Thursday, December 10, 2009

Charlie Alpha Papa Tango

A question from follower D.A
Whenever I read your blog, I am always amazed at how technical airline pilot language is...and how fluent you are in this language. Take us back to the beginning. I'm sure that when you flew only single engine private planes, that you would not be able to understand much of what is written in your blog. How did the instructors introduce you to this airline pilot language? Can you remember your first words?

D.A I think one huge hurdle to get over for most student pilots is radio work. An instructor helps out for the first few sessions, but the student tends to be thrown to the wolfs. Radio work can be very intimidating. Not only do you want to sound professional, but you have to understand the instructions. To this day, I like talking on the radios,but many pilots dislike it and it shows. When I fly into the States you can tell the pilots are tired of talking. The RT (Radio Talk) quality tends to slip a few notches. The most "upbeat, lots of energy" prize goes to the WestJet pilots. I gotta some of that kool aid. :)
Again, radio work is intimidating during the first part of a pilot's career. For me, learning the phonetic alphabet would be my introduction to this new pilot talk. An instructor told me one way to get proficient with the alphabet is to read car license plates out loud.
As you can see, my plate would be "charlie, alpha, papa, tango"
Capt. Doug

P.S One would think my license plate is flaunting and ostentatious. I maybe some things but I'm not that. I figure it took me to age 45 to go captain so I thought I'd acknowledge my accomplishment. I also brought the BMW as another gift to myself when I went left seat. Maybe I am pretentious and showy?


Nathaniel said...

Love the plate, and the car. I can imagine driving your car must be a bit like child's play after flying the a320.

jinksto said...

Hah. If you're into your job enough at 45 to want to show it off a little then I don't think that's pretentious and showy at all. Anyone that knows what that plate means is impressed and should be. Yours is a tough industry, you deserve the right to announce your accomplishments sometimes.

mlesser said...

id like to point out that radio calls, especially in general aviation are probably the only thin you get judged on. If you make good calls and sound professional then people tend to think you can fly a plane. If you sound horrible on the radios, no matter what your qualities are as a pilot, then people tend to think you struggle with it.

Just my 2c. I always try make the correct call in the correct order for this reason. Sounds a little vain, but its the name of the game sometimes.


PS Doug - Good blog, always enjoy reading it.

From the Flight Deck said...

Nathaniel. I think BMW and Airbus are synonymous, they are both quality machines. Having said that, The Flying Scotsman may beg to differ since he is a Boeing guy. :)

From the Flight Deck said...

Jinksto. You're on the mark 100 percent! It is a tough industry, but most of us who are in it realize it's more than just a job. Not only is it a passion, but it's a disease.
When you add up the years, I could have been a doctor, dentist, lawyer, and accountant by the time it takes to be captain with some seniority with Air Canada.
Would I do it again? Hell yes, but with some modifications.

Thanks for the "hit the nail on the head" comment.


Ian said...

Indeed Doug, I agree. With the greatest of respect to our American aviator colleagues, much of their radio work borders on slovenly! My opinion and that of my colleagues who have R/T procedure drilled into them from the start.

Love the car too. I have a Citroen C5 V6 Diesel Tourer - not quite the BMW, so the green eyed jealousy is showing now ;)

Wife bought the hybrid as I predicted, and it has all the acceleration of a fully loaded A340-300 :)

Ian said...

P.S. You're not vain at all Doug - I had my hair dyed last year as the salt and pepper look was driving me mad.

Sadly, on a Dubai trip, in sweaty +38C temp because I did it on the cheap, made the dye run - all over my shirt collar.

Now, that is vanity - you're just a red blooded male!

Colby said...

I think making it to left seat on any type should warrant the purchase of such a lovely vehicle. Looks like you and Ian have something in common: you fly French in the air (Airbus) while he flies French on the ground (Citroen).

david said...

I fly (and own) only a single-engine plane, and I can confirm that I understand everything Doug writes in this blog (I'm not, obviously, familiar with many of the systems he has to worry about, but I understand what he's writing).

Just like a motor scooter has the share the same road with a bus or 18-wheeler, a single-engine Piper has to share the same sky with an Airbus or 747. We talk to the same air-traffic controllers (and to each-other), follow the same airways, and land at the same airports (often on the same runways), so there's no room for knowing only a *little* bit. Either you know the rules and terminology, or you shred your license.

