Monday, August 31, 2009
Here's a couple of questions from my enRoute column (askdoug)
A330 (Photographer Erik Ritterbach in FRA)
B777 (Erik's photo)
Are there major differences between flying Airbus and Boeing?
There are two aircraft builders in the medium to large aircraft range, Boeing and Airbus. As far as differences, let me put it this way. If there was a room of Boeing pilots and Airbus pilots, the Boeing pilots would be in one corner and the Airbus pilots would be huddled in the other corner. Both pilot types think their plane is better. Airbus utilizes the "joystick" but Boeing still uses the control column to fly the airplane. Both companies make great airplanes, but think of it as cars. One car drives on the other side of the road.
Some Boeing jokes against Airbus:
At least a Boeing pilot has someting between his legs.
Luckily the earth is curved so an A340 can get airborne.
Q: Most common phrase heard in the cockpit of Airbus aircraft?
A: "What's it doing now?"
I am an Airbus driver and I can't think of any anti Boeing jokes. Is this an omen? All kidding aside, my next airplane will probably the B767.
How often do pilots switch from the type of aircraft they fly?
A pilot is only licensed to fly one aircraft type at a time. Sure there are variances in models and that's allowed. I am qualified on the Airbus 320, but I also fly the A319 and A321. I can not fly the A340 or A330, but I did for seven years. Flight attendants on the other hand are checked out on all aircraft types. Pilots switch aircraft types because of promotions, lifestyle, base transfer, pay, and change of pace (domestic versus international).
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Antigua (TAPA, ANU) turn
Maintenance changing the oil filter.
It’s off to the gate we go. We are showing a full load destined for Antigua – 120 passengers on a A319.
The F/O is senior meaning he does mostly single day turns so he has been to ANU tons of times. Great because I’ve never been there once. In fact, I searched for my ANU Jeppeson charts only to find them under St.John’s, the name of the airport. It reminded me of the time when flying from LHR to DEL (New Delhi) and we had to divert to Bombay. We were scrambling to find the charts in the onboard library only to find BOM listed under Mumbai. It’s decided the F/O will take us to ANU.
Passenegers are boarding and a datalink message appears. Maintenance states “Transport” mandated the oil filter must be changed prior to this flight instead of waiting until we return that night and it’s going to take 90 minutes. This is when you see who has any ounce of loyalty to the company and who operates to the minute. The senior F/O immediately starts checking his duty day. We are good for 13 hours with an extension up to two hours at our discretion. He’s on the phone to crew sked. He’s walking. A senior flight attendant bolts as well. I have to decide whether to deplane the passengers. With concurrence from the in-charge and company we decide to deplane. The flight is five hours so they don’t need to be cooped up any longer than necessary. It turns out to be a good choice because maintenance had to do a run up on the engine and that can’t be done with passengers on board. Why didn't he tell me that before?
The F/O is now going to Edmonton and back. I get the F/O from the Edmonton flight. He is happy because it’s 10 hours of draft pay. Now we need another F/A. After two hours, we close up and ready for push back. Company calls to tell us new paperwork is coming so we must return the jetway.
We deplane and I figure it’s time to talk to maintenance. Here’s where things could go either way. For many, they would cancel the outbound flight because of the computer glitches and the long duty day. Hey, with three good looking F/As in the back (rare scenario) it wouldn’t be hard to do an unplanned layover. I talk to maintenance and we do a reboot. “CTRL ALT Delete” usually works on an electric airplane and it does! We are back in business. Again, another full flight. We make it back to YYZ with tons of connections. After 14 hours including going through Canadian customs another mission is accomplished. The life of an airline pilot!
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Crosscheck (not a hockey term)
What does it mean when the pilot instructs the flight attendants to "prepare for crosscheck"?
Actually, it's not the pilot instructing the flight attendants, but the "in-charge" flight attendant now called the FSD (Flight Service Director) at Air Canada.
The "in-charge" is reminding the flight attendants at each exit to either arm the doors during push back or to disarm the doors as we approach the gate.
The announcement goes something like,"flight attendants prepare for departure and crosscheck." Arming the door enables the emergency slide to employ when the door is opened during an evacuation. Of course, when parked at the gate the slides must be disarmed so not to accidentally "blow" the slides. When commissary, maintenance, "rampies," open the door from the outside, the door is disarmed automatically.
The announcement we pilots make is the 'one minute before take off' which is goes like this.
"Flight attendants take your positions for take off."
We are not suppose to be chatty with this announcement so flight attendants will not confuse this with our "welcome aboard" announcement. This is the first officer's duty actioned with concurrence from the captain. When I was F/O I would add the word "please" at the end just to soften the curt announcement.
Some airlines give a double or triple chime. When I flew Lufthansa from London to Frankfurt on a reposition flight they did not give an announcement or chime at all.
Friday, August 21, 2009
CYYZ (Toronto) goes off the rails – again.
