The Truth About Tradewind
So I have been with Tradewind for a while now and I feel there is a lot of information that people thinking about coming to fly here should know. Overall the intentions of ownership and management are good but they have made some terrible management choices and it really kills the operation efficiency and pilot moral. All of the pilot supervisors from the chief pilot down are young and lack authority. The company is very unorganized and flies by the seat of its pants. They are SOOOOOO DESPERATE for pilots in command that they are upgrading SICís who have the 1,200 hours for Part 135 but yet only have 30 hours in the PC-12. Pilots that have been in the plane as a second in command for less than one month!!!! The PC-12 is a pretty simple, pilot friendly plane but do you want to be flying into TFFJ with a guy who has less than 50 hours in a PC-12?
The majority of the SICís they are hiring and making these ďunqualified PICísĒ babysit are all super young, with less than 800 hours, and with no turbine time. I get that we all have to learn somewhere but what is happening is now you are putting two unqualified pilots in the airplane. Just this past week a fresh upgrade PIC and a fresh out of training, 2 month in the plane SIC got into a situation where ATC was asking them to break company protocol on an altitude request. Neither of them knew what they should do so they circled the plane with passengers on board to buy time to figure out what they should do. Are you kidding me!?!? Pilots need to be able to make educated decisions in the blink of an eye.
Three quarters of the PICís here are young alpha type, can do know wrong, and think they know more than everyone else. Prior to upgrading I personally had witnessed more than a dozen approaches into TFFJ that were entirely unsafe, violated company policy and should have been ďGo Arounds.Ē I have personally called ďGo AroundĒ on four separate approaches as an SIC into TFFJ only to have the PIC put the plane down with less than Ĺ the runway remaining. One of the four times was with my standards captain. After this occurs the PICís will get aggressive and blame mistakes on you as an SIC. They will go out of their way to nitpick every little thing about your flying or procedures as punishment for questioning their flying. You are required to report all ďGo AroundsĒ to the company and PICís have this fear in them about having to call one in. They will drop the prop into beta while it is in the air to avoid having to go around. It is a REALLY BIG problem here and it is getting REALLY DANGEROUS. Tradewind is oblivious or MORE LIKELY, based on the shortage of pilots, turning a blind eye to the fact that this is going on.
Then there are all the weight and balance issues. Tradewind puts 8 seats in the PC-12 and has a generous baggage allowance for passengers. Problem is TFFJ does not sell fuel so we have to take enough fuel to get there and back to TJSJ. This limits the amount of baggage we can take right?! WRONG!!! The ground personnel will constantly just take passengers personal weights and guessed baggage weights as long as they keep the plane in useful load. It is amazing how many times the weight comes in just perfectly for what we are limited to carry. I get it that nobody who is overweight wants to give their honest number but I am talking about obvious lying where a passenger will say they weigh 160 and they are clearly well over 200. There are even some pilots that are guilty of it (especially the females.) Passengers will say their carry-ons weigh 20 pounds, the ground agents donít weigh them, but when I am loading them in the plane they are over 50. I have personally questioned the weight and balance of a plane that had the nose wheel strut completely extended only to be told by the PIC that it was fine. He did not even get out of the plane to look at the strut. I have heard through the rumor mill that Tradewind pilots have been able to spin the nose wheel of their planes because it was so out of balance and the PICís still end up saying it is safe and fly them anyways. Now the PC-12 is very capable and I know people hate for their bags to come on the next flight but Tradewind is without a doubt flying these planes overweight and out of balance all the time and if you say anything you are not towing the company line and are ostracized.
SICís overall are scared to question PIC authority and it is only a matter of time before a PC-12 ends up in the water at TFFJ. I learned quickly that telling your standards captain about issues with a PIC can be a horrible mistake. Sometimes the PIC is best friends with the standards captain and then those two guys think you are a little tattletale. There is no disciplining pilots at all, they never fire anyone because they are desperate for pilots, so eighty percent of PICís donít follow the rules and in turn set the bad example to the SICís that they too donít have to follow the rules. I was such a rule follower prior to coming here and after a wile as an SIC you get to where you just donít care! It is not worth the fight and being ostracized or made fun of. I know it is wrong and I went against the grain to stand up for what was right and it just made my life worse so now I am a PIC and it is not really a problem other than dealing with the rule breaking SICís! I know I am going to get blasted for this but you are not here in my shoes and you are not experiencing the situations first hand. I know a lot of you will say I should just break my contract but Tradewind has made some great examples of pilots who have done just that and I have a few months left until I donít have to pay them back for my ďtraining.Ē
Scheduling is another reason 90% of the pilots here are burnt out. When flying in and out of TJSJ you will be returning from a destination that requires you to go through customs 99% of the time. Scheduling will literally have you arriving from TFFJ at 12:25 and then scheduled to depart TJSJ at 13:00. That gives you 35 minutes to unload the passengers and their bags, ride the bus 1.2 miles all the way across the tarmac to customs, clear customs and immigration, then walk all the way from one side of the airport back to terminal A. On a good day this takes 20 minutes. So now you have 15 minutes to take the elevator back down to the ramp, ride the bus to the plane, load the passengers and bags, brief the passengers and have an on time departure. You have to pray that you donít get hungry or have to take a dump every day that you fly. If you are slightly overweight and no diets are working for you then come and fly for Tradewind! They do not give pilots any time for eating during the workday.