Admittedly, it helps that I decided to do my initial training at a big airport (CYOW - Ottawa) instead of a little uncontrolled strip. I had the radio work nailed down (ATIS-Clearance-Ground-Tower-Terminal just to get going) long before I could actually fly the plane well enough to solo. :)

Jack said...

Hey Doug,

Now that I've seen a picture of your plates, I remember I saw you driving on the 403 in your pilot's uniform one day last year! What are you going to do when you change aircraft???

Since I was a kid, I've enjoyed watching aircraft movements and listening to ATC frequencies on my air band radio - it taught me alot about aviation, despite not having a pilot's license. I hope one day in my mid-adulthood to take up flying and I'm sure the familiarity with the radio talk will give me a head start. I don't work in aviation, but my office is near Pearson, and I keep my radio in the car and turn it on as I drive by. I find it fascinating.

Love your blog - I find myself checking it everyday and appreciate the frequent postings! The NYC story was a highlight!


From the Flight Deck said...

Mike. You're on the money. Good RT bestows professionalism. Recently, I flew with a senior F/O who's radio work...well...shall I say - needed work He would acknowledge a frequency change by, "roger"
By not reading back the frequency you are upping the chances of getting it wrong. I remember watching a T.V documentary on ATC. The controller told the interviewer that he just told a pilot to change frequencies. The response from the pilot was, "see ya." The controllers concern, which is a very valid point, did the correct airplane respond?

Again good radio work breeds professionalism. This same F/O showed up for work a tad late, garlic on his breath with his tie askew. Just an observation.


P.S Thanks about my blog. Seems my last post has stirred the pot. Lots of responses which is good to see on any blog.

From the Flight Deck said...

Jack.Funny, a flight attendant asked me the same question when parking in the employee parking lot. I'll gladly pay for the plates: 767 CAPT, 330 CAPT, 787 CAPT and 777 CAPT. :)

Good for you to understand the aviation lingo even though you're not an aviator. It's not an easy task.

Sometimes I click on my Blog link to YYZ ATC to feel at home. The "shop talk" is not too far away.

Thanks for regularly checking in on my blog. Looks like it's gaining popularity.


P.S Not only do you have a good ear, you have a good eye for license plate spotting.

From the Flight Deck said...

David. Good post. Just to shed some light on "Follower D.A," he does not fly, but enjoys the intricacies of aviation just the same. I think many of my readers and followers are non-pilots.
This is good because it adds diversity. I agree with you, the basics of flying a Cessna shares much similarity and comfort flying the "heavies."

Ottawa would be a great place to learn flying and radio work. That's how I started, flying at the Halifax International airport for my private license and getting my commercial license in Gimli, Manitoba (uncontrolled).
One already is comfortable with the radio work so one can concentrate on the flying.

Capt. Doug

From the Flight Deck said...

Ian. I thought you might add a comment or two on radio work. I have to admit you "speedbirds" do sound professional. Rarely do I hear you guys waiver from the script.

I've witnessed this on the Oceanic frequency (123.45). It seems to be dominated by our cohorts south of the 49th parallel (Canada/U.S.A border) looking for sports scores.
Or a "good ole boy" wants to chat it up with another "good ole boy." I've also heard the odd "speedbird" scolding those with unnecessary verbosity. :)

Great comparison with the hybrid and the A340. After all you Boeing pilots joke by saying, "lucky the earth is curved so we A340 pilots can get airborne."
I can attest to the take offs I saw in New Delhi. They were interesting to say the least in hot temperatures and fully loaded.


Lakotahope said...

Car is great! But, from my perspective, the hot rod is the jet you fly and get the fact you get paid doing it!

Just reminded me to log into and pick outYYZ....just checked the weather from NavMonster and FL390 -54°C264 / 105 kts
FL340 -53°C280 / 98 kts
FL300 -50°C250 / 113 kts
FL240 -38°C290 / 92 kts
FL180 -32°C290 / 75 kts
12,000 -24°C290 / 49 kts
9,000 -20°C298 / 38 kts
6,000 -15°C328 / 45 kts
3,000 296 / 48 kts

kinda cold straight up there

Anonymous said...

