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QF7
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Posts: 33
Joined: Fri Aug 16, 2019 11:42 pm

Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Wed May 26, 2021 4:41 am

I am on planefinder and just watched AAL9788 take off from DFW for TUL.

As this is a 777 I have to believe this is a ferry flight for maintenance.

Now while certainly not an earth-shattering question I have always had an interest in the logistics of how airlines get crews to where they are needed. And how they accommodate them between times. I mean, do whatever is necessary comes to mind but also, for predictable ops, what is most cost effective?

In this case the departing flight is at 23:00 so doubtful there is a return flight for the crew to operate tonight. So would AA have them stay in a hotel overnight and fly back tomorrow? Or does AA have a base of pilots in Tulsa who operate primarily between Tulsa and DFW (but may also fly elsewhere in the system to keep up their hours) and who possibly flew down from TUL earlier to pick up this plane?

Expanding on the above, how do flights to maintenance bases or the desert or other one-off destinations typically get their crews back into regular service? Would love to hear some interesting stories.
 
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Starlionblue
Posts: 20803
Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2004 9:54 pm

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Wed May 26, 2021 5:13 am

After flying out to the desert or maintenance base there'll be ground transfer to the nearest commercial airport, e.g. a van or taxi, followed by paxing* on whatever is available from there. If it is late or it has been a long flight, transfer to a hotel, and paxing out the next morning.

Having to pax to/from somewhere to operate is very common. I've paxed to another continent and operated back a few times, and vice versa, for example when a pilot has become unfit downroute. This also happens with the start and end of seasonal flights, or the opening/closing of a route.

After a twelve-hour flight from Home Base to Port A, I was told that I'd operate back to Home Base from Port B, about two hours flight away, and "here's your booking to get there". It was the first flight with my fleet from Port B and a guy on the crew got sick. Crew ops then needed to fill my slot so they flew someone from Port C to Port A, then flew someone from Port D to Port C, then Port E to Port D, and then finally they flew a guy from Home Base to Port E. Now, it may seem that this is a lot of money spent to pax half a dozen crew members around, but it is way cheaper than delaying an intercontinental flight for half a day, what with missed connections, the aircraft being scheduled for subsequent flights, overtime for ground staff, and so on.

Accomodation is as required, depending on flight time regulations and contractual arrangements.

* Paxing - Flying as a passenger as part of your duty roster. This can be on your own airline or other airline.
 
tmu101
Posts: 178
Joined: Sat Oct 25, 2014 4:04 am

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Wed May 26, 2021 6:00 pm

I'd imagine if ferrying an aircraft to a maintenance base there's probably a good chance there's another coming out of maintenance and needing a ferry back to the hub and said ferry crew can operate that flight.

I've always wondered - when the mandatory retirement age is reached can those pilots do ferry flights or even test flights? Guess my question is are those types of flights operated under Part 121 or can they be conducted under Part 91 and thus age restriction goes away?
 
Woodreau
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Joined: Mon Sep 24, 2001 6:44 am

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Wed May 26, 2021 9:05 pm

It depends on the airline.

At one regional I worked at there was a section in the pilot contract that allowed the airline to hire maintenance test pilots. They were not considered to be line pilots and they were not on the pilot seniority list. The maintenance pilots were based in ABI and had their own seniority list. There weren’t that many - less than 4 or 5. They did test flying out of ABI. Sometimes line pilots were routed to Abilene to do maintenance ferries and test flying as well. But we (as line pilots) would also ferry planes to Tulsa to maintenance and do maintenance test flying as well…

One maintenance flight I distinctly remember was taking off for the purpose of turning off all generators aboard the aircraft and to fly it in the emergency power configuration. we deadheaded from DFW to ABI to go to the maintenance hangar to conduct the test flight. The captain and I were quite unhappy with that. It’s not a normal configuration for the aircraft. The reason we had to do that flight was because the test equipment that allowed maintenance to certify the RAT without a test flight was broken so the only other way to certify the RAT was to flight test it and see that it powered the aircraft.

I don’t see a section in American’s contract that allows for maintenance pilots. So any maintenance flying that needs to be done must be done with line pilots that are routed from a base to do the flying.

Another regional airline I worked at when you timed out for the month or year, you became a reposition / maintenance test flying pilot until you were legal to accept another revenue flight. You were getting paid the monthly guarantee. So they used you anyway. Pilots were not happy about that.
 
GalaxyFlyer
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Joined: Fri Jan 01, 2016 4:44 am

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Wed May 26, 2021 10:27 pm

Our corporate department has been sending the company jet since COVID. A lot of chartering, too.

This is a common question here and I don’t understand why. The pilots work for an airline, how else would they get back home—hitchhike? I’ve airlines to/from maintenance or to meet airplanes in the military,the airlines, the corporate flight world. It’s how people around.
 
