Credit to the photographs

I would like to thank Brian Losisto (Air Canada's photographer) for always allowing me to post his pictures. (The above thrust lever pic is his). Then there is Kelly Paterson from Calgary and plane spotter "Erik" from Germany. Of course, I have lots myself. On that note, if you feel a photo(s) may be in appropriate or the content I post a bit dubious by all means send me an email. I will ratify it! That's all I ask!

...I hope you enjoy the blog...

P.S I'd like to add Nadia from "la belle province" for her contributions!
...and now YYC Disptacher...

Scroll down for the text...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Getting ready. Pre-flighting

My question: what are you doing in the cockpit prior to takeoff? Pilots seem to be there 30-40 min (right?) before the flight. What all are you doing? (And please don’t just say “getting ready” haha). Is the airplane cold and dark when you get in? Are you really loading up the FMC or is that done automatically, etc., etc.

Thanks again, really enjoy your writing.

Yes, we show up to the flight deck about 30 to 40 minutes prior to push back. (Check-in is 1:15 prior to launch). Nine out of ten times it's the first time I will meet the F/O. With nearly 400 A320 captains and 400 F/Os based in Toronto it may be the last time you see or fly with this person. (No, no, not because they will bid around me (lol) but that's what usually transpires with a large company. But some senior Captains and senior F/Os fly a lot together because of the preferred flights. But for me - the middle of the road- I tend to see new faces).

I usually ask the F/O which leg they prefer while walking to the gate. Most F/Os gladly take the first leg and they also like me offering to do the walk around.(It's a first officer duty) I always thought both were good gestures to start the pairing when I was F/O. (For the wide body fleet, the walk around is done by maintenance).

We settle in our seats stowing our flight bags to the side. The Airbus flight deck is roomy. The ADIRS switches (inertial reference system) are turned on prior to me sitting and I grab the logbook and check for "open" snags, when the last inspections have been done (a minimum of a two day inspection must be completed) plus whether this will be a "first flight" of the day.

The "first flight of the day" requires a few more checks.

The F/O initializes the Datalink, we both agree to the Lat/long for ADIRS "alignment" and we get a digital ATIS ( I asked the last new hire class whether they have seen Datalink - not one. I told them they are going to love it - no more listening to the ATIS and the clearances will be sent to the flight deck).

The PF (person flying) begins the ramp check with the other watching. For Airbus, "black is beautiful" is the rule of thumb for switch locations. Black means the lights are out, the switches are on.

Somewhere along the way, the in-charge must be briefed (Transport canada regulation mandates this be performed by the captain), plus a garbage bag is recruited or we ain't going. :) Usually drinks are offered and our quota of bottled water is offered. Crew snacks may also be part of the "dining" experience depending on what time of day it is.

The ramp check is completed with an instrument cross check initiated by the captain.

Then the PDC (Pre departure Clearance), arriving about 30 minutes prior to sked departure, is read to the F/O by the captain.

The F/O reads back the PDC number to "clearance delivery." This is not usually done in the States. The American ATC, however, makes us guess what the take off runway is. In Canada, its spelt (spelled) out.

Then the PF briefs the departure, and sets the heading and initial altitude in the FCU loctaed along the glare shield.

Finally, the flight plan data is inputted into the flight management computers. Each "page" is inputted in the exact same order.

The PF then gives a "take off" briefing. We must also review certain emergency procedures prior to each pairing called, "I wills and you wills." Sort of like wedding vows. Initiated by the captain, we brief a rejected take off, engine failure or fire after V1 and emergency descents.

"In the event of an abnormality prior to V1 I will call "continue" or "reject." If the decision is to reject, I will.....blah, blah, blah."

By this time, things are starting to happen. The "lead" is checking in from down below getting a "communication check." Plus they usually want to pull the external power so the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) should be up and running. If not, things get dark really fast. :)

We note the cargo doors closing up and the in-charge is at the door asking whether they can close the cabin door. The passenger count is given and we will compare our "final" figures" with theirs. For the Airbus the tolerance is 3:6. The count must be within 3 passengers for each cabin zone and the total must be within 6.

Once the flight deck door is closed ( we are locked in our cubby hole), the jetway has moved away from the plane and our final load figures is received from the datalink, and reviewed, we get a push back clearance. BUT not before a "before start" checklist is complete.

The F/O reads it and the captain responds.


