Wide Body EBA 2017 Calculator [UPDATE 18Oct18]

With the implementation of the 2017 Wide Body EBA – it’s time to revise the spreadsheet I developed to track and check Overtime, Callout, etc for the 2011 EBA. Part and parcel has been seeking clarification from the AIC/CP on certain aspects of the EBA’s implementation. Most particularly clarification over the MCG, how RP changeovers are going to be implemented and how they impact the credit hours associated with Duty Periods and Flight Duty Sequences (MCG) that take place over the RP changeover to the next RP. I believe I have the answers now, the spreadsheet is in beta; welcome to the test program!

Note : Some the images here may look a little small – but if you click on them they expand to a decent size over the text.

Note : The Allowance Calculator requires Visual Basic. This means it does not run properly on MAC or IOS (iPad). You can use your Mac/iPad to enter the list of duties, but the Payslips tab requires a custom function I wrote to work. You can use the Excel in Citrix, or if you have a PC you can get Office Pro as a Virgin Employee quite cheaply – ask me how.

Version History

18-Oct-2018 : Updated for ATO Domestic and International Allowance Changes – Download lHERE.
21-Mar-2018 : Whoops – previous upload had my roster in it!
09-Mar-2018 : This release fixes a coding error that I missed in my review of the EBA. When called out for a Non (Flight, Sim, Standby) duty – you are paid the Callout but not creditted any overtime value. The sheet now allows this and inserts “OT+CO” where the normal credit for a Non (Flight, Sim, Standby) would be paid. There are a few other changes so – “Positioning” has become “Position Only” and “Away Day” is now “Away/Blank Day”. I’ve also highlighted the use of “Positioning (FRMS)” in the positioning area to show no credit … 
22-Feb-2018 : Made some minor formatting corrections, and changed “Away Day” to “Away/Blank Day” (Thanks Tim)
29-Jan-2018 : Added the ability to enter duties/periods and calcluate allowances to see what you’re getting on an overnight, and to crosscheck your payslip. There are some other minor changes to the OT/Callout sheets (both fleets) as well that do not affect the calculation result. I’ll add some instructions and a few videos for this at some point
26-Jan-2018 : Found some bugs in the new A330 sheet. Basically it wasn’t calculating Carry-Out Flight Pairings correctyly.
22-Jan-2018 : Updated 2 Operating sectors for the A330. Tidies up the conditional formatting in cells to more appropriately highlight cells that should have data (Green) and cells that really should have data (Yellow). Also Combined Position/Operating route into a single cell eg: “MEL-BNE” – note this means that the instructions below aren’t quite matching the spreadsheet for the moment.
20-Jan-2018 : Update for the A330. There’s now an A330 tab in the sheet. Please advise if it’s working ok!
09-Jan-2018 : Initial Issue.

Video Tutorials

The following video covers Entering Your Roster.

This next one covers entering Actual Hours for Positioning/Flights and entering Callouts and Changes …

This next one covers Carry Out Flight Pairings (including MCG) and Carry-In Flight Pairings.

Finally – the A330 Differences in the sheet.

Late addition – Entering Duty Periods and Checking Payslips for Domestic and International Allowances.

Overview

As usual, the sheet copes with Ranks, Salary Levels and Years in terms of the changes to the various values of Overtime, Callout, Ad Hoc Training Pay and more through the life of the EBA (noting that the last 3 year EBA lasted about 7 years). If you peek into the Data tab, you’ll see the A330 stuff in there as well. An RP calculating sheet in the same Excel file for the A330 is my next task. If you’ve used this before – you’re in for a mix of the familiar and the startlingly new …

Note : While the sheet does both the A330 and the B777 (on the 2017 Wide Body EBA) only the 777 is described here. At the moment the A330 sheet only handles one sector per day but I will fix that shortly. Other than that – the instructions are valid across both fleets (I hope).

  • Ranks : It does Captains, First Officers, and Second Officers. The 2017 EBA has levelled the playing field in terms of Checkers/Trainers and OT and Callout, so there’s no longer the need to differentiate.
  • Levels : Whether you’re Level 5 or Level 1 – you select and the sheet does the rest.
  • Level Changes : On 01 July each year, your Pay Level increments. Therefore the Overtime/Callout rates increase also. The sheet copes with this.
  • A330 Odd/Even SN : The A330 has a different number of min days off each RP, depending on whether you are an odd or even staff number. Seriously? Anyway I’ve added this to the A330 sheet so the min DDO’s calculates correctly.
  • Duty Select : You don’t have to know credit hours – just select the duty for each duty day and the sheet will use the relevant EBA Credit Hours.
  • Leave : Leave impacts the Overtime Threshold, as well as the minimum number of days off required in the month – the sheet copes with this.
  • Positioning : Positioning changes a bit, with the introduction of a 1 hour sector minimum, 50% basis for credit hours and 2 hour minimum for position only duty periods. As always the maximum of Scheduled vs Actual is the basis for calculation so you’ll need to track and enter both. I’ve also added the ability to Position (FRMS) after going fatigued so the credit hours won’t count.
  • Ad Hoc Training : When you’re not a Check/Training Captain, but conducting Ad Hoc Training as an Instructor (eg : NTS) – there’s a credit and payment. The sheet tracks this as well.
  • Data Filtering / Validation : As much as possible, cell entries are checked from lists for validity (Duties, Airports, Yes/No’s, etc). Any time this is done – there’s a list box you can click to drop and choose from.
  • MCG : The Minimum Credit Guarantee of 5 hours for each day of a sequence of Duty Periods that takes you away from Home Base and includes an operating crew Flight Duty Period (FDP). This was a little tricky to implement, and I’m not sold on my method – suggestions welcome!
  • Carry-Out : Individual Carry Out Duties are no longer necessary – any single duty period that has a credit value (ground or flight) that commences prior to midnight (Crew Local Base Time) on the last day of an RP – the credit hour value for that duty period is paid in that originating RP. Also…
  • Carry-Out DPs/FDPs (including MCG) : Any series of duties (must include an FDP) that carries into the following RP are credited as a whole into the could well result in an MCG based additional payment in the originating RP. Therefore in order to track and calculate this, you’ll need to enter all the Duty Periods past the end of the current RP at the bottom of the sheet in order to ensure the DP/FDP credit values are added and the any applicable MCG calculation is checked.
  • Comments : So you can stir the memory every 8 weeks without having to come back here, many of the cells include comments to remind you how to fill them in or the function they perform. These comments are indicated by the small red rectangle, and pointing your mouse at them causes them to popup.
  • Cell Color : Cells are color coded to assist in entry. Generally only cells coloured GREEN are where you should (can) enter data. Sometimes a cell will be coloured YELLOW to indicate that either no entry has been made (and one is required); or to highlight the use of that cell to you (such as to override a calculated value).
    In the example show, because Positioning has been selected, the Sector field is yellow indicating an entry required, and the Scheduled and Actual Block Times fields are green, also awaiting entry. Note the EBA Credit field is white and is a calculated field you cannot enter data into. Meanwhile, the Over Ride field is also green in case you want to over ride the calculation. Similarly, on the Flight line, the FromToScheduled and Actual Block fields are yellow, awaiting the details of your flight duty.
  • Error Checking : There is a comprehensive cross check built into the sheet to try and ensure you have completed it correctly. If an error is detected (such as a day you forgot to fill in) the “Error” box in the top LH Corner of the sheet. Further, there will be an error flag at the end of the row that contains the error. Finally, the cell in error (might) also be red/yellow to indicate a problem.

1. Primary Selections

  • Choose your Rank (Capt, FO, SO). This influences rates for Callout, Overtime, etc.
  • Choose the Pay Level/Year applicable at the end of the RP. You’re paid after the RP completes, so if there’s a changeover of rates (01 July each year) then the rate applicable after the change will be the ones used,
  • Select the Roster Period.
  • A330 Only : You need to select whether you are an Odd or Even Staff Number (SN). This impacts the calculation of your Min Days Off for the RP.

Having made these basic suggestions, the Overtime Threshold, Effective Overtime Rate (paid after the RP completes) and the Callout Rate are displayed. Note that the OT/Callout rates are based on your Pay Level/Year selection, and the OT Threshold includes the vLearn credit in each RP. The Error flag is shown because the selections against the days of the RP are not yet complete.

2. Daily Duty Types

So the main sheet is where all the work happens, of course. You must select a duty type for every day in the RP – even days where you didn’t do anything, or days that don’t exist (such as the one between takeoff and landing on the way back from LA).

Select the cell, then click the little drop-down arrow to see the list. You can also just type in the entry you want (you must spell it correctly!). Note that having selected it once, the next time you can just start typing the entry, and Autofill will quickly work out what you are after. This seems to be the best way.

Strictly speaking, the days in the column on the LHS of the sheet are based on Crew Member Base Local Time. So when you assign a duty or flight down route in LAX – you should be selecting the Australian Date for this duty. In practice, this only comes into play for carry-out flights/duties at the end of the RP – and this area has been tidied up immensely since EBA 2011.

Shown here is the current list of duty types in use. These may change from time to time, but so far these have worked from the previous EBA.

  • Admin Duty : Admin duties that come with the standard 5:00 hours credit
  • Admin – No Credit : Used when doing an admin duty that does not credit you towards Overtime (0:00)
  • Away Day : Basically days away down route that are not days off. Also the day between departing LAX and arriving back into Australia.
  • Day Off : This is your DDO’s and ADO’a. Note that sometime Crew Control will convert a duty to a Blank day as the result of a change. This is basically a Day Off that won’t generate a callout if you subsequently work it.
  • Flight : Select for any Flight Duty Period (FDP).
  • Gnd/Trg Duty : Basically any type of Ground or Training Duty that’s not Admin – SEP, NTS, etc. This includes running such courses.
  • Leave (All) : All types of leave that reduce your OT threshold, including Annual, Parental, Carers, etc.
  • Open Day : This is the 12 hour notice, 3 hour credit standby day that came in with the 777 2011 EBA. Love these.
  • Positioning : Any form of positioning, where the positioning is the only duty undertaken that day. The sheet automatically handles the 50%, minimum 1 hour per sector; minimum 2 hours for position only duty days.
  • Position (FRMS) : Positioning in the event of going fatigued may not attract credit. Check the EBA whether this applies to your positioning after going fatigued and if so, select this duty to calculate your credit hours correctly without the credit for FRMS Positioning.
  • Sick : Sick days do not attract credit and do not reduce your credit target.
  • Sim Instructor / Sim Student : These two duties have different credit values.
  • Standby/Reserve : This is applicable to both Standby at home and Hotel Standby.

3. The Simple Duties – as well as Callout, Ad Hoc Training and Cancelled Accommodation.

So some of the duties (Flight, Positioning) are clearly more complex than others. Let’s get the simple ones done first.

  • Day Off ; Admin (both); Gnd/Trg Duty; Leave; OpenDay; Sick, Simulator, Standby/Reserve : Once selected, that’s it for that day … except if …
  • Callout : If a callout is applicable, you need to Enter or Select Yes in the callout column. Note there is no longer  Day One, DayOne+ callout rate – it’s all one rate.
  • Ad Hoc Trg : If you’re performing a Gnd/Trg Duty as an Ad Hoc Instructor – enter Yes in this column to have the sheet calculate your Ad Hoc Instructors payment to the breakdown/total.
  • Canc Accom : If you have cancelled company accommodation for one or more duties, select Yes here to have the sheet include these in the breakdown/total.

4. Positioning

Positioning requires additional detail to calculate correctly. The (basic) EBA 2017 rules for calculating Positioning Credit are as follows:

  • Positioning typically gains a 50% credit of the larger value of (Scheduled or Actual Block Time). Once again – prior to positioning the Flt Time value on your roster is the Scheduled Block Time; once you’re positioned your roster will show the Actual Block Time.
  • There’s a minimum 1 hour credit per sector (applied after the 50% factor).
  • If the only thing you are doing in the duty period is Positioning – then there’s a minimum 2 hour credit.
  • Remember that if you commence a Duty Period with Positioning (or anything else) that goes over midnight Crew Base Local Time of the last day of the RP and into the next RP – the credit (Scheduled/Actual/EBA) goes into the RP in which the Duty Period commenced.
  • There are some very specific instance where International Positioning in Economy comes with 100% of the (Scheduled/Actual) hours as Credit. In this case – the EBA Override cell is used to credit yourself with the full sector’s credit.
  • Clear as mud?

Here you can see a typical series of duties. Day One is positioning up to BNE for Simulator. Day Two is the Sim Session, and (yet to be entered) the positioning sector home. Note the Yellow cell showing a required entry (the sector) and the three green cells for Sched BlockActual Block, and Over Ride. The EBA Credit is already filled in at 2 hours minimum since that’s all you are doing during the duty period.

Now the first line is basically complete. The sector (MEL-BNE) has been entered. The Sched Block (from roster publication) has been entered. The Actual Block (from the roster after “flown”) has also been entered. Since 50% of both these values is less than 2 hours – the EBA Credit remains at 2 hours. Note that any value you enter in the Over Ride cell will over-ride the EBA Credit cell. Any value you enter in this cell turns the cell Orange to indicate that an over-ride is in use.

But we have to get home from BNE after sim. This positioning is part of the Duty Period applicable to the Sim Student duty. To apply this, click on the Sector cell and enter the BNE-MEL sector (even though the cell is not green). Once you’ve done this, the Sched BlockActual BlockEBA Credit and Over Ride cells will activate for further entry. You can see that in this case the 50% credit value is calculated (since there is no 2 hour minimum) and that Actual is great than Scheduled. If this was SYD-MEL, the EBA Credit value would show 1:00 since 50% of SYD-MEL is less than the one hour per sector EBA minimum.

Finally – in the event that we go fatigued after a duty and are not safe to drive home, any positioning sector that follows the rest may not incur a credit value. In this case, show the duty as Position (FRMS) and whatever you choose to enter in the Sector,  Sched BlockActual Block cells – the  EBA Credit cell will show 00:00. Note however that the Over Ride cell still functions to override all calculation and uses the entered Over Ride value to credit your hours.

One case the Over Ride cell could be used is when positioning internationally on a sector length above 7 hours where the rest period after the positioning, prior to operating, is less than the minimum proscribed in the EBA. In this case – manually enter the maximum of (Scheduled ActualBlock Time into the EBA Over Ride cell – there is no factoring here, any value you enter over-rides all other positioning considerations. In this case the EBA Over Ride cell shows in orange to indicate it’s over-riding all the other positioning calculations.

Note : Occasionally you have to do mental maths to work out the Scheduled or Actual Block time from your roster. If you have a Start and Stop time for this, you can do the maths in your head (remember the two times are Local Time so between MEL and BNE there could be a missing (or extra) hour you have to account for in your formula) – then you can use the following formula in Excel (say the Actual Block is between 14:37 and 16:58) in the cell where you need the result. After you’ve used the formula to get an answer – it’s easiest just to type the answer in over top of the formula.

=Time(16,58,0)-Time(14,37,0)

4. Flights

Flights also require more details in order to calculate the correct credit value. This includes tracking both Scheduled and Actual Block Times (Pushback to Park). Note that the Flt Time value that appears on your Sabre roster at publication (or before you fly the trip) is the Scheduled Block Time applicable for the trip. Shortly after you have flown the trip – this time becomes the Actual Block Time you flew – and the Scheduled value is no longer accessible. I therefore strongly recommend taking screenshots of your roster after publication so you can retain the scheduled values.

MCG : Minimum Credit Guarantee

More complicated is the implementation of the Minimum Credit Guarantee. Basically when you head off from Home Base on a series of duties that includes a Flight Duty Pairing where you are operating (not positioning) – you get a minimum credit of 5 hours per day until you complete the Duty Period that signs you off at Home Base. This includes any Duty Types (Simulator, Admin, Ground Training, Open, Standby, Day Off, etc) as long as one of them is a Flight (Operating).

At the end of the duty series – if the 5 hour per day credit exceeds the credit from the Duty Period/Types – you are paid the MCG. I’ve implemented this methodology using the MCG # column to the immediate right of the Duty Type column. Anytime you start a series of flight-related duties (1 or more) where the MCG is applicable (because of a Flight) – place a number in the MCG # cell for each date of the sequence of duty periods. Keep that number identical for subsequent duties until complete the series ends back at Home Base. Use a new number for the next series of duties that includes an FDP. It sounds more complicated than it is … Mostly.

Firstly select Flight from the Duty Type list box on the left against the departure date of your flight. Note that technically this is the departure date based on your Crew Base Local Time. Which for evening LAX departures means the day after that shown on your Sabre roster.

  • Now enter the MCG # value. While the specific number actually doesn’t matter (I’ve limited it to 1…9 for now) – I suggest using 1-1-1-1 for your first trip; then 2-2-2-2 for your second trip, etc. Note that when you select Flight the MCG # cell next to that selection will turn yellow to highlight you need an entry there. When you choose a non-flight for the next day (say, Away Day) the cell will not be yellow – but this cell still needs the MCG # since it’s part of a sequence of duties.
  • Next, scroll across and you’ll see the Flight Details area has some yellow areas for entry. Enter the From airport and the To airport, then enter the Scheduled Block time (shown on your Sabre roster as Flight Time at publish). This will give you an initial estimate of the credit hours that will come from this duty. For the moment I have not provided for multiple sectors on the 777 – I’ll do it with the 330 and then decide if the solution should be rolled back. Further to the right, you can see the EBA Credit has your scheduled block time value.
  • Once you’ve operated the flight, look back at your Sabre roster and enter the actual Flight Time into the Actual Block time in the spreadsheet. If Actual was longer than Scheduled – you’ll see the new, larger value in the EBA Credit cell.
  • Remember that if you’re called off one or more days off for a trip – enter Yes into the Call Out cell to the immediate right of your Duty Type selection.
  • Finally, once again remember that if you commence a Duty Period with Positioning (or anything else) that goes over midnight Crew Base Local Time of the last day of the RP and into the next RP – the credit (Scheduled/Actual/EBA) goes into the RP in which the Duty Period commenced.

After the entries are complete, scrolling further across to the right (see below) you can see the Duty Type Credit (Max of Sked/Actual Block); MCG Cumulative Credit (5 Hrs/Day), the Pairing Cumulative Credit (based on Max of Sked/Actual Block); and MCG Additional – in the case above the credit from the flying exceeds the credit from the MCG, so there’s no addition. Let’s hit all the highlights with the next one …

Final Example – Flight with Callout, Positioning, Standby and MCG

The following is an example where the MCG applies – in this case, the shorter BNE/LAX flight times (after Standby), along with an extra day in LAX brings the MCG into play. Since the MCG Accumulation (7 x 5:00) comes to 35:00 while the Sequence of FDP related duties comes to 33:00 – there’s a 2:00 in the MCG Addition column at the end of the MCG sequence, and this 2:00 extra has been added into the EBA (& MCG) column on the far right. The MCG is paid by the spreadsheet against the last day of the sequence – either as the only credit (if the last day has no credit, like an Away Day) or added to any credit on that day – like in this example where the 2:00 is added to the Positioning Credit of 1:10.

This sequence is positioning to MEL-BNE for Standby, then heading off on a 5 day trip to LAX (you never know …) then coming back to BNE and positioning BNE-MEL home after arrival. Note in this instance I was called out for this sequence as indicated by the Yes in the Callout column.

  • The MCG # (2) is selected for the entire set of the MCG related days. Because the Positioning and Standby days are associated with the Flight Duty Period sequence – they count towards MCG. The “2” probably means this is the second trip on my roster.
  • Positioning on 28/Jan was 2:00 because that’s the minimum. Although the MCG of 5 hours on the day exceeds this value – MCG applies across the total sequence of duties, so you can’t tell if MCG is going to pay until it’s all over (including Actual vs Schedule for both Positioning and Flights).
  • Standby on 29/Jan has a 5:00 hour credit.
  • The Flights on 30/Jan and 02/Feb are credited based on the highest of (Sked/Actual) Block Time.
  • During the sequence, the highest of the MCG Cumulative Credit or Pairing Cumulative Credit is highlighted (subtle yellow).
  • At the end of the sequence – the MCG accumulation comes to 35:00; the duty related credit 33:00 – so the MCG adds 2:00 hours to the EBA (& MCG) Credit for the series of Flight related duties.

Note that while the EBA may not be clear – the Payroll system is coded to look only for an FDP as part of a series of duties; then it looks for the first Duty Period that took you away from Home Base at or before the FDP; and the last Duty Period/DFP that brought you back to Home Base. MCG is applied across the entire series of duties – FDPs and non-FDPs alike.

In the example below, I choofed off to Sydney on 02/Jan to teach two days of Ground School. Then I headed off SYD-LAX and came back the next day. On the last day (after arriving into SYD) I positioned home to MEL. The MCG calculation is done across all these duties. In this instance MCG Cumulative Credit is less than Pairing Cumulative Credit.

[Read more…]

Tax Time : Crew Allowances (v3.4) [14Sep18]

It’s Tax time again and as since I’m one of those lazy people who does all the work at the end, instead of keeping up with it as it goes along – the first thing I need to do is update my Allowance calculator spreadsheet. I’m posting a copy of the sheet here for you guys to download because each year more and more crew ask for a copy and I can’t remember who’s asked for it and who hasn’t. In this post, I’ll discuss the basis for the tax refund, and how to use the spreadsheet.

Disclaimer

Sorry – but this Excel spreadsheet is all care and no responsibility on my part. I’m using it myself and so I have certainly checked it as best I can to determine if there are any errors – but I can’t promise there aren’t any. Feel free to look through all the tabs at the tables of values I’ve taken from the current TD to make sure there aren’t any entry errors – please let me know if there are via the comments at the bottom of this post and I’ll fix it and re-upload.

Background

Essentially the Australian Tax Office produces a Tax Determination each year which covers this issue. There’s a new one each year and it’s urbanely titled “Income Tax : What are the reasonable travel and overtime meal allowance expense amounts for the 20XX-YY income year?“.

The TD determines the maximum reasonable amount for overnight allowances (without receipts). The amount is determined by location (separate listings for Australia Cities vs Overseas Countries/Currencies) and are also affected by salary level – the concept being that if you earn a lot more, you are allowed to spend a lot more when you’re on a trip. I wish.

Salary cutoff’s for the salary bandings are as follows (all values are AUD) :

Low : Less than $110,650 AUD
Mid : Between $119,650 and $212,950
High : Greater than $212.950

Typical ATO maximum claim values are values for our trips are:

LAX (Short)  => Lo: $660 / Med: $860 / Hi: $1,020
AUH (Long) => Lo: $1,075 / Med: $1,400 / Hi: $1,725

As you can see – the ATO values are in excess of the allowances typically paid to crew, irrespective of salary band.

I would encourage you to read through the TD in detail, but basically it says that if your company pays less than the ATO allowance for overnight expenses (Meals and other Incidentals) you are entitled to claim the difference between what the Company pays and what you actually spend, up to a maximum threshold which is the ATO allowance.

Notice that you can claim the difference up to what you actually spend – which may be less than the ATO allowance. That said – the TD says that while you can’t claim what you don’t actually spend – you don’t have to provide receipts either.

For Australian Stations, how much the ATO allows is a combination of a meal allowance (eg: if you’re “on station” anywhere between 0600am-0800am, you get a breakfast allowance) and an “incidental allowance”. The incidental allowance is paid for each day you touch while you are on station. Note that the actual meal time bands are not published anywhere in TD 017/2011. I’m still hunting down an ATO reference, but apparently the ones the Company uses are based on the ATO time bands.