So I know what you are thinking, just take your lunch right?! Pack a sandwich right!? Well you see we have to go through customs every second flight so we cant make our own lunch and bring it with us as we have been though customs twice before lunchtime. So now I know what you are thinking as well. Grab something in the airport for lunch! In TJSJ there is no such thing as rapid or quick service. The lines at the very few food options are always a mile long and take on average 10 minutes to get food at on a good day. Forget holiday travel season, during December and January the lines take more than 20 minutes to get a sandwich! Even if you are lucky to be flying to and from a non-customs required destination, Tradewind policy is that pilots cannot eat in the plane with customers. Occasionally a more senior pilot will stand their ground and say that they have to eat and dispatch will lose their minds!
Currently there is a small rebellion happening with pilots pushing back to encourage scheduling longer turn times. The problem is that the company loves being able to get the most out of their salaried 12-hour pilot duty days and they canít spare even 10 minutes in a turn or they are not going to get 8 flying legs out of a crew. I cant even start to tell you how many times I have taken off with less than 5 minutes until I ďtime outĒ for a 12 hour day. I will be honest those last flights with 12 hours on a crew are always a mess. It really is dangerous but it is all about making money right?! Who cares about safety?!
When you have an overnight at TFFJ gone are the days of staying in a nice hotel. Ownership purchased a two bedroom, two bathroom house on the island. There is a master bedroom downstairs with a queen and a loft upstairs with several twin beds. It was a great idea with terrible execution. The downstairs bathroom drain is always clogged so really there is only one usable bathroom. The upstairs loft doesnít have a door for privacy so crews are constantly fighting about the downstairs master. Crews never strip the beds of dirty linens and the house is always a mess as the maid comes only once or twice a week. The water in the house is from a cistern and cannot be drunk. Multiple times I have been to the house and there is no bottled water. Seriously nothing to drink at all! The plugs are all European and they donít have converters so sometimes crews cant charge their cell phones at night. They donít even have a microwave so you can bring your own food. They pay you $40 overnight per diem but that literally wont buy you dinner let alone dinner and breakfast on St. Barts. When they first bought the house the pilots were told it would be great, we could go over on our days off when it is not being used with spouses or boyfriends/girlfriends, but sadly there is no way to know if the house is being used and or if there is a crew staying at the house. A simple Excel spreadsheet would do the trick but again management doesnít care!
Now with an influx of Female pilots they are having co-ed overnights in the house, which is another recipe for disaster. Especially with no door on the upstairs room and having only the upstairs bathroom functioning. It is only a mater of time before there is a sexual harassment suit! Fornication between pilots is already happening and as a young professional with my career ahead of me, I just donít want to be put in the position where any accusation could be made. They need to be sending all male or all female crews on overnights to TFFJ but again scheduling and dispatch is run by a bunch of minimum wage idiots that have zero clue what they are doing!
Most of the PICís here that have over 1,500 hours, are applying to go to regionals as the money is so much better and they are tired of getting screwed around with by a horrible dispatch/scheduling department. As a pilot you can never predict your schedule. It literally changes while you are flying. Now I understand being flexible and unforeseen things happen but it is constant and all the time! Most pilots will have an additional trip added to the end of their day or they will be given an overnight when they were suppose to be home by 3pm. This makes having a social life next to impossible. Pilots will make plans to have their girlfriends/boyfriends or spouses come on overnights to TKPN where we stay at the Four Seasons, only to have their schedule changed in the middle of the day. I canít reiterate enough that you cant make any plans based on your pilot schedule! Every other airline on the planet will set a schedule at least the week in advance! Not Tradewind!!!