APU Bleed...."ON"

Ext-pwr/Fuel/NWS..."light out, checked, disconnected"



Y-Pump/X-bleed..."OFF" and "auto"

Beacon & signs.. "On, on, auto"

Thrust levers..."Idle"

The F/O then says"Before Start Checklist Complete" (Every checklist must be acknowledged as complete).

Pushback is requested...we are on our way!



Captain Doug,

Wow...lots of questions for you out of that post! :) I'll hold off for a bit. Very descriptive...nice.

For me midnight out of YMM to YYZ by hopefully 05:30 hrs....breakfast, then home for the holidays! Can't wait.

Happy Flying!

CAT III Approach

Anonymous said...

Captain Doug,

Thanks for another 'look behind the cockpit door' post. How soon before pushback are you normally disconnected from ground power? What does your own holiday season schedule look like?

YYC Dispatcher

Adam aka "The Winnipeger" said...

Captain Doug,

When you step into the airplane for the first time that morning/day is it like steping into a cold car on a fresh winter morning? (Or is it warm?)

Happy Holidays,
The Winnipeger,

Anonymous said...

Hi Doug!

Wow - that's intense...and that's before you take off. I'm tired just reading it!

Great post as usual!


S.O. Lukas said...

Came across this Captain's blog a while back as he takes his readers through a typical line pairing (first post in the series):

A "Goose Air" pilot, if you can put 2 and 2 together, you'll notice his operations are similar to Canada's flagship carrier :)

WILLO2D said...

Thanks Doug, very interesting post...

On the JP5 that I used to get the odd trip in (RHS) we had an additional line at the end of the pre-takeoff check list:

[Captain] "If we have a problem that we can not sort out and we have to abandon the aircraft I will say "Eject, Eject, Eject!" I will do so after the third "Eject". If you are still here, you are on your own!"

Focused the mind that did...!

As part of my line supervisory duties, plus SNCO i/c Duty Crew, etc., I was often involved in "See off's/See in's" and was sometimes, depending on aircraft type, required to be on the end of a ground-comms lead. Would you, in a future post, be able to describe the interactions and comms the flightdeck has with the ground engineers during a "see off/see in"? Thanks again. / IanH

P.S. Temps nr EGHI are falling nicely, wind speed is picking up from NW/N. There are also warnings of up to 20cm of snow in Orkney and Shetland, Highlands and Outer Hebrides, Grampian, Northern Ireland, Wales and south-west England on Friday. By Saturday, heavy snow is forecast to affect southern England and Wales, with 5 to 10cm likely in many places and 20 to 25cm possible in some others.

From the Flight Deck said...

CAT III Approach. Sounds like you are doing that new "red eye" out of "Fort McMoney."

Enjoy the holidays!

Captain Doug

P.S bring on the questions but make them easy. :)

From the Flight Deck said...

YYC Dispatcher. We should have the APU up and running at least ten minutes prior to push back.

As of now I am on vacation until the 26th. Yes, I managed to get Christmas off. A rarity! I had to use a week of vacation, but it worked.

Captain Doug

From the Flight Deck said...

Adam. Usually, the external power is hooked up and the heater is blowing warm air. One must have heat on the airplane during the winter months or there is a risk of the onboard water freezing. Sometimes the heaters are overzealous giving the cabin a tropical effect or they blow cool air. Most modern jetways now supply conditioned air, but many are finicky.

Yes, happy holidays!


From the Flight Deck said...

Hi Heather. That's why many of us either request or are offered a coffee during this phase. :)

Yes, there sure is lots going on.

Captain Doug

From the Flight Deck said...

S.O.Lukas. Thanks for the link. His posts are very good. I must contact him. Seems like we have a lot
in common.... :)

Captain Doug

Aviatrix said...

I've worked at more than one company where we left electric space heaters in the aircraft overnight, so they were toasty in the morning, so long as we were efficient about not climbing in and out of the airplane multiple times during preflight.

From the Flight Deck said...

Will02D (IanH)

I guess I'll take "reject" over "eject." :)

See off/see in?

You are asking about our standard phraseology with the ground crew?

Such as...

Ramp..."ground to flight deck , communications check, confirm brakes set."

Capt...."Flight deck to ground, communications OK, brakes set."

Ramp..."Communications OK, brakes set."

Looks like your neck of the woods will be getting a white Christmas. :) Ouch!

From the Flight Deck said...