For International Stations, while there is a concept of Meals – time bands are not applied and instead for each day (or part thereof) you are “on station” a combination of all the meal allowances (brekky, lunch, dinner) and the incidental allowances is paid.

In the past there’s been a lot of too-ing and fro-ing about this (as you can imagine). My accountant has allowed me to claim this for four years now and since he worked for the ATO for many years – he’s is extremely conscious of what is and isn’t kosher when it comes to income tax deductions. owever I’ve had a number of pilots and cabin crew tell me their accountant has said it’s not kosher.

If your accountant has issues, and you want to persist with it – I suggest you talk to my accountant about it. He’s had extensive discussions with the ATO and two years ago obtained a judgement/ruling in this area. He can be reached via his web site. As an aside – he’s been my accountant for about 9 years now and I have no hesitation in recommending him.

Geoff Taylor http://www.majenda.com/ +61 (2) 9904 6933

Cash Allowances – Report from Payroll

The cash allowances we now receive down route complicates things a little. You will need to provide the details of this money to your accountant and the ATO. This can be done in one of two ways.

  • [CASH] Go back in time and note down how much you were paid (in local currency) on each layover; or
  • [REPORT] Get a report from Payroll (payroll.queries@virginaustralia.com) which will give you a total in Australia dollars.

The former method has the advantage of being highly accurate. The latter (report from payroll) is difficult to check for accuracy. Please note I have labelled the two methods above CASH and REPORT – this is because the spreadsheet allows you to do either of these methods, and later I’ll show you how.

The Spreadsheet

Ok, so onto the spreadsheet. As an overview:

  • Enter some basic parameters in the Summary sheet (approximate Salary, etc);
  • Enter the Payslip and Cash Allowances paid to you via Salary in the Summary sheet;
  • Enter the details of your layovers (both domestic and international) in the DutyLog sheet; then
  • The Summary sheet will advise the totals – but I just give the whole sheet to my accountant.

Summary Page – Company Payslip (domestic) Allowances

The spreadsheet is protected against accidentally overriding the formula’s – the green cells are where you can enter values.

Basically, you need to log onto the portal and run V-Claim and look at your past payslips. For each two week pay period – take the value you were paid in allowances by the company (“Meal/Incidental Allowances”) and enter it against the correct date in the spreadsheet. Where you were docked overpayments (or paid extra) – these are to be entered too, even if it means entering negative allowances for that payslip.

Note this amount will NOT include allowances paid in cash over the hotel check-in desk. That’s handled elsewhere.

Summary Page – Basic Variables.

Now there are some global numbers to enter on the Summary Sheet. The major one is Gross Salary, which is used to determine which Salary Range you are in and therefore which allowance band will be used. All of the following values are required:

  • Enter your approx Gross Salary into the green box.
  • If you are using the [REPORT] method to determine cash allowances paid down route – enter the total from the report provided by Payroll into the Hotel Cash Allowances (Report) green box. Otherwise – leave it blank.
  • ATO Tax Rate : when you look at how much tax you paid last year, divided into your Gross Income – you can get an approximate percentage figure. Based on this, the spreadsheet can estimate what you’re allowance refund should be – which is Allowance Difference x (1 – %Approx Tax Rate). This will give a “best guess” at how much you can expect to get back on your allowances.

Once you have completed the Duty Log section of the sheet, you’ll get the following values on the Summary Sheet.

  • Payslip Allowances : Summed from the table (on the left) you entered them into.
  • Hotel Cash Allowances (as paid) : If you enter all the local currency cash paid down route onto the Duty Log sheet – it’ll be summed here.
  • Total Company Allowance : The addition of the Payslip plus Hotel Allowances.
  • ATO Allowance : This is how much the ATO calculates Crew Allowances at for Tax Purposes – based on your roster entered on Duty Log.
  • Difference – the gap that you can claim.
  • Approx Tax Refund : Based on your ATO Tax Rate this is a general stab at what you should get back.

The Duty Log (Where it All Happens) Example : SYD – MEL – LAX – BNE – SYD

The Duty Log tab is where you enter in all the details of the flights you have operated during 01.Jul.2011 -> 30.Jun.2012

While the data you enter is based on the flights you operate – in fact for the most part is is the off duty periods between flights while away from home that you are claiming. This is an important distinction when entering the information. For the trip pictured below, you’re claiming:

  1. The time from getting on the flight SYD to MEL until the next day when you sign on for the MEL-LAX flight; and
  2. The time between arriving (sign off) into LAX and departing (sign on) LAX for BNE; and
  3. The time between arriving (sign off) into BNE and arriving back into SYD after the domestic flight.

Note : It doesn’t matter where your domicile is – all these calculations are to be Sydney based, as your roster is.

Note : All Dates/Times are Local Time, wherever you are.

Remember that you are only addressing periods of time between flights or during ground duties such as SEP or CRM, which are NOT at your home base. Thus you can’t claim anything for SEP in Sydney – but you can if you are flown to BNE for SEP training. In which case you would claim against the time away from SYD : From the time you go on the flight in SYD; until when you got off the plane again back in SYD.

The headings of the spreadsheet are reasonably self explanatory and if you place the mouse cursor over each of them, a popup comment (cells with little red triangle in the corner) provides additional detail … However … using the picture here as a sample :

(A) Date : The Date column is pre-filled with a Date for each day of the tax financial year. For each FLT or GND duty – you place it on the date that the allowance claim period started. So you start claiming an LAX layover period on the day the LAX flight departed Australia. However if you land after midnight after flying into AUH – you would start your claim on the day after the flight departed SYD – does that make sense?

(B) Duty Type : Duty Type is either FLT (Flight); GND (Ground Duty – Meetings, SEP, etc); or SIM (Simulator Training). You can enter it or choose it from a dropdown box.

(C) Station : This is the three letter code for the layover airport. This determines whether the station is Domestic or Overseas, as well as linking into the exchange rate later on. You can enter it or choose it from a dropdown box.

(D) Start Time : This is a time (entered in 24 hours time with a colon, eg 23:40) which denotes the start of the period for which allowances are to be paid. For LAX/AUH flights – this is the Sign Off time after you arrive into LAX/AUH.

(E) Start Date : The date is automatically filled in from the first date column and is only repeated for convenience. Again – watch out for AUH flights that get in late after midnight.

(F) Stop Time : This is the time at which the paid layover period ends. For LAX/AUH flights – this should be the Sign On time for the return flight.

(G) Stop Date : Since our layovers will end on a different date to the arrival time – a separate date is entered alongside the Stop Time to help with the calculation of how many days you were on station. Dates can be entered into Excel in a number of ways (12.3.12   12.mar.12  12.mar  12.3  etc) but always check after you’ve entered one that it’s worked correctly. Also look in the Days column to see if the calculation has worked. Remember that you lose a full day on the way back from LAX (which you can’t claim for – nice try!)

(H+I) Start / Stop Date/Time : These two columns are the calculated start and stop date/time based on what you entered. Have a quick look at these two after you enter in your values to make sure you’ve done it correctly.

(J) Cash Allowances Hotel Paid (Local $) : If you are going to use the [CASH] method for down route allowances, enter the amount in local currency you were given here. This will be converted to AUD using the RBA exchange rate on that day.

(K) Cash Allowances Hotel Paid (AUD $) : If for some strange reason you want to enter your [CASH] Hotel paid allowances in Australian Dollars (Why? Why?) – you can do that here. If you enter both $Local and $AUD – the sheet will get grumpy at you. Be warned.

(L) Total Cash Allowances (AUD$) : The sheet will calculate the AUD amount of allowance paid over the counter by the hotel based on what you entered into the previous twe columns. But you only used one of those columns – correct?

(M) Done : If the spreadsheet has enough information to calculate – there will be an Ok in this column. Otherwise it will be blank and you should go back and see what has been done wrong.

(N) Days : This is the number of days you were on station, rounded up to the next whole day. This number forms the basis for the Incidental Allowance calculation, and the Day of Meals calculation for International Layovers.

Ground Duty not in SYD.

Here is an example of how a ground duty somewhere other than SYD is claimed. Basically you claim from the time you board the flight in SYD, until the time you get off the flight back into SYD after ground training in BNE, three days later, or whatever.

[Read more…]

Tax Time : Crew Allowances 2017/2018 {UPDATED 13AUG18)

It’s Tax Time again 2017/2018 and as since I’m one of those lazy people who does all the work at the end, instead of keeping up with it as it goes along – the first thing I need to do is update my Allowance calculator spreadsheet. I’m posting a copy of the sheet here for you guys to download because each year more and more crew ask for a copy and I can’t remember who’s asked for it and who hasn’t. This years’s ATO Taxation Determination is here.

Note : I’ve updated the sheet to greatly expand the list of available stations (both OZ and OS); and corrected a few issues that have popped up with initial use.

Note that this article is a follow on from the original article which covers the basics of the relevant legislation – and more importantly, how to use the spreadsheet.

The Volcanic Ash Encounter

Procedure and Techniques : Volcanic Ash Encounters

Hang onto your hats everyone, here we go … The Volcanic Ash Encounter is the last remaining bastion of the major NNM exercise in the 777. Enjoy it while you can folks – in the 787 the AP remains engaged for Dual Eng Fail/Stall and in the event of Unreliable Airspeed, a flick of a switch restores the Airspeed based on angle of attack to an accuracy of something like 5 knots.

But in our antiquated777, you’re going to see some or all of the following:
• Loss of thrust from one or both engines;
• Failure of one or both engines (be aware of the difference between engine loss and thrust loss …);
• Loss of the PFCs leading to Secondary/Direct control, no AP, FD, probably no A/Thr (good thing all you want is Idle Descent for a while);
• Reversion to Left PFD/ND/Upper EICAS with all other screens failed – if both engines fail. The RAT returns the Right PFD/ND; the APU brings with it the lower MFD. Nothing returns where you were up to in the ECL, you’re starting both the NM and the NNM checklists from scratch.

Anyway – this single event incorporates a host of NNM Management Procedures, Techniques and Axioms, often in conflict with each other. Each time you run this in the simulator, the basic scenario manifests differently, and even to the same scenario – crew respond differently much of the time, more often than not correctly in their own respect. But after a while you realise the same questions come out time and time again, and some crew have better management techniques that we can all learn from.

As always – this is a techniques discussion firmly rooted in (hopefully) common sense and airmanship, but also a lot of experience watching and doing this in the simulator – and absolutely no actual experience in real life. While I’ve spoken at length to Eric Moody, I’m still waiting for my first real Volcanic Ash encounter – and I spend a fair amount of effort in pre-flight and in-flight doing my best to avoid it.

Volcanic Ash

Without spending time talking about what you already know – suffice to say flying in Ash is bad, and your first voluntary action should be to get out of it and protect your engines. This requires (a) a Descent; and usually (b) a Turn.

So now you’re turning in HDG / TRK SEL – AP engaged ideally – and Descending with Idle Thrust in FLCH SPD. With any luck, you get away without losing both your engines, retain your airspeed indications, and you’re left with (probably) at least one malfunctioning engine, and an un-annunciated Volcanic Ash Checklist to do. I personally have a terrible habit of reaching up and starting the APU in all of this – a bad technique that so far no-one has managed to train me out of – but as always, I’m hopeful of self-improvement.

Then … Dual Eng Fail Stall – or is it?

At least, that was your plan. In the sim, things happen a little quicker than you’d like – or recognition takes longer than you’d planned – and if you haven’t commenced a descent, you’ve got one or both engines rolling back. That leads you into the Dual Eng Fail/Stall Memory Items. I personally consider the Airspeed and APU as part of the memory items, but that’s technique.

If you have commenced a descent – congratulations, while you were hoping to protect your engines, you’ve probably also disguised the Dual Eng Fail/Stall occurrence. They may not be both failed as you descend in Idle – but they could well be both Stalled near Idle. If you want to test this, you can (in HOLD) push each thrust lever up one at a time to see if you’re getting a response. If you have one engine, then you can continue down secure in the knowledge that you’ll be able to level off when you want to (maybe). If not – you need to get onto the Dual Eng Fail/Stall Memory Items. If the APU is running at this point, it’s all sweet – if not, you’re about to lose all the screens except yours when you cycle the Fuel Control Switches … Cutoff/Run. I say “yours” because if as the Captain you’re not already flying, you soon will be when the right PFD/ND disappear, including the ECL and whatever progress you’ve made through the outstanding NNM checklists when the engines are cycled. Note – I’m NOT saying to delay the Memory Items while you wait for the APU.

Management

A quick word on Management. With my Captain hat on – I’m pretty confident in my ability to “Manage” most NNMs, as well as my ability to do things like selecting and implementing a preferred flight path, choosing between different memory Items, telling ATC what I want (no requesting at this point), considering conflicting checklists, including the Cabin into the equation as soon as I’m able, Aviate/Navigate/Communicate, Assessor/Action/Manager and generally FORDECing the stuffing out of this day.

Right up until the point where I’m trying to do any of this while hand flying a 777 glider on raw data, no engines and bad airspeed.

Therefore – in this scenario, my standard response is to get the aircraft into the safest immediate state that I can – Fly The Plane, Descent (Idle), Turned (Away), Memory Items (if necessary, done) – then hand it over and get on with my real job.

All of a sudden, the workload of flying is gone, I have 90% of my brain released from the task of flying (some would say more) and my capacity to deal is increased significantly. At this point as the PM/Captain, the most common mistake is to sacrifice Monitoring against Management and leave your other Pilot to deal with it all. Don’t forget to Monitor – especially if the scenario does transfer to Manual Flight and Unreliable Airspeed (and the requirement to recognise it) as is a likely consequence.

The Cabin

Obviously, one or both of your engines will return and you’re headed off to whichever airport is nearest/suitable. How do I know this? – 20 years of simulator exercises, that’s how I know. But if you want to allow for the possibility of NOT getting your engines back – then I suggest getting your Cabin Leader into the scenario slightly before the “Brace Brace” call at 500 feet. Know how you’re going to get her/him into the flight deck asap; exactly what you’re going to say – while managing/flying/breathing.

The Question Is – Which Checklist?

So, when you’re just into the Volcanic Ash checklist and you lose both engines – what do you do? Dual Eng Fail/Stall Memory Items of course.

With those out the way (how easy was that) – now you need to decide what checklist to do now. The likely choices are to continue the Volcanic Ash Checklist, or run the Dual Eng Fail/Stall Checklist. Which one are you going to run – considering that they are both un-annunciated and so EICAS does not offer any direction here.

First principles suggest that the checklist with the Memory Items could be considered a higher priority than a checklist that does not have them, and that’s an entirely defensible position. That leads to Dual Eng Fail/Stall.

If you know your checklists, you also know that all the elements of the Dual Eng Fail/Stall checklist are (currently) contained within the Volcanic Ash Checklist (and a few more, since the Volcanic Ash deals with not just the engine problem(s) but also … you know, the Volcanic Ash). So, while procedurally the correct response is probably to run Dual Eng Fail/Stall Checklist, I’d like to believe that continuing the Volcanic Ash Checklist instead is a forgivable sin.

Either way – you’re going to end up running the Volcanic Ash Checklist at one point or another anyway, even if it’s after you’ve completed the Dual Engine Fail/Stall Checklist. Sorry – did you want a clear answer to this question?

Tidying Up – One Engine To Go

One final odd element left behind from the two checklists is that it’s quite likely that you can be left with a stalled or failed engine and no checklist on EICAS. Until you’ve got one engine back and leveled off – or never lost both and leveled off clear of the ash on (at least) one engine – this is a minor inconvenience only. But at some point, you need to deal with the second engine. How you do that depends on your Engine Failure Analysis. This should lead you to …

  • the  ENG FAIL checklist (and the option of a re-start);
  • the  Eng Limit/Surge/Stall checklist (via the Memory Items) and the option of continuing to run the engine at reduced thrust;
  • or the  Eng Svr Damage/Sep checklist (via the Memory Items) and a secured engine.

All of these checklists will also sort out TCAS TA; Flap 20/30 other Engine NNM considerations.

KLAX Los Angeles SIDs & STARs

Early last year, the FAA revised the SIDs and STARs at Los Angeles KLAX airport. I don’t know if I had annual leave or missed any associated documentation, but it’s fair to say that as a fleet that basically operates into the East Coast of Australia and LAX exclusively – it was something of a baptism of fire. There are a number of issues that subsequently developed, and we’re actually grappling with the best way to deal with some of the issues that resulted, even today. Let’s head down the rabbit hole.

[Read more…]

Tax Time : Crew Allowances 2015/2016

It’s Tax Time again 2015/2016 and as since I’m one of those lazy people who does all the work at the end, instead of keeping up with it as it goes along – the first thing I need to do is update my Allowance calculator spreadsheet. I’m posting a copy of the sheet here for you guys to download because each year more and more crew ask for a copy and I can’t remember who’s asked for it and who hasn’t. This years’s ATO Taxation Determination is here.

Note that this article is a follow on from the original article which covers the basics of the relevant legislation – and more importantly, how to use the spreadsheet.

Ask 20 Questions …

So recently I was called out to operate a Check Simulator session on one of our pilots who is returning to the fleet after a spell on another aircraft type. Since this was a one-off session, he was rostered with another pilot in support. When this occurs I like to make contact with the support pilot, let him/her know what will be involved in the session and ensure the correct details for the session have been passed along.

So I contacted crew control a few nights before and asked them to let me know who the pilot would be when the selection had been made so I could get in contact.

The next morning Crew Control had written back and answered my question with the name of the individual concerned, and added the phrase …

Morning Ken,

It looks like SO XXX XXX has been assigned as support for your Sim.

If you have any more questions, please dont hesitate to ask.

Thank You, Kind Regards, Crew Control

Having received this kind offer, I sat down over breakfast and constructed the 20 questions below. I sent this off to Crew Control, figuring I’d probably get some sort of reply at some point … But it turns out half of Crew Control spent time during the day answering all the questions in details. Fantastic response.


From Ken:

Hello Crew Control – Thanks for the offer! When you have time …


From Crew Control:

We never have time. But we did it anyway! The collective genius minds of Crew Control have answered your questions

1. What’s the answer to the question of Life, The Universe, and Everything? I’m now pretty confident the answer is not 42.

The answer is 42, however the ultimate question is unknown. The Earth was destroyed by a fleet of Volgon demolition ships before it could be deciphered

2. How do you know which armrest at the movies is yours?

Same principles as on an aircraft. Is the person next to you either a) bigger than you, or b) attractive? Then its theirs.

3. How come there no “B” batteries?

There are, or at least used to be. They were used to send a positive charge to the plate to attract the electrons from the filament in a vacuum tube, most commonly used to radios. These batteries were usually high voltage (up to 90V). The more you know.

4. When a mime gets arrested, do they still tell him he has the right to talk?

If a mime speaks, they cease to be a mime, which would then mean the police officer has not given them their rights. The officer is then in clear violation of policy, and therefore must let the mime go free. Those mimes. Criminal masterminds.

5. When the Enterprise goes to warp – how come you can hear it when there’s no sound in space?

If warp isnt accompanied by a crescendo written be John Williams, its not worth watching. (Thats right! We are saying that Star Trek sucks)

6. Why is “fun size” the smaller version of chocolate??

Its the chocolate industrys attempt at encouraging exercise ? there is energy expended when picking up the second (and third, and forth, and fifth) fun size bar

7. Is it still a crop circle if it’s square?

The aliens that create the crop circles have ocular nerves that are incapable of seeing angles, hence the perfect circles they create.

8. When something is new AND improved – what’s it improving on?

Well they cant say New and exactly the same can they? Who would buy it?

9. When the sim broke last week, who was the first guy to break it (I hear he works in Crew Control?)
If a sim breaks, but no one is present because a support could not be found, is it really broken?

10. Do bald chefs have to wear hair nets?

As a result of workplace diversity and inclusion, yes, all chefs must wear hair nets regardless of follicle status.

11. Why is the “Lone” Ranger always with Tonto – and two horses?

The Lone Ranger was a figment of Tontos imagination ? the guy he always wanted to be. Tonto was autistic and didnt like company, hence the Lone moniker.

12. If Wile E Coyote had enough money to buy all the ACME stuff – why doesn’t he just buy dinner?

Roadrunner is the CEO of ACME Corp, and is punishing Wile E for picking on him in high school. One of the unseen inventions of ACME is molecular regeneration, which is why Wile E never dies ? he just suffers immensely. Roadrunner takes great pleasure in this.

13. Why is yawning contagious?

Others subconsciously see yawning as someone trying to suck in more oxygen. A fight-or-flight response occurs, and more often than not, the yawn continues as everyone fights one another for air.

14. What happens if Pioncchio says “my nose is going to grow now.”?

Pinocchio experiences a time/space paradox, and collapses into dark matter. Theres a 23% chance of this collapse triggering a chain reaction, which would cause the end of the universe.

15. Why do Americans drive on parkways and park on driveways?

It is not very well known that in 1607 when the British colonized American one of their first village planners was secretly illiterate and a little bit dyslexic and confused the two. This is also the little known reason why they drive on the opposite side of the road.

16. Why do we say the Alarm Clock “went off” when actually it it’s the reverse?

Went off is used as a shorter version of the phrase, went off like children chasing a flock of wild turkeys.

17. When it’s called drive through – why do we have to do so much stopping and waiting?

Its all about the upsell ? the longer youre waiting, the more hungry youll be, and the more youll order.

18. Why is it called getting your dog fixed when that’s clearly not the outcome you’re after?

Why are there two number 18s?

18. Why does Henry like playing pool so much …

(From Henry) What happened to what happens in Singapore stays in Singapore?….

19. If a Lime is green and a Lemon is yellow – what went wrong when they were naming the Orange?

Orange was the final word created by the Romans, which is why it sounds like noises mashed together with no coherent flow. The academics were tired, so they used the same word for both the colour and the fruit.

20. Why is the name for a fear of long words hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia?

A practical joke to torment those with the fear itself


Fabulous.

Excel FIFO Calculator

After 6 years on the outskirts of Parramatta, our simulator is moving to Brisbane airport. For our small fleet of 5 aircraft and 150 pilots, it’s a big change. As part of the process I had a look at the simulator slot timings, especially since we would be moving to 24×7 operation for a disparate workforce spread mostly up and down the East Coast. Coupled with this is the implication of Fly In And/Or Fly Out for single simulator sessions, which we do quite a lot of. I freely admit the project got away from me somewhat – the spreadsheet attached is the result.


FIFO Analysis Spreadsheet

The premise of the sheet was to analyse various simulator session start times and determine how many domestic sectors a start time for a particular session facilitates for either (a) fly in before the session; (b) fly out after the session; or (c) fly in and out for a single session in a day. Early sessions don’t facilitate fly in (unless they’re “very” early and you’re talking about flying in late the night before); similarly late (or early) finishing sessions don’t facilitate fly out, other than sessions that finished before the first departures of the day from BNE. Broadly speaking the east coast domestic network is an 18 hour a day pattern, with a dearth of flights between eleven pm and six am. Not that anyone really wants to be doing sim that late at night anyway.

Sim Slot Timings

A simulator session is a four hour block of time, preceded by a 90 minute briefing period and followed by a 30 minute debrief, which are fixed. In terms of FIFO, place before this a minimum period of transit between arriving in from a flight and signing on (basically airport transfer time); and follow it with another minimum transit period after the session to catch a flight home. Note that while there’s a minimum transit time between flight arrival and the briefing period – there’s also a reasonable maximum value – you can’t have crew arriving in to the airport 4 hours before they’re due to present for training.

