Captain’s Decision

It was a busy end of month weekend; the airport was crowded of travelers and I had an especial anxiety because I was commuting to go to work and this time with a different airline.  The flight was not only full, was also overbooked.  Added to this the destination airport was on the minimums with fog.  Planning ahead I called the flight scheduler and told him to have a plan B for my case because I may not be in time for my flight due to weather.

Hopefully the Captain made a place available for me on the jumpseat of the veteran MD-88.  Departure was normal and once at cruising altitude, halfway to our destination dispatch told us that this one was below minimums.  Serious faces now, chit chat ended this is the time when professionals follow a previously designed plan.  After reviewing alternates weather on the Company frequency and consult the First Officer, the Captain decided to give a try.

On the approach, we received radar vectors direct to the IAF (Initial Approach Fix).  Established on the ILS and passing 1000 AGL, I could see the tension on the Captain’s face, he was the pilot flying, his left finger was on the red button of the autopilot disconnect.  We passed the minimums at 200 ft and continued down without visual clues from the runway environment, at 150 ft a glimpse of the runway approach lights appeared in the murk and we finally saw the runway at 100 ft.  Landing was uneventful and vacating the runway it came the voice of the controller asking at what height we made visual contact with the runway.  The pilots looked to each other and the first officer replied: “on the minimums”…

Is a non-written agreement between pilots on the approach that, if asked on the frequency, none is going to mention an altitude below the published minimums, thereby depriving others of the opportunity to try an approach.

As we taxied down the taxiway, the lights of a 737 appeared like a ghost from the low clouds, it was low, really low.

I thanked the captain for bringing me to work and as I walked into the terminal I was thinking on the situation experienced a while ago.

Nobody pushed to the Captain to land below minimums and he walked away from his airplane to go home and no aviation authority asked him why he did what he just did and he was not the only one, many airplanes landed that day on the same condition.  Then, why the control tower, the civil aviation authority, kept his mouth shut in front of a flagrant violation to the rules?

The answer can be found in two words: “mutual convenience”, the airport remains open and continues the operation that means more taxes paid by contributors.  The airlines continue the operation avoiding costly delays.  The passengers reach their destinations.

And the whole aviation wheel keeps moving.  But …

There is one person that is completely alone:  The Captain.

According to the law on his shoulders is the last decision and responsibility of the operation of the aircraft, then if something goes wrong he will be the first one to be called to give answers, if he survives.  If his answers are not satisfactory he can face loss of his license and even jail.  He will be alone there, none can help him.

At the end between lawyers they will say, is Captain’s decision.


By Ivan Paredes

This article is not intended to criticize the actions of any company, organization or individual, solely provide a point of view of daily airline operations on some parts of the world.

Below Minimums?

Today I had to live a situation in which all professional pilots have passed one or several times, so it’s nothing new. But I want to share details of it here for those who have not yet lived it.
We arrived at the airport with my first officer from the hotel an hour before departure of the flight and headed to the office of company operations, there the flight dispatcher informed us that the destination airport was with visibility below minimums for all operations – a minimum quite high (5 kms) because this airport is enclosed by a chain of mountains. Obviously the flight was delayed waiting for an improvement in the weather conditions. The wait lasted four hours and when this type of situation happens, everyone starts looking to the captain, who has the decisive word on the initiation of the flight, read here I say “initiation ” and not “cancellation”.   The cancellation of a flight due to weather is always attribution of the commercial or operational department of the Company.  The Captain and his crew can only wait until they fulfill their FDP’s – Flight Duty Periods – and go home or if before reaching this limit if the intended destination airport is operative perform the flight.
I have seen on many occasions Captains get nervous because the flight is delayed due to weather, time passes and the pressure on them goes “in-crescendo”.   As an old retired Captain once told me – actually when things get more difficult the solution is simpler – You can not fight with the elements and risking an entire operation does not do any favor to none.

Author:  Ivan Paredes

Captain Sullenberger: What’s Missing in Pilot Training

Famed pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger discusses the state of flight training through the experience of his near disaster on the Hudson River. Sullenberger says that pilot training has been cut to basic air regulation mandates, and aviators aren’t taught every flight scenario, including a water landing.