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tb727
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Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Wed May 26, 2021 11:14 pm

When we would drop a plane off in Oscoda, Michigan, which is basically the middle of nowhere, we would get a ride back to Detroit in a crappy old cop car that someone would drive up and get us in. I got pulled for that duty a few times, drive is about 4 hours each way. If it was time critical sometimes we would get King Air'ed or even a Learjet ride up there.
 
FGITD
Posts: 1746
Joined: Wed Jun 15, 2016 1:44 pm

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Thu May 27, 2021 3:30 pm

GalaxyFlyer wrote:

This is a common question here and I don’t understand why. The pilots work for an airline, how else would they get back home—hitchhike?


I also don’t understand it. Airlines won’t strand crews anywhere, and that can even include other companies crews. We once had an international LCC that operated the same routes as my company go under literally mid operation (they had actually pushed back and had to come back in) and despite their company no longer existing, a few calls to our control center and we were able to get their crew back home with us.

And when it comes to crew repositioning in an emergency, money is pretty much no issue. We’ve hired drivers to bring a pilot from city to city, rented cars, bought full fare tickets, etc.
 
e38
Posts: 889
Joined: Sun May 04, 2008 10:09 pm

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Thu May 27, 2021 6:37 pm

QF7 wrote:
I just watched AAL9788 take off from DFW for TUL.

I have to believe this is a ferry flight for maintenance.

I have always had an interest in the logistics of how airlines get crews to where they are needed. And how they accommodate them between times.

In this case the departing flight is at 23:00 so doubtful there is a return flight for the crew to operate tonight. So would AA have them stay in a hotel overnight and fly back tomorrow? Or does AA have a base of pilots in Tulsa who operate primarily between Tulsa and DFW?

Expanding on the above, how do flights to maintenance bases or the desert or other one-off destinations typically get their crews back into regular service?


QF7, to answer some of your questions, much of it depends on the pilot contract. Specifically, in the case you cited, American flight 9788 from DFW to TUL, I do not work for American, but having flown similar missions, my guess is that it was flown by a DFW-based crew and due to the late operation of this flight, the crew was provided with a hotel in Tulsa and returned to DFW the following morning. In the United States, when crew members travel in the cabin as passengers, it is commonly known as "deadheading" or being assigned a "deadhead" leg--and it is considered "duty." The crew is provided with positive space seats--not standby or space available--for the flight and it shows up on the schedule as a "dh" segment (or something similar). It is possible, of course, that the crew ferried another aircraft somewhere else the next day. It's impossible to know without seeing their schedule. To the best of my knowledge, even though Tulsa is a major maintenance facility for American, they do not have a crew base there nor do they maintain crews strictly to fly maintenance or repositioning flights.

tmu101 (above) reply # 3 commented whether the crew could have been retired pilots whose job is strictly to fly maintenance test and ferry flights. That was more common 15 - 20 years ago and was standard practice at my previous airline. This was an agreement between the FAA and the operator and these flghts were not operated under Part 121--no passengers were allowed onboard. However, my current operator does not do this. As pilot contracts have been updated over the years, the trend has been to give more and more flying opportunities to line (seniority list) pilots.

So, who would have been the crew of AA 9978 DFW-TUL? There are many possibilities . . . Here are just a few examples.

1. Scheduling could have simply assigned a Reserve crew to the flight.

2. Scheduling could have placed this trip in "open time" to allow pilots who wish to pick up additional flying to do so. Awarded by seniority.

3. Depending on how the contract is written, this ferry trip could have been offered to management pilots who work at the company headquarters or to seniority list instructors currently working at the Training center.

4. If there is sufficient notification of the ferry flight, it could have been integrated into the normal schedule for the DFW 777 category and assigned via the standard monthly bidding process.

Finally, crew scheduling has an obligation to get the crew members back to their assigned crew base at the completion of the trip, whether it be deadheading on your own carrier or on another airline, or via surface transportation as mentioned above. At my current airline, every trip must begin and end at the pilot's assigned crew base--whether the trip begins or ends (or both) with a deadhead leg. The exception to this, of course, are certain corporate operators, some cargo airlines, and also some passenger carriers where crews "home base" and EVERY trip begins and ends with confirmed space transportation to or from the location of the aircraft.

I hope that helps. Yes, it can be a complex process, but most operators have been doing it for years and it is therefore somewhat routine, although occasionally it requires some "creativity" on the part of crew scheduling.

e38
 
QF7
Topic Author
Posts: 33
Joined: Fri Aug 16, 2019 11:42 pm

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Fri May 28, 2021 7:47 am

Thanks all, for your replies.

Yes, I realize it was a bit of a *duh* question to you insiders but as a mere pax it was intriguing to me. I am now better informed.
 