Between each simulator session is a gap period (nominally 10 minutes) which gives the engineers time to service the simulator (software resets, oxygen mask replacement, etc) and allows some handover time for the crews. These vary from 15 minutes, 10 minutes, to nothing at all in some operations. I settled on 10 minutes, which we are using at the moment and a couple of the other BNE simulators are also using.

Our simulator will have the company of 5 other simulators in BNE and this introduces an additional constraint. Ideally we want to avoid having the 10 minute break between sessions at the same time as occurs for the other simulators. While there’s more than one team of engineers on duty at any time – overlapping handovers places a strain on everyone involved. At least two of the existing simulators have the same slot schedule already …

FIFO1

 

 

 

 

 

It can be seen that the basic simulator slot time, with the brief/debrief and transit periods, the flight themselves and the EBA sign on/off periods outside the flights, sets up a basic pattern. While it certainly makes for a long day (Sign On, Flight to BNE, Airport Transit, Brief, Sim, DeBrief, Transit, Flight Home, Sign Off) – it’s certainly feasible with the right flight connections – or the right sim slot timings to meet the existing east coast flight schedule. By the way this is of course all impacted by the change of Daylight Savings – or more accurately the lack of change in Queensland …

FIFO2Finally, the use of 4 hour simulator slots with 10 minute breaks means you lose the use of the full 6 simulator slots per day. Basically you end up with a 3 hour break somewhere along the line. Engineering require a period of two hours a day anyway (not always to be used) for regular maintenance and complete power down / power up cycles. Typically this takes place in the middle of the night when the sim is not being used.

Flight Schedule

I wanted the sheet to automatically select from a flight schedule for SYD/BNE/SYD and MEL/BNE/MEL when different sim slot timings were selected. I cast around for some kind of data set I could use but there really wasn’t anything readily to hand. I ended up simply entering into a sheet all the flights for a particular (weekday) in late October after daylights savings started in (most of) the east coast states. Strategic updates to schedule would need to be done to continue to use the sheet, But I determined this wasn’t necessary for my purposes. I had a quick look at the weekend flights as well, but rather than code in day based schedules, I included the basic weekday pattern (MTWTFSS) in the data so that it was clear when certain flights didn’t operate.

FIFO3Variables

I wanted the sheet to be able to account for certain variables. Quite apart from simulator slot start time, I wanted the user to be able to change sim slot gap, Sign On/Off periods, Min/Max Transit times and limitations on Duty Period.

Changing these variables in the spreadsheet changes the flights that appear to the Left (Fly In) and Right (Fly Out) of the simulator sessions.

Counting Flights

At this point I now had a sheet that responded to changes in variables, selecting available flights based on the constraints in the variables. Flights that arrived too early for the Max Transit before a simulator slot would not show. Flights that arrived too late for the Min Transit after a simulator slot would not show. Flights that exceeded the parameterised Min Transit, Max Duty, etc – are either hidden or flagged in the sheet, depending on how bad they exceed.

FIFO5At this stage the sheet can be used to tweak the parameters to match the work rules, then try a range of first session simulator start times to see the sheet update the slots (and the breaks) and see how the flights propagate across the simulator slots. At this point I added columns on the right to count how may fly-in and fly-out and fly-in-out simulator slot/flights there were. These numbers are not a true measure of the specific availability of a simulator slot for Fi/Fo – but it facilitates a metric across which different sim slot patterns can be measured.

The various lines are summed at the top of each SYD/BNE/SYD and MEL/BNE/MEL section, then summed at the top of the sheet into an overall FIFO Table to show a summary of numbers. Once again, these specific numbers aren’t necessarily valid in terms of the number of crew flying in and out – but taken overall allow you to see how the sim slot times compete with each other. Except …

FIFO6Except that I’d now built a one shot system which allowed you to evaluate different sim slot times, but not really facilitating the comparison of multiple scenarios. I played with the What-If feature and the Excel Scenario Manager for a while (never been a big fan of these, but they have their uses) – before deciding to move onto something more ambitious. By this time I’d played with a number of simulator slot start times all through the day and had realised the results were not quite as I’d expected.

Automation

I decided to automate the sheet. This consisted of constructing an Analysis Table to track the results across various time slots. I decided since the basic gap is usually no less than 10 minutes – working through all of a?24 hour period. Then some automation code to make Excel increase the first simulator slot session start time by 10 minutes, then copy the results of the FIFO table into the Analysis Table.

FIFO7Graphing The Numbers

Having got the table sorted, I then set about graphing the result. The graph is a combined line/area graph differentiating between Fly In, Fly Out and Fly-In-And-Fly-Out across MEL/BNE/MEL and SYD/BNE/SYD. The colored areas indicate FIFO for MEL, SYD and Both. The lines indicate FI or FO for MEL, SYD and Both. Depending on what your focus is – you can see that certain simulator slot start times – remembering the simulator slot start time at the bottom is that of the FIRST session – different levels of FIFO are facilitated.

The Analysis

The analysis indicated that in fact the peak Fi/Fo simulator start time is late afternoon. This is because when you start the simulator at this time – the back of the clock sessions (which as it turns out are the best for facilitating flight access for FIFO) – are available. Meanwhile the maintenance period takes place mid morning, when it’s difficult to fly in for the simulator because of the 18 hour a day nature of Australian East Coast services.

Of course regularly scheduling back of the clock simulator training has some other considerations. Quite apart from the crappy nature of these slots for training and particularly checking – Engineer maintenance shifts are already focussed on the early morning period for down time maintenance (not that they would mind shifting, I suspect).

Video-Coolness

At one point I ended up with the sheet open twice, clicking the run button, and watching the spreadsheet populate and repopulate with the changing simulator slot times, building the graph as it made it’s way across as each simulator slot start time – which was pretty cool. The two vidoes here show (most of) the analysis sheet and graph during automation, and then just the graph.

Now, back to work.


The Result

As it turns out, practicalities override the analysis. The maintenance period needs to be back of the clock; and one of the highest productive sessions (in terms of Fi/Fo) is back of the clock and undesirable for training. That just left me with about a 90 minute window to finesse the start time to ensure maximum flights. Still, it was an interesting exercise … Now all we need is a simulator!

Sim2?Sim3?Sim1

Using the Post Office as a Service … Not.

LocationHistorySo this week is another exploration of the domestic network with three days in Brisbane; Two days in Sydney; Five meetings; Safety & Emergency Procedures Training (SEP); an inspection of the Simulator Center at Silverwater; Dinner with Shae and Breakfast with Henry. Three sectors, two hotels, one car hire, a number of taxi’s and hotel transports. Pretty standard week really.

Except I left my Meds at home Monday morning …

After my “mild cardiac event” in December I’m on a veritable cornucopia (as far as I’m concerned) of medications morning and night. Well, a couple of pills anyway.

ExpressPostMonday morning commenced with a 4am alarm and I recall downing the morning meds before I drove the hour to Melbourne Airport. Having landed in Brisbane four and a half hours after the wakeup, the first text message was Meg asking me if the pills on the bench were important. Oops – they’re the ones I’m supposed to take each morning. Having come away without not only my pills but the spare copy of my prescription – my senior administrative assistant (and master financial control) dispatched them up to me using something called “Platinum Overnight Express”. This was sent at lunchtime Monday, after Meg had called the hotel in Brisbane to confirm the delivery address and otherwise tie up all the possible loose ends of what might go wrong. go wrong. go wrong …

Tuesday evening after work I got to the Hotel in Brisbane at about 19:30. I had pre-warned them that morning that I was expecting an important delivery – and I asked about the parcel. After a brief verbal tussle with the desk clerk, he assured me it would be delivered to my room shortly. I was now 12 hours late for the pill popping, but not terribly concerned.

NonDeliveryAfter 30 minutes I eventually confirmed that not only was the parcel not coming up to my room – it had never been delivered. I logged onto Australia Post and sure enough delivery was “attempted” and my all important medical was “carded” somewhere else. Except that having carelessly refused my parcel the hotel didn’t even have the card to facilitate me claiming my parcel the next day. My immediate problem however was to secure some replacement meds.

After several Google crawls and phone calls – I was off to a Pharmacy that closed in about 15 minutes. This despite the Hotel Concierges kind offer to call me a Doctor to the hotel who could issue me a new prescription (but not the meds) for the bargain price of $200.

It turns out the pharmacy could issue me three pills based on a scan of my prescription provided by my senior administrative assistant (thanks again, Meg!). Three Pills. Enough to get me to Thursday, but not to Friday and home to Melbourne. Just Three. Don’t ask. Clearly these pills have far more potential for wider distribution to the seedier community than the pedestrian use I’d been making of them – taking them.

It also turns out there’s a Doctor service in Brisbane who will come to your hotel for a consultation and will bulk bill. But that’s another story.

By the next morning, the Australia Post web site was telling me that my parcel had arrived finally at “Brisbane East LPO”. They opened at 9am; but they don’t start answering the phone until 1pm. Ask me how I know this.

Eventually I got onto them and having confirmed they had my parcel, headed their way with scan of the paperwork Meg had from her dispatch (and again, thanks Meg). All told I would estimate it cost me $90 to achieve the non-delivery of my parcel – not that Australia Post see it that way.

ThePointMeanwhile I got onto Australia Post and fought my way through customer complaints/service (not a lot of service there, actually) and got a very logical, clear understanding of what had occurred. I could see now how reasonably the non-delivery of the “Platinum Service” overnight express parcel. At one point the customer service representative tried to convince me that having got the parcel to the “State” (or Queensland) – Australia Post had essentially delivered on their requirements.

In essence, the delivery guy is not allowed to leave his bike and enter the hotel to drop the parcel off. By the same logic, he can’t go in and leave a non-delivery card with them either. So they don’t. This might be slightly less ludicrous were the staff inside the hotel not about 2 meters away from the entrance where the “bike” would be parked. Literally he could drive his bike to the front door, have the automatic doors open – and call out to the Hotel Staff.

That’s what you get for using Australia Post as a Service.

 

Tax Time : Crew Allowances 2013/2014

It’s Tax Time again 2013/2014 and as since I’m one of those lazy people who does all the work at the end, instead of keeping up with it as it goes along – the first thing I need to do is update my Allowance calculator spreadsheet. I’m posting a copy of the sheet here for you guys to download because each year more and more crew ask for a copy and I can’t remember who’s asked for it and who hasn’t. This years’s ATO Taxation Determination is here.

Note : My accountant is now saying that after discussions with the ATO, he is not recommending claiming more than the Company pays in allowances without receipts. Therefore while I’ve still prepared the calculator I’m waiting for a discussion with Geoff before I move on it …

Note that this article is a follow on from the original article which covers the basics of the relevant legislation – and more importantly, how to use the spreadsheet.

Merry Christmas 2013

Seasons Greetings, All.

Well, it’s that time of year again. I had taken leave this year over Christmas and New Years, but owing to personal circumstances, I’m now going to be off flying for quite some time. Quite frankly, it’s good to be seeing the end of 2013 – here’s to a better year next year for all.

I hope you have a safe Christmas with your family and wish everyone all the best for 2014.

Regards, Ken

P.S. Since it would seem the next time I step into an aircraft, I’ll be using these charts – I thought the following was appropriate …

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Lord of the Rungs

I recently watched Lord Of The Rings again with my family (Meg and Ruby hadn’t seen it). I was reminded of a heckling article I read at the time – and the follow up – which I dug out of my archives. I offer it up for a chuckle and a bit of history – not seeking to give any offence to my kiwi friends who are incredibly welcoming when we visit, and I’m sure will partake in right of reply …

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Are you ready to Close Doors, Captain?

Many moons ago I was a Second Officer on Boeing 747-400’s for a large Hong Kong based international airline, which I remember fondly. This story revolves around a flight from Hong Kong to Melbourne about a year after I had checked out, late 1993. This was a three crew operation, Captain, First Officer and myself. The Captain on this flight was asked this question about whether we were ready to go; He answered in the affirmative – and probably shouldn’t have. I can only speculate to this of course – because I wasn’t on the flight deck at the time … or the aeroplane.

CloseDoorsFrom my Practices and Techniques document – there are two very loaded questions a Captain or Pilot Flying can be asked. The second of these is “Are you ready for the Approach?” and is more applicable to the simulator.

But the first is this question from the Purser/Flight Manager “Are you ready to close doors, Captain?” and is a loaded question indeed. Essentially it sums up the entire (often out of) sequence of frenetic activity that can occur before you push and start the aircraft. Get this question wrong and you may have to open the door again – which seems straight forward, but that means having someone there to open it; an aerobridge connection or stairs to step out onto, and ground personnel there to assist – all of which may well have headed off to their next aircraft. It also means ensuring the door is dis-armed (evacuation slides) before the door is opened …

As a new Captain I identified this issue early on in my line training (the hard way) and made myself a little clipboard checklist. Over time of course I used this less and less. But every now and then (particularly since coming to my latest airline) when the sh!te has hit the fan and pre-flight has been a Shiva-esque display of multiple hands going everywhere dealing with everything – when confronted with the Flight Manager (no, that’s not me) wanting to close doors – my first reaction is “No!” (internally)?and I flip over my clipboard to see what we’ve missed. The answer is often illuminating.

Do you notice what’s missing from this list? It’s “All Crew On Board.

Refuelling Problem

B744 EICAS Fuel SynopticOn all flights, at some point the refueller (after being given the final fuel load, based on the anticipated final weight of the aircraft) calls up from the nose of the aircraft via headset/intercom to confirm that the flight crew are satisfied with the fuel load, and the fuel bowser/truck can be disconnected. This check by the flight crew consists of reviewing the total fuel on board, as well as the distribution across the various tanks, against the fuel required figure from the flight plan. Having received clearance to disconnect – the refueller does so, then comes up to the flight deck and starts the paperwork. No job is over until …

On this particular departure the refueller rang but when we looked at the EICAS to determine fuel on board – it was blank. Further examination revealed that the inner right wing tank was not showing a fuel quantity. With a tank indication missing – the total fuel on board could not be determined by the FQIS (Fuel Quantity Indication System). The Captain asked the refueller to come to the flight deck.

Meanwhile we examined the MEL (Minimum Equipment List) to determine if dispatch was possible – or were we looking at a delay while Engineering fixed the system? As it turned out – we could go, but first were required (unsurprisingly) to accurately determine the actual fuel on board. The Captain, Refueller and Engineer discussed it – and the Refueller and Engineer went off to “Dip” the tank. I must have looked intrigued at this point because the Captain asked me if I’d seen this done before – I had not – and instructed me to go with the Engineer to observe, and bring the paperwork back when I came up. Pleased with the Captain’s interest in my professional development – I headed off with the Engineer.

KaiTakApronI must explain at this point that this was Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport – before the days of the mega-airport that is the current Hong Kong. It was also late evening and nearing the time of peak departures with flights queueing up to depart to Europe. Those who have experienced that time and place will remember it clearly – it was a small, congested apron with spaces for just a few aircraft at the terminal and far many more aircraft parked “remote” requiring busses and stairs to get passengers up to the doors. There were ground vehicles of all descriptions going in all directions, with flashing amber lights projecting the importance of their particular task. Literally hundreds of such vehicles, across the (small) expanse of the apron areas of Kai Tak. It was a magical place for a young pilot who yesterday stepped out of a Cheyenne, today into a 747.

Since we were remote it was down the stairs to the outside of the aircraft. The Engineer explained to me that we didn’t have to actually “dip” the tanks (much to my disappointment) – there were small devices built into the underside of each wing. These projected upwards into the fuel tank. You unscrewed them and pulled them down and a measurement strip along the side gave you a number to look up on a chart and determine the quantity of the tank. Quite elegant, I thought.

FuelStickOf course the practicalities of this meant a high lifter to get to the underside of the wing. The Engineer positioned the high lifter and up we went. He unscrewed the “dip stick” took a measurement, and wrote down a figure. As I looked around I could see there were measuring sticks everywhere, all numbered. I asked why there were so many, given there were only two tanks in the wing? ?The answer was that depending on how much fuel was in the tank – you used a different stick. Ha, I thought – “How do you know you have the right one?” I asked. He showed me on a chart that you start with the anticipated fuel quantity in the tank (nearly full in this case) and that took you to a particular stick. So since we believed we had XX.X tons in this tank, so we should be at stick number … not this one. Oops.

So down again in the highlifter, a bit of a re-position and up we go again. Measurements taken in silence this time without the meddling influence of the junior pilot (so junior he’s clearly not even required on the flight deck at this point) – and we’re done. High lifter down and driven away, paperwork completed and handed over, and I’m headed back to the stairs to the L2 Door.

Or at least that was the plan. I step away from the refueller/engineer to find … the door is shut; the stairs are gone; Engine #4 has been started in concert with another Engineer talking to the flight deck from the nosewheel. Oops I’ve been left behind.

What has to happen next is clear to me. Engine #4 must be shut down. ATC will need to be advised, with possibly a new start/push/airways clearance sought. Stairs must be found and brought to the aircraft. The door opened and the errant Second Officer re-admitted to the aircraft (if not the flight deck …). The process has to be reversed to regain a departure once more. All this will mean a significant delay in an airline that is very OTP (On Time Performance) conscious. All because of a junior crew member who seems to have forgotten that his place on the aircraft when it’s leaving is on the inside ..

I manfully resist the urge to hitch a lift back to the terminal and go home – or just head for the nearest fence and jump it (after all, if I was really required for this flight, wouldn’t they have waited for me?) – and head over to the Engineer on headseat at the nosewheel. He looks at me in surprise and hands me the headset (Chicken!) and I advise the Captain of my predicament.

Me : “Skipper – it’s Ken.
Captain : ” Ken? Ken who?
Me : “Um, Ken the Second Officer.
Captain : “Oh, of course. Where are you?
Me : “At the nosewheel. I have the refuelling paperwork for you, if you still want it.
Captain : “What? Good Lord! OK, standby …

It was perhaps 20 minutes to get stairs after the engine was shut down and secured. Once in place I headed up the stairs, past the some quizzical cabin crew and disinterested upper deck business class passengers, and I tail-between-my-leg’d my way into the flight deck. Paperwork handed over and I sat at the very very back (or tried to) and stayed as quiet as possible.

Start ValveWith the doors closed (again) and the stairs removed (again) and clearance from Tower and Nosewheel Engineer (again) – Captain starts Engine #4. Or tries to. Whether it’s a second start issue or a judgement from the Aviation Gods – it won’t start. The start valve (which releases air from the APU to the motor used to turn the engine for start) won’t open. This means a manual override engine start, and a further delay while engineering get that process into action. Eventually we get all four engines started and we commence taxi.

My role on this flight deck now is clear. I remain diligent in my monitoring and paperwork roles, and above all, quiet. No-one says anything about what happened at departure until well after top of climb, at which point the First Officer draws out the aircraft log book and says with deliberate … deliberance “What do you want to put the delay down to, Captain?

Skipper leans his seat back at this point and asks of the flight deck (and the universe in general) – “Hmmm. What was the LAST thing to go wrong on that departure …?

First Officer says “Well, that would be the start valve on Engine #4?

Captain adjudicates “Right – delay is clearly down to Engineering then.

No further comment was passed on my absence, or of anyone’s role in our departure adventures, and we sailed on through the night across the China Sea towards Australia.

Upon reflection, maybe I need to update my checklist …

An Ode to Joy

My Nanna Joy (my Father’s Mother) passed away on the 11th February, 2013 at the age of 89. She was a grand lady with whom I spent a great deal of time with during my formative years. I was asked to speak at her service – here is what I said.

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Android Apps

Here is a collector post where I’ll review and update the software I use and recommend on my Android phone. I’m now on my third android phone, through at least 4 major operating system upgrades and a host of minor ones. I use my phone for work and pleasure, to tell me where I’m supposed to be, listen to music, watch movies from my home server, navigate in the car, on the footpath and on the bus/train – and tell me where I parked my car.

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ezPDF Reader

There are no end of PDF readers on Android – including Adobe’s Acrobat Reader – but I’ve found ezPDF reader to be the best. I use it on my phone as well as tablet. I do a LOT of PDF reading. To get an idea of it’s capabilities – have a look at the user guide. It uses finger gestures for interaction and includes extensive markup and highlighting features. You can also add bookmarks to PDF documents to expedite navigation of large documents.

TeslaLED

Small but useful, it’s handy to be able to turn on the LED light built into your smartphone flash. There are dozens of apps around that do this, but I find TeslaLED to be a good one. It has a strobe feature and the ability to flash Morse code – not something I use everyday … It comes with a widget that you can place on your desktop and flick your LED on and Off.

Swype

Swype is one of the most poorly kept secrets on Android. I call it a secret because it’s not available on the Android Market – you have to sign up for the beta to get it. That said, it’s now coming as the default input keyboard on some Android phones.

The install technique is a little unusual in that it requires you to download an installer, then find and install the installer, which downloads the program, which then installs swype. Got that? Also along the way you have to register for the beta, then enter your details into the downloaded installer downloader.

But oh man is it worth it.

Many years ago, when I was very much into my Crappy Windows Mobile Phone, I used a keyboard called Fitaly. This was back in the days when you punched away at your pda with a plastic pen and typing on it was real bastard. Fitaly was a non-qwerty keyboard which was mathematically designed such that something like 80% of the most common keys were right in the middle of the keyboard. I eventually got myself up to something like 80 words a minute on this thing – it makes you cry when you look at today’s iPhone chicken scratch keyboard.

Anyway – since coming to Android I’ve discovered Swype. Let me say right now – it’s not available on iPhone. Did you get that? It’s not available on iPhone. Just in case …  IT’S NOT AVAILABLE ON iPHONE. So There. How do I make that blink with WordPress?

Swype is built on the same concept as predictive text input on non-qwerty keyboard mobile phones. Basically instead of chicken scratching your way across the keyboard, you swype your way along, pausing briefly (or not) at the letters you want typed. From the pattern you draw, Swype works out what is the most likely word. If there’s only one – it enters it. If there are several but the most likely one is very much the most likely – it enters it. Otherwise you get a list of possibilities, with the most likely being at the top and the default word if you continue swyping.

You can get VERY fast with Swype, and very accurate. I strongly suggest reviewing the tutorials and videos before you get too far into it  – it will save you a lot of frustration and lost productivity. Ask me how I know this.

ADW Launcher

I’ve never been one for replacing the standard operating system front end with something custom developed. My experience is that they’re at times buggy and often suffer when the operating system itself is updated. I’m not convinced of the productivity improvements claimed and quite frankly if I was buying something for the eye candy value, I’d probably have an Apple device, except perhaps the iPad – what the hell is the story with the tiny little icons with all that space in between them? Hello?

Then I was forced to use ADW Launcher.

I say forced, because the XDA crew decided to make it the default in Cyanogen – which I ran on my Nexus One for eight months or so. And since it was integrated with the operating system itself, I figured it would be plenty stable, which it was.

Then when I upgraded to the Nexus S and was forced to stay with the stock Android 2.3/4 operating system (still haven’t worked out how to root it) – I missed ADW so much that I bought it.

Apart from a suite of additional interface settings, I find on the fly manipulation of widgets to be extremely useful. I read about being able to re-size widgets in Honeycomb – I’m doing that now with Gingerbread and ADW. I have an extra column and row of icons on my screen, with everything sized down accordingly and spaced a little tighter. It’s an awesome bit of kit.