Space heaters? At least you didn't have to drain the oil and take it inside to keep it warm. :)
No, I've never done it, but I've flown with some that did. Actually I flew with an F/O that did the AntArctic rescue of a scientist in the middle of the winter.
I felt cold just listening to his rendition.

I do remember a few times our heater in the Navajo would quit while flying along. Of course the C/B was located in the nose of the airplane.
One particular flight when the heater said it had enough was over the Atlantic ocean doing the cable patrol, I flew back to Halifax standing on the seat
in a squat position because my feet were so cold. Yeah, the good ole days. This wimp will take my short sleeve operation any day of the year. :)

Christer said...

Great post Doug, and interesting questions and answers as usual! Thanks,


Karlene Petitt said...

It appears that I'm usually the person kicked out of the flight deck to do the walkaround. Being junior-- first break is mine. But that's okay, 12 years as a SO on the whale gave me lots of practice. Sitting in the jumpseat during the takeoff, isn't just hanging out. That third set of eyes is so very important. Not to mention it's easier to see everything a few feet removed.
Other than that... checking logbooks, getting coffee, and tis the season to be giving candy canes to the passengers! Oh...and wings to the kids--- always!
Fly safe!

From the Flight Deck said...

Thanks Christer. I listened to both of your CDs. Beautiful music. I keep telling myself
I don't have enough music in my life...but that's another issue. :) :) :)

From the Flight Deck said...

Thanks Karlene. What airline do you work for? Twelve years as second officer sure sounds like a LONG time.

Captain Doug

Edwin said...

12 years does sond like a long time indeed. How long were you a second officer Doug?

If you where to go through Cathay Pacifics cadet scheme right now you would look at about 4-5 years as an SO, about 1 as a Junior FO, and an additional 10 before making captain. And as I understand it, if you where to leave and convert your Hong Kong license, your hours wouldn't count.

Doug, did you ever fly as Captain with Air Atlantic?

Christer said...

Thanks Doug- glad you liked them. I'm really enjoying the book- hard to put it down! Looking forward to the next one. Enjoy your time off,


Chris said...

Great post Doug.

Quick question - if black is good, and lights out mean all is ok, how can you tell if the light is actually out or the bulb behind it burned ou?

From the Flight Deck said...

Chris. Excellent point! You might be able to tell the switch is slightly sticking out a bit but catching something like that is pure luck.
Many switches , like the fuel pumps, actually have two lights in them ("off" and "fault") so it's highly unlikely both would be burnt out. But the airplane knows as well. So if I tried to start up an engine without the fuel pumps on it will tell me.

JohnN said...

I really enjoyed reading this - and not just because it was my question! Thanks for answering this and the walk around question as well. Great blog.

From the Flight Deck said...

Hi JohnN. You're welcome!
They were great questions.

Captain Doug

P.S I meant to email you to give you a heads up but you are way ahead of me. :)


Hello Captain Doug,

:) I'll do my best with the questioning!

Here's one for you...

When you park the aircraft at the gate, why do some pilots leave the rudder hard left, or hard right?

Love the red eye by the way....two flights and I'm home!

Happy Holidays to you and your family as well!

CAT III Approach

From the Flight Deck said...

CAT III approach. Which aircraft are you referring to? For most airliners there are "gust dampeners" which stops the rudder from banging around in the wind. Some airplanes when they are shut down for the day, the rudder would deflect left or right when the hydraulic pressure diminished.

Glad to hear that YMM red eye is working out for you. When are they starting the new terminal?
With just one jetway things can get interesting. :)

Happy Holidays to you and your family as well!

Captain Doug

From the Flight Deck said...

Hi Edwin. Looks like I missed this email. Oops.

I started Air Canada as a cruise pilot on the A340. They did have S/O positions on the 747 but I wanted new.

My near 18,000 hours would not count with a different company as far as seniority. I start at the bottom.

It sounds cruel but it's an aviation fact of life. Some companies, like Emirates, take direct entry captains (at least they did)
but sometimes that does not go well with the current pilots.

I never flew left seat for Air Atlantic. I was right seat on a Dash 8/Bae 146 for six years. In six months at Air Nova I went captain on the Dash 8.

Captain Doug

Daniel said...

Hi Doug,

What happens if the passenger tolerance isn't within 3:6?

From the Flight Deck said...

Daniel. Can you say "recount?" :)