Woodreau
Posts: 2154
Joined: Mon Sep 24, 2001 6:44 am

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Fri May 28, 2021 4:25 pm

Its also quite annoying when the airline deadheads you somewhere but instead of getting a flight for you they send a ground transportation option... so instead of a 1 hour TPA to FLL deadhead
it's a 5 hour deadhead from TPA to FLL in a surburban... I guess it's better to be paid $1325 (5 hours) to sleep in back vs $265 (1 hour) to sleep in back.

a few weeks later I found that Sunpass charged my tolltag for all of the tolls between TPA and FLL because I carried in my flight bag so that I have it when I rent a car during Florida overnights. Lesson learned - found a RFID bag for my tolltag.
 
GalaxyFlyer
Posts: 8327
Joined: Fri Jan 01, 2016 4:44 am

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Fri May 28, 2021 9:09 pm

If you were paid $1325 for riding in a limo, the toll tab is pocket change
 
bigb
Posts: 1449
Joined: Fri Nov 07, 2003 4:30 pm

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Sat May 29, 2021 1:38 am

At my old regional we had crew bases in out maintenance bases. So the last revenue flight of the day into a maintenance base where always airplanes with multiple MELs and issues that needed to to be fixed and it was always flown by the bases crew at the of their trip. It always sucked because you always knew the plane issues and if it’s been a long trip or long day that’s just more stuff to worry about.

The First Flight of the day was always a aircraft fresh out of maintenance with a clean logbook with no MELs. The based crew would start their trip with aircraft and take into the hub on a revenue flight then it will enter into the system.
 
B6JFKH81
Posts: 2302
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 6:35 am

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Sat May 29, 2021 3:39 am

For my airline, the crew operating the inbound ferry flight to an MRO operates the outbound ferry flight of the completed aircraft. We don't get an inbound aircraft to the MRO until the outbound one is complete, logbook signed and is ready to go. Now, if there is an issue with the outbound aircraft, the pilots will wait to see if there is a resolution until their "drop dead departure time" comes, then they are sent to a hotel overnight and we try again the next day.

Going out to the desert was a different story for us during COVID-19. We sent 75 aircraft to MZJ in a matter of days, typically 10 to 12 aircraft per day from all over the operation. A chaser plane would be flown in from the nearest base which was in Los Angeles, pick up the pilots, take them back to LA, then transfer into flights to home base.

It's a delicate balance between the pilots, crew scheduling and routing, aircraft routing and MX. For my airline, we have a group of pilots called "ADG" which is for aircraft delivery group. They are retired, extremely knowledgeable of the aircraft, operate under part 91, and handle a good chunk of the ferry flights to/from MROs so operational pilot pools are not impacted especially if there is a last minute issue on an aircraft leaving the MRO.

Unfortunately, there isn't one answer to your question as different airlines do things differently, but at least I can give you my experience LOL
 
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AirKevin
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Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Sat May 29, 2021 6:25 pm

Woodreau wrote:
a few weeks later I found that Sunpass charged my tolltag for all of the tolls between TPA and FLL because I carried in my flight bag so that I have it when I rent a car during Florida overnights. Lesson learned - found a RFID bag for my tolltag.

I had my suspicions about that. A few days ago, I had asked my buddy if taking the SunPass off my dad's Highlander and putting it in his truck would result in getting charged twice. Reason is he doesn't have the tag itself, but his license plate registered to his SunPass account. I was told that yes, we would get charged twice. Luckily, it ended up turning into a non-issue, as the repair work had eventually gotten completed later that night and I was able to drive the Highlander home.
 
mikeinatlanta
Posts: 54
Joined: Wed Jul 27, 2016 5:34 pm

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Sat May 29, 2021 11:28 pm

For the airlines I contract with part 91 is either contract pilots or management pilots, or a combination of both (buddies). Also sometimes senior management pilots beyond "the age". Really depends on if the plane is going to or coming from somewhere fun. Part 121 FCF flights is generally management pilots or senior check airmen. We always want senior crew on an FCF. 121 ferry flights will be line crew.

Old high time pilots are SO much better to work with than modern line crew.
 
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TWA772LR
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Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Sun May 30, 2021 1:09 am

DFW and TUL are close enough that AA can deadhead the crew on DFW-TUL and have them fly what ever plane back in the same day.
 
Weatherwatcher1
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Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Sun May 30, 2021 2:25 pm

TWA772LR wrote:
DFW and TUL are close enough that AA can deadhead the crew on DFW-TUL and have them fly what ever plane back in the same day.


Yes domestic maintenance ferry flights are pretty simple. They dead head back the same day if they can, otherwise they overnight and deadhead the next day.