Juice Defender Ultimate

You won’t be using your new shiny smartphone for very long when you come to realise your battery life is crap. Gone are the days when you charge your phone every couple of days and when the battery is starting to look low you know you have until at least that night before you have to charge it.

Between these lovely big bright screens, ‘N’ wifi, 3g connectivity, GPS, Bluetooth, etc – you need a battery bigger than the phone itself to get a decent life out of it. Just one of the reasons I’m Android is because I can carry a spare battery and throw it in if I need to – try that on an iPhone.

Juice Defender give you Time of Day /  Location / Data throughput / Application aware control of the high consumers of power such as screen/wifi/3g as well as controlling application access and sync. Let me explain.

I’m in the hotel foyer in LA. I pull out my phone and turn it on. Because I’ve been there before, JD turns on the wifi and logs onto the hotel network. Depending on how long since the last one, Google Sync is started – checking mail, twitter, facebook, etc. Before this completes, I turn my phone off. In my pocket, as the data finishes downloading and the data throughput reduces below a nominated threshold, JD turns off the Wifi.

I leave the hotel. Every 15 minutes or so (you choose), JD turns on the 3g and another sync is activated. JD turns it off again shortly afterwards.

I approach “It’s a Grind” the coffee shop I frequent which has free wifi. JD knows where I am (cell towers) and turns on the wifi as I enter the shop. It attempts to log on but the Cafe has changed their password (again). The lack of data throughput is a trigger and JD turns off the Wifi again.

Juice Defender is indeed Ultimate.

FlightBoard, by Mobiata

Flight board is a really simple concept. Pick an airport, choose departures or arrivals, see the equivalent flight board. As someone who travels all the time this really simple app is excellent and serves me well.

Yes you can Facebook or Twitter about your flight and all of that shite, yes you can shoot a flight over to FlightTrack (slightly more useful). You can access delay data etc. The point is, at any stage during your travel journey, you can look and see if the flight is delayed, if there’s a gate assigned, if flights just before or after yours have been cancelled.

TeamViewer

I got out of the hardware sales/support business years ago, for good reasons. However I am doomed to support my immediate (and extended) family’s computer needs for the foreseeable future, and as such this is easiest accomplished through remote control. I enabled this for years through the paid tool GotoMyPc, but a while ago I finally went free with TeamViewer. It offers all of the functionality I need (Remote control, File transfer, VPN, Chat, etc) and not only has Android support – but has it in a way that is actually usable on a smart phone (something GotoMyPC has yet to do, even badly).

Skype

Skype pretty much sucks. That goes for the PC experience as well. I’ve used a dozen different VOIP solutions over the past 12 years or so, all mostly as a means of avoiding Skype – to make cheap calls also – but mainly to avoid Skype.

Whether it be the bloatware that Skype is on your machine, the restrictive private protocol that offends my open source sensibility, or just the fact that when you agree to install Skype you agree to potentially become a Skype supernode, routing calls to and from people you’ve never heard of, chewing up your bandwidth, Skype pisses me off.

But there are so many people on Skype, we’re now so far beyond the point where I can choose not to use it.

Skype is now beyond early days on Android and it shows. Finally we have Video. It took them long enough (ages after the iPhone). Finally you can also exit Skype and not have it running in the background. It’s still a confusing interface for what is essentially a simple need – but it works.  Damn it.

Volume Ace

One of the great features of Android is it’s flexibility. It’s clear from extended use that a great deal of thought went into the development of the back end. And the operating system is a documented open source development which allows apps to take full advantage to deliver a better (educated) user experience.

But it does make things complicated at times. Take volume.

It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it. In fact there’s two buttons on the side – volume up, volume down – what could be simpler that. But which volume?

When your phone is ringing – these buttons control (and leave set) ring tone volume. When you’re talking with the handset against your head, they control that volume. When you use the speaker phone, they control that volume. When you’re listening to music, they control that volume. When you’re being told what to do by turn by turn voice navigation, they control that volume. And so on. At last count I was up to 9 different volume settings. If you want overall management of all these volumes – if you want profile management of them depending on where and when you are – how do you manage it all? Volume Ace.

Apart from giving you fine detail control of these volumes – Volume Ace lets you save configurations as pre-sets (Quite, Night, Loud, Meeting etc) controlling both volumes and vibrate, and you can access these presets with two clicks off a widget on the desktop.

Car Locator

Edward Kim has made a fortune out of Car Locator and it’s easy to see why. As someone who arrives back from a week away in Sydney/Los Angeles to a large staff car park with no markings whatsoever (goddam I hate Melbourne Airport non-Management) – remembering with my fatigue addled brain where I parked my car is a real hassle.

This little gem lets me press a button when I park; then when I return, I run it again and it leads me to my car. The sonar mode (it “boops” faster and faster as I draw closer) is a little kitch, but you can turn it off.

There’s lots of other tricksy bits built in but essentially it does very well what I need it to do – locate my car.

K9 Mail

Ok, so the built in gMail app on the Android operating system is awesome. Since Google insist on updating it regularly, there’s just no reason whatsoever to look for any alternative. Then there’s the built in app for your other POP3, iMap and Exchange mail … therein lies a different story.

So after a short, dissatisfying play with the provided software, I went hunting for something else. I swear it was not my penchant for Dr Who that lead me to settle on K9. It does POP3, iMap, Exchange (although not in a way supported by my company – but that solution is below). It’s open source, supports PGP – and most importantly handles multiple e-mail accounts – at last count I’m watching 11 e-mail accounts on my phone – brilliantly – using K9. Push mail, notifications, a breeze. Enjoy.

Touchdown Exchange Mail for Android

Ok, first a warning. This app is not your typical $4.99 app – you’re up for about AUD $20. The trap with this software is that you get 30 days to evaluate it, after which you’ve found you can’t live without it – and you’ll have to pay the $20.

If your company allows exchange sync through their firewall, I recommend this app. Although exchange sync is native to android, I couldn’t wear the draconian imposition of a security policy on my phone. Sure – secure the app; but the phone? What if I don’t want a full password on my phone, changed regularly, the ability for the company to delete stuff off my phone, etc. Stuff that.

Touchdown does email, calendar, tasks, contacts, global address book, etc. Push notification (or not) etc. Very clean interface, updated regularly.

Winamp

I should firstly point out that I HATE iTunes. There, that’s said.

Winamp is a full circle kind of thing for me. I suspect that I was the last person on earth to actually pay for Winamp just before they started distributing free about 10 years ago. They’ve since gone Pro, but I never forgave them back then for taking my money and then turning around and making Winamp free. I wrote to them and asked if I could have the current Pro version free, but unfortunately not – the company who sells it now is about three companies down the road since back then. Can’t hurt to try.

The reason I’ve come back to Winamp is that the pro version on my desktop – apart from managing about 2 terra-bytes of music – allows me to sync playlists and artists/albums wirelessly through my home network to my android phone. Did I mention it was wireless? The Winamp player on my Nexus works well and is pretty enough. The lock screen took me a while to figure out and letting it take over my headset occasionally gets me in trouble. But it’s wireless. Enough said.

Handy Sh!t : (HandyConversionsHandyCurrencyHandyCalc)

Ok, so you’ve got to have three things on your phone. Something to do Conversions. Something to do Currency. And a Calculator. I managed to find all three from the same source.

I have to say, there’s something seriously cool about these apps. Something mesmerizing. I can’t quite put my finger on it. The Conversions and Currency work well enough – the currencies update and you can add your own conversions if you’re trying to work not just in Bhat, Pounds and Euro’s but also Galactic Credits. They’re clean and pretty to look and the the interface is easy to work with.

But the calculator is seriously weird. It has some very cool stuff in it – graphing, solving quadratic equations, fractions, Algebra, you name it. I was once a real maths student with a  real calculator at Uni – a HP48 that I loved and knew backwards. When I came to Android I was pleased to be able to install a HP48 emulator for a while – at least until HandyCalc came along. At some point, I’ll learn to use it properly. Then watch me go.

 

Jetlag

At parties, one of the first questions I’m asked, once we’ve done the profession swapping business-card handshake, is “How do you get used to the Jet Lag?

I wrote this blog a while ago, but was reminded of it when I came across this document recently. It’s fascinating treatise on today’s airline pilot’s lifestyle. 42% of pilots in major airlines in the Uk would not recommend a career in aviation to their kids. Doesn’t that say it all?

They’re looking for the magic bullet which I of course must know and my answer is of course, you don’t, because you can’t. My airline is a new start up international operation, a subsidiary of an established domestic carrier. As such, while we commenced operations with a core group of instructors and pilots with international long haul experience – subsequent pilots are drawn from the domestic parent airline. These pilots have come from a short haul operation where most nights they were home in their own beds. Although there are long days – no-one disputes a claim that you’re working hard when doing four sectors with minimum turnaround times betweens flights, over the course of a 12 hour day – I remember from my own experience of this life that you’d fall into bed after a long day, sleep well and wake the next day without further consequences of your previous day’s work.

Initially during the start up phase of V Australia many of these pilots found themselves trained, then cast off into long series of days off and standby with very little flying. Now as the work builds and the aircraft and pilot numbers stabilise – the monthly workload is increasing and the unpleasant impact of long haul international flights is starting to hit.

While we mentioned it during training, it was information without personal relevance. Now it gives me a wry smile to hear discussed around the bar in LA how a pilot will get home after a 5 day trip to a trip to at least 3 or 4 days off before having to go back to work again – only to find that it takes them at least that long to recover their sleep pattern and other biorhythmic aspects of their lives (I’m staying away from personal bodily function references here), just in time to head off and screw them up again.

Your immunity is lower, you sleep poorly and more often, irritability affects your family life, it all takes its toll. Layovers in LA become periods of white noise listlessness where you attempt little and achieve even less. Hard to believe, but you even begin to watch re-runs of NCIS. That’s an early warning sign, by the way.

Now were coming in from Los Angeles and heading out to Abu Dhabi and back. Then our pilots new to long haul know what it’s really all about – east to west back to back is a real pain. Eventually you get to the point when you’ve been doing it for years, and you find it takes three weeks of leave just to start feeling like a human being again. Getting your kids to like you again takes a lot longer than that.

Sleep for a long haul pilot is like my bank account. I can accumulate sleep debt, but it’s physiologically impossible to gain a sleep credit. When discussing this at a party, at some point I’m asked how I stay awake on long flights. Once I reveal that in fact our operation is an augmented one, with two complete sets of pilots and rest facilities which include flat sleeping bunks, my sympathiser’s eyes glaze over and disinterest in the issues of my work environment waft into the conversation. They pay you to sleep in a bed at work? They think of their own experiences of sitting in economy for 12 hours last holidays, surrounded by their kids, and conclude I have it easy.

I could point out that I’m doing this slightly more often than their annual holiday – say 4 to 8 times a month. That any form of rest in an environment of perhaps 8% humidity can scarcely be called rest at all. That the bunk I sleep in is contained in a walled tube fifty centimetres tall, seventy centimetres across, 2 meters long, (I deliberately avoid the word “coffin” in these conversations, it seems an unfair emotional ploy, but aesthetically and structurally, that’s what it is – although more difficult that Dracula’s because I have to crawl in from one end).

Oh and did I mention by bed is thirty six thousand feet into often turbulent air? That often I’m trying to rest when my body clock says Go Go Go, or work/fly when it’s saying No No No? Trying to switch off while I’m technically still in charge of and responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft by crew I may never have flown with before, in areas of suspect weather or over significant terrain (I never ever took rest over the Himalayas – not even worth trying). Crappy low cost pillow, damned hard cheap mattress – never confuse Crew Rest with Actual Sleep.

Of course I’m still Captain of a $250 million dollar plane, with 350 passengers behind me, flying to glamorous destinations (did I mention we stay in Long Beach?), surrounded by a dozen or so attractive 20 something women & men – it’s not Catch Me If You Can (did you love that movie or what? – I tried to convince my wife that’s how it’s supposed to be, but in hindsight had I succeeded I would have been in serious trouble), but occasionally it’s lots of fun.

I like to think I have the respect of most of my peers, and fortunately for me all of them have mine. I guess I’m well paid (my problem tends to be my outgo, rather than my income, the exigencies of working for a Low Cost Carrier notwithstanding – that’s another story). I should be happy with my lot.

Every now and then I depart from an airfield with a solid cloud top cover, and if I’m lucky I’m flying manually and well clear of the ground choosing to accelerate to 600 kph at just the right altitude to skim 50 feet above the tops of a sea of white cloud in a burgeoning glorious blue sky for a few minutes in my 350 ton flying machine. Then I remember how I got to be here. I’ve seen some amazing sights from the flight deck – and photographed a few of them.

The irregularity of working a “planned” roster and the bizarrely torturous nature of time zone afflicted shift work has taken almost all the fun out of flying. In truth, my choice of career all those years ago considered none the factors of family, lifestyle, compensation or constipation. I just wanted to fly.

But it could be worse, I could work for HR. In this company, they’re called the People Department (seriously) and as my boss says – if you don’t like people, you work in the People Department …

Deep Blue Orchestra

A couple of months ago, Meg and I went into GPAC to see Deep Blue Orchestra. We had the greatest time. Drinks in the foyer lead to the soft chiming announcement that heralded opening doors and we filed into the small intimate theatre. I had only been in that very theatre a few weeks before to see My Friend the Chocolate Cake (for the second time in as many weeks, but that’s another story). As I settled in my seat, two rows back I found I had an empty seat next to me and I placed down my camera bag, fairly confident I wouldn’t be getting it out. I selected silent on my phone and sat back to await the concert. That’s when everything changed.

First of all we were told to turn back on our phones, that photography – even flash photography – was encouraged. We could tweet and SMS and blog the concert, ideally during the concert and were provided with a hash tag. That included requests. The first thing I did was Google “Deep Blue Orchestra”

deepblue is the orchestra unleashed.

The performance is charged with emotion and engagement. It’s fun, dynamic, entertaining and rule breaking. There is no conductor, no music stands and no stuffy traditions. You don’t have to know when to clap and when to be quiet… you can just enjoy it.

deepblue is part band, part orchestra and part theatre. Whether you like traditional orchestral music or not, you must see deepblue for yourself. The performance is unforgettable and it will change your perception forever.

deepblue marries the traditional string section of the orchestra with a 5th section – digital and electronics. Cameras, big screens and dynamic lighting. It is a rich mix of classical, pop and film music delivered with magnificent sound light, images and stories.

deepblue has broken free from the constraints of a traditional orchestra, it is interactive and audience driven.

It has evolved through audiences wanting to experience the power of the music in a presentation and environment that they have grown to expect from other forms of entertainment. They want the orchestra to be fun again!

Not only is the performance a reinvention, so to is the business model that drives deep blue. Community engagement and audience development replace tradition marketing and advertising as our primary promotional tools. We deliver a range of initiatives to support this such as young blue, thedeepblue Business to Business strategy, the deepblue indoor picnics, a community sponsorship program, workshops and work experience opportunities.

If you’d like to find out more about any of these initiatives, please contact us .

deepblue we never forget who we are performing for.

The music was outstanding as was the showmanship. I took dozens of photos, the best of which can be found here. We really enjoyed the music – classical and contemporary – and watching someone play the cello while 8 foot up on stilts added a new dimension.

Some of my photos were outstanding (that’s the camera, not me) and so I contacted Deep Blue with some copies. They were interested in the originals for use on their web site and so we met up in Brisbane.

I’m really looking forward to their next visit to Geelong and will certainly be keeping an eye out when I’m in Sydney or Brisbane …

Will the REAL Ken Pascoe … stop stealing my mail.

Ken Pascoe is interfering with my life again. He stuffed me around no end 15 years ago and now, thanks to the limitations of technology, he’s doing it again.

Sorry, Who has my books?

I joined Emirates in 1996. It was about this time that Amazon was founded, which was just as well because a decent read was far and few in Dubai back in 1996. We would regularly order books from Amazon.Com and have them shipped to us in Dubai, via the company postal address. This is one part of the story …

Once settled in Dubai, I also looked into the Internet and decided we had to have it. I went down to the Etisalat office and registered for an account and a modem, to run on our existing phone line, at a rip-roaring 33.6kb. One of the first things they asked me was for a username. What’s a username? They explained it to me. Being the inventive, quirky person I was back then I asked for “pascoe” and found it was taken. This intrigued me, despite the lack of interest the man on the other side of the counter had in this conundrum I was now faced with. In any case, continuing my streak of originality I went with “pascoes” and for the better part of 10 years our e-mail address was pascoes@emirates.net.ae

I did email pascoe@emirates.net.ae – out of curiosity – but it bounced back.

That’s the end of that, I thought.

I was wrong.

Once we began ordering books over the web through Amazon, delivered to us in Dubai via DHL – this was when I first discovered the “other ” Pascoe.

You see it turns out there was another Ken Pascoe in Dubai; and he was the one with “pascoe” at Etisalat. Believe it or not he worked for DHL – in a senior management position – and left Dubai about the time I arrived. Of course we didn’t find this out straight away. No, over the next three years, at completely random intervals, book deliveries – roughly one in three – would go missing. In those days DHL was pretty much the only delivery agent in the area so we had no real choice. Books would go missing – despite signed delivery receipts (not signed by me obviously) – and we’d contact Amazon to find out what had happened. Eventually Amazon would send us a replacement book (something that has endeared Amazon to my wife and I to this day) and chances were good that the replacement book would get through the DHL Pascoe Barrier.

Because what was happening was that when one of these book deliveries would come in to DHL – addressed to “First Officer Ken Pascoe, Emirates Airlines Flight Operations Department, FC97, P.O. Box 92, Dubai, UAE” – and bright spark in DHL would immediately identify it as clearly belonging to the (ex) DHL Dubai Manager Ken Pascoe, who has now gone to run DHL in Belgium. And so my book would be sent off to follow him.

I believe Ken eventually moved from Belgium to Brunei for a few years (something about getting away from the esoteric reading list – everything from breastfeeding to particle physics – that kept rolling up on his doorstep at random intervals) and so some of my books went to him there, by way of Belgium (and Dubai) of course.

We were never really able to defeat this system. It wasn’t until Amazon.co.uk started up, and we began ordering books through them, sent to the crew Hotel in London, where I would collect them on trips – that we were able to reliably establish a book conduit. I am forever beholden to Amazon, for even as we finally managed to discover what was happening (if not actually correct the problem – despite the protestations of innocence of DHL Dubai) – Amazon would keep sending replacement books to me, long before Mr Ken Pascoe of DHL Belgium would send them back to Amazon.Com – labelled something helpful, like “Wrong Address.”

Sorry, Who has my eMail?

Anyway, now it’s happening again.

Some months ago, I received an e-mail sent to my personal address (ken.pascoe@gmail.com – yes, I’m still in my highly imaginative phase), with “Dear Ken” as the salutation – but clearly addressed to someone else. In fact, someone named “Ken Pascoe” who works for DFAT – the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australia). I was instantly intrigued (there’s that word again) but also alarmed, as history had taught me that accidental encounters with like named individuals had not helped me much in the past and wasn’t likely to do so in the future either.

In this case however it seemed benign. I did some research, found a contact for my public service doppelgänger and forwarded his mail to him – as well as advising the sender of the mixup. Mr. Ken Pascoe (ken.pascoe@dfat.gov.au) never acknowledged my mail but his correspondent did, and I was thanked for my trouble.

As it turns out, Ken Pascoe is the Consul General at the Australian High Commission in London. So if I’m ever stuck again with a large Starbucks coffee on the wrong side of an ray scanner at Manchester Airport again – I’ll know who to call. But that’s another story …

I now realise that since then I have been occasionally beleaguered by an odd phenomenon. You see I regularly send myself e-mails from my phone and other devices, reminding me of things or referring me to time, events and places on the web that I know I will want to look at properly when I’m not encumbered by a 4 inch screen and a chicken scratch keyboard, running at a snail’s pace through a tapering straw 3g internet connection. Once received I create reminders, calendar entries, contacts and readitlater items through these e-mails. It may take me days or even weeks to get far enough down the collection of crud in my inbox to deal with these, but I get to them eventually.

Well, some of these have gone missing.

Now because what I e-mail myself is typically a pretty low priority item, I wasn’t aware of this for a while. But I realised the scope of the problem this week when my wife rolled up at school for an appointment that I’d made for her while she was off galavanting around Europe for a month (I’ll pay for that remark later …) and updated it when the appointment was changed by e-mailing myself details of the amendment. The e-mail never came through; I forgot about it; and Meg wasted a couple of hours fronting to an appointment that didn’t exist – therefore an accounting had to be made.

So I chased it down.

It turns out that because of that one simple act of kindness – when I now type ken.pascoe@ into my Android smarthphone (both the current one and the previous one); my laptop, my desktop, Meg’s desktop, the three laptops of my kids, my server upstairs at home, several of the PC’s at work (etc, etc) – every now and then instead of @gmail.com completing – I get @dfat.gov.au

I looked through the sent mail in a few of these locations, and in retrospect it’s quite amusing what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been reviewing over the past months. There’s some fascinating reading, as well as some incredibly boring minutia to go with it. I hope it’s keeping them out of trouble.

At least now that I’m aware of the problem, I can keep my guard up. Of course what I really have to work out is how to get Mr. Pascoe-Dfat out of my address history across a number of devices and databases, other than formatting and re-installing the operating system and office software. There must be an answer somewhere on the internet …

Perses, thy name is Ken …

At some point over the last few years, I have apparently encountered Perses, the ancient Greek God of destruction and have inherited his curse. Actually this is an imperfect syllogism, because while some of the things I touch these days certainly do turn to crap – they’re all basically computers. Unfortunately the Greeks seemed not to have had a God of Destruction and Chaos of Computer Hardware. I may nominate myself …

It was not always this way. My first computer – somewhere back in the early 80’s – was a Commodore Pet. It had a tape drive, filled half my desk, and came with almost no software at all. As fascinated as I was by it – if I wanted it to do anything at all, I had to write the programs. Because of my fascination – I did. I pummelled away at this thing day after day, night after night. A family friend bought me a book and I learned how to program in BASIC. A few months later that became limiting, so I investigated the memory map of the Pet to expand my repertoire. That inevitable lead to programming in machine code. Eventually I pulled the machine apart, but not before I had moved on my second computer.

By this time I was working part time in a flying school where I commenced my second encounter with studied obsolescence, the Sharp Mz-80B. This graduated me to floppy disk drives (the 5¼ inch kind, not the 3½ inch size we eschew now). Still programming in BASIC I was now developing software for a business – transaction processing, accounting, aircraft maintenance tracking, student training records – a heady experience for a teenager of stand alone, single use software development, one that I was destined to repeat again and again over subsequent years.

The Commodore Pet was launched prior to the ubiquitous IBM PC, whereas the Mz-80B was launched as a reaction to it.  Like many machines of it’s ilk – including the various Apple machines – it was all but destroyed in the open source developmental stampede that was to become the IBM PC compatible series. After my initial dalliance in IT obscurity, I progressed through the x86 PC Compatible series during subsequent years – beginning with the original IBM PC itself through various clones (who had the money in those days for the real thing?) with 286, 386, 486-DX, Pentium I/II/III/4.

By the time I reached the Pentium 4 I was flying for Emirates, living in Dubai. My spare time was filled with building machines for myself and others, ranging from the basic word processing machine (not as much e-mail/browsing in those days) through to top of the line machines – a few for gaming, but mostly for those who had to have the best of the best so they could … e-mail and browse on it.

