Flight plan

My flight plan....

This blog is to inspire and motivate those pining for the skies. I will also virtually open the flight deck door and allow a peek behind the scenes.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Very High Standards

A view from my hotel room overlooking St.John's harbour. Signal hill can be seen where Marconi received his first trans Atlantic radio signal. Though the winds were gusting to 60 km/hr there is a sense of peacefulness and tranquility. Too bad that didn't apply to my route check. :)

Very High Standards

Wake up is 4:00 a.m. (2:30 Toronto time) but I wake up at 3:30 a.m. The fish and chips I had at the Duke of Duckworth the night before piled a foot high with french-fries had me tossing and turning. Usually I have an iron stomach having eaten a diversity of cuisines from around the world.

It started with my airport security pass not working. Security lets me through having checked several papers ensuring Capt. Doug’s security pass was not breached.

I do the walk around and see no signs of frost or ice but I go back into the cabin to look at the wings. (You may see a black triangle in the Airbus cabin. It’s where Airbus deems the best place to look for ice on the wings). The checker comes back with a flashlight and we determine there is frost on the composite spoilers. A common occurrence for the Airbus. Off to deicing we go. But wait a minute, St.John’s, Newfoundland, the airport which sees the most weather in Air Canada’s entire system has one deice truck. The other one has been broken on and off for months. Why such a big deal? Air Canada had an incident a few years ago in Boston where only one wing was deiced so now if one truck is used I am to send the F/O (or check captain) to do a PDI (Post Deice Inspection).

The CDF (Central Deice Facility) told us to hold short of taxiway Hotel and contact ground. I don’t know if it was an early morning thing but the controller quickly mumbled the clearance and I had it in my head it was to taxi the same way we came but he wanted us to turn left into Juliet. He saw I made the wrong turn and quickly changed the taxi instructions. No big thing I thought but the checker was going into his check captain mode. He too was slow to pick up the mistake but I felt an insinuation it’s my fault. What happened to the two pilot concept and CRM? Later in the flight he wants me to file an ASR (Air Safety Report) and to call dispatch to let them know about the incident. Can you say, “making a mountain out of a mole hill?”

We have a two hour wait in Halifax just enough time for frost to form while I try to wake up with a large Tim Hortons coffee. I even bought the checker a coffee to apply the “suck up” factor. We retrieve the flight plan and I file an ASR electronically and call dispatch. One more leg. I’m doing my ramp checks and see CAT II is displayed on the screen as an inoperative system. Call maintenance. “Curly and Moe” show up and they are at a lost and adamant the caution will go away after engine start up. The checker being an instructor on the Airbus for seven years tended to be sceptical. The Lead rampie pokes his head up as well. “Guess what?” he says. “The wing in the sun has no frost but the other wing has frost on it.” Great - another deice. This frost stuff is getting to the ridiculous point. We see our competition taxing straight by the deice center. We even heard a charter company using Air Canada as it’s service provider argue that he does not want to be deiced but the lead said he had to. “Too many fingers in the pie,” comes to mind.

Maintenance is resetting flight control computers, activating electric hydraulic pumps. No joy. We agreed to contact them from the deice center if the caution did not go away. I make an announcement we have to get a quick spray. My first announcement - I might add.
We push back and start the engines. I’m smelling an acrid odour. The in-charge calls the flight deck in a concerned voice stating the cabin is filled with smoke. I told him its residual deice fluid in the air condition system from our deice in YYT. He wants me to make an announcement to calm everyone. Done.

We get to the deice facility and the caution has not gone out. But the check captain says we can no longer talk to “Curly and Moe” because we pushed back. We must now talk to MOC (Maintenance Ops Center) in Montreal through a line with dispatch sitting in Toronto. The whole world has to know.

They get us resetting more circuit breakers and flight control computers. No joy. The next step is to shut down the engines and power up the hydraulics. Another announcement. We do this and the message goes way. Hurray! I make another announcement the situation has been ratified and we will be taxing in five minutes. I tempted the gods. After start up the caution is back. Now we are to dispatch with MEL (Minimum Equipment List). This entails an authorization number from MOC. They said they will datalink it but the checker wants me to do all the paperwork first. I’ve got a full load in the back with tons of connections and we are 30 minutes late. hmmm

Finally, we get airborne. Through 10,000 feet the CAT II message goes away but we get another caution BCL 2 (Battery Current Limiter). We send a message to maintenance and we write up the snag. While at cruise the checker debriefs me. He was very impressed with my operations and he debriefed me on some moot points. These guys have to say something. I’m glad to hear I did well but in the same time I’m getting tired of it all and all I want to do is set the park brake in YYZ.

I wanted to speed up for people to make connections but I had to apply diplomacy because checkers have to enforce fuel saving strategies. Where has all the commonsense gone?

It must have been slow with YYZ ATC because about 90 miles out he gave us a heading of 270 to intercept the localizer 24 Right. But with this distance out, the airplane had a difficulty capturing the localizer and it was wobbling back and forth. ATC even asked us if we had the “loc” and I told him we were wobbling because of the distance. A hint to him this type of thing does not work at this distance. I give the checker control to let him figure it out because I had to brief him due to a runway change. Again, it’s for the lawyers and the CVR and again he’s concentrating so much to stabilize the heading he doesn’t hear a word. I have a bit of a grin on my face.

We land and I taxi fast because we have four passengers connecting to Tokyo, to LAX and ten other airports. I get to the gate only to see four rampies, but no Lead. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome to Toronto. We are not quite at the gate so please remain seated with your seat belts fastened.” We wait. Finally the “lead” strolls to the lead in line with his wands. In YYZ the lead guides us to a certain point and then directs us to the electronic guidance system. It captured us saying we were a 319 which is fine for me. The checker says we are not captured and wants the 'lead' to guides us. Finally, everything works but the checker now wants to talk to the ramp manager. He is really going into the checker mode. But for me I had enough. The park brake is set. Hallelujah!

Please note: Even though I harped a little about the check pilot he turned out to be a great guy and did his job very well.


Nathaniel said...

Certainly does not sound like a typical day. I enjoy quite a bit the blog with your daily stories from the air.

whywhyzed said...

How often do you guys get checked like this?

From the Flight Deck said...

Whywhyzed. The "route" check is done once every year. The sim checks are done either six or eight months depending on aircraft type. Plus we have two medicals a year if over 40, one day of annual recurrent training (classroom) and Transport Canada can board anytime. Fun eh?


From the Flight Deck said...

Nathaniel. I certainly don't want to go through many of those days. When this stuff happens we joke we are doing a simulator ride.
Thanks for reading my blog.

Capt. Doug

carlton said...

Does the electronic guidance system automatically move and park the aircraft to the correct Parking position at YYZ?

From the Flight Deck said...

Hi Carlton. The VDGS (Visual Docking Guidance System) scans the gate area for approaching aircraft, captures the profile of the aircraft, confirms the type, and guides the flight crew into the gate by displaying distance and lead-in line tracking on the display. Every airport has it's own unique guide-in system. I'm not sure why they used meters instead of feet since that's the unit of length in aviation.

Thanks for your question.

Capt. Doug

Daniel Asuncion said...

Too bad large amounts of hot Tim
Horton's coffee could not be
directly applied to the iced wing
untouched by sunlight.

From the Flight Deck said...

Dan. Indirectly you make a valid point. Many places won't allow us to wipe the spoilers with a mop or similar device because it's forbidden to do so at the gate. It would take just a few gallons. Instead, we taxi to the deice facility and spew several gallons of fluid onto the plane and onto the ground. Let alone with two engines running.