Monday, December 21, 2009

Down to minimums!

This photo was taken while lining up on the runway in New Delhi in the middle of the night enroute to Toronto - non stop. The airport was reporting an RVR (runway visual range) of 600 feet, but if you count the runway lights (separated every 200 feet) you'll see we had 800 feet and a bit. These take offs at max weight made for some interesting departures in the Airbus 340.

Yesterday, was a day of pushing the limits. For one, our scheduled duty day was 12:49 just 11 minutes short of a maximum duty day. This included the last leg to a place where the worst and most frequent weather in Canada occurs, St. John's, Newfoundland. Even though it meets duty requirements, it does not fit well in the common sense department. 

The flight to KTPA (Tampa, Florida) and back proved uneventful - just the way I like them.
We encountered the westerly jet again over the state of Georgia, but it increased in intensity. Our wind read out had the winds clocked at 190 knots.  Flight dispatch had us planned at significant lower altitudes going there and right in it heading home. We did get some bumps off it, but by listening to other pilot reports we changed altitudes accordingly.

The F/O just finished a gruelling one year "route" check so he gave some heads up as to what the pilot supervisor checkers are asking. Apparently, they are asking and conveying lots. Because of it, I too was in the books a little more than usual as I have my "route check" in January. I didn't have time to read the "weather maps" (code for newspaper, but this is classified info). 

I did notice the go around in the FMS (flight management system) and what it said on our Jeppeson charts did not jive. The F/O's chart read the same. It was CAVOK so I did not query ATC.  (CAVOK stands for ceiling and visibility OK - this is a short version. There is a technical definition for those writing pilot exams).

Our flight to Newfoundland was a continuing flight from Fort McMurray (a.k.a Fort McMoney). This flight is a very successful route because many Newfoundlanders are commuting back and forth to work the oil sands in Alberta. As luck would have it, it was running late. Now we have to look at busting our duty time. We have up to two hours discretion due to unforeseen circumstances such as weather delays, but it's at the discretion of the pilot. The flight attendants who were with us all day (this is rare) wanted to continue on their pairing as this was day one. They would be reassigned and this would prove too costly nearing Christmas. I could sense a little reluctance with the F/O, but it was his call.

Finally, the aircraft arrives and everyone scurries to get it turned around. However, during the approach into Toronto the airplane picked up ice. "Jacques from Airbus" did not implement a deice system for the tail wing (stabilizer). So it's off to the deice centre for a quick spray of the tail only. Now we are well past 13 hours.  The flight is full. I have two flight commuting flight attendants - one just in from Hong Kong and the other from Tokyo - asking for the jumpseat. A pilot shows up so he out ranked them. I okayed it for him. I know of two commuting check captains and I would probably deny them. Not what you want in the jumpseat during a long day, with a approach to minimums, because they never take off their checking hat. Luckily because of some misconnections everyone got a seat in the back. Meanwhile, we are watching CYYT's weather.

CYYT 210105Z 11010KT 1/4SM R11/1800FT/N R16/2200FT/N -FZDZ FZFG VV001 M00/ RMK FG8

To a layman this means poor visibility in freezing drizzle and freezing fog. To a pilot, it raises more than an eyebrow, especially after a long day. This is the same weather weather reported when Air Canada had an incident in CYFC (Fredericton, N.B) years ago in an RJ Challenger. Many things stemmed from this incident and one of them is the captain must do low visibility approaches. It was the F/Os leg so being "mister nice guy" I offer him to do the take off. (We all know where nice guys finish).

The flight plan shows us 10 minutes over 'sked' because we won't be getting the usual push from the prevailing westerlies, but instead we will buck rare easterly winds aloft. (Do not use the word "buck" in P.A announcements. It may sound like something else). See the Flying Scotsman's great post on oceanic procedures. He included a weather chart depicting the easterly jet over Newfoundland.

While airborne we are rattling off weather reports from our datalink. The entire east coast of Canada is being ravaged by a storm. Our alternate is CYYR (Goose Bay, Labrador). It's a military/civilian airport just under two hours north from a go-around in Tore Bay. I haven't been there in years and I didn't want to revisit it last night. I got another roll of data link paper just in case we ran out and things got busy. Our "have a look at alternate" was CYJT (Stephenville, Newfoundland). Dispatch includes a second alternate sometimes meaning it's more feasible to go there. However, this "built by the Americans in WWII airport," did not have readily deicing available. It did have a 10,000 foot runway. But the prevailing winds in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I and Newfoundland were from the east meaning non-precision approaches. Not what you want after a long day.

