Another airline merger ... maybe. This time it's close to home for AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit, so he's sucking on oxygen.
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A folded newspaper fell into my lap as I was sitting in the "king seat" awaiting pushback in Newark. It was a USA Today with the headline, "Two
Biggest Airlines Set to Merge," appearing above the fold. My co-pilot, Chet, had dropped it onto my dormant daddy parts and then flopped into his own lambs-wool covered "co-king seat" in an unhappy
"I knew it!" he said. "It looks like the inevitable has happened and the airline world as we know it is coming to an end. Now I'll never make captain. It is bad enough the retirement age is now 65,
pushing me back five years in seniority progression; now we're going to merge with these guys and they are all senior to me."
I normally don't pay much attention to merger rumors. If I did, I would have no time available to worry about important things like who the next American Idol would be and how much money I'd have to
pay for my next fill-up of the family's eight-cylinder soccer shuttle. This particular rumor had the appearance of truth, so I decided to pay a little more attention to it. After all, USA Today
doesn't publish colorful pie charts about airline delays on their front page unless they have a reason ... or if Britney has had a slow news day.
Apparently, our group of large, subsonic, people movers would soon merge with their large group of large, subsonic, people movers to form an even larger group of large, subsonic, people movers.
Unless, of course, you count the large, subsonic, people movers we would no longer have to own or use because we had combined our operations. That is where Chet's fears were based.
If the combined companies needed fewer subsonic people movers, they would need fewer pilots to pilot them. Because Chet is a pilot and because he is a relatively junior one who has just come off of
furlough, it looked like he might be going back to his father-in-law's Ford dealership to change oil and put cardboard floor mats into F-150 pick-ups instead of 777 school next year if this merger
Why the CEO Bailed on Business School
I gave up any hope of getting a business degree in college way back when I tried to take Accounting 101 and had that argument with the teacher about why numbers didn't always have to add up as long as
you still had money in your account. Also, liberal-arts classes had better looking women. My decision resulted in me knowing a lot about the feminist movement and airplanes but damn little about
business, mergers, sinking debentures, hostile buy-outs, casual Fridays, all-hands sales motivation meetings and quarterly whatnots.
The only reason I can figure that airlines would want to merge is because the media has told them that it is a good idea. It can't be a good thing for the senior managers. With fewer companies come
fewer cushy jobs with golden parachutes. How could they possibly make their money and be on each other's board of directors if there were fewer of them to go around?
I was about to comment on this to Chet when I got further good news from Wanda, our senior flight attendant.
No Bottle, No Throttle
"Guys," she said, "I hate to tell you this but we don't have enough usable walk-around oxygen bottles to dispatch. The MEL (minimum equipment list) says we need four and we only have two with any
oxygen in them -- the other two are empty.
"The crew that brought the airplane in must have used them on a passenger on the way up from Miami and forgot to put it in the logbook," she said. "Can you call downstairs and have them send a couple
No problem, we'll put Chet right on it. I saw Chet putting on his headset and, as he leaned over to the center console to make sure the ramp frequency was on number two, I felt the urge to
I don't know why we don't just keep a few bottles of medical oxygen on board. We can't come up from Florida without using at least one of our crew walk-around bottles to help out a wheezing geezer and
we know they won't pay the money that we charge them for pre-planned medical O2 anyway.
"Ops says they don't have any spare bottles," Chet interjected as he took off his headset. "We're dead in the water and can't dispatch unless we can get spares elsewhere."
Are there any other planes coming in for a few-hours sit? Maybe we can steal a few from them and they can steal from yet another airplane until the geniuses down in our main base send some spares up.
We used to have maintenance here along with beaucoup spare parts, but we gave them up years ago as a cost-cutting move. Why have adequate maintenance and spares when you can get away without them most
of the time? What does the public think we are running here? A scheduled airline?
Will a Merger Help Passengers Breathe?
Just then, a ramp agent appeared behind my seat and told us we'd have to wait for our fuel today because the truck was broken. They had called out the ground-support equipment (GSE) mechanic and he
had already arrived to fix it.
"There you go," said Chet. "Another win-win!"
I was beginning to see a connection here. Would one really huge, poorly managed and money-losing company be a better deal for the world than two relatively smaller, poorly managed and money-losing
How did this merger thing work?
I've been though my share of them. Like any other airline person, I have gotten my share of "Good news, we're merging!" memos from Harvard and Georgia Tech business school grads. I know the drill, but
if our airline can't provide adequate oxygen bottles to operate, what makes us think that merging with another airline will get us more usable bottles? In other words, from an operational,
airplane-flying standpoint, what is the point?
Do merged airlines fly better? Are their pilots a happier bunch? Not in my experience. Even when our airline was the stronger of the two partners and bought another airline that was on the verge of
death, their pilots weren't happy campers at all. Many of them spent their time either bitching about the deal they got on the merged seniority lists or talked all day about how much better, easier
and happier things were with their old airline.
We had merged with four other airlines so far in my career and I'm still sitting here on the ramp in Newark without fuel and adequate oxygen bottles to go flying. Would buying one more airline make it
I'm beginning to think we are the addicts of the aviation world ... or worse yet, incompetent cannibals.