I dabbled with various cutting edge technologies (read: latest unreliable obscure fads) ranging from over clocked processors, RAM and video cards; fast /wide SCSI; power line networking; early AGP video cards; you name it. I turned my own machine around generally every six months, passing it on as I upgraded components and at times replaced the entire machine. I regularly read my way through Byte magazine, and later Boot magazine.

The point of this diatribe is – for a long time I knew what I was doing with hardware. In parallel I’ve also spent a lot of time developing software. Most of this development work has been tied to one database or another – whether it was the DOS based Advanced Revelation (which I still have very fond memories of), DBASE II/III/IV, all versions of Microsoft Access and a few others.

Does this sound like a Resume? You can tell I have a history of IT hardware by the conglomeration of esoteric cables in storage in my roof and by the fact that I remember what almost all of them do.

The End of the Beginning.

The beginnings of my hardware devolution were tied to the increasing time I spent with software. Most of this work was for Emirates, in one way or another. As I slipped behind the hardware technology that was driving the software I was developing, I would turn to my friend Steve. I remember one particularly frustrating afternoon where I spent literally 6 continuous hours tearing down, rebuilding, testing, and tearing down again a machine that would manifest a hardware fault about 80% of the time during a Windows 2000 install. I dropped the machine in to Steve, who returned it the next day, having removed an errant staple from the PCI slot. Unbelievable.

Sometime later, after several such incidents, Steve dropped in for a coffee and told my wife Meg that any time I was observed to be picking up a screw driver, or God forbid opening the case of a computer –  she was to call him. He would drop what he was doing, day or night and come over before any real damage could be done. He believe this was a more efficient use of his time than tidying up afterwards. That I would suggest was the death knell of  personal involvement with hardware. While I tended to restrict myself to upgrading my own machine, when the steam was rising from my ears and my blood pressure could be determined from direct visual observation of my carotid artery, Meg would call and Steve would come, at times saving both me and my machine from a glorious mutual destruction.

This Week.

This brings me to my current desktop. As a gamer of old, despite the fact that I work exclusively off laptops now, I still keep a desktop capable of running some decent games. There has been something of a lull over the past two years as my job with V Australia kept me more on the ground and a whole lot busier – my casual 2am gaming after returning from a trip abated, although I’ve occasionally found the time for some casual gaming with my kids now that each have their own laptops. Until recently we would regularly indulge in some Battlefield, some Call of Duty or the odd round of Left For Dead. We use to play a lot of WarBirds, but once Lewis started to out fly me (at 14 yo) , the fun just wasn’t there …

But now my desktop is dead. Although only lovingly constructed (at least I assume it was, because having spent weeks determining the specs I got friends in Singapore to put it together – Steve, I’ve learnt my lesson) three years ago,  the motherboard is now fried. Being a Shuttle PC this means the case, power supply and motherboard are all throwaways. Consequently I’m knocking around with a hard drive, some ram a processer and other odds and sods, but no gaming computer. I won’t be replacing it anytime soon – my financials don’t currently support the level of investment required to replicate gaming performance.

How did this happen? Damned if I know. Last week I turned it on as I usually do and this one last time got very little in return for that investment of kinetic energy. Just the continuous orange light of death on the front. Somewhere along the way the motherboard absorbed too many electrons for its own good, as evidenced by some warped capacitors along one edge.

Last Month

Six weeks ago I pressed the power button on my corporate laptop – a 6 month old HP Elitebook – to receive the same response. Since it was the company’s machine, I took it into IT support. Two weeks later – and one visit from the HP service rep – it was returned, with a newly replaced motherboard.

“Your motherboard was fried”, he said.

“How” I asked.

“Dunno – it just happens” he said.

“How often ?” I asked.

“Basically Never”, he said.

Enough said.

Last Year

When I left Dubai I realised I would be downsizing in my own personal IT, largely as a result of more than halving my salary for the privilege of working in my home country. Before I left I purchased a Linksys NAS200 – a single box with 2×1 terrabyte SATA hard drives in a mirror array, sitting on my network router. In short this box allowed me to store and access material from any computer on my home network, and through the internet if I’m away from home – with the secure nature of two mirror-image drives should I suffer a hardware failure.

As I’ve moved through life my natural eclectic nature has resulted in collecting a substantial amount of information from those various airlines and airline departments with typically lax security. As it’s grown I’ve become quite protective of this information, hence the mirrored RAID array, which means my data is stored on two physically separate drives. I’m covered, I thought. Who knows, I might want to start my own airline one day, although probably in Second Life, rather than the real world.

And then one day almost 8 months ago I turned it on … you can guess the rest. The box had failed – but the drives were ok, and because I’d been smart and mirrored them, I had two copies of everything. Of course that’s when I found out that the box in fact runs Linux, with a particularly old and obscure version of the Linux file system that Windows never supported (or any other Linux file system for that matter) and neither will UBANTU, KNOPPIX or any of the other of the Linux systems I (or anyone I can find in Geelong) have to hand. I still have hopes of one day recovering my data. No virtual airline for me anytime in the near future though.

Most of the last Two Years

When I left the Middle East I used some of the frequent spender points I had accumulated to purchase a HP Wireless Scanner/Printer. With so many computers in the house (at last count there are 7, plus 4 iTouchs and two mobiles with wifi) I figured being able to connect and print to it wirelessly would be a real boon. Had I ever got it to work, I’m sure it would have been. I’ve banged my head against that damn printer for 18 months. I could never get it to reliably print wirelessly from my desktop sitting next to it – let alone ever print from any other computer in the house. My original choice has been vindicated in the end though – when I upgraded all our machines to Windows 7 – each and every one is printing wirelessly to the printer, with no effort at all.

I could go on, but won’t. I could talk about taking a bottle of half frozen water up to the bedroom one night, sitting it beside my bed and waking in the morning to find that condensation had killed by 4 month old Nokia e71 mobile, but I won’t. I’m starting to yearn for a simpler life without technology – perhaps a Mac?

Do you have any technology horror stories? Significant portions of your life spent beating yourself against technology? I’d love to hear them.

– – – – – – – –

Follow Up.

– My laptop is still with me, although with a new motherboard. When the motherboard was replaced, the strip of metal along the top of the keyboard that contains the power button and controls for sound, wifi, presentation, brightness etc – was damaged. Every now and then I can’t turn it on, or I can’t turn it off. However by this point we’re in a committed relationship now, so we’re persisting.

– I eventually found a friend who knew something about Linux (which quite frankly is too hard to find given the supposed “rising popularity” of the series of loosely cobbled together homebrew projects that is the Linux eco-system) who recovered all my data. The drives I re-used, the Linux Box is now a door stop in my son’s bedroom.

– I never successfully printed/scanned with the L7780 – until Windows 7 came along. After that, it was easy. Quick Vote : how many people believe that Windows 7 more than made up for Windows Vista; how many believe nothing could make up for Windows Vista?

I’m so glad that YOU were up the front, Ken.

Recently, after commenting on the latest of Qantas’ engine troubles, I was asked to talk about what was an “interesting” in-flight moment for me. Despite this being one of the most common questions, I realised that I’ve never blogged about “interesting” flight moments – which of course immediately motivated me to do so.

Funnily enough, when I read this question on Facebook, the first memory that stirred was not an in flight event, but a ground event. It is a little understood fact in Aviation that while the highly unusual airborne events typically stir the greatest proportion of adrenaline in your system; it’s getting the plane airborne that is regularly the most difficult aspect of your job. Sometimes you’d swear that the airline and it’s surrounding service companies specifically hire people and orchestrate the elements just to stop you from pushing back … I guess from a Safety point of view, getting airborne only increases the risk …

Emirates A300-600R

This particular sequence of events took place in an Airbus A300-600R, parked on the ground in Singapore, circa 1996. We were scheduled to take the aircraft to Dubai, with a midnight departure. I was the under-training First Officer, having recently joined the airline. The Captain was a wonderfully amiable and amenable Algerian, Captain Najeeb, who spoke with a lilting French accent guaranteed to make my wife swoon. Najeeb was a true gentlemen, an excellent trainer and impeccably polite at all times. Physically smaller and far more self-effacing than his student (I am almost 2 meters tall, over 100Kg and at times too boisterous for my own good). Najeeb exuded a quite confidence and a command presence.

As a pilot under training, new to the Company, the operation, the aircraft, the airport – you’re aware that you’re clearly in many ways a burden to the operation, and in particular the Training Captain assigned to you. During normal operations you do your best to contribute to the operation, performing the tasks you’re been trained for, looking to see how you can forward the progress of a departure. When things go wrong – real world things, rather than the emergencies you train in the simulator for – you can become something of an impediment to resolution, but you do your best and your Trainers are patient.

Mostly …

A300/310 FMC CDU

We arrived at the aircraft to find that the Control Display Unit (CDU) of the Flight Management Computer (FMC) had failed on the Captain’s side of the aircraft. The A300 had two of these (we got one each) but only one is normally required for dispatch. However this particular flight was to depart under the far stricter rules of ETOPS (Extended Twin engine OPerationS) which basically meant that at various times during the flight we would be up to 3 hours from the nearest airport in a two engine aircraft. Maintenance requirements are higher in this case and so by those rules we required both of the CDU’s serviceable.

At this point we were approximately an hour from departure. The first decision to be made was whether to board the passengers or not. Leave them comfortably (for the crew at least) in the departure lounge and you take a delay when finally rounding them up and getting them on board; Bring them on and they could end up sitting there for a while until you resolve your problem, or worse, have to offload them again.

A replacement CDU was sought firstly from Singapore Airlines, our maintenance contractor and an operator of the same aircraft type. As such we borrowed parts from them regularly, this goes on all the time between the airlines, albeit at exorbitant rates of exchange. Based on the availability of a spare CDU, we boarded the passengers, anticipating only a minimal delay.

We were well down the road of the pre-departure dance when the replacement unit arrived at the aircraft. As it turned out, it was not suitable for our aircraft. After some discussion it was decided that we would now need to go with only one serviceable CDU, and therefore dispatch under non-ETOPS rules; we would re-plan the flight to remain near enroute airports. New route, new flight plan, new fuel load, new loadsheet – things were complicating up just nicely.

I might add at this point that at least three trips were required back to our office for discussions with management (no mobiles back then) and also for flight planning purposes. Since pilots coming back through immigration/customs (in the wrong direction) is a little unusual we were subjected to a higher level of scrutiny. Or at least I was. At least the first time back through, anyway. After that it was a wave and a smile. Except …

Najeeb on the other hand … had an Algerian passport. Therefore he had a ten minute grilling, several phone calls and two forms to complete each time through. On the last go through – he just sent me!

Captain Najeeb insisted that the CDU be swapped from the right (my side) to the left (his). Given that I was the one who would normally do all the FMC-CDU work, I was only mildly miffed by this, figuring that I supposed it made more sense for the Captain to have the CDU rather than the First Officer since the Captain was clearly more important, if not taller, than the First Officer. After instructing the change, Najeeb turned to me in his typically self deprecative way and told me that in the event of a major electrical power failure, only the left CDU would remain powered, thus it was important that this side should be the functional one. Another piece of aviation lore to store in the back of my mind for the future.

The route Singapore - Dubai. Light blue areas are near airports ...

The impact of dispatching under Non-ETOPS rules meant we had to remain within 60 minutes flight time of an available airport. As you can see from the attached map this severely affected the first half of our journey. Instead of efficiently heading across the Bay of Bengal we would have to hug the coastline in order to keep within range of adequate airports. This would require a notable increase in fuel required.

Fortunately despite a good load of passengers and freight, we had spare load and capacity for the additional fuel requirement. Off the top of our heads we would at least need a new flight plan and a new load sheet – the latter being the result of a computer driven process to make sure the aircraft is not only within legal weight constraints but also in balance without to much weight at the front or rear of the aircraft. Since the new flight plan would determine how much additional fuel was required, we got that request in early, then moved to inform the crew and passengers of the likely delay. Our Singapore engineers moved in to shift the CDU from right to left, requiring us to exit our seats and retire to the cabin.

During this time – while divorced from our comfortably familiar Flight Deck environs to the alien territory of the Cabin, the new flight plan arrived. The increase in fuel load was significant and meant that instead of just the wing tanks – the rear stabilizer tank would also require fuel. This meant a significant change to the load distribution of the aircraft because 5 tons of fuel would now need to be placed right at the back of the aircraft, which would be used later in the flight before landing. I blame our separation from the flight deck at this critical time for what came next …

We ordered the additional fuel from the refueller and advise Load Control of the new fuel load. We were eventually permitted back into our Sanctum Sanctorum and proceeded with updating the aircraft’s computers for the new flight plan. Since only the Left CDU was functional, I sat in the Captain’s seat to do so, enjoying the clearly superior view of the flight deck and the surrounding environs as I did so. One day …

A short time later I was back in my seat, Pancho to Najeeb’s Cisco Kid once again. As I recall we were enjoying coffee and conversation when we heard a crescendo of footsteps from the aerobridge and L1 door, followed by the crashing of the opening flight deck door. In came a local Singaporean gentlemen, talking to Captain Najeeb in highly animated Chinglish, gesticulating wildly. I sat in quiet amusement as these two gentlemen proceeded to completely fail to achive détente, restricted as they were with accented English as a second language on one side and practically no English on the other, and eventually Najeeb headed out the door on the arm of the excited refueller. I continued my coffee in quiet contemplation of the evening’s events, just the beginning of a long night’s flight to Dubai.

This Can and Does happen. You're reading how ...

My deliberations were disturbed only five minutes later when I heard Najeeb speaking to the Purser, followed by a PA to the passengers asking them to exit the aircraft leaving all their goods and chattels behind. Najeeb entered the flight deck and stood looking at me. He was very white and clearly flustered, in stark contrast to his regular calm. He told me that the aircraft was extremely nose high and had in fact come off the ground – only it’s attachment to the aircraft tug had prevented us sitting on our tail. In all his years he had never seen so much of the nose landing gear extension strut. Then he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said “Please not to take this the wrong way – I’m so glad that YOU were up the FRONT, Ken.

Even when brand new to the airline, a burden to your trainer as you struggle to keep up with the operation, YOU can make a significant contribution to flight safety!

As it turned out, when the new load sheet had come to the cargo loading staff, they realised that they would have to completely re-distribute the cargo load. As the aircraft was refuelled with the stabiliser at the rear of the aircraft, progressively filling with more and more fuel, the load supervisor (a very loose term) realised that all the heavy cargo in the rear of the aircraft would have to be moved to the forward hold, and all the bulky cargo previously loaded in the forward, would have to be moved aft.

The first step in this process?

Well, clearly to remove all the freight (heavy and otherwise) from the forward hold to make room. And the rest almost became history.

Fatigue – A Societal Issue; not just Aviation

Radio National’s excellent Background Briefing program had a story recently called Fatigue Factor. Although it commences on an aviation related theme – quoting particularly the now infamous Jetstar memo to pilots telling “toughen up princesses – you’re not fatigued; just tired” – the program rolls on through a number industries (Trains/Trucks) – and non-industries such as working or just driving your car fatigued/tired.

Funnily enough they didn’t go into my favorite 12-hour-on 12-hour-off industry – Medicine. The incredibly long duties undertaken in the medical industry as a matter of routine and the associated number of fatigue related incidents – for which there are some good statistics to quantify – has always astounded me, only exacerbated by the fact that they’re considered so routine, so normal, so acceptable. I recently spent some hours in an ICU and the level of care provided on a continuous basis to critical patients, who really do require minute by minute observation of symptoms and appropriate response only amazed me more when I realised that these carers were working 12 hour shifts. It looked to me like flying a non-precision approach in crappy weather to a poorly lit runway at night in gusty crosswinds – for hours on end.

The program makes some interesting points about our society at large and the role it has played in seducing all of us into accepting as standard the kind of workload levels that once would have been considered exceptional. The point is well made that as a working society we spent the 1990’s trading a century of hard won work limits against increased productivity – essentially increased working hours for increased pay. While there were short term gains there, perhaps in the long run this truly was a false economy – and only now are we reaping what was sowed.

After almost 40 years in aviation my father made the observation a while ago that the the only real pay rise in aviation is when you get to work less hard for the money you’re already getting. However insightful that comment may have been – there is no working less hard for anything in de-regulated aviation, anymore.

With Airlines pushing past the previous gold standard 900 hours a year limit and pushing flights further and further past the 10/12/14/16 hour mark through the use of augmented crew, combining east/west long haul flights with relatively care free abandon – the issue of fatigue is just not going to go away.

In decades gone past the flight and duty time limits published by regulatory authorities were considered just that – limitations. Singe de-regulation and the increased competition that comes with it such limits have instead become goal posts to both aim for and shift, and the difference between the absolute limit on monthly duty and flight hours and what a pilot is actually rostered to is considered a measure of inefficiency.

It was amusing to hear representatives of the trucking industry claiming that they needed reform to be more like Aviation where “you just wouldn’t get a pilot getting on an aircraft tired”; followed immediately by a similar representative of a Pilot union claiming just the same reform was needed in aviation so we could be more like the trucking industry.

Meanwhile the limits themselves are being worn at by the many airlines and re-drawn by the regulatory authorities. 900 hours a year has become 1000 hours for many airlines and flights getting longer and longer with less qualified (lower paid) crew. In most cases the enabler of this is the Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) – an “industry” driven concept that seeks to address the nebulous nature of fatigue determination with some real science and incorporate this into pilot and (at some point) cabin crew rostering practices. While there’s some thought and procedure and even a smattering of real science that goes into an FRMS; ostensibly the validation of such a system is in it’s response to feedback from the users of the system – the crew – on the fatiguing result of the duties and combination of duties being allowed by the FRMS. If you have no feedback – you have no fatigue, which can be a problem an industry with historically low levels of industrial protection. Conversely if you have feedback and no response – it’s not an FRMS, it’s just another goal post shifting exercise to achieve maximum productivity and reduce cost.

In my previous airline I was routinely operating up to 17 hours with four pilots. That was fatiguing enough, but I could always be confident of having a decent opportunity to rest prior to the most critical time of the flight – approach and landing. Now while I’m operating shorter sectors (12-15 hours) I’m doing so with a crew complement that places real restrictions on the amount of meaningful rest that can be achieved by the operating crew when it’s important – just prior to that approach and landing.

Any of those non-aviation sector readers who wonder about pilot inflight rest can read here for a slightly jaundiced, but informed viewpoint. Any understanding of Jet Lag is incomplete however without an appreciation of carrying from one duty to the next – explained here.

Fifteen years ago I was operating 14+ hours flights based in Hong Kong to London and Los Angeles. The inherently fatiguing nature of these flights was an axiomatic assumption test colloquially; not by science. I was rostered with 24 hours off between one of these flights any anything else; 3 days between any two of them; 5 days off between any two that came on from one direction and departed in the same direction (East to West and vice versa). Now the rest can be as little as 12-14 hours between one of these duties and another; between coming in from the US and heading out to the Middle East is irregularly 2 days off for pilots; and regularly 2 days off for cabin crew, who are worked significantly more than the pilots they fly with.

It seems like this issue is coming to a head. Between Air Traffic Controllers in the US sleeping through aircraft arrivals at Airport Control Towers in the middle of the night and the Senate inquiry focusing on fatigue in Jetstar, it would seem perhaps a review of this area – from a regulatory point of view – might be on the cards, across all industries and Society at large. If such a review results in the restriction of duty limits it will certainly require some mental agility for those in power and authority (different groups) who are so used to looking at ways of relaxing them.

Fatigue Factor is an interesting commentary on society at large – not just aviation – and the direction we seem to be heading in our working lives. We really do seem to have reversed “Work to Live” into “Live to Work” and the end doesn’t seem to be in sight.

Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers, a book by Malcolm Gladwell

I’ve just finished reading Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a book report (to a very patient but acerbic High School teacher) but that fact, combined with my need to go back through this excellent read and summarise for my own benefit, has pushed the task onto me.

Outliers begins with seven pages looking at the unusual health of the small country hamlet, Roseto Pennsylvania, the residents of which are mostly settled immigrants and their descendants from the same small country town in Italy. The townsfolk were discovered to have significantly lower incidences of a spectrum of health issues and social problems ranging from heart disease, ulcers, suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction and even crime in general than those found in other towns in the US – even small towns not far away, also settled by Italian immigrants. Gladwell refers to this unusual occurrence as an Outlier – an observation that is numerically distance from the rest of the data. The cause of Roseto was eventually discovered by a physician name Stewart Wolf, but only after a significant investigation that included historical research, interviews, various medical tests, diet and lifestyle analysis, geographical influences, even religion.

Sorry but you’re going to have to read the book, besides – revealing the secret of Roseto is not the intent of Outliers – the investigatory process is. In Outliers Malcolm Gladwell examines the concept that there are members of our society – individuals, groups, nationalities both regional and cultural – that lie outside the statistical ‘norm’, and seeks to identify the true reason for the success (or lack of) these individuals and groups.

Along the way you’ll read about the fundamental differences between East and West in work attitudes and the implications this has for our concept of educating our children. Aviation receives some special attention with a couple of accident investigations reviewed, including some expert commentary from an old friend of mine, Suren Ratwatte (how cool is that? Aviation is such a small world). You’ll read about the steps Korean Airlines undertook to correct some cultural issues as they related to the flight deck at the turn of the century; about similar issues in a South American airline accident into JFK. The issues of authority gradient and uncertainty avoidance are explored and evaluated.

Having initially established (I would say hinted at considering the development it undergoes as the book progresses) his theme with Roseto, Malcolm Gladwell has this fabulous ability to progressively develop his case in a logical manner – and then you turn a page and embark on a journey of ten pages of fascinating but seemingly unrelated text. You get to the end, and without appearing to make any effort at all, the relevance of what you’ve just been reading smacks you in the eyes and the book continues on.

Outliers is a book of very readable book of facts, stories and hypotheses. The following points are not summaries of what you’ll read in Outliers, but perhaps give you an idea of the range of what you’ll encounter as you work your way through this fascinating book.

– Asian children typically have a “talent” for mathematics that (initially at least) exceeds that of their Western counterparts. One explanation for this can be traced to the Chinese language itself, who’s simplicity requires less syllables for numeric expression and lends itself far more readily to the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication division than does the more complicated English expression of numerals. Mathematic strength early in the school curriculum leads to additional attention in successive years …

– A common thread that unites hockey players in the top league teams is Canada is their date of birth. Because of the annual cutoff date nature of player selection, a 12 month spread is achieved each year. Those older kids bring more experience and skills to their positions and therefore become the focus of better training and faster progression. Eventually this date based anomaly of recruitment becomes a self fulfilling prophesy – leaving behind players of equal or greater talent who have the miss-fortune of being born during the wrong part of the year.

– Some of the wealthiest individuals in both present and past owe their success as much to the timing of their birth and/or opportunistic window periods in history as their innate skills or talents developed along the way …

– The role of very, very hard work and practice – the “Ten Thousand Hour Rule” cannot be overstated in may of the success stories around us. This is detailed in a discussion of  Bill Gates, The Beatles, Classical Musicians and more.

– The merits of two opposing methods of raising children – “concerted cultivation” vs “accomplish of natural growth”, which are essentially identified along class lines – and the impact that is likely to have on Outliers.

