains that increase the Cleared Fuel after dispatcher finalizes his flt plan.

A bit of background for the above questions to help you understand where I am coming from:

1- They are claiming that we are the only US Major Airline where Captain's can still refuse an airplane with a legal deferral.
But a lot of Captain's see this as questioning their authority and/or pilot pushing.
A poor example is; would you take a 767-300 with APU inop, from US to say Buenos Aires on a 10+ hrs flt time, at night with some terrain/escape route concerns, limited airport availability, etc..

2- They are dispatching flights with about 45' (FAR Reserve), No Alternate (Domestic and some Intl) with about 15 minutes of extra fuel (Total of 1hr extra) for contingencies, sometimes 1+15..Of course there may be some exceptions at certain airports based on weather, airport capacity/demand,etc.
Most Captains add fuel to their comfort level after calling Dispatch, for now.

Recent JFK American airlines flight that declared an emergency due to crosswinds for low fuel status kind of makes me wonder if he was given the extra fuel needed that day.

I wonder if Captains typically accept the fuel given to them by their dispatchers or are they free to add fuel..

Thank you.
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Old 10th May 2010, 01:17
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Typically I can put on an extra :15 of fuel above minimum required with out question. over that I need to confer with dispatch. nomally no big deal as for the most part captains add extra fuel for good reason and are not questioned unless it's obvious comfort gas well over the :15 extra
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Old 10th May 2010, 01:27
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the pressure is increasing on everyone, everywhere.

you don't mention if you have a union or not. if you do, it is time to do what is right and use the power of the union.

if you don't...time to get a union...and it doesn't have to be alpa.

I am reminded of an old story..."Bartleby, the Scrivner". He would always say, "I would prefer not to". This so shook up his bosses, they couldn't do anything as he wasn't rude.

So, I would prefer not to take a plane with a bad apu due to considerations that would take hours to fully explain.

I would prefer not to

I would prefer not to.
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Old 10th May 2010, 01:33
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Wink MEL

In the case you cite that would be a matter to discuss with dispatch, and the reasons you cite for concern appear valid. If your grounds for declining the aircraft are rooted in concern for the safe conduct of the flight then your position should be sustainable, that is what you are paid for, risk analysis and management.

These matters usually come to a head (in my experience) when there are multiple MEL items which are manageable on a nice day, but could compromise safety in less than optimum conditions were another failure occur to ramp up the workload.

Fuel ? per previous, if there is a sound operational reason for carrying extra, carry it.
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Old 10th May 2010, 01:42
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I`m going to my 8th job, so I have some experience in lots of companies.

Concerning your first question , the answer is Yes. I mean , everytime you have a legally dispatchable MEL item , you are expected to go.

In the example you gave , if you lose one engine or one GEN you can at your discretion land in one of your enroute alternates.It`s cheaper than cancel or delay one flight because of a dispatchable MEL item.

About your second question....It`s fashion nowadays to monitor the block fuel.
There are 4 types of companies:

1. Up to the Capt.
2.They just monitor what do you refuel
3.They ask you to justify in the FPLN if you add fuel over a certain amount.
4.They don`t allow at all. (Qatar airways)

I have a simple way to solve this. When the destination and alternates are marginal , I simply add he fuel I consider good and end of question.
If the destination is marginal and I the alternates are good , I refuel for what they want and I don`t even allow the comerciality to cross my mind in case I need to divert. Hapened of don`t even start the approach for my destination. Direct to alternate.

No big deal.

Just divert and go to the hotel. This is the way of dealing with modern pseudo smart big counters.

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Old 10th May 2010, 02:30
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One more reason I think I will stay in corporate....at least I can put as much fuel as I want on the plane...well I guess that's why you guys make the big bucks...always a price I guess....

What's the saying....'I would rather reign in hell then be a servant in heaven'?
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Old 10th May 2010, 03:28
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I never have just asked for more fuel just because. I have however told the dispatcher I wanted a different alt, always further away and of course requiring more fuel...different way to skin a cat. I would like to know what airline he is talking about. At DAL I have never heard of anybody being called for either fuel or MEL's.But i am DAL north..

Last edited by filejw; 10th May 2010 at 03:44.
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Old 10th May 2010, 03:33
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Small ad-hoc charter airline with L1011 equipment.
Few MEL items, most quite minor in nature.
We carry three ground engineers everywhere we go, and in addition, a fly away kit is in the rear lower compartment.
IF the aircraft needs service, it is accomplished, period.
Occasionaly, we dispatch with an unserviceable APU, however, this is a ten day item, so on RTB, it is fixed or replaced.
I take what I need, no questions asked.
If this means that payload is offloaded/not accepted (very unusual, however) it is done, also, no questions asked.
Occasionally, to accept payload, we might offload the fly away kit, however, this is also very unusual.
In the last year, we have had 99% dispatch reliability.
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Old 10th May 2010, 05:06
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Let me tell you how to do your job...........