Jinksto. You're on the mark 100 percent! It is a tough industry, but most of us who are in it realize it's more than just a job. Not only is it a passion, but it's a disease.
When you add up the years, I could have been a doctor, dentist, lawyer, and accountant by the time it takes to be captain with some seniority with Air Canada.
Would I do it again? Hell yes, but with some modifications.

Thanks for the "hit the nail on the head" comment.


Would I do it again? Hell yes, but with some modifications.

What Modifications would you recommend? Especially for those who are just about to be declared CPL?

From the Flight Deck said...

Lakotahope. They are both nice vehicles. Reminds me of the time I wrote an article published in the Toronto Star comparing my Honda Civic (at the time) with the Airbus 340.It was a neat comparison which I included in my book.

I quickly checked out NavMonster. That's quite a site. I arbitrarily picked a routing from CYYZ to CYYC (Calgary). Very impressive in what it supplies and the layout.

It sure is cold up there. Typically around 36,000 feet, about the height of the tropopause, it's 56.5 C

Planning a trip?


From the Flight Deck said...

Anon. I have a talk next week in front of a group of Air Cadets. They too will be looking for guidance. I will still aver, go for it!

The Flying Scotsman on the other side of the pond just posted a great article on this very thing.

I still think having extra education behind your belt is an asset. Having university carries a lot of weight especially if you live in the States.
I took that route, but some of the flight colleges offer great packages. If all you want is to be an airline pilot I would put more weight on flight colleges.
Get in, get your diploma and then build your time. Many of the very young F/Os I've been flying with did it this way.

To go through life with no regrets means you didn't try hard enough.

Congrates on nearing completion of your CPL.

Capt. Doug

Lakotahope said...

Well, if I could I surely would fly somewhere....been tracking the girlfriend as she flew to Tiki Island, Texas via RIC - ATL - Hou. Just tracked her progress and the weather and the ATC at these airports. FlightAware live flight tracker is pretty slick as I can simultaneously sometimes track her flight visually and on the ATC radios...I do really appreciate computers...

From the Flight Deck said...

Lakotahope. I took a look at FlightAware. Another great site. It too is packed with info. Lots of stuff out there for aviation types.

Ian said...

Hi Doug.

Of course! Like you I am a stickler for clear, precise R/T work - some probably think I am anal - but when you hear misunderstandings and see potential airproxes due to poor communication, then I'll take the criticism.

The UK R/T phraseology, technique, and procedures are based on ICAO SARPS – just like most other countries. The manual for R/T is based on our CAPs – 413 (which is the main tome based on ICAO standards). At the Speedbirds, we follow ICAO standard and 413 pretty much to the letter. The need for clear, precise and umambiguous communications between ground stations and flight decks remains the cornerstone of safe flight operations the world over.

When someone asks me how they could improve their R/T discipline (and that it what it is a SERIOUS discipline), I always suggest:

1. Aim for accurate, brief and clear transmission. Listen carefully to transmissions and don’t hear what you want nor expect to hear. ATC is human, and they make mistakes too.
2. Don’t talk first – listen out immediately beforehand. Don’t interrupt dialogue or block other transmissions. Easier said than done over ATL or LHR.
3. Use the full call-sign. If a ground station has shortened it, then fine – but I take a dim view of that, and will pull up my F/O for using “Speed” instead of “Speedbird”. Speed is xxx kts – not your callsign!
4. All instructions and clearances should be passed in clear, direct manner, using the prescribed standard. This is very important for headings, levels, and should also contain the correct term “Height, Altitude, Flight Level or Heading”.
5. We expect ATC in the UK to provide no more than three instructions in one transmission. Not always practicable, and in some climes out in Asia the messages are cluttered. Read back –slow and clear - to all message transmissions - for clarity and safety’s sake. Yours and other aircraft. Part and parcel of professional airmanship.
6. In the CAP, pilots are mandated to read back ATS messages – which controllers will ask for if they don’t hear it. There are 12 mandatory items from taxi instructions, through runway-in-use, SSRs. It is however good practice to read back EVERYTHING, and get an acknowledgement.
7. In doubt about any R/T received – or you don’t get a read back which gels? CHECK IT and CHECK IT again.

david said...

Nice comment, Ian. Some thoughts (from a private pilot).

1. North American (especially US) pilots might be more laid-back about R/T because they spend most of their time dealing with native English speakers (or occasionally, highly-bilingual French or Spanish-speakers). Not so, I'd imagine, for pilots based in the EU.