A pilot’s life is made of a succession of “firsts”.  Our first solo flight.   Our first landing.  Our first flight at night.  Our first flight in real IMC.  Our first flight in heavy rain.  Our first approach on IMC down to minimums.  Our first go around.  Our first flight avoiding weather and so on, maybe for some of us this happened long time ago, but can you remember how fast your heart was beating those “first” times?  And, what happens now?  Maybe if we can measure your heart beat during approach and landing you rarely can pass 80 b/min!.  Well, my friends, that’s called “adaptation”.

Pilots have to adapt constantly to new challenges or they cannot progress on their careers.  Problem is when adapting we go too far and we start bending limitations, regulations, procedures and we begin walking on the edge.

I remember a couple of years ago, when I was flying for a new born airline, we were always taking off above the maximum takeoff weight, nobody was pushing us to do it, was a constant with everybody and was completely normal, sometimes when we were at the maximum allowed takeoff weight we used to say, today we are light!.  In other situation, same airline, on IMC conditions, we were always approaching below minimums, it was a non-written rule, always go 100 below and see if you can find the runway, so we were ending doing a category I ILS down to a category II minimums, with … no autopilot!  And,  the list continues. Luckily we never had an accident, but was only that, luck.

This kind of group behavior did not develop on a single day, it began when someone started experimenting how far he can go and the rest followed him, then when the explored new limits, overweight, go below minimums, etc, become normal, we tend to “adapt” to the situation.  Problem is the farther we go, the limit is much narrower and there is no margin for error.

When will we ever learn? We are not helping the Company this way.  Someone ever said: “if you think that safety is expensive, try with an accident”.  Not want to do something that can jeopardize your aviation career?, then don’t do something that can end both.

As Ernest K. Gann wrote in his book “Fate is the Hunter”,  in an extraordinary example of humility, when he lets understand that he was still alive not for being a good pilot, only because he was “lucky”.  Maybe we can find some good examples between us.


At the end of 2004 I was flying for a company specialized in anti-hail fight.  I was instructor of cloud seeding in a Piper Cheyenne PA-31T.  We had to ferry an airplane from our operations hub in Mendoza (Argentina) down south 112 NM to San Rafael in a 25 MIN flight.  My partner that day was a fellow captain recently checked by myself on the aircraft.  When the operations order came and we discovered we had to fly together we made a few jokes about it and I decided to assume the copilot’s duties that included preparation of flight plan and verify if the cloud seeding stuff.  The external inspection (walk – around) was always copilot responsibility and mistakenly we both assumed that was done by the other part.

In this particular airplane there was a fuel gauge failure, for moments the needle was moving from indicating full to empty tank and, for that reason the cockpit fuel indicator was not reliable.

After discussing for a while who was pilot flying, I decided to be pilot non-flying for this leg.

Once in the air, we received the order to patrol some active cells that were growing en route.   After joking for a while in a relaxed atmosphere, the LOW FUEL light came ON.  The obvious question was:  – Did you verify the fuel?, isn’t it?  – No, I thought you did it..

And, the worst case scenario, there was a wall of thunderstorms in mature stage between us and our destination.  0destination.

In contact with San Rafael tower, we requested a high speed straight-in approach.

Fortunately both engines continued running until we arrived and taxied to the ramp, total fuel on board: around 5 min.

This is my first flight experience to share with all of you




Capt. Gonzalo Martin


PA-31T / SF34 / A340


“if we professional pilots share our experiences, we are making a safer aviation”

Short Aviation Quotes

I found some always current aviation quotes that I would like to share with you here….

• Aviate, Navigate and Communicate.

• Truly superior pilots are those who use their superior judgment to avoid those situations where they might have to use their superior skills.

• When in doubt, hold on to your altitude. No-one has ever collided with the sky.

• Try to learn from the mistakes of others. You won’t live long enough to make all of them yourself.

• When a flight is proceeding incredibly well, something may be forgotten.