All of these and more make Outliers a fascinating read that will spur you off into many interesting areas. Like all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books Outliers is an eclectic collection of connected stories that will keep your interest, and keep you thinking.

Performance Limited Takeoff

Managing a departure with a performance limited takeoff weight can be one of the more challenging tasks that face an Airline Captain today. It all sounds simple enough in theory. Based on the Airport/Runway, Ambient Weather Conditions and Aircraft, a computer will spit out – down to the kilogram – how much weight you’re allowed to lift off the runway. From this number a passenger/cargo and fuel load is determined – and off you go. But all is not as it seems.

   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –

Having been caught in the past, on the back of my clipboard is a little cheat sheet for the airfields we operate to, which gives me either

– the maximum weight I can expect to lift off an airport/runway in standard conditions (generally shorter runways); or
– the temperature above which I can expect to have to reduce below maximum certified takeoff weight (351,534 Kg in the 777-300ER).

This is certainly not an operational document – indeed it’s always out of date because I only update it infrequently – but it gives me an approximate idea long before I get to the plane as to what sort of limits I might encounter on the departure. A heads up, so to speak. And with temperatures in Abu Dhabi (OMAA) reaching into the 40’s – you can see where the problems begin.

Interestingly, in my previous airline, I rarely encountered performance limited takeoff’s – which could be considered a regular event at our home airfield of Dubai. The most common place for me personally was actually Melbourne (YMML/MEL) when a heavy departure combined with a light breeze from the north would leave you with  the poor man’s choice of a departure to the north into the wind over the climbing terrain – or a departure to the south over nice flat suburbs leading to the bay – with a tailwind.

Combine temperatures above 30 degrees with 10 knots from the north and with the fickleness of the wind, the optimum solution would flick back and forth between the two opposite runways. When the wind from the north was feeble enough (typically less than 10 knots) to embolden you for a tailwind departure to the south, often you’d sit at the holding point for 45 minutes waiting for a space in the traffic pattern before you could go – all but negating the advantage of the southerly departure. But I digress.

Briefing

Our little saga begins in Abu Dhabi (OMAA/AUH) on our fourth and last day in the UAE, at 9am. We have arrived early at Etihad briefing where we were usually provided with the flight plan and other documentation on arrival. We were a little early but even so the flight plan was already 30 minutes late with no indication as to when it would arrive. Several fruitless phone calls later I implemented the Paul McCartney solution to airline problem solving – I just Let It Be.

The plan eventually arrived and we noted that we were (unsurprisingly) performance limited for Takeoff. Instead of our certified 351.535 Tons – today’s takeoff was planned at 342.036 Tons, which included 122.5 tons of fuel – the minimum required to get the aircraft safety from Abu Dhabi back to Sydney.

Operations had thoughtfully provided the basis of their calculation:

Runway 13L; Temp 40; Wind Calm

I looked into my Android phone and found the current temp at OMAA airport was 36 degrees, and a ten knot headwind was blowing down the active runway. A departure 90 minutes from now at 40 degrees seemed conservative enough – we reviewed the documentation, briefed the crew and headed for the aircraft.

Apart from our departure threat – there were two jet streams to contend with – one a headwind that we were to cross just after entering the Sea of Oman; the second we would follow like a ski run across the Southern Indian Ocean and right across Australia. This 160 knot (300 kph) tailwind was responsible for our shorter flight time (12:30 hours) but could well bring some moderate or worse turbulence. Finally Sydney was forecasting passing showers with a cloud base as low as 800 ft. Nothing un-toward but since our dispatch was to be with minimum fuel, I was already considering way to increase our fuel load – nothing gives you more options like additional fuel.

At the Aircraft

V’s first flight to AUH was full of celebration and hoopla. Ours, not quite so much …

We arrived at the aircraft at about 60 minutes before departure. Traditionally I offer the Flight Management Computer setup to one of the Relief First Officers, but I realised time was going to be tight (how little I knew at that point) and we stuck to standard SOPs.

Gareth and I did our setup, Ben headed out into the sauna for the aircraft walk around, and Tian completed safety and security checks for us, as well as kick starting the laptops, pulling out the charts, preparing the flight docs and the dozen or so other jobs that our unsung relief crew perform on every flight to assist the primary crew in getting the plane moving.

Fairly soon after arriving on the flight deck, we were approached by the Dispatcher Misha – who wanted an increase in takeoff weight.

The weight dictated by Ops required her to offload an entire pallet of approximately 4 tons for a 900 kg overload. There’s generally no time to split pallets this close to departure so unless you can get the whole thing on, the whole thing has to come off. I told her it might be possible, but we’d not be able to confirm for 15 minutes or so.

With the takeoff on our minds and Misha’s request in our ears, we reviewed the latest ATIS and asked for current temp/wind from the Control Tower. Often the ATIS can be a little old and the Tower often has useful gen on the history and future of winds and temps – they see the same thing day after day after all, particularly somewhere highly predictable like Abu Dhabi. In this case – both of the latter two suppositions were incorrect. The ATIS was accurate and the Tower not particularly helpful.

The temperature was now 37 degrees and the wind 10 knots down the runway. We were approaching 40 minutes to departure and passenger boarding well underway. Gareth and I pooled our 20 years of Middle East experience and decided to plan on a temperature of 40 degrees and 5 knots of headwind, which felt conservative enough. This gave us an additional 3 tons to play with. Pushback time was 10:55 local and despite a long taxi to the far runway (closest runway closed) – we were confident it would be ok. We gave Misha her additional ton and ourselves an extra ton of fuel, leaving us a margin of a final ton under our hopefully conservative takeoff performance calculations. We then continued on with our preparations.

Final Zero Fuel Weight

As all airline pilots know – this is make or break it time. Load control (in our case, Misha the dispatcher) provide you with the final weight of the aircraft and based on this you determine your fuel load. Misha had increased the aircraft weight by 1.1 tons (cheeky) to which we added our extra ton of fuel – plus the 500 kg’s of fuel required to carry Misha’s extra ton. We checked the ATIS weather again – still 37 degrees and 1o knots of headwind – and Gareth and I separately calculated Zero Fuel Weight, Takeoff Weight, Landing Weight and Fuel At Destination – and then compared them to each other and the structural/performance limitations to ensure calculation accuracy and practical legality. Then we gave the relevant figures to Misha, advised the refueller of our final fuel requirement, and rolled on into the straight run towards pushback and departure. Pretty quickly the refueller completed our final fuel and disconnected the refuelling truck. We were almost ready to go.

This is when things started to wrong.

Typically up to this point you have refuelled to 3 tons below the fuel you’re expecting to need. That way if the final weight comes in under what’s expected – there’s often a variance like this – you can reduce your final fuel order and not carry extra fuel un-necessarily. Changes in weight have a significant impact on long haul flights – for our flight a decreased of the aircraft weight of 1000Kg reduces the requireed fuel by 450Kg. Given the price of fuel and the economics of operating an airline today – not carrying extraneous fuel is a significant impact on the economics of the operation when taken across all the flights operated by the airline.

Wind and Temperature

Over the next thirty minutes we watched as the wind dropped off to 5 knots with a variable direction such that we could not count on any head wind at all. The temperature meanwhile climbed from 37 degrees to 38, 39, 40 – and 41. In these conditions, every degree of temperature rise reduces the performance limited takeoff weight by anything from 1500-3000Kg. Each knot of wind loss reduces takeoff performance by approximately a 200 kg change. Ask me how I know this.

By the time the cargo and passengers were fully loaded, the paperwork ready to go and all but the last passenger and cargo door closed – we were now 8 tons overweight for takeoff. We reviewed our calculations, looked at alternate runways, did some what-if’s with the wind. We were already planning to run the air-conditioning off the auxiliary power unit (APU) to maximise thrust from the engines – there was literally nothing further we could do.

I found Misha and discussed the situation with her. We decided to commence offload of our freight. There were issues here – some of the freight was high priority, there were going to be balance problems. We had about 10 staff on board the aircraft who could also be offloaded. Thus the offload would be in three stages – Freight, High Priority Freight, Staff & Staff Bags (the last two not necessarily in that order).

While this kept Misha busy – Gareth, Ben, Tian and I now had to determine what conditions we were going to use for departure – and therefore what limiting weight was going to be imposed on the cargo load. As we struggled with our crystal ball each time we picked a scenario that seemed conservative, we were looking at offload a portion of our revenue passenger’s bags – and perhaps some of the passengers – to deal with the situation.

At one point Gareth looks at me and says “I’ll ask the tower what the maximum temperature will be today.” Right.

Despite the dizzying force of my subsequent withering gaze of disdain, eternal optimist that he is he jumped on the radio and asked Ground Control what the maximum temperature was going to be. “Forty Two Degrees, Insha’Allah, Captain.“, was the answer. It’s 41 outside at this point, and about 12pm local time.

Gareth looked at me encouragingly – 42 we can cope with.

I passed my hand across the flight deck through space and time and intoned the words “It will not go above 42 degrees.” After a lack of reaction from Gareth, I followed up with “The force gives power over weak minds, Luke.” Gareth’s turn for a withering gaze.

Let me finish off this little bit with a picture of OMAA Airport Temperatures for the day in question. That tall bar in the middle – that’s when we took off.

Too Much Fuel

I must point out here that our problem was not just the weight of the freight and passengers – but also the fuel. We had calculated a required fuel load based on Zero Fuel Weight ZFW (aircraft + load) of 219.6 Tons. We were now busy offloading cargo to achieve a ZFW of 209.1. Thus the fuel we required could similarly be dropped by about 6 tons – except that it was already on board the aircraft. If we got to the point where we’d offloaded the cargo and the anticipated conditions were such that we still could not take off – we would have to consider de-fuelling.

While the word “defuelling” seems a simple alteration of the more familiar “refuelling” the actual process is far from similar. Depending on AirlineSOPs, local conditions and the availability of equipment, de-fuelling can have the following characteristics:

– All passengers disembarked prior to de-fuelling commencement until completion;
– Separate truck specifically reserved for defuelling purposes (if available);
– Typically the truck does not have the facility to pump fuel off – the aircraft needs to do the pumping and generally manages about 125 kg / minute.
– The fuel cannot usually be used by another airline and must be kept for your airline the next time you refuel.
– Local variations apply.

To say the re-fueller/engineer was disenchanted with the concept of de-fuelling our aircraft was an understatement. He seemed a fairly taciturn individual right up to that point where I asked him about de-fuelling. From that point on he just kept smiling at me.

There are two ways to defuel. The first is into a truck. The second is to start the engines, taxi out and stop somewhere, burning fuel until you’re down to the required weight. During a taxi the engines burn fuel at about 2 tons per hour. If necessary you can increase thrust a little while holding the brakes and perhaps double that flow rate. Neither of these are great options – best choice is not to let yourself get trapped into the situation in the first place …

The Passengers

We hadn’t forgotten our passengers through all this. During the delay I made two Passenger Address’s explaining situation and updating as we went along; the crew and the entertainment system kept the passengers busy and satisfied as best could be achieved; at one point as we waited with nothing to do I walked through the cabin talking to passengers answering questions. There were issues with connections and certainly some disgruntled passengers but all told our Cabin Crew worked really hard on service recovery. I stood near the door after the end of the flight and for the most part got smiles from our glad to be in Sydney passengers.

The Staff Travel Passengers

In a situation like this, the aircraft loadsheet marks some the passengers as PAD – Passengers Available for Disembarkation. Essentially this is the staff of the airline, their families and friends who can be offloaded in order to preserve the dispatch of the flight, the existence of revenue passengers onboard, and various other reasons. Misha calculated out staff pax at 700kg on our flight including their bags. I knew that a decision time was coming and we discussed a possible offload of them. This would require finding those passengers – and their baggage strewn throughout the loading pallets in the hold. I decided that the time it would take to accomplish this was no more that the time it would take to burn off the equivalent fuel, and kept the staff on board. I was fully cognizant that I might come to regret that decision …

As an aside, I also considered offloading some water. The aircraft carries about 1.5 tons of potable water. Typically on a long full flight there’s almost a ton left. I’ve used this technique in the past to carry an additional passenger or two when we’ve had empty seats but we’ve been performance limited. Again in this case – it seemed more practical and less risk to burn the fuel on taxi. I may never be allowed to vote Green again.

Decision Time

As the cargo had come off – including some re-arranging of passenger baggage from the Aft to Forward hold for balance purposes – the temperature was increasing still. The wind was still reported as 5 knots variable, but also “Becoming” a 6 knot wind from the other direction. The sea breeze was kicking in, resulting in a Northerly that would force a change of runway (which didn’t help performance) but a potential increase in headwind component. We were now 90 minutes passed our scheduled departure time – it was 12:30 and we were still not at the peak heat of the day. Misha had confused us several times with a varying range of Zero Fuel Weights depending on what was offloaded and what was kept. I couldn’t blame her – we had flight plans and takeoff calculations flying around the flight deck like no man’s business.

Misha confirmed that at ZFW 209.1 we had all pax (staff and revenue) and their bags on board. No freight – including the high priority freight. Based on the amount of fuel still on board we were now – and depending on which set of imaginary numbers representing the temperature and wind we’d see at the runway – at least 1500 kg overweight still.

I decided we’d push back and taxi out. If the wind had not picked up producing a headwind, we would wait somewhere and burn off the ton of fuel. If the temperature increased, we would need to burn more.

Push Back

Of course nothing is that simple. Now that we were no longer a flight in quandry, but a flight trying to push back – the real world intrudes on our flight once again. There was a now disparity in the passenger numbers to sort out, paperwork to finish, a loadsheet to chase from Ops, a NOTOC to revise (no hazardous cargo onboard anymore), passengers to update (who for some reason would not take their seats) – and after two hours of a quiet, Abu Dhabi airport decides this was the time to ramp up activity. We sat on stand, fully ready to go for an additional 15 minutes waiting for push back.

Because of a runway closure – it was a long taxi out to our departure runway. As we finally pushed back and started engines, I could hear Ben behind me checking the ATIS airport weather. I snuck a glance back – Not good. No wind and the temperature was now 43 degrees. If it went to 44 without a wind shift we’d be parked by the runway for at least an hour, burning through fuel.

Another consideration was the APU to Pack takeoff. The procedure was designed to be enacted prior to pushback and once engines were started, one airconditioning pack would shut down and the other would run off the APU until after takeoff. Single Pack combined with our long taxi would result in a very warm cabin. Thus we would have to disable the APU to pack for a while and the re-engage it approaching the runway, re-entering our takeoff performance calculations as as we did so. Less than ideal.

But not such an obstacle really, since we were taxi-ing out with no clear idea of which runway we would depart from, what the temperature and wind would be, and how long it would be before we could go. Everything would need to be done at the holding point in the end. Hopes and dreams were all we had really.

Saved by the Wind

Approaching the intersection at which we would have to choose a runway – we contacted Tower for an update on winds and temps.

“Temperature? 43 Degrees Captain. Wind? 300/6, Runway 31R in use.”

The wind had now swung to favour the other runway. We’d checked figures for RW31R but it hadn’t helped quite enough. However the combination of runway and headwind was helping. We turned right and continued along the inner taxiway – leaving the outer for aircraft that actually could takeoff.

Once halted clear of the runway, we made the necessary aircraft and flight management computer changes for the new runway, updated the departure briefing, and asked again about the wind.

“Wind is 310/8 Captain. Temperature 43 degrees.”

Success – we calculated the figures and our limiting takeoff weight exactly matched our current aircraft weight. We expedited onto the runway and took off for Sydney.

Postscript

With all the additional fuel on board, we contact Ops and gained approval to increase speed and burn some of it – we had literally dozens and dozens of passengers with connections to all over Australia. We kept an eye on the weather in Sydney (which was a waste of time because it only degenerated to Rain Showers and a 600 ft cloud base once we’d commenced descent) and tore through time and space at Mach .855 most of the way (I’ve done Mach 86-88 on the 7773ER – but that requires a LOT of fuel, which even we didn’t have).

Having shaved perhaps 40 minutes off the flight time, we then held for 35 minutes on the descent (round and round and round) and flew at minimum speed for the rest of the way to the runway.

Lessons Learnt

Gareth and I discussed this at length, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I’m still hesitant to accept at ETD-00:30 or even ETD-00:60 that it’s reasonable/practical to plan on a 5 or more degree temperature rise over the next 30/60 minutes. Each degree of temperature you’re conservative on (read wrong about) means 1 or 2 tons of revenue cargo not carried. By the nature of the situation, you have to be conservative – else you end up in the situation we found ourselves.

Certainly the next time (Monday 22nd August – anyone want to change their travel plans now?) I’ll be far more reticent to accept a load anywhere near what we calculate to be the current or likely limit at takeoff. However, temporary gun-shyness does not an operational plan make. I know the situation is being reviewed by Flight Ops and I expect some kind of recommendation will be made shortly.

In summary:

  1. It gets hot in Abu Dhabi in the Summer.
  2. Between the hours of 11:00-13:00 you have to plan on a continually increasing temperature, perhaps even precipitously so.
  3. Don’t count on the wind in these conditions.
  4. Be proactive about cargo offload.
  5. De-Fuelling is not an option to keep in your back pocket – it’s an absolute last resort that may not even be there when you go to use it. If you think you’re likely to need it – get it arranged early.
  6. Sometimes you have to decide, sometimes you have to decide early, and operational efficiency and the profit margin need to take a second place to the requirement to get the job done.

Looking forward to the comments on this one.

How do YOU keep it up?

Aviation demands a peculiar form of professionalism, different from many other occupations. As pilots we’re tested regularly – at least four times a year, often more, or perhaps every time you go to work in some positions/airlines. There aren’t many other career choices where you can look forward to a life of jeopardy, continually tested in small and large ways. Periods of career progression itself (called Upgrades) in Aviation are particularly a time of significant stress – it’s just not something you enjoy. The stories I could personally tell …

So one would think the motivation to keep on top of things is high. From the point of view of living in fear I guess it is.

But the odd thing is that the vast majority of aviation lore and knowledge that a pilot may well need to access in flight; … scratch that.

The vast majority of knowledge that a Check/Training Captain (or just grumpy demanding line Captain) may demand in the aircraft or simulator, often just on a whim of an observation is simply not required in your day to day job in aviation. Some of it is. Some of it is, only from the viewpoint of the Captain in charge that day. Most usually isn’t.

This means the activity you undertake at work doesn’t prepare you adequately for many aspects of your profession.

Therefore you need a continual cycle of study on areas with which you can find it exceedingly difficult to find relevance, let alone interest.

Think about that for a minute.

Most pilots do no go into their careers blindly. They’re aware of the long term issues, that their career could well hang in the balance on (for example) a minor medical issue 20 years from when they learn to fly, just as their income is beginning to justify the expense and the lifestyle stresses that came with the job. They take up aviation not because it’s a secure career. Not (usually) for the glamor. Typically it’s because they enjoy what they do – the flying part, that is.

But the further advanced your career, the more responsibility comes with the position, the further and further you get from the fun part (I personally went 44 days without a landing earlier this year) and the more you encounter the need to remember, or at least remember enough to have ready access, reams and reams of frankly boring and often relatively useless information.

If you’re planning a flight over the Pacific then when checking the weather at your EDTO (Extended Diversion Time Operations – used to be called ETOPS or EROPS) Alternate,  the weather minima you use is dependent on the number of runways and the type of approach available , with an additive of 200 ft for precision approaches (with a minimum of 400 ft) and a visibility additive of 800m (and a minimum visibility of 1500m).

Just a small nugget for you to digest.

So the question has to be asked – how do you keep motivated? I’ve tried various techniques over the years. Combining my interest in IT with Aviation has lead to a few projects – I once developed an MS Access Database into a program I enthusiastically called The Learning Database – essentially a question and answer program that contains hundreds of aircraft related questions covering the Metroliner, the Airbus A300/310 and the Boeing 777 as well as airline operations.

At one point I built a program to allow me to create and maintain (and print) indexes of the multitude of manuals we are expected to keep track of – which I naturally called the Indexing Database. Even now I keep a Clipboard Document up to date, with the bits and pieces I find most useful to have at hand in the flight deck.

On top of this, I often carry a set of 3×5 cards with study questions and answers on them, and if flying with a particularly forgiving First Officer, I’ll get them out, hand over half and run a knowledge competition across the flight deck – I realise this is unfair since they’re my questions, but since I have no motivation at all and the FO is looking for upgrade to Command some time soon, and some of these cards might actually be useful, it sort of works out.

If you actually travel to the above links, please don’t judge me too harshley. I was young and it was all done pretty much pre-internet. The imagination in the Names says it all really.

But these are all methods of keeping current – and while IT may occasionally motivate me to one degree or another – what do you use? When your career looks like it’s stagnating (as several areas of the pilot segments in my airline seem to be at the moment) and you finding it hard to get the enthusiasm up to go to work – how do you motivate yourself to keep a standard?

My Friend the Chocolate Cake – 21 Years and Counting

Tonight the kids and I went into Melbourne to the Arts Center Fairfax Studio to see, hear and experience once again My Friend The Chocolate Cake (MFTCC), our favorite ensemble band.

We’ve been seeing them in concert, buying CD’s and t-shirts – and now tea towels! – since the early nineties. This time they’re in the middle of their Stopping All Stations Tour to promote their latest album – Fiasco.

This quintessential Melbourne band began in 1989 as an offshoot from the critically acclaimed Not Drowning, Waving (1983-1994) which lay claim to highlights such as the soundtrack for the 1991 film Proof (a Jocelyn Moorhouse film with Hugo Weaving and a very young Russell Crowe – a great movie) and the support band to Peter Gabriel’s 1994 Australian tour. My earliest memories of Chocolate Cake are in the Northcote Ampitheatre holding hands with my girlfriend Meg (now my wife), sitting on the grass, listening to David Bridie (keyboard, vocals), Helen Mountfort (cello) and Hope Csutoros (particularly vibrant violin), enjoying the sun and the breeze and the music.

Chocolate Cake have managed 10 albums in 21 years and have a dedicated following across an extraordinary age range. Tonight’s concert started at 6pm and was done shortly after 8pm – there were kids and grandparents in the audience, nodding and tapping and singing away to the music. Our seats were one row back from the stage – Helen and Hope were literally 4 meters away, Greg Pattern (drums, cool  black shirt), Dean Addison (seriously funky double bass) and Andrew Richardson (acoustic guitar) not much further, and of course David off to the left, facing us over the top of his piano.

It’s quite something to be that close and personal with any ensemble musical performance; with Chocolate Cake – it’s quite something else again. On top of the music, the interplay and interaction between the band members as they work the magic that is Chocolate Cake is something to behold. The glances, the smiles, the cues, the acknowledgments – it’s all inspired, prompted and timed by the music that’s coming forth. It’s amazing. As someone who’s profession is to work as part of a team in an unscripted yet highly choreographed routine of give and take to achieve a common goal – this was something else yet again. I found that aspect of it absolutely fascinating. To quote Dick from High Fidelity, I wish I was a musician.

Closest to us was Hope with her violin. She is capable of coaxing and cajoling an extraordinary range of tones and emotion from that little instrument. It’s one thing to be gifted in your expertise with your instrument – it’s quite another to feed into that gift clear enjoyment and delight in the playing of it and the appreciation of the pleasure of the audience around you.