Oh and on top of the terrible scheduling that always changes; dispatch will sometimes be forced to book you in a hotel other than the regular crew hotel due to high occupancy. Not a big deal right as all the hotels that we stay at are nice! Only problem is they never call or email the pilots to tell them they are not staying at the usual crew hotel. Twice in the past two weeks I have heard stories of pilots driving to the Four Seasons at TKPN after a 13-hour day to be told they donít have a reservation. So then they have to use their cell phone at a cost of $13 to call scheduling and dispatch to find out where they need to go. Then get back in the car and drive all the way over to the other side of the island. Icing on the cake is rather than apologizing about not notifying the pilots, scheduling and dispatch get all defensive and will lead the conversation with ďYou called me! I did not disturb your crew rest! We are not moving the flight back in the morning!Ē
So that leads me to the airplane cell phone issues. So each airplane has a cell phone assigned to it for circumstances such as showing up to the Four Seasons in TKPN without a reservation. Great idea as I hate having to pay $13 on my own cell plan to call scheduling and dispatch when I am not in the USA which is 90% of our flying out of TJSJ. Only problem is half of the planes have had them stolen or they are misplaced, and the other half of the planes that have them never have them charged. There is no procedure in place for people to take the phones and charge them overnight. There is no procedure in place to replace missing phones. The company could even give every pilot a portable cellphone battery charger and a cable and require them to carry it! It is not rocket science! Just another example of a great idea and terrible execution.
This brings me to flying standby on our own airline. There is no procedure and it is a mess 90% of the time. I have called dispatch and scheduling to list a significant other over a dozen times. Fifty percent of the time they will show up at the airport to be told they are not listed by the check in agent. When there is only one seat and two different crewmembers competing for the empty seat you would think it would go to the person who listed for the flight first or the more senior crewmember like most airlines. Nope it goes to whoever is on the best terms with dispatch or scheduling. Which in all honesty not many pilots are on good terms with dispatch or scheduling so basically the seat goes to whom they hate less. We donít have that many employees. Making a seniority list would not be that hard! Or just make it official that whomever lists for the flight first within 24 hours gets the seat first!!!
Then there are the ground crew at TJSJ. I donít know who does the hiring but two thirds of the ground crew are CLUELESS. I understand that Puerto Rico is a different lifestyle and that work ethic and pace of life are a little more laid back than in the Northeast. But it is becoming a real problem. The guys marshaling the planes in will be doing it while texting and not even looking at the plane. We will have 4 planes on the ramp with 2 of them running and passengers are just walking around taking photos feet from spinning props! Pilots were all required a few weeks ago to shadow the ground crew for several hours. This was so we had a better understanding about why certain things are a certain way. Well I mentioned, ďhey maybe the ground crew should shadow pilotsĒ so they have a better understanding about what we do. ďYeah not going to happen,Ē I was told buy the fearless leader of TJSJ. Another great example of great idea and terrible execution!
I know for a fact that there are spouses and or girlfriends or boyfriends of pilots here in San Juan that canít find jobs because they donít speak Spanish. They would love to work for Tradewind and hey 99% of our passengers speak English as their primary language so it doesnít matter that they donít speak Spanish. If my significant other had a full or part time job with the company I would be less likely to be counting down the hours until I can get a regional airline job! There is even a pilot spouse here at TJSJ who was an airport manager back in the states for several years. They expressed interest in a job with Tradewind down here where they are currently flying and two weeks later the company hired some new Puerto Rican girl to fill an open spot that they had. Granted the girl is very attractive and she is super friendly but now that pilot is less likely to stay with the company because they have a bad taste in their mouth and their spouse cant find a job in San Juan. Stuff like this is happening constantly due to terrible management and if you talk to most pilots here they are on a countdown clock to when their contracts are up and they can leave!
I know that people are going to think I am just a disgruntled pilot trying to stick it to Tradewind. If thatís what you think I can respect that as that would be my first assumption too. There are a handful of positive aspects of this company. The maintenance is spot on and the planes rarely have any issues. If there are issues they are usually fixed in less than 24 hours if they have the parts which they most often do. If they do put you up in a hotel for an overnight the hotels are always nicer than what even the legacy carriers put their crews up in.
I came here super excited to fly the PC-12 and to see the remote Caribbean most people never see. I honestly thought I might be a lifer here at Tradewind and in my heart really wanted this to be a forever job. When I first started here I really tried to help implement positive change. I would make suggestions all the time in regards to better operating procedures and management could care less. I think with hiring some older more experienced people in key positions this could be a great company to work for. Ownership has a pilot background and not a management background and I think they are scared of conflict and disciplining or terminating employees. They have grown too rapidly which a lot of companies are guilty of doing and what makes it worse is they donít have the right people in the key positions.