2. A full callsign in a readback is fine when you're an airliner with a callsign like "Speedbird 123", but when I'm flying my Cherokee in the U.S., my full callsign is "Cherokee Canadian Charlie Foxtrot Bravo Juliet Oscar." We're supposed to use the whole thing, including "Canadian," when flying outside the country, but controllers in NY or Boston aren't too impressed if I take up enough airtime for 2-4 instructions just reading my callsign back, and they miss, perhaps, turning you onto the localizer. Ditto when I try to readback more than the minimum mandatory information. In quieter airspace, of course, I'm happy to be more verbose (Toronto Centre controllers working sectors in northern Ontario seem downright lonely sometimes).

Ian said...

Good comments too David.

As Doug will likely confirm, a good many of the Speedbirds operating in North America forget the "Heavy" suffix - and I am no exception, having been scolded by Toronto Centre no less for my omission...

When I was operating B757s on Shorthaul, flying into Paris-CDG was interesting, with the French literally flying off the tongues of the controllers and the local AF birds. Go to the Netherlands - and it is ALL English...

The wonders of the EU!

Cheers, Ian

david said...

As you've probably noticed, Ian, Montreal Centre and Ottawa Terminal in Canada are officially bilingual. It seems to be mainly francophone Air Canada pilots who take advantage of it (even though they work in English in the rest of North America).

I'm positive towards bilingualism in most parts of Canadian life, but I'm not sure it helps air safety when pilots can't understand ATC's communications with other pilots on the same frequency (as at CDG, I'd imagine).

From the Flight Deck said...

Ian, I'm reading you "five by five." Again, I try to practice and adhere to textbook RT. Having said, about 12 years ago while flying as F/O on the A320 I checked in with center by saying,
"Air Canada 123 level at flight level three five oh." The captain turned to me and began to bluntly correct me on the spot. "It's not 'oh', it's zero...three five zero not three five oh!!!"
He was absolutely right, but as you know with good CRM, it's not what you say it's how you say it. Diplomacy goes a long way. Needless to say this guy's personality was a tad wound up. He passed away with a heart attack a couple of years later. Moral to the story, I guess we shouldn't sweat the small things. :)

About three years ago at Air Canada we adopted a new S.O.P for the PNF (Pilot Not Flying) to read back the altitude to the P.F (Pilot Flying). Example: ATC clears us to 5000 feet. The PF sets 5000 in the FCU (Airbus talk)
and says, "5000 set." The PNF responds by saying, "roger, 5000 set." I'm not sure why we don't do that for heading and speed. I go one step further by pointing to the altitude. I read somewhere, NASA did a study and determined the button, lever, selection or setting is not looked at unless one actually touches it or points to it.

I also like to read back the taxi clearance to the F/O to ensure I understand the clearance. I also type it in the MCDU's keypad (more Airbus talk). When I was an F/O on the A340 I wrote it down on the
flight plan. After all, we have more of a chance getting lost on the ground than in the air.

We should write a book together, "How to be perfect pilots." lol

Ian, you're frequent, in-depth and informative posts are making my blog look great.


Capt. Doug

Aviatrix said...

ROFL at the licence plate! And I was wondering if you'd think mine was pretentious. You go for it. I was going to get a BMW when I made Air Canada captain, so I'm glad someone has it.

From the Flight Deck said...

Aviatrix. Rolling On the Floor Laughing? Sorry, I had to look up the acronym. I thought aviation had its fair share and then came the internet.

Thanks for the thumbs up! F.Y.I most of my neighbours still don't know what the license means.


From the Flight Deck said...

Valid points David. I too can see how busy airspace can wane a bit as far as conformity. If I checked in with Winnipeg Center by stating, "it's Air Canada six- seventeen" you can rest assured they will correct me by responding, "Air Canada six- one- seven." Then if I check in with Minneapolis Center and say, "it's Air Canada six- one- seven,"Minni would most likely come back, "Air Canada six-seventeen." They too get tired. Let's face it, nine out of the ten busiest(based on aircraft movements) airports are in the States. Sometimes things get a little creative.

You speak words of wisdom for a "private pilot." Good for you.


Anonymous said...