Front and center facing the crowd as she was this evening, Helen Mountfort would seem to be the least likely to be in touch with the group (other than the synchronicity of the rise and fall of the music that binds them all together – along with the audience – in an ensemble cast)  and yet she continually established eye contact with other members of Chocolate Cake, sharing the joy that was apparent to all present in the music and theater they were creating for us. In particular the ongoing exchange of cues and timing, synchronised bowing with Hope next to her; the simple delight at the challenge and joy of working so closely together through the pieces, was wonderful to watch. I’ve been to Opera and Plays that were far less entertaining, far less engaging than this these 6 musicians, doing what the do so well and clearly enjoying it.

The evening commences with the three originals, David/Helen/Hope and as a piece is played, another musician joins the band until all six are present. The music was a mix of old and new; and although my personal favorite Cello Song for Charlie wasn’t played – the moderately more commercial I’ve got a Plan was – my kids and I used to sing this together as we drove along in our Blue Volvo Station Wagon – you’ll have to listen to the song to understand the reference.

The Fairfax Studio at the Arts Center is as small and intimate a venue as one could hope for given what I would estimate to be about 300 seats. While clearly biased by my love for their music and the seats we enjoyed, at $35 a ticket it was a wonderful evening any family with an appreciation for music will enjoy.

Afterwards the band were in the foyer, signing t-shirts and tea-towels for the audience, before heading back in for the second performance which started at 9pm. Since my wife Meg is galavanting through Europe on a well deserved holiday – I got her a tea towel now emblazoned with the signatures of the entire band. This won’t be used to clean dishes.

My Friend The Chocolate Cake are touring at the moment and the dates and venues can be found here. They told me this evening they’ll be coming to Geelong early next month – I’ll be seeing them again (this time with Meg) when they do.

Jet Lag

At parties, one of the first questions I’m asked, once we’ve done the profession swapping process, is “How do you get used to the Jet Lag?” They’re looking for the secret to my success, the key to adapting to a lifestyle of time zone change, and they’re faintly disapointed in me when I don’t have one.

The answer is of course, you don’t, because you can’t. My airline is a new start up international operation, a subsidiary of an established domestic carrier. As such, while we commenced operations with a core group of instructors and pilots with international long haul experience – subsequent pilots are drawn from the domestic parent airline. These pilots have come from a short haul operation where most nights they were home in their own beds. Although there are long days – no-one disputes the claim that you’re working hard when doing four sectors with minimum turnaround times betweens flights, over the course of a 12+ hour day – I remember from my own experience of this life that you’d fall into bed after a long day, sleep well and wake the next day without further fatigue consequences of your previous day’s work.

Initially during the start up phase of V Australia many of these pilots found themselves trained, then cast off into long series of days off and standby with very little flying and just the odd refresher simulator session to keep them current. Now as the work builds and the aircraft and pilot numbers stabilise – the monthly workload is increasing and the unpleasant impact of long haul international flights is starting to hit.

While we mentioned it during training, it was information without personal relevance. Now it gives me a wry smile to hear discussed around the bar in LA how a pilot will get home after a 5 day trip to a trip to at least 3 or 4 days off before having to go back to work again – only to find that it takes them at least that long to recover their sleep pattern and other biorhythmic aspects of their lives (I’m staying away from personal bodily function references here), just in time to head off and screw them up again.

Your immunity is lower, you sleep poorly and yet more often, irritability affects your family life, it all takes its toll. Layovers in LA become periods of white noise listlessness where you attempt little and achieve even less. Hard to believe, but you even begin to watch re-runs of NCIS.

That’s an early warning sign, by the way – as soon as you find yourself looking forward to an NCIS marathon – get help.

Soon we’ll be coming in from Los Angeles and heading out to Abu Dhabi and back. Then our pilots new to long haul will know what it’s really all about – east to west back to back is a real pain. Eventually you get to the point when you’ve been doing it for years, and you find it takes three weeks of leave just to start feeling like a human being again. Getting your kids to like you again takes a lot longer than that.

Sleep for a long haul pilot is like my bank account. I can accumulate sleep debt, but it’s physiologically impossible to gain a sleep credit. When discussing this at a party, at some point I’m asked how I stay awake on long flights. Once I reveal that in fact our operation is an augmented one, with two complete sets of pilots and rest facilities which include flat sleeping bunks, my sympathiser’s eyes glaze over and disinterest in the issues of my work environment waft into the conversation. They pay you to sleep in a bed at work? They think of their own experiences of sitting in economy for 12 hours last holidays, surrounded by their kids, and conclude I have it easy.

I could point out that I’m doing this slightly more often than their annual holiday – say somewhere between 4 and 8 times a month. That any form of rest in an environment of perhaps 8% humidity can scarcely be called rest at all. That the bunk I sleep in is contained in a walled tube fifty centimetres tall, seventy centimetres across, 2 meters long, (I deliberately avoid the word “coffin” in these conversations, it seems an unfair emotional ploy, but aesthetically and structurally, that’s what it is, although more difficult than Dracula’s because I have to crawl in and out from one end).

Oh and did I mention by bed is thirty six thousand feet into often turbulent air? That often I’m trying to rest when my body clock says Go Go Go, or work/fly when it’s saying No No No? Trying to switch off while I’m technically still in charge of and responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft by crew I may never have flown with before, in areas of suspect weather or over significant terrain (I never ever took rest over the Himalayas – not even worth trying). Crappy low cost pillows, damned hard cheap mattress – never confuse Crew Rest with Actual Sleep.

The statistics are that if I continue long haul flying until sixty five, I’ll be dead within five years of that, which is about how long the money will last anyway, given how focused the industry seems to be on reducing the income and conditions of those of us best positioned to impact the bottom line of the business – positively or otherwise.

Of course I’m still Captain of a $275 million dollar plane, with 350 passengers behind me, flying to glamorous destinations (did I mention we stay in Long Beach?), surrounded by a dozen or so attractive 20 something women & men – it’s not Catch Me If You Can (did you love that movie or what? – I tried to convince my wife that’s how it’s supposed to be, but in hindsight had I succeeded I would have been in serious trouble), but occasionally it’s lots of fun.

I like to think I have the respect of most of my peers, and fortunately for me most of them have mine. I guess I’m well paid (my problem tends to be my outgo, rather than my income, the exigencies of working for a Low Cost Carrier notwithstanding – that’s another story). I should be happy with my lot.

Every now and then I depart from an airfield with a solid cloud top cover, and if I’m lucky I’m flying manually and well clear of the ground choosing to accelerate to 600 kph at just the right altitude to skim 50 feet above the tops of a sea of white cloud in a burgeoning glorious blue sky for a few minutes in my 350 ton flying machine. Then I remember how I got to be here. I’ve seen some amazing sights from the flight deck – even photographed a few of them.

The irregularity of working a “planned” roster and the bizarrely torturous nature of time zone afflicted shift work has taken almost all the fun out of flying. In truth, my choice of career all those years ago considered none the factors of family, lifestyle, compensation or constipation. I just wanted to fly.

So in the end – there’s no secret to Jet Lag. Neither is there a glamorous life awaiting the investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of hours of sweat and study. Ok, go for it airline recruitment – get the pilots of the future with THAT career reflection.

Airline Pilot : A Life of Irregularity

I’m an airline pilot, or at least, that’s my day job. Partly because of the nature of my profession, partly because of the nature of my work role (I’m a Check Captain and therefore I’m a slave to both the Aircraft and the Simulator, the airline schedule and the trainee pilot) – this involves a certain degree of irregularity.

For some this may come as a surprise. I work to a roster, which is based on an airline schedule known well in advance, resulting in predictable flights and training recurrences, published for a 4 week period at least a week in advance and once published, rarely changes – and when it does, the changes are usually short term (day or days), usually un-expected and occasionally pleasant. That doesn’t sound too irregular, does it? Then there’s the life this translates to …

For example, just yesterday I rose at 3:30am to head up to Sydney to teach simulator. I’d planned my yearly pilot medical prior to the sim session (turn your head and cough, $285, thank you very much) and so was in Sydney early. As it turned out, that was my downfall move because as I arrived into Sydney, I received a missed call notification – “The simulator is down” (the motion system had caught fire – how cool is that?) “You’re not required for sim for the next two days, stay home.” So there I am, up to Sydney, lunch in a Westfield shopping monster and then back down to Melbourne I went. Including the Medical, the day cost me about $400, no actual work performed. Ah well.

Ok, so that’s an extreme example. Mostly. With a planned life (at least out to the next 28 days) you’d think organising a play date with an old friend and his family for a weekend BBQ would be easy, right? Well, we tried all through December and January, but most of my weekends were taken by trips – headed to or coming back from LAX. The rest were taken up by commitments to my own family, such as … Christmas. It’s now the 29th of Jan, I have a roster out to the 3rd of Feb – and I’m still waiting for the Feb roster to come out to try again on an availability comparison with my five day a week, nine to five friend.

Month in month out, I will never know if I’m going to be available for calendar based events. Someone’s 50th – won’t know if I can come until a few weeks before. You’re getting married? I’ll let you know three weeks before. Kid’s school concert – same. Will I be around for Christmas? Ask me in December. At this point, making my own funeral is the only planning certainty in life, and while statistically flying is safer than using a Mac, there’s always the chance I won’t physically make that either. This has some long term impact on your mental processes. A friend of mine who recently retired from the industry has invited me to his 60th birthday party – 10 months from now in December.

Of course there are advantages to this life. Largely speaking, I can’t ever be relied upon, as my long suffering wife and kids have learnt that through frustrating experience. Although this doesn’t sound like an immediately positive life factor – I’m at least working from a lower common denominator than my nine to five peers, where last minute meetings or work commitments can break long held promises to family and friends. It only gets better from this point.

When I can be around – I am around. What I mean by this is that typically a pilot will have more days off (or at least time at home) that an average nine to five worker, and those days off can be devoted to your family (notice I say “can” … do you play golf/have a computer/own a boat?) There’s a reason for this – see “Jet Lag”, but in any case I do the walk to school with the kids when I’m here, do some pickups, do some drop offs, Frisbee in the park, walk the dog and jobs around the house as best I can. Since my wife has three full time jobs raising our kids, when I’m here, she’s available too for the odd illicit breakfast out after a morning school drop off, or a movie, or a walk with the dog. There are advantages. That said – deregulation has killed a lot of this. Pilots are working harder and harder, even as salaries have dropped significantly in real terms over the last decade.

But it’s a strange life. I’m present in my family’s life much more now than in my previous job. Between 2004 and 2008 I was based in Dubai flying to basically the rest of the world for a large Middle Eastern carrier, but commuting to Melbourne where my family lived. On average I would work 2-3 weeks and then have perhaps 10 days off to commute to Geelong and re-acquaint myself with family life. Despite it’s clear disadvantages, in truth that life probably had me around more than my nine to five friends who often left home in the morning when the kids were getting up and didn’t make it home until the younger ones were in bed, but what we found hardest was establishing a role for me. My family needs to continue on in its routines and responsibilities during my absences – so creating (or making room for) a role for me when I was around was so disruptive at times as not be worth it. I was Ancillary Man – nice to have around, but not really required.

Now I’m working for an Australian airline, albeit one that has me based in Sydney, so I’m home more regularly. After 3-5 days at home, I’m either off to Los Angeles or Abu Dhabi, or up to Sydney for 3-5 days of simulator, or a combination – perhaps 5-7 days away and then back for 2-4 days before the next rostered round of duties. I’m gradually becoming more relevant to my family. I’m involved in decisions, even present when some of them are made. I’m starting to keep up with the kids and what they’re doing day to day. It’s nice to be a Dad again.

Once away on a trip, the choice of regularity or otherwise pretty much becomes my own. On a Los Angeles flight which arrives into LA first thing in the morning (late at night Melbourne time), I usually choose to stay on Melbourne time. Since the long day flight over is exhausting with very little in flight rest for various reasons, sleeping the entire day away in LA becomes easy. Of course that means staying up all night in LA, which may sound glamorous, but when your airline places you in Long Beach (where you’re about a $150 taxi ride from anywhere at all; where you can’t even get a meal past about 10pm), the hotel’s room service after 11 is basically the food that wasn’t eaten during the day, reheated; and midnight TV consists basically of re-runs of JAG (you can’t even get Rage, or it’s US equivalent). It’s a sucky life, but it could be worse – I could be regularly trying to find something interesting to do in Long Beach during the day …

I’m looking for a conclusion to this article, but there isn’t one. To be honest, my job rarely challenges me mentally at all, and when it does it’s usually a bad thing for the airline and my passengers alike. Clearly it’s time to look for something else to do – but what? Any ideas?

Meetings Are Like … Trains

Meetings are like … Trains. Or at least, a Train Journey with a group of people. You all pretty much all get on at the same point, although occasionally some come late to the party (even if they got on at the same station as you). Conversely, you all pretty much get off at the same point at the end – although usually to splinter off into different directions in small groups, or as individuals – your direction and task often determined by the outcome (or lack thereof) of the meeting. Sometimes though, the journey continues, although with a much smaller contingent than at the beginning.

Like Train Journeys, some of the best meetings begin well before stepping into the vehicle. They are the result of some pre-coordination and communication all intended to agree on the destination, and occasionally the routing. What you need to bring to the meeting. A list of who will be there. Fixed timings to ensure your train journey fits in with your day. Whether snacks will be required, or whether catering is to be provided (and by who, and who pays). Seating is rarely discussed and just sort of worked out when you get there – like a train journey. Access to network and electricity is unlikely. Just like a train journey.

A good meeting is the result of a clear agenda, communicated well in advance, with the materials of success provided to each participant in the form of reading and other preparatory material. I’ve always found that one person putting in the effort ahead of time, maximises the efficiency of all involved.

A good meeting commences on time, finishes on time, and indulges in a brief round of personal chit chat at each end. While this may seem counter-intuitive – personal relationships are important and all involved in the meeting will engage more on a business level if they’ve had the opportunity to engage on a personal one. Except the aspy’s of course.

A good meeting has a chairperson who balances the need for discussion with the need for conclusion. A good chairperson also balances the individuals involved, seeking more from those who have more to give, seeking input from those who tend to remain quiet, gently damping down on those who are neither.

A good meeting is typified by participants who know why they are there, and why the meeting is taking place.

A good meeting includes minutes and results in action items.

[Read more…]

The Boeing 787 … Perhaps.

The 787 is coming to the east coast of Australia next weekend. While Qantas will be making the most of the flying visit, Virgin Australia will be visiting Boeing’s impressive new aircraft as well.

I’m planning to pop up to Melbourne and see the plane – I’m waiting to see if there’s any spaces in the list Virgin Australia is defining of who from our organisation will get to go see the aircraft.

Marty in the other hand, is going for a fly in it. More on that later.

I was sent this recently – it’s an interesting insight into the aircraft from a senior pilot converting across from the 767. I can’t swear to the accuracy of the following, but it makes interesting reading all the same.

  • A computer nerd would describe the 787 as 17 computer servers packaged in a Kevlar frame. The central brain is the Common Core System (CCS). Two Common Computing Resources (CCRs) coordinate the communications of all the computer systems, isolating faults and covering failed systems with working systems. When battery power is first applied to the airplane in the morning, it takes about 50 seconds for the L CCR to boot up. After this, a few displays light up and you can start the APU. If there is a major loss of cockpit displays, this may require a CCR reboot, which would take about a minute.
  • The 787 has four times the potential electric generation of the 777 – 1.4 gigawatts. It only took Dr. Emmett Brown only 1.21 gigawatts to move Marty McFly through time … The generators produce 235 VAC for the large users on the bus – otherwise the traditional 115 VAC and 28 VDC are there. Seventeen Remote Power Distribution Units (RPDU) power about 900 loads through the plane. The power distribution system is in the aft belly along with the Power Electronics Cooling System (PECS). It’s liquid cooling for the large motors, along with an Integrated Cooling System (ICS) for use by the galley carts and cabin air – and IFE.
  • If 3 of the 4 engine drive generators fail, the APU starts. Two APU generators can be operated to the certified ceiling of FL430. Lose all 4 generators and Ram Air Turbine (TA) deploys to power essential buses and if necessary hydraulic power to the flight controls. Even if the RAT fails, standby power the autopilot and captain’s flight director and instruments, FMC, 2 IRSs, VHF radios, etc. But if you’re down to battery only, time is limited. Brakes and Antiskid are electric – 28 volts – so even on standby power you have brakes and antiskid.
  • Flight Controls are hydraulic with a few exceptions. Engine drive and Electric pumps operate at 5,000 psi to allow for smaller tubing and actuators (saving weight). The loss of all three systems, two spoiler panels on each wing are electrically powered all the time, as is stabilizer trim. No Flaps – but you can still fly the plane. The loss of Hydraulics and Electrics result in power from Permanent Magnetic Generators (PMG’s) which produce power even if the engine is wind milling. PMG’s failed – flight controls are powered by the 28 volt standby bus.
  • The majority of circuit breakers are “virtual” and if necessary can be reset through the circuit breaker indication and control display on an MFD. Actual “thermal” circuit breakers can’t be reset.
  • Loss of the Attitude and Heading Reference units (AHRU’s) and reversion to standby instruments – displayed on the normal PFD’s.
  • Loss of all three pitot/static systems or air data computers and the aircraft reverts to angle of attack converted to speed – displayed on the normal PFD’s airspeed tape. GPS altitude is substituted for air data altitude – and also displayed on the PFD.
  • Loss of the inertial reference units defaults to GPS positioning. The IRS’s can even be aligned airborne from the GPS, iv available.
  • There isn’t a pneumatic system as such. Engine Bleed is used for anti ice only. Wing anti ice is electric.
  • The two air-conditioning packs control two electric cabin air compressors (CAC). The four CAC’s share two inlets under the aircraft. If a Pack controller fails, the remaining pack controller takes over all four CACs.
  • Differential pressure is increased to 9.4 PSI, giving a 6,000 ft cabin altitude at FL430. Cabin air humidity is automatic, with a flight deck humidifier. Cabin windows are larger with 5 levels of electric shading from clear to black.
  • The APU shuts down automatically in the event of an APU fire – airborne or on the ground. Cargo Fire also results in automatic fire extinguisher discharge.
  • Like the 777 – a nitrogen gas generation system pressurises the fuel tanks to displace fumes and provide full time flammable protection.
  • CPDLC is installed in overdrive. Uplinked speed, heading, altitude display on a second line on the MCP and can be transferred into the actual speed, heading and altitude control. Even conditional clearances can be uplinked, accepted and action by the pilot and FMC.
  • There’s an auto drag feature that operates when the aircraft is high on approach and landing flaps have been selected. Ailerons and the two most outboard spoilers are extended, while maintaining airspeed, to assist in glide path capture from above.
  • Flaps, Ailerons, Flaperons and Spoilers are symmetrically moved in cruise based on airspeed, weight and altitude to optimise cruise performance to alter camber to reduce drag.
  • Fuel Jettison is installed but an automatic Fuel Balancing system is also installed. No more opening crossfeed valves – or forgetting to close them.
  • Gust suppression is enhanced to symmetrically deflect the flaperons, ailerons and elevators to smooth the ride in turbulence. There’s a lateral component as well, enacted through the rudder on approach in response to gusts and turbulence.
  • The aircraft is approved for ILS using GPS and a ground based augmentation system (GBAS) with conventional Cat 1 minima. HUD approaches will allow lower minimums augmenting vision at approved airports with runway centerline guidance from either ILS or GPS.
  • The CDU’s are virtual – and can be moved from one MFD to another. Lots of shortcuts and customisation is built into the handling mechanism in the MFD controls
If I do head out to seethe 787 – or get to go for  ride in it – I’ll write about it here.

 

Hacked by Anonymous

Two weeks ago, Infinidim.org went down due to the hacking efforts of Anonymous. Yes, that’s right, Anonymous took down my personal web site.

And they did a thorough job too. They infected posts, hacked the back end – they even inserted malicious code into the jpeg images inside the posts (I didn’t even know you could do that). Thanks to Marty – I’m back up and running again, although I now have to go through all my posts and re-insert the images, as well as review the posts for corruption. Sucks to be me.

Needless to say this will take a while. While I have to odd new post to stick up – for the most part the next few weeks are going to be me resurrecting the resurrection of Infinidim. Hang folks, it’s going to be a while …

Meanwhile have a look at the following youtube video. It made me laugh, it made me cry.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hUIVBN3YsI&feature=g-like

Chocolate Cake instead of Nuclear Chicken.

This evening I was SUPPOSED to be in Singapore. Sitting at Fatties. Eating Baby Kai Lan, Black Pepper Prawns, BBQ Pork and Nuclear Chicken. Instead I’m in Canberra, in a hotel, having just returned from The Street Theatre, where My Friend the Chocolate Cake were in concert.

Singapore Ferry

My airline is nearly at the end of a period where we have been one aircraft short, as four of our five aircraft cycled through heavy maintenance in Auckland. The last of these is headed up to Singapore this weekend, to be painted in the new Virgin Australia paint scheme (tail included). For at least this one aircraft, gone will be the stars on the tail, finally replaced by the (rather plain) Virgin logo. It will be a sad day for some of us really.

I was to take the aircraft (with the Chief Pilot) up to Singapore this weekend. We were guaranteed at least two meals at Fatties (I was hoping to work a lunch or two in there as well). Unfortunately the trip slipped back two days (Damn you Air New Zealand heavy maintenance) – and the revised journey clashed with a course I’m attending next week on Sim Evaluation with SimuLinc. Hence I’m here in Canberra, visiting my son at the ANU, fortunate enough to catch Chocolate Cake in concert while we are here.

Wing Seong Fatties, Ben Coolen Plaza, Singapore

My first visit to Fatties was circa 1996, and I was taken there by my oft-time mentor Alan Cooke, at one time my Training Captain on the Airbus, and long since good friend. We spent almost 12 years on the 777 together – Al as a Captain, myself as a First Officer, then Captain, then Training Captain. The mentor/friend relationship developed a lot – but in many ways is still the same.

I remember sitting down with him for the first time at Fatty’s and being surprised when the “waiter” brought Al his dinner before bringing me the Menu.

How often have you been coming here” I asked.

Hmm” he said… “About Forty Years.” – True story, but I’ll save that for another time.

Fatty’s of Singapore is something of an institution – certainly amongst aircrew. It seemed to be forever frequented by Locals (good sign of quality) and Air Crew (good sign of cost effectiveness). During my dozen or so years of eating there at least once a month, I saw it move three times. I was fortunate in the early days to meet the original Fatty, who sat outside the restaurant run by his sons, something of an institution himself. Fatty’s started in the 40’s as a restaurant designed to bring local cuisine to the Americans, who seemed  at the time to have inexhaustible appetites, and inexhaustible wallets. You couldn’t eat in those day at Fatties without indulging in Peking Duck, or so I’m told.

By the mid 90’s it was (and still is) a popular air crew hangout. Every night, at some time or another, you’ll meet Qantas, Emirates and several other airline crews, passing in and out of Fatties. Along with their food, the newbies will be consuming bottles of Tiger Beer (along with the arsenic induced hangover the next morning) and those in the know will be quietly working through their Tsing Tao’s.

The Kai Lan is fresh and young, smothered in garlic; the Black Pepper Prawns are enormous, just as fresh and juicy; BBQ pork is a must for anyone laying over from a Middle Eastern base; Nuclear Chicken is an Indonesian Curry dish with morsels of chicken swimming in this yellow/red fire sauce with chilli through it, guaranteed to clear the sinus’s as well as fill the stomach. Just on it’s own, this last dish justifies at least three beers and a bowl or rice.