• If you’re faced with a forced landing, fly the thing as far into the crash as possible. – Bob Hoover

• The three most common expressions in aviation are, “Why is it doing that?”, “Where are we?” and “Oh Crap”.

• I remember when sex was safe and flying was dangerous.

• What is the similarity between air traffic controllers and pilots? If a pilot screws up, the pilot dies; If ATC screws up, the pilot dies.

• Every takeoff is optional. Every landing is mandatory… in other words, for every take-off, there WILL be a landing.

• One of the most important skills that a pilot must develop is the skill to ignore those things that were designed by non-pilots to get the pilot’s attention.

• It’s always better to be down on the ground wishing you were up in the air than up in the air wishing you were down on the ground.

• You begin to fly with a bag full of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck.

• Good judgment comes from experience. Unfortunately, experience usually comes from bad judgment.

• Keep looking around. There’s always something you’ve missed.

• Always remember you fly an airplane with your head, not your hands.

• Always try to keep the number of landings you make equal the number of take-offs you’ve made.

• If you’re ever faced with a forced landing at night, turn on the landing lights to see the landing area. If you don’t like what you see, turn them back off.

• Remember that the radio is only an electronic suggestion box for the pilot. Sometimes the only way to clear up a problem is to turn it off.

• “Unskilled” pilots are always found in the wreckage with their hand around the microphone.

• The more useless things to a pilot in aviation are: The sky above you. The runway behind you. The fuel still in the truck. Half a second ago. Approach plates in the car. The airspeed you don’t have.

• Aviation is not so much a profession as it is a disease.

• Trust your captain but keep your seat belt securely fastened.

• What’s the difference between God and fighter pilots? God doesn’t think he’s a fighter pilot.

• The only thing worse than a captain who never flew as copilot is a copilot who once was a captain.

• A male pilot is a confused soul who talks about women when he’s flying, and about flying when he’s with a woman.

• Rule one: No matter what else happens, fly the airplane.

• Fly it until the last piece stops moving.

• The propeller is just a big fan in the front of the plane to keep the pilot cool. Want proof? Make it stop; then watch the pilot break out into a sweat.

• Never let an airplane take you somewhere you brain didn’t get to five minutes earlier.

• Experience is the knowledge that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.

• If you push the stick forward, the houses get bigger, if you pull the stick back they get smaller, but if you keep pulling back, the houses get bigger again.

• Flying is the second greatest thrill known to man…. Landing is the first!

• The probability of survival is equal to the angle of arrival.

• If you’ve got time to spare, go by air.

• The only thing that scares me about flying is driving to the airport.

• Airspeed, altitude, or brains; you always need at least two.

• It is said that two wrongs do not make a right, but two wrights do make an airplane.

• I give that landing a 9 . . . on the Richter scale.

• Some pilots will make an emergency out of a bad magneto check. Others, upon losing a wing, will ask for a lower altitude.

• Real planes use only a single stick to fly. This is why bulldozers and helicopters¬ (in that order) ¬need two.

• Flying is a great way of life for men who want to feel like a kid, but not for those who still are.

• Son, you’re going to have to make up your mind about growing up and becoming a pilot. You can’t do both.

• About Rules: a. The rules are a good place to hide if you don’t have a better idea and the talent to execute it. b. If you deviate from a rule, it must be a flawless performance (e.g., If you fly under a bridge, don’t hit the bridge.)

• Be nice to your first officer, he may be your captain at your next airline.

• Remember, you’re always a student in an airplane.

“if we professional pilots share our experiences, we are making a safer aviation”

Go Around!! – Are you prepared?

We knew this is going to be a tight approach.  Visibility was reported at 900 mts., with blowing snow, indefinite ceiling, reported at 200 ft.   We did the full approach in visual conditions on the early morning sunrise, established on the localizer we entered the clouds after passing the outer marker.  The whistling of the Pratt & Whitneys of the B-737 sounded distant.  Landing checklist completed, the GPWS announced – “1000”, the adrenaline was starting to flow on us, I was pilot flying, my First Officer was diverting his scan between inside and outside.  “500”…one hundred feet above minimums my FO announced – “approaching minimums”.  My left finger is on the autopilot disconnect button, my muscles tense, all my concentration is on the flight instruments, no pilot in the world can relax at this moment.  I try to avoid the temptation of looking outside, I must remain on flying on instruments.   Minimums, negative contact!.  Go-Around, flap 5!  On my peripheral vision, on my side window, I catch a glimpse of passing runway lights during rapid acceleration.