Merging Doesn't Lower the Price of Gas
The GSE mechanic we had laid off last year and then rehired on a part-time basis -- without benefits or retirement -- had fixed the fuel truck. We were taking on one kind of gas -- the Jet A variety
-- but were still awaiting the other kind of gas -- the O2 -- variety to get underway. Chet had picked up the paper he had given me and began to read me snippets of the merger article.
"The main stumbling blocks," Chet read aloud, "are the two pilot groups who said they were going to court tomorrow to sue each other over seniority-list integration issues. This haggling may delay or
even kill the proposed merger between these two airline giants."
I find it interesting that the newspaper reporter has failed to mention that our proposed merger hasn't convinced oil producers to lower the price of a barrel of oil by 50 bucks, I said. That is the
real problem, not the size of the companies or their pilot's seniority snit-fits.
The Clank-Clank of Dispatch Redemption
We sat staring out of our windows for a moment listening to the whir of the stand-by gyro and the whoosh of the radio-rack fans when we heard the wonderful sound of the heavy footfalls of a ramp
worker boarding two walk-around oxygen bottles that he had gotten from somewhere.
"Somewhere" turned out to be the MD-88 that had just docked next to us at an adjacent gate. They need three bottles for dispatch, but they weren't scheduled to leave for another hour and with only a
half-load of passengers to annoy. We were full of people who could write complaint letters and were already 10 minutes past push-back time.
We were operating on a shoe-string, but an FAA approved and legal shoe-string. I only hoped that the next airline we bought and devoured would come with adequate mechanical and safety equipment
spares, a competent management team and a clue.
It was then, in my moment of pre-pushback bliss, that the agent told me we had another delay: To fix the fuel truck, the GSE mechanic had borrowed parts from the tug that was hooked to us to push us
back. It was going to be an hour before he could get back to the airport with the parts to fix it.
Want to read more from AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit? Check out the rest of his columns.
You've just crashed in a remote area. You and your passengers are injured. Will you have the equipment and knowledge to survive until you're rescued?
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A small plane crashes in a remote area, with no hope of rescue for several days. The survivors know basic survival techniques but have only
rudimentary first-aid skills. How does the pilot-in-command sort, assess and treat injuries when the first-aid kit just went up in smoke? What kind of leadership qualities will that person need? What
ethical dilemmas will the leader likely face during the ordeal? A pilot who crashes in a remote area must be prepared to provide pre-hospital care without support from or contact with a physician.
There are many books and training programs about survival after a small-plane crash landing ... how to find water, how to prepare a shelter, build a fire or signal for rescue. But one aspect of
survival frequently overlooked is first aid in a remote and hostile environment. This type of first aid involves assessing and treating injuries to you and your passengers -- possibly for an extended
period -- while awaiting rescue. While this article alone won't accomplish that goal, it will at least demonstrate the need for training and provide some ideas on how pilots can prepare and equip
Any assessment of injuries must begin with the basics, conveniently known as the ABCs -- for airway, breathing and circulation. Using this "checklist," we assess and fix any immediate,
life-threatening injury. Examples can include a closed or compromised airway, ensuring the victim is breathing and has a heartbeat, and is not hemorrhaging.
Once the three items on this checklist are complete, we move on to a more thorough assessment of the victim's injuries. Paramount in this process is being mindful of the potential for spinal injury:
Keep the victim as motionless as possible throughout the examination until you are certain no spinal-cord injury exists. Try to keep the victim's head aligned with the midline of his or her body at
Start at the top of the victim's head and work your way down, using both hands, looking at and feeling the body. One of the things you're doing here is looking for blood. Carefully move the flat of
your hand under the neck, back, buttocks and legs, frequently checking your hand for blood. Keep in mind the old truism from emergency rooms that the worst injury will be in an area of the body least
Move all the way to the victim's toes. If your examination finds blood at any point, stop and expose the skin whenever possible, preferably by removing clothes, not cutting them. If you must cut the
clothing, tape them back together after the exam to retain warmth. (You do have a roll of duct tape in your airplane's equipment, right?) Generally, I recommend leaving footwear on the feet; once
removed, they will be difficult to replace due to swelling. Also, if there is a fracture, the shoe or boot will serve as a splint.
This part of the assessment is not "stop and fix"; if you discover a fracture or laceration but it's not hemorrhaging, don't stop. Continue with the exam until you have inspected the entire body --
there may be something critical just beyond the next joint.
Now that the top-to-bottom examination is complete, it's a good time to try to get some medical history: Does the victim need any personal medications for conditions like diabetes, angina or seizures?
Were the medications aboard the plane and can they be retrieved? It might be a good idea to learn about any such conditions among your passengers before taking them on a cross-country flight.
Triage And Treatment
You have three passengers. You managed to get everyone to safety, despite a severe gash on your upper leg that is bleeding heavily. Your co-pilot is unconscious and bleeding from a scalp wound. An
elderly passenger is gasping for breath and rubbing his left arm. His wife is sitting on the ground, clutching her elbow and screaming, "I'm hurt, I'm hurt!" Whom do you treat first?
