!!!!! GONE FLYING !!!!!

If you need to contact me... email: [email protected]


"Pic of the day" sent in by Craig M from Ottawa. He watched flight tracker for days until he got the shot of all shots. It's beautiful.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Dozing for Dollars (Cruise/Relief Pilot)

“Three stripes in the left seat”

Dozing for Dollars

Here's an article I sent to Wings magazine but it never did get published.

Your first airline job may entail starting as a cruise pilot a.k.a. relief pilot. Companies like Air Canada, Cathay Pacific and some European carriers incorporate this unique pilot position for long and ultra long haul flights. The cruise pilot position is jokingly referred to as “dozing for dollars,” or “yawning for yen” (many routes are to Japan) but as one supervisor once told me, “It’s a great way to see the world and take lots of pictures, just like you see in National Geographic.” He pegged it.

It’s also an excellent way to learn an airline’s culture and it’s how I learned the ropes starting as a cruise pilot at Air Canada some twelve years ago. Going from a Dash 8 bouncing around in the weather laden Maritimes to flying an ultra modern airliner around the world, which included saying “heavy” on the radios, proved exciting. I cruised to neat spots such as Osaka, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, New Delhi, and London from Vancouver and Calgary. Learning the duties of each pilot, including the captain’s tasks of starting engines and taxiing, plus the Airbus way of thinking during my initial simulator course equated to “drinking water from a fire hose.”

Transport Canada approved this new concept in the mid nineties, authorizing a cruise pilot to occupy either seat - captain or first officer - during the cruise phase of flight, but not permitting them to perform takeoffs or landings. This arrangement allows the other pilot to rest in dedicated crew-rest facilities therefore helping to ensure a safe flight. From the airline’s perspective, it saved on wages.

This position is not only relegated to new hires. Many pilots bid the position for quality of life as it usually guarantees lots of days off and not a bad salary. (That is, if you don’t fall into the petty wages of a new hire or into Air Canada’s unique group exempt from formula pay). Some ‘cruisers’ kid they get checked out on executive class etiquette, sampling business class meals and building up quite a repertoire of movies watched. It’s one of few jobs where you are half expected to show up for work a little tired because it’s inevitable you’ll be taking the first break the majority of the time. On several occasions during layovers the captain informed me I would be taking first break and to adjust my rest accordingly. Having said that, I’ve showed up where the captain or first officer wanted to be first in the bunk. The cruise pilot position can be a tad lonely as you only augment long flights meaning the crew you just flew with may be off to a shorter destination. I likened it the loneliness of the “Maytag repair man” seen on T.V commercials.

Crew rest facilities vary according to aircraft type. For the A340, two bunks are directly behind the flight deck and abut the galley. A common complaint is noise from the galley or the flight deck door slamming. For those who feel the bunk is a little cramped a dedicated J class seat is also available. One now retired captain demanded the flight attendants put blankets on the galley floor and wear soft sole shoes to alleviate noise around the crew rest area. Needless to say, he wasn’t on many Christmas card lists.

The A330 uses a tent velcroed around two executive seats, which the B767 also implements. (One duty of the cruise pilot is to set up this concoction in flight because of their honorary first shift). Air Canada’s new kid on the block the B777, will have crew rest facilities located above the flight deck and from initial reports, it’s top notch.

At first this new pilot position came with some reservation from a few seasoned pilots. Some crusty captains were uncomfortable leaving the helm to a young new hire. I had one captain stand behind me during his entire break, although most embraced the position and couldn’t get out of their seat fast enough. Before 911 and prior to the heavy bullet proof Kevlar door remaining shut at all times, I witnessed one captain rig a headset from the flight deck into the crew rest bunk so he could listen to BBC on HF.

Don’t think this position’s toughest duty is to ensure the bunk is supplied with enough pillows and blankets. Some cons do come with this position. One beef many ‘dozers’ have is “staying on the ball” and that includes when it comes to simulator rides every six months. They do have the option of recruiting a simulator on days off - if they want. Many new hire cruise pilots come with tons of experience – I was hired with 8,000 hours- so watching someone else enjoy the thrill of take off and landing takes a little getting used to.