I have a cousin in Stephenville and he would be tickled pink if I landed in this near "ghost town" airport. (I truly have a cousin there. For those in the know, "having a cousin" or "going to see a cousin" is code for something else. Think hanky-panky). More classified info.

My F/O has two small children with another one on the way. He is ready for bed. Dispatch sends us a datalink stating our flight from Halifax will be shooting an approach into CYYT soon. He got in! In fact, we notice a slight improvement in visibility with the forecasted wind shift. But it's minus one so I'm thinking icing on the approach and the runway is 20 percent ice covered. 

One might wonder why  Canada's foggiest airport doesn't have Category II landing or better yet Category III (Autoland)? They do have CAT II on runway 29, but this would have entailed exceeding our tail wind limits. I'm not sure why they put a CAT II approach on a westerly runway. A westerly wind in Canada generally means a clearing wind. 

Westjet is a head of us and we have to slow up, but I have to descend. You can't slow down and go down in a jet. I'm getting high on the profile. I compromise by increasing the speed a little. Finally, we are cleared the approach. 

At minimums, there are three calls, "runway in sight", "lights only" or "no contact." The response is "landing" or "go-around, flaps" in a loud shrill. The F/O calls "lights only". It's enough for me to curtly call, "landing!" Autobrake medium slows us nicely on wet runway 11. By setting the park brake at the gate the day is over.

On a side note, while enroute to Newfoundland I'm reading the approach charts extra hard -remember I'm spooled up for my pending route check. I notice this: "Precipitous terrain on approach." Okay, I'm an ex-meteorologist so I know precipitation and precipitate. I pull out my mini dictionary (used for crosswords) but the word does not exist. I feel better. It did have the word "precipice" meaning "very steep cliff or rack face." Okay, I get the drift. Now when I get drilled by the check pilot next month, I'll be armed with a question to counteract his barrage of questions. I'll bet he doesn't know what it means either.

I'm sitting in my hotel room. I have a great view of the approaches to St. John's harbour where waves are crashing upon the shore in easterly gales. (Update - visibility just reduced to 1/4 mile in fog - go figure.)

It's soon time to meet with the F/O for a debriefing beverage - or two.


whywhyzed said...
This post has been removed by the author.
whywhyzed said...

Awesome blog, Doug. As a pilot who got interested waaay too late to make a career out of it, (got as far as my "YZC..." at NC3) I really enjoy reading about the life of an AC pilot. Two friends of mine are also AC pilots (even had a pre 9/11 jump seat ride once)and we've swapped stories, but reading your stuff really puts me in the cockpit!!
Question: what is a "route check", and what happens during it?

Ian said...

Hello Doug from the Big Apple.

Despite the weather over in the UK (LGW totally hammered, and all short haul cancelled )- we got away alright) arriving over 30 minutes early in the end.

Will post over on my blog the journey in all its gory detail - I think we had a trainee oceanic controller at Shanwick Aeradio (rolls eyes).

In our "F" cabin we had a "Mister X" travelling with us - denoting a VIP...more later!

Just had a quick shower, before running out to get wife a present.

Hope NFLD is being good to you - brilliant post on minimums too.

Cheers, Ian

dogbait said...

Great post. You guys earn every penny you make and then some more.

From the Flight Deck said...

Dogbait. Yes, many think we pilots sit there and stare out the window and wonder what we will be spending all our money on.

They forget the dark and dirty nights where we try our best to make things happen.
You should have seen the arrivals area. It was packed with relatives and friends waiting for the flights to arrive during the Christmas rush.
I never saw it so busy here in CYYT.

Capt. Doug

From the Flight Deck said...

Ian. You're going to buy your wife a Christmas gift while jet lagged? While you're at it, can you get two - one for my wife? That way I would have started and finished my Christmas shopping. While out for supper we diverted into the "Crow's Nest" here in YYT. It's a naval bar with a huge amount of history.
They even have a periscope taken from a German U-boat. Many years ago, they allowed Air Canada pilots to join this exclusive club, but only if they brought the flight attendants.