Most professional pilots have been in this situation hundreds of times during their flying career, in real life or in the simulator, then, why the go-around maneuver is still one of the major causes of accidents during approach and landing?  Are we mentally prepared for it?

Most of us can perform very well a go-around maneuver in the simulator or during a training flight, in the above situation there were not many options than executing a missed approach procedure, but the big threat comes especially when conditions are visual and a go-around is mandatory because, for example we are not stabilized on approach.  The Federal Aviation administration states a mandatory go-around under the following conditions:  ordered by ATC, runway hazards or incursions, overtaking another airplane, wind shear, wake turbulence, mechanical failure, unstabilized approach, or whenever the PIC feels he/she is not comfortable with the approach. I can add to the above when at DA/DH – MDA , positive visual contact has not been established with the runway, approach light system or visual contact has been lost during a circling maneuver.

Therefore, the importance of being go-around prepared and go-around minded.  Also, Flight Departments / Operators play an important role establishing a policy of no-blame, no fault on go-around procedures.

Be always ahead of the situation, the chain of events resulting in a go-around often starts at the top of descent (TOD).  Maintain a strict adherence to the PF / PNF (Pilot Flying / Pilot Non-Flying) philosophy during a go-around.  Follow SOP’s and standard call-outs.

Not only brief the missed approach procedure, be go-around prepared.  Review the key points of the missed approach, the go-around procedures and task sharing during normal, abnormal or emergency conditions.

Brief your intentions, i.e. a second approach, a diversion.  Confirm the minimum fuel.  State any other aspect you consider important,  plan ahead!

When flying with AP (Autopilot) engaged be always ready to take over and fly manually.  Fly the final approach with one hand in the control wheel or side stick and the other in the thrust levers / power levers.

Adjust your seat armrest, it helps release stress than can be transmitted to the controls and gives you a better handling of the aircraft.

Once the PF has acquired the appropriate visual references for landing, the PNF must continue monitoring the flight instruments to announce with appropriate call outs any deviation of a normal flight parameter.  If a go-around is initiated a positive an immediate transition to instrument flying is required, this part is especially critical because linear accelerations can cause body illusions that can lead to a dangerous situation if we try to follow our body sensations.

Once a go-around decision has been made, actions should not be delayed, a go-around decision can be taken until reverse thrust is applied. Reversing a go-around decision can be extremely hazardous, (e.g. First Officer initiating a go-around and Captain taking over the controls and trying to land the aircraft).

Review the go-around actions for your particular aircraft after finishing the briefing of the approach plate (e.g. go around attitude, go around power, flap 7, positive rate – gear up). And, consider every landing as a go-around.





“if we professional pilots share our experiences, we are making a safer aviation”

What makes a good First Officer?

–          Learn and observe from the Captains you fly with.  You will see very good traits, some marginal and some bad ones.  Pay attention to the good ones and in the future you will be a good Captain.

–          Always let the Captain set the rhythm of work.  Don’t start doing checklists were not called unless the Captain forgot them.  A good pilot does not prompt the other one putting his/her hand on the flaps or landing gear lever.

–          If you have a big ego, you probably going to have a hard time being a First Officer, because your ego will be bruised and tested by different Captains.  When the Captain points you something, don’t say  – “yes I was about to do it” – or say – “right”, like if you were testing the Captain’s knowledge.

–          Don’t burn bridges, in this industry you will need of all the friends you can make.  The guy sitting in your left can be the one reviewing your resume in your next application.

–          An aircraft’s cockpit is not a good place to be shy, ask questions to clarify that you don’t understand, be respectful but express your opinions, ideas and/or concerns in a clear manner.