I always appreciated when the captain or first officer offered me to do the ramp checks and programming to keep my in the loop - it’s what I now offer to cruise pilots I fly with. It may not seem like much, but for modern airliners typing is a prerequisite. A Toronto to Hong Kong flight racks up over thirty hours in three days involving only two legs so getting hands on experience during an 80-hour month is sometimes a challenge. Having said that, I’m amazed how sharp and competent cruise pilots are. I hope it’s what fellow pilots said about me when I dozed for dollars.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Urban Myth (Perfect Eyesight for Pilots)

Received this email from a fan:

Hi Doug,
I've been enjoying reading your blog and thought I'd ask my own question: I've always heard that to become a pilot you have to have 20/20 or near excellent vision.  Is this true?Cheers, PS As a Canadian pilot, you may enjoy my tribute site to CP Air. Mike

My answer:

It's an urban myth. You don't need 20/20 eyesight to become a pilot.The Canadian Forces did stipulate this requirement, but I heard they too will allow for corrected vision.
I know of two airline pilots that were/are monocular, i.e. one eye. Keep in kind they obtained their medical prior to losing an eye.

My medical is this month. (For commercial pilots over 40, we have the honour of having a medical every six months).  I noticed packaging, etc. have been printing in smaller font lately i.e. it will be probably be time to have stipulated on my medical, "glasses must be accessible." As I near 48, I guess I've done okay in the eyesight department.

Neat blog. Now that was a few years ago, CP Air.

Captain Doug

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Over the Top" question ([email protected])

Luis Arciniega from London, Ontario asked (Permission received to post)

What is the most reliable navigational instrument when you fly over the North Pole. (AC 015)

Luis. We use a combination of GPS (Global Position Satellites) coupled with an inertial reference system. This inertial system uses laser gyros to detect motion and attitude. To be honest both systems get a little confused if we fly directly over the North Pole.That is one reason why the closest route is actually 60 nautical miles away from the North Pole. There are four major polar routes and none of them go directly over the pole.

Slipping and a sliding...NOT! ([email protected])

Just before take off in an Airbus 340 on 08 right out of Vancouver. Yes, Vancouver!

This was submitted by DJ Nasty Naz from Fredericton, New Brunswick. (F.Y.I he owns an award winning Restaurant in YFC- Caribbean Flavas).

His question: I have been travelling a lot lately, especially throughout the winter season, and was wondering how is it that planes"seldomly" skid off the runway. My SUV has special winter tires, with studs etc on them, but when I asked personnel at the airport they said planes don't have such things. So how do they not skid with all that ice and snow on the ground.Also, wouldn't it be easier for cities like Fredericton etc, where there are huge amounts of snow and ice, for the tarmacs to be heated..? Oh and one more question, ha, how come when we are landing, it always sounds as though the captain turns "off" an engine, as there is always less engine noise....and then coming closer to landing it sounds as though the plane is "SPEEDING" up. I could never figure that one out. Looking forward to your response.P.S great idea to have a column to be answering all of our crazy...weird...wild and wacky questions :)
Dj Nasty Naz. Thanks for your questions!
1. I understand enRoute sent you reference to my "anti-skid" question/answer.
Runways are treated with chemicals (we don't use salt because it's too corrosive) to give better braking action. When the runways are contaminated (snow, ice, slush, etc) we pilots are given a CRFI (Canadian Runway Friction Index).This decimal ranking ranges from zero (nil braking) to maximum braking on bare dry concrete of one. We consult charts to determine whether the CRFI and wind components allow for a safe landing and take off.

2. I often asked myself the same question. Why can't aprons and runways be heated to alleviate snow ploughing?
It sure makes sense here in Canada. 

3. When landing, the engines are near or at idle setting. Sometimes when a gust of wind is encountered the engines spool up a little.

Please see www.enroute.aircanada.com for the latest and greatest.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Back from three days of flying

First day was Toronto-Miami-Toronto-Montreal. The F/O was a sharp guy living north of Toronto in Barrie. I always offer the first leg, to do the first walk around and to buy the first beer on the layover. I always appreciated it when the captain did it for me.

The first flight was smooth and uneventful. But one always has it in the back of their minds, "things are going way to smooth." Sure enough about an hour out from returning to YYZ we had someone get sick. That someone was a flight attendant complaining of lower abdominal pain. The procedure (now that Air Canada removed all phones from the planes) is to call Stat MD in Pittsburgh through our dispatch. This increases the work load big time in the flight deck. The in-charge has to pass the medical conditions of the patient on a piece of paper and then we really the info. We then listen to what the doctor says and we relay the info back to the in-charge. Luckily, there were two doctors on board to assist. Again, I can't believe how many times there is either a doctor or a nurse on board.