We had to duck into this place to warm up. Here's the latest weather. No wonder people drink a lot here.
CYYT 212300Z 08024G30KT 3/8SM R11/3000FT/N R16/4000FT/D -RA FG VV002 03/02 A2918 RMK FG8 SLP887

From the Flight Deck said...

Whywhyzed. We must have a "route check" every year. It's when a supervisory check pilot flies with you and critiques your flying.
They will check your appearance, paper work (licenses, passport, etc.), and make sure we adhere to SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). It can be a non event or it can be one to three days of torture. Last year mine was during a snowstorm in the Toronto area but it went well. Some won't ask a question while others will drill you the
entire time. It's another hoop I must jump through to keep my job.

Thanks for the positive feedback.

Capt. Doug

Ian said...

Doug. Hope all well. My little netbook gave up the ghost last night and died! So I have to rely on the internet cafe in the hotel.

The UK is shovelling out again - and pleased we missed it all.

A B744 is coming in tonight, so we get an extra night providing cover, and out tomorrow back home to arrive on Xmas eve morning.

Will go an see if I can get a deal on a little pc somewhere, as this blogging is addictive!

Cheers, Ian

Ian said...

I was just musing on how much testing goes on in the world of the airline pilot. We work hard to get into the pointy end, and even harder it seems sometimes to keep our position.

From the recurrent training, to check rides, to medicals, wet drills and security training. And sometimes, you get a treat - a surprise check - so always have to be on your toes.

Overlayed on this, are the day-to-day operational requirement of CRM - and the crews checking and re-checking everything that each other does.

It adds up to a safe and highly regulated environment -and one airline pilots accept as part and parcel of their work life.

From the Flight Deck said...

Just arrived home and posted about another CYYT adventure. You pegged it. The hardest part of our job is trying to keep it.

Did you find another computer?


Richard said...

The Exif metadata on your New Delhi runway view shows that the photograph was taken at Date Time = 2003-12-30 14:46:24!

Is this an old photo, which fits the posting (no problem for me) or was the camera (a Canon PowerShot A80) not set up properly (what else haven't you set up properly on the Airbus??) ?

From the Flight Deck said...

Richard. This is an old photo during my first officer days on the Airbus 340. I was in my hotel room when I posted so I had limited pictures on my laptop.

As memory serves me correctly it was a Canon A80.

It's amazing what information is available from a picture.


Ian said...

I splashed out (being a tight Scot, and saving the allowances ;) ) on a Nokia Booklet - and it's terrific.

I bought my wife something pink (her in-colour) - and I'll leave the rest to the imagination!

Luxury having another night here - not heading back after one night, as I may have told you, a B744 is doing the run tonight.

I am off to Asalt and Battery over in Greenwich Village for fish n' chips with my FO before perhaps taking in a stroll by the Hudson.

Glad the egg nog is all set!

Cheers, Ian

From the Flight Deck said...

Ian. Greenwich Village, I haven't been there in years. I mean in New York. I assume you've been to "the" Greenwich.

The family and I are looking on the map deciding where to go for vacation. I have a MIA (Miami) turn on Christmas day and then I'm off for two weeks.

We are certainly venturing on a lot of virtual trips: HKG, BGI (Barbados), BDA (Bermuda), SYD and the list keeps building.
Travelling on passes, the joy.


Ian said...

Hello Doug:

Just heading back to bed - but chiming in! Checked to see if the inbound is on her way - and she's currently over the pond at FL360, making good time.

Yes, been to the original Greenwich (as have you).

Barbados sounds lovely to be honest! I am working to the 29th, outbound on the 27th once again on the Great Circle westward to the New World.

On the 30th, the teens, mum and dad are off to the sun for a week to see in the New Year - Caribbean bound.

Enjoy the turn to Miami - and wishing you and your family, a Happy Christmas.

Happy Holidays Doug!


AviatonCrazy said...

Air Canada now flies to New Delhi using an A340?

From the Flight Deck said...

AviationCrazy. No, that was about five years ago. The Route was cancelled and the Airbus 340 left the fleet about three years ago.

Capt. Doug