The first leg, flight 1139 (Toronto to Denver) starts off well, just a few bumps over TVC (Traverse city) for about 10 minutes with a few thunderstorms to duck around topped at 30,000. Like most large airports one does not know which runway you’ll be assigned until well into the approach. Denver is no exception. Of course, you try to make an educated guess based on the ATIS and wind direction, but when there are six different pieces of real estate i.e. 12 runways it can be a crapshoot. When checking in with Denver arrival we were told runway 26 for us. This required our third runway change in the computers. I begin to change the runway, the F/O is flying the first leg, and I noticed my MCDU (Multifunction Control Display Unit) is frozen. The MCDU is the interface used to communicate with the FMGC (Flight Management Guidance System). Okay I thought, I’ll use the F/O’s. It freezes up. By this time we are on vectors and things are happening. We are about seven thousand feet AGL and we run into light to moderate turbulence. Like Calgary, Denver gets a lot of bumps due to daytime heating, but there are no clouds giving a heads up. Temperatures are mid to high twenties, but the air mass is dry, dew point around 4C. I call it the “dry heaves.” After trying to “hard tune” frequencies (back up) I remember to check the secondary flight plan because everything in the primary flight plan fell out i.e. disappeared. The data was still there and I manage to get the runway in the “box” just prior to the final vector for runway 26. The F/O handled it well as I worked as a “one arm paper hanger.” Lucky it was VFR, no clouds in sight, so if need be we could have turned off all the magic and flew it like a DC-9.
Flight 1040 (DEN-YYZ)
We knew those thunderstorms in western Ontario may be an issue on the return flight. The TAF was calling for a 30% chance for our arrival. We were holding YUL (Montreal) as an alternate and we were tankering three tonnes of extra fuel. Flight dispatch has a program, which determines whether buying cheaper fuel is worth carrying. Pilots like tankering fuel because nowadays fuel calculations are done with a “sharpened pencil.”
While enroute a SIGMET is issued stating a solid line of TSTMS tops to 55,000 feet is now observed in Western Ontario with possible GR (hail) and FC (Funnel cloud). I had to remind the F/O of the acronym FC. The amended TAF timed the thunderstorms to be either over the airport or passed to the east for our arrival. A datalink from dispatch confirmed the thunderstorms have passed and the Toronto airport is open for business. However, I knew things would be backed up on the ground because of the “red alert.” That’s when all ground personnel (rampies, fuelers, marshallers) walk off the site and everything comes to a grinding halt. Sure enough after landing we are told to taxi to the CDF (Central Deice Facility) and wait. I make an announcement for the passengers on the right hand side to look out and they will see 30 other airplanes waiting for a gate. Chaos. It turned out, several tornadoes had spawned. A B777 reported a funnel cloud to the north while on final approach.
Flight 470 YYZ-YOW (Ottawa)
Things at the airport had gone off the rails. The inbound Tokyo flight (B777) diverted to the small airport of YXU (London, Ontario). Many others diverted to BUF (Buffalo). We get our flight plan after clearing customs and everything is showing on sked for us. Hmmm? I guess as I get older I get a little more cynical. We go to our gate only to find the outbound flight has not departed and there isn’t even an airplane for the posted outbound Edmonton flight. We call flight dispatch, they don’t know. We talk to STOC (Station Operations Control), they don’t know and passengers ask us what’s going on and you guessed it, we don’t know.
Now our “duty period” is becoming a major issue. Basically we are good for 13 hours of duty time. We started at noon and it’s now midnight without an airplane or an assigned gate. Finally an airplane arrives after waiting 20 minutes for a marshaller to guide them in. The arriving captain takes me aside and says two things: the in-charge is a little different and the cockpit temperature is wonky. There’s a history in the logbook snags stating it takes quite some time to cool the flight deck.
We are fuelled and catered and ready to board. We are expecting a full flight but a flight attendant bolts because of duty time. We are now capped at 120 passengers (1:40) with three flight attendants. But wait a minute, there is no agent to board. Finally boarding starts at a snail’s pace while the entire time we are watching our duty time and the weather indicating TSTMS are hitting YOW. Finally after 1:30 a.m we are airborne after getting a special sequence number because we are outside YYZ’s curfew time.
The ride to YOW is smooth, but our radar is painting WX (weather) to the south. The surface winds are from the south at 15 knots. Should we do a straight in ILS 07 approach with a southwest tailwind of 50 knots aloft or shoot the back course approach onto 25? Ottawa is the capital of Canada but it only has a backwards-back course into the prevailing westerlies. Sure they have an ILS on 07 and 32, but it sure would be nice to see an upgrade because for a back course on an Airbus, it’s like one notch below a “pan,pan,pan.” As we are vectored during the wee hours of the night heavy showers are invading from the south. All the time, I am trying to cool the flight deck as the temperature soars to 28C. The F/O is doing a fine job although while on short final I suggest we go to “medium” on the auto braking because of standing water. The wipers are at full blast and we can feel the antiskid working as we slow on the runway with full reverse. We get to the hotel at 3:00 a.m. The life of an airline pilot, you gotta love it!
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Denver turn (The mile high airport)
This is Your Captain Speaking (enRoute August)
A Century of Flight
Questions about the history of Canadian aviation.
Q: When was Air Canada’s first regularly scheduled commercial flight?
The maiden flight of Air Canada (known then as Trans-Canada Airlines) carried two passengers and mail from Vancouver to Seattle on September 1, 1937. The round-trip fare aboard the shiny new Lockheed 10A Electra was a grand total of $14.20. The polished silver metal two-engine aircraft could carry 10 passengers up to 713 miles at a whopping cruising speed of 190 miles per hour. To this day, you may see the Electra doing promotional flights in its original TCA livery.
Q: When did Air Canada start using jets in its fleet?
Air Canada was propelled into the jet age on April 1, 1960, with the introduction of the DC-8. This four-jet-engine airliner came in four configurations – one strictly for cargo – with seating capacity ranging from 133 to 205. It proved to be a workhorse for 23 years before giving way to the twin-engine Boeing 767, capable of flying the same distance (3,300 miles) at the same speed (530 mph) but requiring only two pilots instead of three.