If I ever get to Air Canada (let alone be a Captain) I will not only change my license plate but I will do everything in my power to show off my achievement of getting to AC!!! (sorry for being too shallow but I think getting a job with Canada's flag carrier is a big accomplishment in this industry)

And about the radio work.... well, I agree with all of you. And I do have to admit that early in my flying (I'm still fairly new to the industry) I made so many mistakes on the radio. Once I remember arriving into YYC on a busy Tuesday afternoon. Boy did I make a fool out of myself! Arrival gave us an instruction and I read it back wrong, he gave it again and I said "we have the field visual"... that basically did it for the controller. He got on the horn and started yelling at us "I don't care you have the field in sight. I cannot give you visual because of the distance. Turn heading 260 and down to 6000 feet. NOW."

I just melted in my seat and did not say a word!!! And the unfortunate thing was it was the busy time of the day and everyone was on frequency and heard this.

david said...

Anonymous: Don't feel too bad about the CYYC snafu -- it's perfectly normal. I've heard my share of airline pilots mess up, too.

The funniest one was a Jazz flight from Toronto that I heard while flying back to Ottawa from CYAM. The pilot asked Toronto Centre for "direct Sudbury", and Centre replied "Please confirm destination is North Bay." "Um, yeah, sorry, request direct North Bay." Can't blame them, probably shuttling back and forth between Toronto and Sudbury/North Bay all day. In that case, ATC was pretty nice about it.

The most awkward one I heard was a few years ago, when an Air Canada Airbus which had just exited runway 32 at CYOW started down taxiway A without a clearance from ground, and stopped nose to nose with me and my family in our Cherokee (a few hundred feet apart).

I insisted it was no problem, and pulled into one of empty de-icing aprons to let the Airbus pass (sheepish thank-you wave from the PIC on his way by). Ottawa ground gave the AC flight crew a short but painful chewing out over the frequency, for everyone to hear (including all the student pilots up on the North Field). Honestly, after a long flight (or perhaps a whole day of short RapidAir flights -- I don't know where the Airbus was coming in from), it would be very easy to confuse clearance onto an exit taxiway with a normal taxi clearance to the apron, especially if you've gotten that the last 20 times you flew into CYOW.

I felt especially bad because it really was no problem for me, and also because I knew that I'd done stupider things but was lucky enough to have nicer controllers -- for example, on my first flight into Teterboro in my Cherokee, I lined up for the wrong runway, but the extremely kind tower controller just recleared me for the one I'd lined up for, without embarrassing me in front of other pilots on the frequency or my passengers.

From the Flight Deck said...

Anon. You are not alone as far as "airwave bloopers." I'm certain every pilot can recount several occasions where they pushed the wrong button and made P.As to ATC, had an open mike, got tongue tied, didn't understand a clearance and it took three to four times to get it right, etc. The blooper list is long.

Just yesterday the F/O left the "cabin" button depressed when he answered a call from the back. (We are to call before entering the flight deck). So when ATC told us to switch
frequencies it wasn't going out although it sounds like it does. He transmitted thinking he was acknowledging the clearance and switches the frequency. Meanwhile ATC was trying to get us to read it back. I caught him on this twice (he's new to the airplane). It's an easy mistake.

How many times have I heard pilots make their long drawn out P.As to ATC. There is one particular story where the captain (thinking he was talking to his passengers) went on and on about why they were late because of incompetent air traffic controllers. Guess where his transmission went and guess how he was subsequently handled by ATC?

I can go on about my own radio blooper blunders, but I won't. :)

Thanks for sharing.

Capt. Doug

From the Flight Deck said...

David, thanks for sharing this. Yes, ATC can be great to accommodate our mistakes. I've heard of pilots getting landing clearances AFTER they landed to ensure it was on tape.

But some ATC's tongues can lash out pretty harsh. Numerous stories tend to emanate from New York. In LGA (LaGuardia) you do what your told and now.
There's also many humorous recounts of ATC encounters. Here's an abbreviated one: It was busier than normal in LGA and a pilot made a turn on the wrong taxiway. The controller lost it. She tore a strip off him one side and down the other. "Look what you've done, you've blocked everybody, I can't believe you did that!" And on and on she went. There were dozens of airplanes on the ramp, but there was total silence on the radio. Finally, one anonymous pilot piped up and he said, "Ma'am, was I married to you once before?"

Capt. Doug