Thursday, October 29, 2009

Another Dark and Dirty Night

CYYT 290000Z 34028G37KT 12SM -DZ OVC009 02/M01 A2975 RMK SF8 SLP082

Every transcontinental Canadian pilot knows where the rainiest, windiest, cloudiest, foggiest city in Canada is.If they don't, they will soon get to hone their skills while landing in CYYT (St. John's, Newfoundland). It's probably one of the most bid around (avoided) airports at Air Canada, but probably the friendliest people you'll ever meet.

Well after a four hour wait in YHZ (Halifax) it was off to CYYT we go. We were watching the weather as the actuals and TAF for CYYT were jiving, another wild ride onto the "rock." We tried to get the YYT ATIS, but we eventually found out it was U/S. No NOTAM was issued. We jokingly claimed it was U/S because of the wind.

Remember the above METAR depicts the wind direction as TRUE. CYYT has a 21 degree magnetic variation so the winds were actually 36028g37 knots magnetic. (The ATIS winds are magnetic). Any pilot prefers to do the ILS instead of a "backwards" backcourse, especially on the Airbus. Simply put, a backcourse is a work out. Just what you don't need at midnight local with moderate mechanical turbulence on approach. Every CYYT approach chart includes a note:Moderate to Severe turbulence, windshear, and downdrafts may be encountered. I concur.

It was my approach (the first officer wisely chose to do the first leg into Halifax). While enroute to CYYT from YHZ we debated which runway to use. The ILS 29 or the backcourse 34? If we shot the ILS, the winds would be almost 90 degrees with gusts to 38 knots. Having said that runway 34 was 1500 feet shorter, another reason for 29. The landing crosswind on the A320 is 33 gusts to 38. As mentioned in another post this is a demonstrated crosswind limitation flown by "Jacques the  Airbus test pilot."

We chose the backcourse and I gave the typical long winded Air Canada briefing. There is a lot of talking on the Airbus. The briefing is for the CVR (cockpit voice recorder) and the lawyers. Then I added my two cents worth. I sometimes kid the F/O by saying they can start to glaze over while I give them a briefing. There is a Chinese proverb, "he who says a lot, says nothing."

It is procedure we are not allowed to navigate laterally on the backcourse approach - at least not the final approach inbound. We must bug the headings our self. Sounds like an easy thing to do, but when it's raining with the noisy windshield wipers whacking away and you are encountering moderate turbulence, deviations on the localizer can occur.

We "broke out" inside the FAF (final approach fix) but going from instruments to orientating with the runway was a bit of a challenge. What threw me off a little was the PAPI (Precision Approach Path Indicator) was on the right side of the runway. These are lights which guide us visually on a descent rate of 3 degrees. I noted later all the other runways have the PAPIs on the left side. After some correction I put it on smoothly with the help of a wet runway. I knew it was a wild approach because the F/O started to straighten up in his seat...waiting for impact. 

It all worked out. We get to the gate on schedule and we had to wait 10 minutes until the ground staff figured out how to manipulate the jet-way. Most of the passengers were grateful to have landed in St. John's but a few made snide remarks regarding the gate delay. Most passengers do not realize Air Canada does not own the jet-ways, but they are maintained by the airport authority. Just another day in the life of an airline pilot

As mentioned, St. John's is one of the friendliest places to visit so the F/O and I will be capitalizing on their hospitality at local establishments. It could be another wild approach. (The life of an airline pilot).


Jack said...

Great story, Doug. I look forward to continuing to read about your adventures. You make it feel like we're in the flight deck with you!

Have you read Capt. Sully Sullenberger's book yet? It just came out last week. It is a good read. I would be interested in hearing your perspective on it after you get a chance to read it.

Lakotahope said...

PAPI (Precision Approach Path Indicator). Ok, maybe I am dating myself with this question. VASI (Visual Approach Slope Indicator), I remember, but the PAPI is unfamiliar. I am gonna have to start all over when I get back into the air.

From the Flight Deck said...

Jack. I'm back from another three days of flying. The first night was in YHZ (Halifax) and the second was MCO (Orlando).
It was an uneventful pairing. Just the way we like them.

Thanks for the kind words.

I must get hold of Sully's book.
It's the same airplane I fly so it would be interesting from that perspective.

I think many will be listening to his take on wages, working conditions, etc of an airline pilot.

From the Flight Deck said...

Lakotahope. See my new post on the PAPI. Doug

Lakotahope said...

I wonder, a little bit of confusion about which side of the runway they(PAPI) should be on, if this happened to that South American crew that landed on the taxiway at Atlanta a little while ago....
By the way, Welcome Back!

From the Flight Deck said...

Lakotahope. Pilots land on the wrong runway, the odd taxiway and even the wrong airport more than one would think. I just hope I'm not in the flight deck when it happens.

During my line indoctrination for left seat the 'line indoc' captain was adamant about briefing which side the PAPI was on. It was a long four day pairing so lots of his suggestions rubbed me the wrong way. In hindsight, the PAPI suggestion was a good one.

Another suggestion he had (which no one else talked about making me think this guy is very anal) was where runway incursions are depicted on the taxi chart. Our Jeppeson charts depict incursions with a red circle.

A week ago, I almost taxied by the hold short line in YHZ for runway 05. It's my home airport( I soloed there 29 years ago), but they extended the taxiway to new hangars making me think I was not at the end of the runway. Luckily for a sharp F/O, I stopped. I did see the hold short line but my mind was thinking this is not right.

Thanks for the welcome back. I'm off until Friday. It will be a four day mission (I bid to avoid four day pairings but for some reason I got one). I'll be flying to Las Vegas (aka lost wages)from Calgary and Vancouver.

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