Triage, a French word that means "screening," has become associated with the sorting and allocating of medical care in the field, based on need and the available resources. In this case, a primary
resource is the caregiver's knowledge and ability to treat others.
There are several types of sorting categories, depending on the medical facility or group performing triage. For our purposes, however, there are only three: immediate (for the life-threatening
injuries); later (for broken bones and lacerations); and last (for everyone else). Remember: You cannot treat and take care of your passengers if you are suffering from life-threatening injuries
yourself. So ... who gets treated first? That's right: You do. Then, you attend to the head injury, the possible heart attack and, last, the hysterical woman with a possible dislocated elbow.
One tool we can use to help decide who needs what and when is taking the victim's vital signs. These include the rate and quality of the heartbeat and respirations, the temperature and color of the
skin, and the relative size of the eyes' pupils. Together, these vital signs can be thought of as the body's "engine instruments" and should be used to help us decide if the victim is going into
shock, or if the airway or lungs have been compromised.
But the most important "instrument" of all is the level of consciousness, or LOC. The LOC can be evaluated by determining if the person is alert and oriented to time and place, only responds to voice,
only responds to pain, or does not respond at all.
Another technique worth mentioning is "clearing" the spine. In urban first aid, we expect an ambulance to arrive within 10 to 20 minutes, and we're taught to keep the victim's head and neck
immobilized and wait for the paramedics. In wilderness first aid, it may be days before rescue and you won't want to completely immobilize someone if they don't need it. So, you'll need to conduct a
more formal spinal assessment, one based on evaluating neurological function, which will tell you if a victim's spinal cord has been injured.
The examination used to "clear" the spine asks questions such as: Was the injury severe? Is the victim sober? Is the victim distracted from your questions and probing by pain or emotional distress? Is
there pain, tingling or numbness in the extremities? Is there pain or tenderness when you touch along the spine? Can the victim move his/her head without pain?
If they pass this exam, they can get up and move around as well as they can tolerate. If not, keep them immobilized.
What constitutes an in-flight medical emergency, and what can you do to help while maintaining control of the aircraft? The answers depend on what's going on with the patient, but any situation
becomes an emergency when the person becomes confused, lethargic or unconscious. Other signs of a medical emergency can include sudden and severe pain, shortness of breath, sudden weakness, difficulty
in speech or a seizure.
The first thing to do should be obvious: Fly the airplane! Next, ensure the distressed passenger can't interfere with the controls. Engage the autopilot and move the passenger seat back; if necessary,
manipulate the seat adjustment lever, pitch the airplane up and let gravity do the work. If the passenger is unconscious, lower the seat back no more than 45 degrees while ensuring the head is
supported and there is an adequate airway. Of course, if there are other passengers who can help, let them help stabilize the patient while you concentrate on flying the airplane.
If there are no other passengers aboard who can help, do not try performing CPR, even with the autopilot engaged -- you'll be wasting precious time. Instead, concentrate on declaring an emergency and
making sure ATC knows you'll need an ambulance on landing. If you beat the ambulance to the airport, don't wait for it before starting CPR.
Once on the ground, pull off the runway onto grass or a taxiway, shut down, pull the passenger out of the airplane and onto the ground, assess the ABCs discussed earlier and perform CPR as necessary.
Let the ambulance come to you. While waiting on an ambulance and if the airplane is equipped with oxygen and the patient is conscious, administer O2 to the patient until help arrives.
Ethical dilemmas in medical care traditionally apply only to health care professionals. However, many of the same issues can arise in the wilderness setting for someone who is called upon to
administer first aid without benefit of medical training, advice, guidance or equipment. The combination of limited skills, limited resources and the likelihood of a prolonged delay before rescue
brings up several considerations.
For example, the decision of what goes into your first-aid kit, how well-trained you are to use it, and how well you can improvise with the resources available determines the limits on treatment you
are willing to accept for yourself and your passengers. On the other hand, no matter what first-aid supplies you carry or how well trained you are, limits to available care still exist. So, just as
you should do when making decisions when airborne, know your limitations. An untrained person's capabilities and their decision-making abilities will vary widely.
The responder must weigh the chance of performing a procedure that may benefit the patient against the possibility of doing further harm. Sometimes, the person feeling responsible for the others may
take steps that will place the survivors at further risk. For example, do you abandon your passengers to go in search of food, water or rescuers, or stay, knowing that a potential rescue may be
delayed? What if you are the only one with first-aid or survival skills? Of course, there are no easy answers to these questions, only more questions.
This article is by no means a complete course in wilderness first aid. For that, you'll need to sign up with a local ski, climbing or hiking club, as one example. Meanwhile, think about what equipment
you want to carry and play the "what-if" game on every flight.
And while the unthinkable may never happen to you, it's best to ask yourself these kinds of questions in advance and think through the consequences of your actions at least once. Then, if the
unthinkable does happen, you will have desensitized yourself to the very real chaos of a life-threatening emergency. And that just might give you an edge on living through this emergency to fly
Wilderness survival is very much like getting to Carnegie Hall -- it takes practice.
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