In the market economy there is almost always pressure to lower cost. In your airline many divisions and individuals look upon flight crews as an expense center needing to be cut down to size. Accusatory statements such as your company being “the only US Major Airline where a Captain can still refuse an airplane with a legal deferral” infer that such decisions (by flight crews) are unnecessarily wasteful and must be curtailed. Tracking/monitoring increase in cleared fuel is another subtle method to apply pressure.

My point is this: there are plenty of people who will attempt to force you, the line pilots, into compliance with their “idea” of how things ought to be done. These individuals include hard charging management types out to make a name and empire for themselves, CPAs and accountants who see numbers, Chief Pilots and Base Managers eager to please their superiors and even some maintenance people. This mind set extends to gate agents and flight attendants who will sometimes try and tell you how to operate. There seems to be no shortage of people trying to “force” you into conformity with their will using subtle and not so subtle pressures.

However, if and when something goes wrong (accident, incident or a potential violation) and you find yourself in a tight spot (worried for your safety and trying desperately to keep the airplane from harm or standing in front of a regulatory body fighting to keep your license and livelihood) not one of those people, who earlier were telling you how to do your job, are going to step up and claim any responsibility for the negative outcome. You will be alone. To the man/woman/department, every one of them is going to argue that the flight crew is tasked with the responsibility, and given the resources, to make whatever decisions necessary to ensure the safety of the flight. And that’s the bottom line.

If you bear the responsibility you must be also given the authority; the two are indissoluble. In the past this was recognized and granted.

Several years ago our company lost an airliner. That accident killed everyone on board. I still remember the dazed look of unbelief and complete bewilderment that was on the face of our company’s chief executive as he faced the television cameras, the grieving family members and the onslaught of the various investigators. He couldn’t believe this was happening. There were many warning sighs leading up to that loss, including a constant assault on the authority of the flight crews. In the final analysis you ride in the front end of the jet and it's your safety in the balance.

As a Captain usually I take the fuel given to me. However, if I don’t like that fuel load, for whatever reason, I get on the phone and come to an agreement. I do not go out of my way to be belligerent, after all most of my colleagues are only trying to do the best job they are capable of-no different from me. Sometimes they are correct and I am wrong, when that happens I learn something new.

As a flight crew you have to know what you are talking about, what you are doing and must be willing to hold your ground when somebody else is trying to get you to do something that isn’t a good idea.

“I would rather not”, I like that.
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Old 10th May 2010, 06:23
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I take what I need, no questions asked.
That's easy when you're the boss.
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Old 10th May 2010, 06:31
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Concerning your first question , the answer is Yes. I mean , everytime you have a legally dispatchable MEL item , you are expected to go.

Glad I don't work for you, you'd be in for a few suprises...
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Old 10th May 2010, 07:28
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1- Accepting aircraft with a Legally deferred (MEL) item
Assuming it didn't affect something like passenger comfort, e.g. APU U/S: 40C+ in the cabin on the ground, the fact that it's an approved deferred item means that someone else has done the risk assessment, calculated the repair interval and incorporated it into a legal document. In the case of multiple concurrent defects, this process is unlikely to have been carried out.

Personally, I'd have a problem with justifying a decision not to take an aircraft with an allowable defect unless there were obvious additional factors in play. Yes, you normally lose some redundancy when you despatch under the MEL but you can still go flying "safely" according to the JAA/FAA, etc. It does mean if you get a further unserviceability, you sometimes have to consider early termination of the flight - but that could happen at any time on a "normal" flight, anyway.

When it comes to loss of redundancy, how far do you want to take it? Would you go with a pack locked out - MEL say yes? Would you go with a brake locked out - MEL says yes? Would you refuse to fly a 767 because "it hasn't got enough engines"?

In my company I've never come into conflict with the MEL, except under circumstances outlined above. I regard it as a "go" document rather than a "stop" one, to keep the operation running. Bigger brains than mine have spent long hours working out what's acceptable or not and in the simple, single defect case, who am I to argue with them?

2- Tracking/monitoring Captains that increase the Cleared Fuel after dispatcher finalizes his flt plan.
We have this - you can even go online and check your own figures and see how they compare with those of others. There isn't much pressure to take minimum fuel apart from "please take flight plan fuel unless you can think of a good reason to take more, in which case please do...". It doesn't affect the captain's authority on the day to load what he feels fit.
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Old 10th May 2010, 08:31
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I did once refuse to fly an MD-11 from Anchorage to Seoul, long time ago, at Gemini.

