Pilots, Airplanes and Line Crew
From 1971 through 1973, I worked on the line crew at Epps Air Service at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. I was an Instrument-Rated Private Pilot at that time. The experience of working on the flight line taught me a lot about pilots and airplanes. This job included fueling and towing aircraft, putting oil in engines, cleaning airplane windshields and honey buckets (toilet collection tanks), performing external power starts with EPUs, loading and unloading luggage, stacking planes in the main hangar for the next day, getting rental cars and catering, signaling arrivals where to park, securing aircraft on the tie-down ramps and many other daily duties. The airplanes I worked with included Falcon 20 jets, Learjets, DC-3s, DC-9s,Convair 440s, a Lockheed Learstar, King Airs, Queen Airs, Warbirds, Aerostars, MU2s, helicopters and several types of light single engine and twin engine airplanes, including amphibians and motor gliders.
I got to know many private and corporate pilots while working as a lineman, which opened many opportunities for me to ride along right seat in many different types of aircraft. Sometimes I was allowed to do some of the flying on larger corporate aircraft or perform copilot duties such as radio calls, setting navigation equipment and running checklists. After obtaining my Commercial Multiengine rating, I flew on an MU2 as copilot on my days off. This experience was very educational for me and allowed me to practice real-world techniques and procedures. I strongly recommend that anyone who is starting flight training put in some time working line service at a busy FBO if at all possible. You will learn a lot from this unique perspective and find new opportunities on your aviation journey.
Being a well-trained pilot working line service, I was able to assess which corporate pilots were safe and which ones were scary. I observed them during their preflight inspections of their aircraft, boarding passengers, startup, takeoff landing and shutdown. Some pilots were so negligent and lacking in knowledge and skill, that I wanted to run up to their passengers during boarding and warn them not to get on the plane. Some pilots were unsafe due to their hazardous attitudes. Some pilots were arrogant, egotistical and cavalier. During the 3 year period that I worked on the line crew, 3 of these pilots had pilot-error fatal airplane accidents. Other pilots were mature, highly-skilled, knowledgeable, professional, detail-oriented and cautious and they earned my deep respect and admiration. The good pilots were role models for me.
I also learned from the line crew perspective, what procedures should be used by pilots as they interact with line personnel in order to ensure safety, efficiency and good customer service. Here is a list of suggested dos and don’ts for pilot interaction with line crews that I have developed:
- Treat line crew personnel as though they don’t know anything about aircraft – don’t disrespect them.
- Assume the line crew person knows all of the procedures for servicing or towing your aircraft.
- Whistle for the line service person and shout “hey line boy (or girl), come here.”
- Call at the last minute to have your plane pulled of the middle of a packed hangar when you knew days earlier that your plane needed to come out at this time.
- Ask the line person to complete parts of your preflight inspection for you (untie, un-chock, check the oil and fuel and look the plane over), the PIC is responsible for determining the airworthiness of the aircraft and that it is ready to go.
- Communicate clearly in detail, your instructions for service and towing of aircraft – preferably in writing, in case of misfueling or aircraft damage occurs and you have to make a claim for reparations. Details should include: voltage for EPU start, fuel grade, oil grade, oil amount, fuel amount, fuel in which tanks and identify which tanks are mains, aux, fuselage, tip, etc., fuel tabs – bottom or slot, tire pressure desired in psi – not by how the tire looks, windshield cleaning – what type of cloth and cleaner, where to service TKS or alcohol fluids, Towing turn limits, nose gear disconnect for towing if appropriate, fuel pressure relief procedure for removing caps, center point fueling controls and more.
- Use proper precautions when near the aircraft during refueling: no smoking, static line connected, no engines running, no electrical power on, no cellphone usage, no occupants in the plane (in case of fire on the wing), verify fuel truck labeled with proper fuel grade). Drain you wing tank sumps before refueling to get out any contamination that has settled before the fuel gets stirred up from pumping new fuel in. drain fuel drains again after refueling to see if new contamination was introduced during refueling and report any new contamination to line service immediately.
- Check behind line personnel after servicing you aircraft: fuel and oil at requested level, fuel and oil caps secured properly, fuel proper grade and contamination-free, all compartment doors secured and latched properly, no aircraft damage and chocks removed.
- Know you ground – marshalling hand signals (review in the AIM). Follow line person signals, but watch your wingtips and prop for clearance.
- Tip line personnel for going above and beyond, helping load and unload luggage, emptying the honey bucket, interior cleaning, retrieving your car, etc.
- Offer to allow line service personnel the opportunity to ride along, especially those who have a dream of becoming a pilot – pay it forward!
If you follow these guidelines consistently, you will get the best possible customer service from the line crew and you aircraft will more likely be serviced properly to give you a safe experience on your flights.
Posted by Steve Shaner 09-27-2016