–          The most stupid question that you can do in an airplane is the one you don’t do.  Be willing to ask, if the Captain doesn’t know the answer, then go to the book and learn together.

–          Be honest and be yourself, don’t go into business by yourself, like chilling with flight attendants or talking with girlfriend on the phone meanwhile you are on duty.

–          Keep professional 100% of time, be always on time for your flight and if for some reason you are delayed, call flight dispatch, let them know you care about your responsibilities.

–          If you see a potential danger to the safety of the flight, don’t hesitate to speak up, or even act.  If the Captain is smart (and most of them are), his response will be:

Thank you.


…. and …  live to fly another day!!









“if we professional pilots share our experiences, we are making a safer aviation”

Following Checklists & Procedures

It happened four days ago…

The veteran Saab was behaving splendid that day, I like to fly this airplane because it is one of the two company models with extended wingtips – longer wings – so, it climbs better and flies faster than  other versions we operate.  This was an unusual flight, a mid-morning ferry flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with a reduced crew of only two pilots on board, our Flight Attendant was supposed to join us at our first stopover, here we had a full load of passengers to Udon Thani and back again to Chiang Mai, our return to Bangkok was a dead head one on a Company flight at the end of the afternoon.

Forty five minutes into the flight we were cruising at FL240, although our destination was with IMC with isolated rain showers, weather here was excellent.  Everything was normal and we were engaged in a technical conversation about Company procedures with my junior First Officer, although he was still in line training he had plenty Thailand flying and turboprop experience.

Then the Master Caution Light came on.  As the airplane gets old is usual to have Master Cautions alerts, most of them are nuisances alerts – a Crying Wolf – as is called in aviation.  Then, before cancelling the light and the chime, my eyes went to the Master Caution / Warnings Panel to find out what triggered the alert and the position of it on the overhead panel.  This was new, not something we see often, a “L BLD AIR LEAK” – an instant image on my mind and I found that the meaning of that light was that we had a hot air leak somewhere between the left engine nacelle and the fuselage.  Something to worry about, considering that the hot air is close to 400 degrees on that tubing and that high explosive aviation fuel is on the wing.  My First Officer was already with the Abnormal Checklist opened in the correct page.  We followed the procedures, reset the position of High and Low Pressure Bleed Valves, but the light kept ON.  At the end of the Abnormal Checklist for this item a legend stated:  “if any of the above lights still ON – Consider to shutdown the engine.  Apply Engine Shutdown Procedure – Page A45”.

Then the dilemma of every professional pilot begun.  Was this another false alarm? We were really losing hot compressed air on the rear of the wing?  Engine indications were normal. But the Checklist was clear – Engine Shutdown is recommended –  All of us heard about sad histories of guys that lost a wing because virtually melted due to a hot air leak or worse case scenario, an explosion.  I said – let’s go to Page A45.

We again followed the procedures for Engine Shutdown step by step.  I grabbed the Condition Lever and bring it to start position and after a couple of seconds to FUEL OFF.

Now we were a single engine airplane,  the sound was different, more quiet.   Well, we can’t stay here wondering now, let’s go to plan B, we can’t remain at FL240, we have to descent.  Drift down was not a problem here because the aircraft was empty and terrain was not a factor in this area.  Next step – notify ATC we had a precautionary engine shutdown and that we are in normal single engine operation.  All checklists done, let’s plan the descent, approach and landing.  Sometime ago someone taught me; never descent into an airport if you don’t follow these steps:


A – ATIS – Get the Terminal Weather Broadcast or METAR

B – BUGS – Verify the Landing Weight and set the Speed Bugs

B – BRIEFING – Brief the Approach Plate

C – Request the Before Descent Checklist

We began a shallow descent into Chiang Mai, our nearest suitable airport.  Weather at destination was with isolated rain showers and good visibility.  Established on the ILS we executed an identical approach as if we had two engines.  Landing was uneventful.  We taxied to the ramp and shutdown the right engine.  A while later, our engineer discovered that a loss clamp was the cause of the Bleed Air Leak.