It gets a bit more complicated for international maintenance ferry flights. For example do they try to orchestrate a deadhead back from HKG (for example) when they send a plane there or do they try to coordinate with another plane leaving maintenance? Airplanes aren’t always on time leaving maintenance. It can result in challenges to crew scheduling and the crew timing out if the plane is late.
 
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TWA772LR
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Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2011 6:12 am

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Sun May 30, 2021 3:30 pm

Weatherwatcher1 wrote:
TWA772LR wrote:
DFW and TUL are close enough that AA can deadhead the crew on DFW-TUL and have them fly what ever plane back in the same day.


Yes domestic maintenance ferry flights are pretty simple. They dead head back the same day if they can, otherwise they overnight and deadhead the next day.

It gets a bit more complicated for international maintenance ferry flights. For example do they try to orchestrate a deadhead back from HKG (for example) when they send a plane there or do they try to coordinate with another plane leaving maintenance? Airplanes aren’t always on time leaving maintenance. It can result in challenges to crew scheduling and the crew timing out if the plane is late.

I don't work the crew desk but I imagine it's just as simple as when the airplane is ready, the crew that takes it back deadheads to HKG, gets the necessary rest, then flies back. My old manager went to HKG recently to pick up a 767, an aircraft that isn't used by my airline to HKG.
 
Weatherwatcher1
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Joined: Sun Mar 03, 2019 5:14 pm

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Sun May 30, 2021 4:24 pm

TWA772LR wrote:
Weatherwatcher1 wrote:
TWA772LR wrote:
DFW and TUL are close enough that AA can deadhead the crew on DFW-TUL and have them fly what ever plane back in the same day.


Yes domestic maintenance ferry flights are pretty simple. They dead head back the same day if they can, otherwise they overnight and deadhead the next day.

It gets a bit more complicated for international maintenance ferry flights. For example do they try to orchestrate a deadhead back from HKG (for example) when they send a plane there or do they try to coordinate with another plane leaving maintenance? Airplanes aren’t always on time leaving maintenance. It can result in challenges to crew scheduling and the crew timing out if the plane is late.

I don't work the crew desk but I imagine it's just as simple as when the airplane is ready, the crew that takes it back deadheads to HKG, gets the necessary rest, then flies back. My old manager went to HKG recently to pick up a 767, an aircraft that isn't used by my airline to HKG.


The end of maintenance checks can get chaotic so it isn’t so simple. The airline wants the airplane back to revenue service so crew scheduling works to have the crew ready when the plane is ready. A single part being delayed or a discrepancy with a repair can result in a 3 day schedule slide. There also are challenges when an airplane gets delayed a few hours, which causes the crew to time out.
 
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TWA772LR
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Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2011 6:12 am

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Sun May 30, 2021 6:09 pm

Weatherwatcher1 wrote:
TWA772LR wrote:
Weatherwatcher1 wrote:

Yes domestic maintenance ferry flights are pretty simple. They dead head back the same day if they can, otherwise they overnight and deadhead the next day.

It gets a bit more complicated for international maintenance ferry flights. For example do they try to orchestrate a deadhead back from HKG (for example) when they send a plane there or do they try to coordinate with another plane leaving maintenance? Airplanes aren’t always on time leaving maintenance. It can result in challenges to crew scheduling and the crew timing out if the plane is late.

I don't work the crew desk but I imagine it's just as simple as when the airplane is ready, the crew that takes it back deadheads to HKG, gets the necessary rest, then flies back. My old manager went to HKG recently to pick up a 767, an aircraft that isn't used by my airline to HKG.


The end of maintenance checks can get chaotic so it isn’t so simple. The airline wants the airplane back to revenue service so crew scheduling works to have the crew ready when the plane is ready. A single part being delayed or a discrepancy with a repair can result in a 3 day schedule slide. There also are challenges when an airplane gets delayed a few hours, which causes the crew to time out.

If the crew times out, then they time out and try again when they can. And the airline can wait until everything is done with the maintenance even if something is delayed at the end.
 
VMCA787
Posts: 255
Joined: Fri Sep 04, 2020 9:31 pm

Re: Crew logistics to maintenance bases, etc.

Sun May 30, 2021 6:49 pm

Generally, if contract maintenance is done, there is a test flight performed before the airline accepts the aircraft back. I have done several checks at HAECO in HKG after a check was performed. My experience has been the aircraft will normally have a few write-ups the maintenance provider has to resolve before the aircraft is accepted. That's why some airlines have a Test and Ferry section. Instructors or highly experienced pilots are rostered for that duty for a month. They are taken offline and assigned a certain amount of days to be on call, usually 16 or so. That way, you're not causing headaches for Crew Skeds and can pretty much leave when you think it's safe to do so. Did that for over 10 years and it was great.

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