It had a deferred engine generator and a deferred APU. Yes, it is possible to divert along the way in the pacific tracks, but it was at night in the dead of winter and I just didn't feel good about it. No questions were asked, and the mechanics were actually grateful - they wanted time to fix the plane....
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Old 10th May 2010, 10:12
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Many years ago there was the BEA captain who arrived at the aircraft to be met by the redcap (despatcher) who said he'd put xxxxkgs on. Captain said nothing, returned to check-in and told them he was going home. When asked why replied that there was somebody in a red cap out there who obviously knows more about flying aircraft than him so he can fly it.
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Old 10th May 2010, 12:01
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When asked why replied that there was somebody in a red cap out there who obviously knows more about flying aircraft than him so he can fly it.
Obviously just one of those arrogant four bar fools for whom CRM was designed. He should have been sacked on the spot for dereliction of duty. Of course his union would have screamed blue murder but up them too.
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Old 10th May 2010, 12:10
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Re. BEA, a similar thing happened in Qantas in the B707 days, late '60's. A flight planner had the temerity to order the fuel, and finalize the commercial load before the Captain even signed on. Some time after sign-on the Captain could not be found, he was eventually located back home.

His statement, "as somebody else had finalized the flight plan, he "reasonably" assumed he had been replaced as the Captain".

After the resulting furor, no flight planner tried that again, or ever attempted to usurp the legal authority of the pilot in command.

Of course, in recent years, there has been huge pressure on fuel usage, we just have to live with that.

The BEA story (true) goes back to about 1962, and a Guardsvan. An old mate of mine was one of the two F/Os, he dined out on the story for months.

Captain??? Bloggs,

What is it that you don't understand about CARs 224/233/234 etc. Or do you abrogate your legal responsibilities (assuming you are, in fact, a Captain) in the face of management pressure that is part and parcel of the job of any pilot in command.

For non-AU readers, CAR 224 is the legal basis for the authority of the pilot in command for a VH- aircraft. In a few more words, CAR 224 says the same thing as ICAO, or FAR 91.3. The others regs. quoted are about pre-flight preparation and fuel requirements.

A general comment --- if there is any basis in fact about the statement nominating QATAR (the new owners of Harrods) that will make the next IOSA audit for their national carrier interesting.

Tootle pip!!
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Old 10th May 2010, 12:18
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The Captain is responsible for the safety and security of the passengers and aircraft.

Regulations are provided to help and assist the Captain in making decisions in the execution of the mission...but no regulation will absolve the Captain, in any way, of his duty of responsibility as outlined above.

A Captain may and must make any decision that he perceives to be correct in maintaining the safety and security of his passengers and aircraft.
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Old 10th May 2010, 12:28
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Assuming it didn't affect something like passenger comfort, e.g. APU U/S: 40C+ in the cabin on the ground,
If I were a passenger I would rather put up with 40ºC for a little while than have the flight cancelled.

Having said that, while I reserve the right, I have never seen an MEL that I disagreed with. I think the MEL is more conservative than I am.
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Old 10th May 2010, 13:14
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And another thing, in BA back in the late 70s/early 80s after certain frustrating occasions with some cabin crew the flight management had to inform the cabin crew in very strong terms that the captain was in charge of the aircraft in accordance with the ANO, not the CSD, and his word is law. CSDs were getting above themselves. I imagine it must be very tricky now with locked cockpits and no opportunities for the crews to intermingle. I must say that in shorthaul we had a very good rapport with our cabin crew.
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Old 10th May 2010, 14:38
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Our MEL contains the following statement:

"The decision of the Commander of the flight to have allowable inoperative items corrected prior to flight will take precedence over the provisions contained in the MEL. The Commander may exceptionally request requirements above the minimum listed, if in his judgement such added equipment is essential to the safety of a particular flight under the special conditions prevailing at the time"

I am quite sure, in my company, that if I raised a sensible objection to dispatching with an allowable defect that in my judgement could not safely be carried due to prevailing circumstances that the pilot management would back me up. We have a pilot manager (they take it in turns) who can be contacted 24/7 for any reason including just this sort of eventuality and I have always received good advice. The normal attitude is "do what you think is sensible and we will back you up".

That said there is of course commercial pressure to get the job done but as said above it is part and parcel of the job. Being a commercial pilot doesn't just mean you get paid to fly, you have to operate and make decisions in a commercial manner, if you can't you are in the wrong job.

As for fuel I think most guys load a sensible amount and are trusted to do so, its 100% down to the Captain and no questions are asked although I think if you routinely loaded tonnes extra then someone would have a word.
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