We did not declare a medical emergency, but the paramedics were there to greet us.
Had some great debriefing beverages in the hotel bar that night.

Next day- Montreal-Toronto-Saint John's, Newfoundland. The flight was full so a commuting pilot asked for the jump seat. He was a check pilot on the Airbus so it raised an eyebrow. Luckily the flight went well and uneventful.

The last day was a long one. Saint John's (YYT) - Toronto (YYZ)- Tampa, Florida (TPA) and back to YYZ. Flight down to TPA had areas of annoying chop. On the flight back the annoying chop had spread to most flight levels and lasted longer. I described it as, "mother nature not being very happy." The in-charge added, "Mother Nature was down right moody." The in-charge did mention the annoying light bumps we encountered paled to the significant turbulence he experienced last week.

Off to the Rock tomorrow. YYZ-YDF (Deer Lake, Newfoundland).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A "pilot want to be" queries.

This picture was taken over 27 years ago trying to build that valuable time. Getting one hour by taking people up sight seeing was huge. Funny, when I flew internationally I would amass 16 hours in one flight.

Received this email last night from a young man bitten by the aviation bug.


I'm a first year Biomed Mech Eng Student. There is nothing in my mind except being a pilot, I'm really confused if it's a good decision. So I want to ask you the following questions.

How long does it take on average to get promoted form a first officer to a captain?

That question is not as easy as it sounds to answer. At Air Canada we had Embraer first officers go captain in less than a year (pre-recession). At Westjet I’m hearing it will now take several years. When I flew for Air Atlantic I was first officer for six years on the Dash-8 and only came close to getting promoted. When I went to Air Nova, I was promoted in six months on the Dash. In North America promotions are based on seniority. If you are number 2000, you won’t get promoted until number 1999 decides what they want.

How is being a pilot?

Being a pilot is the best job there is. I know it’s where I want to be.

When do get to fly internationally?

Again, the answer comes with stipulations. My first job with Air Canada was flying as a cruise (relief) pilot meaning I started flying internationally immediately. For some airlines you would never fly internationally because of their route structure.

How long doest it take to switch from propeller planes to jets?

First time I saw jet engines was on the Airbus 340 starting as a cruise pilot. About ten years after flying props. When things are moving fast in the industry the time will be much less. I already experienced two other recessions.

Is there any way you can directly start on a jet?

Yes. See above starting as a cruise pilot.

Are you an ALPA member, if so how did you become one?

At Air Canada we have our own unique union, ACPA (Air Canada Pilot Association).

Do you think I'm making a good decision by becoming a pilot?

Sounds like you have been bitten by the aviation bug. You won’t know until you try.

Doest it start to become boring after a while?

Every day I still love going to work.

What flight schools do you recommend?

Let me know where you live, U.S or Canada and I can narrow it down.

I know I'm asking you lots of questions but I'm really confused and this is effecting my studies and I think that by you answering my question you would be of a great help to me and it will effect me taking my decision.

Sir, I still believe if there ever was a time to be a pilot, the time is now. Start training now so you will be ready when the hiring boom hits again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Landing lights?

Some airplanes have really bright lights on at night when they come in for landing (Landing Lights I assume?). At what point do pilots turn these on/off during flight? Only when landing /departing or when passing 10,000 feet?


When we receive take off clearance, "cleared for take off," the captain will turn on the landing lights. They will remain on until 10,000 feet. The pilot flying will call "10 thousand" prompting the PNF (Pilot Not Flying) to turn off the lights. Many aircraft have the lights embedded in the wing. The lights on the Airbus 320 fleet extend downwards from under the wing. They cause some drag and we pilots liken them to "mini" speed brakes. We would stow these lights if we plan on exceeding 250 knots below ten thousand feet during climb.

When descending through 10,000 the lights will go on as part of the "in-range" checklist. The in-range checks should be done while descending through 10 thousand feet or about ten minutes from landing.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tail exhaust (APU) ([email protected])

Question from Waterloo, Ontario.

When a plane is at the gate and the engines are shut down, there is some sort of exhaust coming out of the very back of the aircraft underneath the tail........what is that?


