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).