How does that saying go about old dogs and new tricks? Well, it ain't true! Most of these old dogs are doing a pretty good job adapting to a new regimen.
As many of you know, the only common aircraft between Delta and Northwest is the 757. Accordingly, this is where most of the change has occurred, with new manuals, procedures, flows and checklists. It may not sound dramatic, but after operating one way for 25 years, these new changes are significant and require much effort to learn. The question most asked is, "why are we doing it this way?" Non pilots wonder, "how can two airlines, operating the same airplane, do it so differently?" The answer to the first question, simply, is that Delta was the surviving carrier so we do it their way. I also experienced this during the Northwest/Republic merger in '86, but over time, procedures seemed to have a way of evolving and finding the best from both carriers. I suspect that that will happen here as well.
The answer to the second question is a little more complicated. Procedures usually arise from specific situations or incidents. As new situations, good or bad are experienced, procedures evolve to meet the scenario and create a safe flying atmosphere. Even these new procedures are tweaked from time to time to address new concerns. The only constant in the airline business it seems, is constant change. Ask any professional pilot; safety doesn't just "happen," it's a never ending, vigilant journey.
My experience has taught me that most training departments aren't ideologues, but are truly in search of better, safer ways to fly the jet. It's a delicate balancing act. How do we safely, efficiently and economically operate all the fleets? I think that many loose sight of the fact that the corporation is in business after all to make money! For the last year, the pilots from Delta, Northwest and its flight operations department have been tirelessly working in that direction. But that's just what the public sees. All the groups; maintenance, flight attendants, dispatch, reservations, meteorology, sales, etc... have all been out straight.
My NWA cap and my fathers DAL cap. The new DAL hat brass is entirely red, the blue field has been removed. I don't particularly like its appearance and would have preferred that they maintained the historical widget colors. There... I knew I'd find something to complain about!
The road is exhausting, emotional, has seen many twists and turns, but overall they've done a very good job. Mostly I think because the pilot groups have enjoyed a "relatively" amiable merger. I dislike using it as an example, I have many good friends who fly at US Airways, but we've been able to avoid the severe acrimony that surfaced in this merger. Much credit goes to Richard Anderson with his unique approach of seeking common ground before a merger was even announced and to our ALPA reps who were able to engage in a civil manner. Every exposure to Delta crews, in hotel vans, deadheading, at layovers and through security has been positive. The merger, by no means has been perfect, but its been good and credit is due for navigating a road that historically has been very, very bumpy. I have friends here who were part of the North Central, Southern and Hughes Air West mergers in 1979 and also participated in the Republic/Northwest merger in 1986 and have expressed that this latest hook up has been very gentlemanly compared to earlier experiences.
Some pilots and others from different groups within the company may criticise my observations, but these are just that... my observations. I know that it hasn't been a pleasant experience for everyone, nor do I mean to express so. Please feel free to leave comments describing your view of how events have unfolded.
Now on to other matters.
- THE LAST NWA FLIGHT -
On 30 January 2010, NWA 2470, an Airbus A-320, departed LAX for LAS. Yeah so, you maybe thinking... so what? Founded in 1926 by Colonel Lewis Brittin as Northwest Airways and adorned with the famous "Red Tail" since 1948, this was the last scheduled flight operating with its Northwest call sign. Eighty-four years of significant airline history has seen its final flight. No longer will you hear a Northwest moniker over the airways as we've migrated to Delta flight numbers. Here's my experience...
NWA 757-300 at the gate in HNL
On 30 January 2010, my crew and I arrived at HNL to fly flight 2222 to SFO. Midnight had passed long ago on the mainland but not here yet in the Hawaiian archipelago, the worlds most remote island chain. Our flight release and computer numbers agreed with a fuel load of 50,000 pounds, slightly more than 200 passengers on their way home from vacation and a takeoff weight of 238,000 pounds. With all preparatory work complete, we pushed back from gate 21 and taxied to 8R, the reef runway at 2345.
We're flying the MKK4 (Molokai4) departure which dictates a right turn to a heading of 140 degrees at 400 feet and continuing to 5,000 feet. At approximately 3,000 feet, departure control gave us a left turn to a heading of 80 degrees and cleared us all the way up to FL350, our final cruising altitude.
We're now climbing parallel to Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head crater watching the city lights twinkle and shimmer off the water. I love flying this departure in a Boeing 757-300, with 2,120 nautical miles of ocean between us and North America. The weather forecast for SFO indicates IFR conditions with fog and light rain, so OAK is our destination alternate and ITO and SFO our ETOPS alternates. But for the moment it's a clear, smooth night with strong tailwinds as we spot the lights of Maui in the distance. The midnight hour has just arrived here in the Pacific at 156 degrees, 25 minutes West and we were now Delta 2222.