The exhaust you see is from the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) located in the tail of the aircraft. It supplies electrical power and air conditioning while on the ground. This small jet engine also supplies pressurized air to start the jet engines. High pressure air is required to get the jet turbines in motion.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Where's the Canadian flag? (From [email protected])

Why do Air Canada aircraft not sport the Canadian flag? I know the name says it all but it's far from patriotic. Every carrier in Canada has or had but not Air Canada.
From the Flight Deck: Good question as to why we don't fly around with the Canadian flag!Just to be sure, I checked out some of our competition's livery. You were 100 percent correct! WestJet, Sky Service and Air Transat sport the Canadian flag. I could ask my Air Canada "paint contact" but I'm certain they would tell me the red maple leaf coupled with "Canada" more than suffices. Some of our airplanes have six large maple leafs which may trump the two small ones found on the competition's fuselage.
Response: Thanks Capt Morris. I find it strange as CP Air even had the flag and Canada written along side of it. I find it annoying that Air Canada doesn't. Is it possibly a polical thing. ie Quebec. If so that has to be rectified as they still are welcome Canadians like all of us :)
I can't believe you responded and am extremely pleased! You can certainly use my name in the blog or anyway you wish. Air Canada is and will always be my favorite carrier anywhere!
From the Flight Deck: Thanks for the prompt reply and permission to post. I shall. EnRoute will be posting my response to a "paint" question either in August or September's issue. Maybe I'll poke my "paint contact" about this when I get confirmation of my facts. Again, thanks for the email and thanks for flying Air Canada!

Jet Lag (Circadian Dysrythmia)

From my experience with circadian dysrhythmia (jet lag), remedies are as unique as the individual. What works for some doesn't necessarily work for the rest. Our Air Canada medical department suggest flight crew rest prior to an overseas flight i.e a one to two hour afternoon nap. For passengers, this is easier said than done because of the excitement of travel. Many passengers think they will sleep on the flight. But sometimes you may have a unsettled child nearby, a chatty seat partner or you may be entrenched with our on board movie selection.

Here is what I wrote in my book : From the Flight Deck: Plane Talk and Sky Science.
I also copied enRoute's March issue on jet lag.

I assume you are taking flight 860 (YHZ-LHR).

Enjoy the trip.

The Pros' Guide to Jet Lag

You know the symptoms: lethargy, dehydration, disturbed sleep and trouble concentrating. Doctors call the condition "circadian dysrhythmia," while the rest of the world knows it as "jet lag". It occurs when your built-in clock is out of sync with the outside environment, upsetting your bodily functions. Jet lag has been blamed for athletes losing competitions, politicians blundering in international relations and business people failing to secure major deals. Most people, including flight crews, succumb to it in some form or another.
Dr. Claude Thibeault, Air Canada's senior director of occupational health services, frequently advises Air Canada employees on how to cope with jet lag. According to Dr. Thibeault, there is no magical fix for everyone, but measures can be taken to minimize the effects of jet lag. And much of the solid advice he offers flight crews can also be applied to passengers.
Before the flight, Dr. Thibeault recommends plenty of rest. Many passengers think they can get caught up on their sleep during the flight, but it doesn't always work out that way. For a night departure, consider taking a nap for 11/2 to two hours in mid-afternoon, which is a low period in your circadian rhythm.
On the day of your flight, show up early, wear comfortable clothing and good walking shoes, and have everything you'll need, such as tickets and passports, readily at hand. Airports are getting larger and more congested, so they can present a real challenge to passengers who are running behind schedule.
During the flight, get as comfortable as possible. Take off your tie, loosen your shoes or, better yet, bring slipper socks. One common strategy to minimize jet lag is to avoid alcohol and drink lots of water, as this reduces dehydration. Consuming water is so important that members of flight crews are given an extra litre for every eight hours of duty.
Passengers can also follow the example of flight crews by stimulating their circulation during the flight. If you see a pilot walking down the aisle, don't be alarmed, as the pilot is probably just limbering up. At the very least, be sure to get out of your seat, if only to walk to the washroom. "Studies have clearly demonstrated that the most successful technique for combating sleepiness is physical activity," says Dr. Thibeault. You can also keep alert by reading, playing a game or conversing.
Once you arrive, your ideal sleep schedule depends on the length of your stay in the new time zone. If you are staying for only a day or so, as is the case with most crew layovers, it's better to keep close to your sleep schedule at home. But if you're staying longer, you should heed the motto "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Change your watch to the new time and try to adapt your sleeping habits accordingly. One day of recovery time is usually needed for each time zone crossed.
Dr. Thibeault suggests that if you don't fall asleep in 20 to 30 minutes, you should get out of bed so as not to associate bed with sleeping problems. Get up and read or watch TV, but don't use alcohol as a sleeping aid, because it upsets the natural sleep patterns. Incidentally, you don't necessarily need one long sleep; two separate periods of deep sleep can be just as refreshing.
The best way to ensure a sound sleep is to optimize your sleeping environment. Set a comfortable temperature, preferably on the cool side. Darken the room - wear a mask if necessary - and shut out any noise by using earplugs. Some crew members even refuse to take hotel rooms near the elevators and ice machines.
Working out can also help take the bite out of jet lag. Studies have shown that people who are fit tend to overcome jet lag faster than those who are not. Some members of flight crews make a point of heading to the gym during their layovers. It is a good idea, however, to avoid strenuous exercise immediately before sleep.
Everyone gets jet lag; it is a matter of personal difference as to how long you suffer after the flight. NASA’s suggests that it takes one day for each time zone crossed to recover from jet lag. The most effective approach to fight it may be to combine multiple strategies rather than to rely on a single one. Take your cue from flight crews, who are veteran troops in the war against jet lag, and keep the traveller's enemy at bay.