In silence, I walked away from the airplane feeling the self satisfaction of taking the right decision…











Left Engine Shutdwdown

“if we professional pilots share our experiences, we are making a safer aviation”


In a Rush…..

In the early 2000s were on a mid-afternoon flight returning to Aeroparque, our main domestic airport in Argentina, in the old a reliable Boeing 737-200 after a “round flight” as we used to call to those flights in one direction with three stopovers. The Captain that day was a good fellow that used to fly Connies doing cargo in Central America, I enjoyed hearing stories of his flights. On the last leg he was PF.

At about 150 miles from our home base, I’ve got in touch in the Company frequency with our Flight Dispatch Office. Aeroparque was reporting rain showers with good visibility to the north, approach in use was ILS 13, but because of wind direction we had to do a visual circling over the river for Rwy 31.  After doing the approach briefing, set the speed bugs and run the descent & approach checklist, at about 100 miles from our destination, we begin our descent. Everything progressed normally and we were cleared to a fix for a 12 NM localizer final.

The visual circling maneuver for runway 31 requires a left turn to a heading of 105 degrees and is flown over the Rio de la Plata river until turning from base to final.  At 6 NM, with visual contact with the runway, we started our circling maneuver to the left of the center line. We flew the downwind leg at 2000 feet AGL with flaps 5 and 180 KTS., in calm air, the 737 was flying smoothly. Abeam of runway threshold we started timing for 30 seconds before turning base.

Then, we observed that right on final for runway 31 at about one mile from threshold there was a strong and concentrated rain shower.

Entering base leg, we lowered the gear, set the flaps on schedule, completed the landing checklist and started our descent to 900 feet AGL before turning final. On this portion of the approach we flew perpendicular to the shore and right over the port, we could see the red cranes pointing to the sky. We turned on a 4 NM final and with runway in sight we established on a 3 degrees final approach.

We entered the rain shower, it was very intense and we lost complete visual contact with the runway, with no radio aids for the approach we just kept the runway heading and altitude waiting to regain visual clues to complete the landing. The noise of the windshield wipers was very loud and we had to speak loudly to communicate between us.  At a certain point, still inside the rain shower, the Captain advanced the trust levers and announced… – Go Around! Flaps 5!- I moved the flap lever to the go around position and with positive rate I placed the gear up.

The missed approach procedure for this runway requires an immediate right turn over the river. After completing the turn, the ATC controller requested our intentions. We agreed to give another try, then instead of waiting for the cell to move aside from the runway center line, we made a 360 degrees turn and lined up again on final. Obviously conditions remained the same, again we entered the rain shower and lost contact with the runway. The Captain maintained 500 ft AGL and runway heading. Suddenly at about 1 NM from threshold we broke out of the rain and got the runway in sight in visual conditions,

We were too high for landing, then the chain of errors continued, then the Captain said…- give me flap 40! – and pushed the nose down.  The speed increased far beyond Vref for previous flap setting and when we crossed the threshold.  We were flying too fast. We floated over the runway due to excess speed and mains made contact more than half distance of the 2000 MTS. of runway.  The Captain tried to unlock the trust reverser’s, but the speed was so high that the main landing gear strut was not on firm contact with the runway so the weight-on-wheels sensors were not allowing the reverser’s to be deployed.

The runway end was approaching fast to us, in the meantime we were both standing on the brakes. Finally, we stopped at less than 10 mts from the runway’s end, reverser’s still deployed at full power took us a few seconds to react and bring them down.

Taxing into the parking bay, I was looking at the face of surprise of the engineer standing in front of the airplane, after all passengers left, when I meet him outside, he said – follow me … this has been your lucky day son..- and then he showed me the two inner flat main tires.

Many of us, at end of day, experience that sensation of self satisfaction when everything has gone well and the task is accomplished. Problem is when we put pressure in ourselves in accomplish the mission and that pressure interferes with the normal decision making.

Another lesson learned, don’t rush….everybody and everything can wait.

Boeing 737-200 Adv.









“if we professional pilots share our experiences, we are making a safer aviation”


  •   GDL 39