For 25 years I've exchanged short, clipped conversations with ATC personnel identifying myself as Northwest such and such, but tonight, flying over the Kaiwi channel, en route to CLUTS and R465, we're calling ourselves Delta. We're even in a Delta painted airplane as nearly 80% of the fleet has morphed into our new colors. For years people have asked me, "who do you fly for?" I was always proud to respond that I flew for Republic and Northwest Airlines. Do you have any idea how odd it felt to call myself Delta 2222? Here's a rather unemotional, matter of fact article about this passing. It's just business I guess.
Using our new call sign on HF frequencies over the Pacific isn't particularly difficult, as no one out here is calling us. It's simply a matter of giving position reports to SFO Radio. But once we transition to VHF with NORCAL Center frequencies, approach control and tower, it will be different. Fortunately, it was my leg and Brad, my FO, would have the pleasure of doing this first. He did an excellent job!
The next day was a little different though, as I stumbled through radio procedures en route from SFO to DTW. I never had difficulty responding to being called Delta, but whenever I finished a transmission and had to identify or confirm a clearance, I finished with "Northwest 2280... uh Delta 2280" about half the time. I didn't feel alone though as I heard this many times over the next 1,700 miles to DTW.
Not only is our call sign different, but Delta changed all NWA flight numbers to four digits recently for computer/reservation purposes. Something that you'd think was so easy, was now tedious and required a thought process... at least for me anyway.
NWA 757-300 shutting down at the gate, SFO
The chock signal is received, I can now release the brakes, shut off the hydraulic pumps (left to right) and call for the Parking Checklist. Or is it the Shutdown Checklist now? There's so much to learn! Let me get the book out....
The Delta "campus" in ATL
The 757/767 is a common type rating and at Delta, pilots move freely between them. At NWA though, we never operated 767's, opting to fly DC-10's and later A-330's. Last month, NWA pilots started filtering down to ATL for a single, four hour, 767 simulator session. For years we've traveled out to Building N or NATCO as it was called at one time, located in Eagan, MN. You may recall past blogs that I've written concerning this building with the little blue Link Trainer in its lobby.
Interior of 300ER simulator with instructors control screen
With NWA instructors we practiced a variety of procedures, such as engine failures at rotation, popularly known as V1 cuts. We then reprogrammed to South America to practice RNAV approaches to Cali, Columbia; something entirely new for us. Though designed to acclimate us to the 767, other than sitting up a little higher, the cockpits are nearly identical.
DAL 767 landing at Fort Lauderdale.
Notice how the trucks cant forward here, versus backwards on the 757.
A few weeks later, Delta started piling us into 767's for real aircraft takeoffs and landings. This isn't an FAA requirement that I'm aware of, but certainly was a lot of fun and I'm sure very expensive. Eighteen of us met downstairs in DTW in the International planning room at 0600. Eighteen more pilots would meet here at 1200 for the noon excursion too. Briefed by a Delta instructor, we broke up into two groups and headed for our assigned gate. The other group flew over to Saginaw while my group departed for Grand Rapids, Mich to do touch and goes. Now if you're a private pilot reading this and know how much fun it is to fly touch and goes in say a Cessna 172, you can imagine the thrill of doing this in a heavy Boeing 767!
The nine of us rotated through the cockpit flying two circuits each in marginal VFR weather, although it was incredibly smooth. The company had catered the forward galley with bagels, muffins, coffee, juice and bottled water, as we roamed the aircraft with a second instructor learning about the cabin.
On final, the picture through the windscreen is exactly the same as the 757, except... you touchdown a little earlier than you'd expect and carry power a little longer. The digital audio callouts are a big help here. With dual (inboard and outboard) ailerons, it's much more roll sensitive than a 757 and needs very little input. A larger, heavier airplane, once lined up on localizer and glideslope with flaps and gear extended, it maintains a solid track to the touchdown zone with little input required. But as I mentioned, it was dead calm. After about an hour of this, we noted an increasingly large contingent of photographers gathering at the approach end of the runway. Upon returning to DTW, we then gathered outside for walk around training. It was an excellent experience.
A few final thoughts
I love airline history, that's no secret and am very saddened to see NWA's role come to an end. We've been a major contributor though and I've been a proud participant for 25 of its 84 years. But if I've learned nothing over the last 35 years of airline flying, it's that there are few constants. Like all businesses struggling to stay afloat, it's constant change, adapting to changing markets, tastes and politics. The list of airlines and businesses that have failed to adapt is long; I'm fortunate to have flown for one that did. Col Brittin, Francis Higgins, Donald Nyrop, Hal Carr and others did a wonderful job maintaining our course through the years and I'm grateful, but so did C.E. Woolman and Dave Garrett at Delta. I'm optimistic with what lies over the horizon.
With what little time I have remaining in the industry though, I plan to be an enthusiastic supporter of Delta. My wagon is hitched to it and my pension after all depends upon it. The past is important, but living in it isn't.
As usual, thanks for following along.
If you have a moment, click over to my website. If you scroll down the home page you'll see a section where I've listed some of my photography and writing. There are several interesting aircraft slideshows available here that you may not be aware of.