Do aircrew suffer from jetlag?
People are often surprised to hear that aircrew are affected by jetlag, although we do get accustomed to it. It helps to stay hydrated with plenty of non-diuretic drinks, such as water and juice, and studies show that physical activity is an effective remedy. I always try to work out in the gym on layovers, but walking also does the trick. And I usually adjust my watch to local time when the flight attendants start asking, “What time are we landing?”

Friday, April 10, 2009

Terrible Turbulence

Dear Flight Deck, I've been reading whatever I can find on the web that is published as truth and fact, rather than these fear of flying sites which are no where near factual enough for me. I was an AirCadet as a kid and never had a fear of flying. However, at 36,000ft approx. 1.5hrs into the flight coming back from Mumbai to London on the 5th April 09, I had the worst experience of my life that has left me deeply concerned for my safety and Im not sure I will ever fly again as a result. I can only assume our flight went through clear air turbulence because the sky was clear and bright blue. I have been through turbulence many times before but nothing like this. I know that wings can safely flex up to a metre, but I saw the wings easily reaching this and the fuselage at front twisting to the left and the back (tale) twisting the right, like huge hands were chinese burning the aircraft body, people were thrown everywhere, afterwards all 3 pilots left the cockpit (one after another) to inspect something towards to the rear of the craft. Nothing was ever said to us from the pilots for the duration of the flight. I have completely lost faith in pilots. You see; I transfer my life into their trust and I expect that to be respected permanently. Was this just bad luck, bad crew? Or even scared crew themselves? I thought air clear turbulence could be avoided now? Please help, I need facts and explaination for what happened. Regards Lucy

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Too close for comfort! (Flirting with thunderbumpers)

Did a Tampa turn today. The flight down was uneventful even though we had to cross three jet streams.

On the return leg we noticed a significant build up along our track over Georgia. We received a datalink from dispatch stating a Sigmet (significant meteorology) was issued for thunderstorms in the Savanna area. They were topped at 42,000 feet with possible one inch hail. We were on vectors departing from Tampa and then the controller clears us direct Savanna. We told him it would take us directly into the storm. We both saw things were clear upwind of the"build up" so we wanted to head west. Any pilot knows to stay upwind especially when there was a jet stream clocked at 120 knots. In other words, the CB would have moved quickly over our track even though we were "painting it" about 10 miles away. We climbed to 35,000 and the tops were well above. We entered the cloud and got the shit kicked out of us. Lucky I called the F/As ahead of time and they secured the carts. They said they just made it back to their seats. I assumed ATC had other aircraft go through the area so I thought it would work out. Never again, next time we go where it makes sense. Not downwind of a CB topping at 42,000 feet.

"Captains on the Ground" Flight Dispatch

Took the one year aviation diploma students (Brampton) to Air Canada flight dispatch (March 31st). Located on the 9th floor off airport premises the lights are always on pumping out nearly 650 flight plans a day. Fourteen desks toil around the clock. This picture shows a dispatcher working the "international" (Asian) desk. Flight 015 (Hong Kong direct) already departed but the forecaster is responsible for flight following. He will ovesee the Osaka, Tokyo, Beijing, Soeul, Shang Hai flights plus others.
The entire floor is run by Air Canada and has a great view of Toronto Pearson.
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