Ordering at Fatties is always a fascinating experience. If you’re a regular (and I was) then sometimes you didn’t get to. If you were lucky you got in early enough if you wanted something different – but otherwise you’d sit, order a drink and the food would arrive. Often out of order. Sometimes the rice would come after you’d finished the main. Sometimes the Spring Rolls would never come. But you take it all in stride as part of the Asian experience.

Sometimes you’d start ordering as a group and then the ordering would peter out and you’d stare expectantly at Skinny (Fatty’s Son). He’d say “More Food! More Food!” and you’d head back to the menu to choose more. Other times your ambition was too great, you’d be halfway through what you thought you wanted and Skinny would interrupt “Too Much! Too Much! You Get Fat!” and he’s walk away, and you knew your ordering was finished.

Over 14 years I never figured out the billing experience. I could go there on my own, order three dishes (small) with rice and a drink. The price would come to $27 SGD. Or I’d go there as a part of twelve. We’d order as much food as the table would hold, keep ordering beer until we couldn’t get up from the table to hit the toilet because we were surrounded by bottles – the bill would come, we’d divide it up and it would come to $26 SGD. I think they made their money not on the margin on the food or beer but because they never invested in any sort of tiller or accounting system and just multiplied the number of guests by some figure in between $25 and $30 and that was good enough.

My Friend the Chocolate Cake

I’ve written about My Friend The Chocolate Cake before. As always their performance was both polished and fresh. Familiar and invigorating. I’d go again next week – or tomorrow night – in a heart beat.

But man, I’d love some rice and left over nuclear chicken juice …

Worldle.net – Quite Cool.

This evening my daughter introduced me to Wordle (www.wordle.net). She’s using it in a school project on her school netbook. She’s in Grade 6. As I recall, I too had a computer when I was her age. It was a Commodore Pet and while I was pretty quickly programming the beast – it still amazes me what Ruby does with her little netbook and the internet.

Worlde is a simple manipulation tool that takes a stream of words that you either – or in this case I’ve pointed it at the rss feed for www.infinidim.org – and it creates text mashups. The result is highly customisable as you’ll see it you head over to play with it.

What our children are doing with computers as a tool to aid learning is fascinating to watch. Ruby has been assigned this task in order to come up with as many synonyms for the words “Conflict” as she can. I guess in my day at primary school the equivalent would have been a word jumble.

Worldle is a flash plugin – so I hope you aren’t hoping to play with it on a iPhone/iPad anytime soon … :)

 

 

Renewing My US Visa – Finally

Having jumping through multiple hoops to get the original – you would think that having operated into the States every month for the last two years, renewing my visa would not be that difficult a process. Well ..

If you read my previous post, you’ll know that despite being told that the process would be simple, quick and online – in fact renewing my US C1/D Crew Visa was not only an involved online process, but also required fronting for an interview at the consulate.

Q: Have you ever served in, been a member of, or been involved with a paramilitary unit, vigilante unit, rebel group, guerrilla group, or insurgent organization?
A : Does being a Trekkie count?

Due to operate to Phuket on Thursday the 18th, an interview with Consulate staff at 8:15 same that morning wasn’t going to meet the need; accordingly I managed to negotiate an interview the preceding Friday through a series of e-mails. This resulted in another roster change and some inconvenience for one of my fellow check captains who had to cover my duty (thanks Mike). I wasn’t desperate enough to try the phone call route, the US Consulate of Australia charges $1.15 per hour to listen to recorded information; $12 to reach a live person. I’m guessing they haven’t outsourced that to India yet.

Q : Do you seek to engage in espionage, sabotage, export control violations, or any other illegal activity while in the United States?
A : I’ve no firm plans at all, just hoping for a beer and bite to eat, actually
.

A 6:15 alarm on the Friday morning for my 9:15 appointment. Despite heavy peak hour traffic between Geelong and Melbourne (how do people do that journey every day?) I did one block of the consulate and happened into a four hour park just round the corner. Then discovered that the meter was broken, so I texted the number with my car rego and meter number and hey presto – free parking. The wind was clearly at my back; today was going to go well.

Q : Do you seek to engage in terrorist activities while in the United States or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities?
A : No, Actually. These questions are clearly exposing the boring life I’ve lead so far.

I walked into the building at 8:35 just as they were calling for 9:15 appointments. Through stage one security where I surrendered my phone and bag. A sticker on my chest to tell everyone who I was and allow passing scanner carriers to bar code me and I was on my way upstairs. A quick somewhat personal once over (bar code scan as well) and through into the waiting area.

As my bottom touched the seat (in the non-US Citizen waiting area, I hasten to add) my number was called and I was at window #1. A brief explanation of why they had my passport instead of me and it was found. A quick review of the paperwork, ten fingers later and I was told “That’s it, we’ll post it to you later today.” and I was headed out through security. I hit the coffee shop at the front of the building well before the original 9:15 appointment time of the “interview”. It was the only way to fly. Awesome.

Q : Have you ever committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in torture?
A : Well, I’m and Airline Check/Training Captain, so I’ll just have to plead the Fifth on that one
.

It was explained to me, by the way, that the reason I was back in for the ten finger print scan was because the original scan was done in Dubai. I asked if this was a Middle East thing. Apparently not. Had the original visa been issued in Sydney but then I chose to renew my visa in Melbourne – I would still have to come back in for a new ten finger print scan – the various consulates don’t share that information. I reserved verbal judgment on that piece of baffling bureaucracy. There’s this thing called the Internet …

Q : Have you ever sought to obtain or assist others to obtain a visa, entry into the United States, or any other United States immigration benefit by fraud or willful misrepresentation or other unlawful means?
A : Over the past ten years, I’ve conservatively left at least 20,000 passengers behind in New York, Houston and Los Angeles. They can’t all have been legal, surely?

So I was standing at the counter of the aforementioned coffee shop when I saw the downstairs security guard run past out into the street. I saw him stand on the footpath looking first one way and then the next; then walk back in. On a whim I popped out of the coffee shop and he recognised me. “They want you back.” he said. “Oh.” I said. And back in I went, coffee straight into the trash, of course.

It turns out that even though there was no real need to interview me – all that was required was the finger print scan – because I had come in and was available for interview (because of the scan requirement); I was required to be interviewed – a procedural issue. Of course. I grabbed another number and sat down.

What ensued was 60 minutes of broken process. They had called my original number to interview me while I was on my coffee shop soiree, so I missed that one. They gave me a new number, but because I was skipping the clerk at window #1 process this time, straight to the interview with the US Accent guy at window #3; he never called me. I was outside the system. I’m sure there was a question about that on the form …

Clearly there was no fall back position. It took 60 minutes and several attempts at clarification before I managed to convince them that without my smartphone, laptop or book (all downstairs at security) I was going to create an Emotional Incident (as opposed to an International one) if I was forced to watch the “Isn’t – the – US – wonderful – that’s – why – you’re- sitting – here – jumping – through – all – these – hoops 9 minute propaganda video” on a continuous loop. If I saw Mt Rushmore just one more time I was going to sob. Eventually interviewed, I headed out once again (very slowly) and finally got my coffee.

I did have a lengthy discussion with the Processing Officer as to the advisability of postage vs collection. In the end it was decided collection was best. I ascertained that it would be ready Monday; but that I could collect it Tuesday morning. There there were no public holidays in between that would catch me out; that no-one was exhibiting signs of the sniffles. So I took back my return addressed express envelope and left a phone number for them to call on Monday to advise when it was ready (I had a sim training duty in Sydney on Monday).

Q : Briefly describe your current duties in your employment.
A : I fly the plane and fill in Visa/Immigration related paperwork. Lately, in equal measure.

Monday came and so did the phone call. In anticipation I’d arranged a series of activities that morning including stopping in at my grandparent’s place to fix their computer, my parents place for lunch with my other grandmother, etc. All based on being there bright and busy tailed at 9:00 to collect my passport with my fresh US visa. If only’d I’d known while making those plans that in fact passport collection is a fixed window 15:00 through 15:30 and strictly no collection outside that. Oh well.

And we’re at the end of this tale (relieved? I am). My visa is due again in 5 years. As long as the Melbourne Consulate exists then, I may not need an interview, but I’m going build up my tolerance to US Video Saccharine in the meantime, just in case. Any suggestions? Family Ties re-runs come to mind.

Renewing My US Visa

I recently completed the process of renewing my US Visa. This is the first renewal of my crew C1/D visa that permits me multiple entry into the States as part of an operating Airline Crew Crew Member – it was issued while I was working for Emirates in 2005.

Though dimmed by the mists of time, I recall the process as incredibly convoluted – complicated as you would expect by the fact of being it a US Embassy in the Middle East post 9-11. Multiple lines, multiple security procedures, scans searches, finger printing, photographs and men with guns.

Q : Are you coming to the United States to engage in prostitution or unlawful commercialized vice or have you been engaged in prostitution or procuring prostitutes within the past 10 years?

A : Hmmm. Thinking back … No.

Last week I realised that this visa of five years expires in a month. Initially concerned – I realised I was in real trouble when the requirement to undergo this visa renewal process is coupled with a busy roster (Abu Dhabi, Los Angeles & two weeks of sim) and a family holiday. I knew I’d have to get onto it right away.

Q : Do you seek to engage in espionage, sabotage, export control violations, or any other illegal activity while in the United States?

A : Errr. No.

So of course I started with Google and ended up on the US Consulate’s Sydney Office. From there I ended up on the Canberra site, but only after reading about Hilary touring her way through Canberra. As I started reading through reams of requirements and background data – I focussed on the Fingerprint Re-issue/Re-Use Program.  This looked to be my salvation – I could fill in the online form, send of my passports and supporting paper work and my passport would come back in the mail. All based on the fact that I was ten-finger printed when I was processed for the initial visa. Suddenly I was feeling more kindly towards the vetting we were subjected to back in 2005. Time to move into the online form.

Q : Have youever ordered, incited, committed, assisted, or otherwise participated in genocide?

A : Well … No.

Three hours, two dropped internet connections/web site timeouts, dozens and dozens of pointless questions,  and many many words of encouragement from Meg and the form was done. Just selecting the countries I’ve visited over the past five years was a tour de force of website/browser interaction. I had to roam through the list, select a country, add another list, roam through the new list … and so on. The resultant list is hardly definitive. There are a couple of countries I couldn’t find … of course it’s not unusual – most airline pilots have a long list of places they’ve flown to and hardly seen anything of …

BANGLADESH; BRAZIL; CANADA; CHINA; CYPRUS; EGYPT; FRANCE; GERMANY; GREECE; HONG KONG SAR; INDIA; INDONESIA; ITALY; JAPAN; KENYA; KOREA, REPUBLIC OF (SOUTH); KUWAIT; MALAYSIA; MAURITIUS; NEW ZEALAND; OMAN; PAKISTAN; PHILIPPINES; SINGAPORE; SWITZERLAND; THAILAND; UNITED ARAB EMIRATES.

Having finally gotten through the form, I bundled up both passports (the expired one with the US Visa and my current one) printouts from the Consulate web site, a letter from the company, a self-addressed return express post envelope, etc, etc – and posted it off the consulate. Because the return postal address is Melbourne, it had to go to the US Consulate in Melbourne. I managed to find an e-mail address to contact if I required an expedited visa for work purposes. Might as well do it, I thought. Now all I have to do is wait for the passport to come back. 11 days until I next need my passport to fly … should be a no brainer.

Q: Have you committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in extrajudicial killings, political killings, or other acts of violence?
A : No.

The next afternoon I received an e-mail from the Melbourne consulate. For an un-specified reason I was now required to front up for an interview. 10 days and counting. I registered for the request an interview process ($15) and requested an interview slot. Fortunately I was given one before my next flight – the morning before. Right.

  • 08:15 am : Interview with the US Consulate for Visa issue in Melbourne
  • 12:15 am : Pushback to depart for Phuket (with my passport still at the Consulate, for expedited visa processing)

Ok, so this wasn’t going to work.

Q: Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization?
A : Not presently.

Summarising the rest  … I managed through several e-mails to gain an early interview on the Friday before the Thursday I’m required to operate to Phuket. Presenting for the interview is another story …

Next : The Interview (if it’s worth writing about).

 

Interview for Airline Management.

We’re now seeing several articles at Flight.org on preparing for your interview when going for that airline job – whether at the bottom or top end of the aviation market. Successfully navigating your way through a chat with the Chief Pilot of a General Aviation company can be just as tricky as presenting yourself well before the multi step process of today’s Major Airline selection process.

Two things I have learnt over the past 25 years in Aviation – both of which are generalisations, but pretty reasonable ones.

  • Pilots are NOT good at interviews;
  • Interview technique (for the interviewee as much as the interviewer) is a learned skill that very few of us innately have.

At least some of you will argue me on the former; hopefully all of you accept the latter – everyone can benefit from forethought and fore-arming when it comes to an interview.

Why am I adding my two cents on this?

Because in the coming weeks I have an interview for a management position in my Airline – two in fact. Unlike most airline interviews, I have no idea of the terms and conditions of the positions – other than a very broad outline. No specifics on salary or conditions at all. In one case this is pretty much because it seems I’ve applied for a position that I won’t be paid any more for. In the other case, the position is part of a re-shuffle and the exact details haven’t been decided yet. My incredulity in attending an interview for a position which no-one will say what the compensation will be is apparently odd – this is situation normal in this company as far as I can tell.

So, what am I doing to prepare?

– I’m researching the job description as detailed internally within the company – not the advertisement provided by HR which is full to overflowing with terms such as “Lead and Manage”, “Promote Company Values”, “Diagnose Systems”, “Build Rapport”, “Maintain Standards”, “Effect policy change and procedure execution and development” – that last one hopefully in the reverse order. At least when you apply to be a pilot in an airline you have some idea what the job will involve – flying a plane. When it comes to administrative positions, no-one seems to be able to commit to exactly what it is you’ll be doing. That’s assumed knowledge, at least until you report for the position.

– I researching the BIO’s of those I’ll be working for. While at least in part based on the “Old Boy” network of Friends and Friends of Friends (and Friends of Friends of …) – the internet comes into play here as well. Just Googling the name of the manager’s you’ll be working for and with provides detail in many cases. When you already work for a company, especially one with a Crew Portal, company newsletters, etc – there’s often a wealth of detail on the corporate web sites about it’s employees.

– I’m reviewing Kirsty’s interview checklist on Flight.Org

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Commuting to Work

It seems like I’ve spent most of my life commuting to work. Of course I’m not alone in this, but while for most it’s a suburban to city drive, for some of my friends this means a walk/car/train/tram experience from Geelong to Melbourne, for me it’s a little more.

Geelong to Sydney.

This morning I rose at 6am to have myself together so I could help get the kids up and about – although it’s still school holidays, they’re off to Music Camp this week, which means the first early start for a while as we approach the end of the Christmas break. Day One was yesterday, and it was relatively easy to get them up and going. Day Two will be a little harder. Kind of like parachuting – getting someone to jump the first time is easy …

Anyway – my commute is from Geelong, Melbourne to Silverwater, Sydney. As an Airline Check & Training Captain, this week I have two days of teaching and examining in our Flight Simulator, followed by a line check flight. Sometimes I take the bus from Geelong but this morning I took the car. The drive is ok – it’s a good time to listen to the high points of a week’s accumulation of Radio National podcasts – but damn it was cold. A week ago we sweltered in 40+ degrees – this morning it was barely 10 and raining. Melbourne.

Some mornings I hit the road earlier with the conventional big city commuters – leaving Geelong at about 5:45am. My highway journey commences on the Geelong bypass with several other cars, jockeying for position as we sort out our cruise controls and settle in for the hour long drive.

By the time I pass Avalon Airport, we’re now well and truly into double figures, with no sight of the cars I commenced this morning’s journey with. By Werribee the traffic is serious now and within sight is easily a few hundred cars, all headed in my direction down the bitchumen, no cruise control now as we each vary our speed and lane to stay as close to the limit as possible.

As I look around the mass of humanity surrounding me (actually not so much humanity as almost every car I can see has just the one occupant) it’s easy to see the result of where we’ve gone wrong along the way on this planet. It seems the basis of our government, our economic system, our very existence is a zealous pursuit (even jealous pursuit) of continual growth and consumerism. I read recently that current estimates place our consumption as the equivalent of approximately 1.2 Earth’s. Any attempt at a solution to the coming Gread Disruption is certainly not evident around me today (since the 2008 rebound off the Earth’s fuel and food limits, accompanied/caused as it was by seemingly random environmental events, was a Global Financial Crisis – what is to come deserves a longer word). Turning the cars around me green is unlikely to fix the fundamental flaw our species bases our economic life on at present. It might be a good start though.

Continuing my commute – all was going well until I hit the check in queue at domestic. The line was twisting back and forth as it does out front of the check in counters, but then trailed off in the distance towards the international terminal. I smiled winningly at the staff member who currently held the power of God over the queue, but was studiously ignored. Sixty minutes later I was checked in, the time now 10am and fortunate for me (?) my flight is delayed until 10:30, so I should make it. Timely arrival at the departure gate only serves to raise my hackles as there’s no plane in evidence, along with an absence of staff. Eventually I discover the aircraft is late in from Sydney – 11:00 is the more likely departure time.

Eventually the aircraft arrives, passengers are off, engineers are on. Finally (12:00) the aircraft is now grounded, the flight cancelled and it’s off to baggage claim, then check in once again, to commence the merry go round once more. I did eventually make it Silverwater Sydney, albeit a little late.

So that’s my all too typical commute at the moment. My current employment sees me regularly experiencing Bus, Car, Plane and Train – sounds like a movie really. Various jobs in the past have had me commuting from Melbourne to Hong Kong, from Dubai to Melbourne and there have been many times when I’ve been on short term bases (weeks/months) in one city while my family resides (usually for economic reasons) in another. We’ve live in Melbourne, Hong Kong, Tamworth, Darwin and Dubai. I seem incapable of finding a job in the city I live in.

Our current commuting predicament comes about partly due to the fractiously disparate nature of my current employer (a Sydney “based” airline who’s management all reside in Brisbane and operates flights from Sydney/Brisbane/Melbourne to several international destinations); partly economic (we can’t afford Sydney); partly education with my eldest child entering International Baccalaureate this year, essentially making him a fixed asset at the moment; and partly a lifestyle choice – neither my wife nor could come at living in BrisVegas (no offence). As the pressures of these various factors ease we will no doubt re-evaluate, but for the moment I’m stuck living 1000 kilometres from where I’m supposed to work.

So – what’s your commute?

 

Back when the Internet was a Wild Place …

Do you remember the days when the internet was a novelty. When someone who had a web site was “cool”. They’d show you their web site and it would be full of Microsoft Clip Art and anyone who was not the least tech-savvy (and therefore had no clue how much work had gone into this creation) would be suitably un-impressed. [Ed: Actually I think it was just my wife who, upon seeing my first web site, said “Well, I’m sure it’s clever dear, but it’s Butt Ugly.”]

In those days, there really wasn’t a lot of resources around to assist you in creating a visually pleasing web site. Even Microsoft Frontpage was only something over the horizon, and most web page creation was done in text editors (yes, I can hear the purists out there crying that REAL web site creation is STILL done in Notepad – not this little black duck).

Now there’s WordPress and Theme libraries and there’s really no excuse for ugly web site (my old Infinidim.org site notwithstanding …). Which brings me to the subject of today’s post.

Yesterday Meg and I went to the Home Show. If that doesn’t give you some idea of how desperate we’ve become for a night on the town, nothing will. Two of three kids on Camp, the oldest home studying for IB, we were off for a night on the town.

One of the stalls we came across was LED Lights Down Under. Meg has been looking for these for some lights she bought from Etsy – Husbands if your wives are reading this article pray God she doesn’t click on that link.

Anyway, LED Lights Down Under have a web site – and what a web site it is. Now don’t get me wrong – the stall was manned by two gentlemen – one of whom had driven down from Brisbane for the event – who were extremely helpful and offered us a discount on the spot. Since one of Meg’s purchases is going to require 20+ of these bulbs, and since she’s going to use LED lights in the pelmuts she’s planning in our renovated kitchen – that’s good news for me.

But the web site, oh the web site.

For starters, you need sunglasses to view it. Then someone clever has used (Flash?) to move the panels and forth – many of which serve no purpose at all. The form required for ordering was excessively demanding and intolerant of minor omissions of data entry – perniciously so. And the Yellow, the Yellow.

Has anyone else come across a web site they’d like to share?

[Read more…]

Curly Contrails

I recently showed some photos I took a few years ago of a Delta 767 crossing the Irish Coast to another Captain I flew with to LA. He was so stunned by them that I decided I may as well blog about them – three years later. Looking at them at a remove – they are quite amazing. I keep a collection of photos on a public picasa web album, and all the contrail photos (as well as the video) can be found there. However while public, I guess the Picasa album is not the most easily found page on the web … so here goes.

Click on the photos (in most browser) to see  larger image.

As we completed our Atlantic Crossing, we closed on a number of aircraft ahead - Delta 48 (a B767) was just one of these.

 

As we closed on Delta 48 - we notices that his contrails were breaking down, which is pretty normal, into individual curls or rings of contrail - which is not.

It's hard to see here, but the individual curls are actually spinning in the sky. It was amazing to watch - see the videos on my picasa album

As they spun, the began to break down behind the 767. It was fascinating to watch

Close in, the initial contrails coming out of the 767,s engines were impressive enough with atmospheric conditions just right for some impressive contrail generation

 

I’ve taken some other spectacular contrail shots over the years – a fabulous underside view of a Sri Lankan A340 over the Gulf comes to mind – but these were something else. I’ve never seen anything like it since, and neither have any pilots who’ve seen the images.

Red Door Cafe, closed Sundays for … Family

My wife and I irregularly take breakfast at a charming cafe about 20 minutes out of Geelong Victoria where we live. It’s called the?Red Door Cafe,?Inverleigh.

We don’t just go there for the food and fare. Don’t get me wrong – they do a gorgeous breakfast made with for the most part locally grown organic produce. The coffee is good and nothing beats a Joy Slice, one piece of which cuts up into 8 or so delectable pieces that spreads nicely amongst a breakfast crowd of two or more. If you go – make sure you have the home made baked beans with whatever else you order.

But it’s not just the food – it’s just great people. Red Door has the atmosphere of people who live in the local area, enjoy working there and seem to have good relationships with the people the work with and for. And that permeates into the environment and I suspect the food (or at least the preparation and cooking).

So today we had an hour before I had a meeting in Geelong and we decided since it’d been so long – we’d whip out to Red Door for a quick breakfast. Cheekily (and just this once) we rang ahead, booked our favorite table and order our breakfast. We rolled up with 40 minutes before we had to be back in Geelong and our food was brought out. Coffee’s served 5 minutes later and twenty five minutes later I was paying the bill. That’s when things got interesting.

Danny asked me if I knew about the new hours – “No!”, I said, “What’s Changed?” Previously they were a Thursday through Sunday am Cafe, catering to the brekky and lunch crowds.

“We’re now Wednesday through Saturday, closed Sunday”. I was at little taken aback at this. We’ve been through on a Sunday and to be honest, tend to avoid Sunday at Red Door because our quiet little out of the way Cafe becomes a yuppie frenzy morning full of people from out of town (ie: from Geelong). I’d always presumed it was their best day – and now they’re closed for it?

“Well, were were sitting down working out the roster, and Sunday has always been a hassle for us. So we stopped talking about the roster and started talking about why Sundays were a problem for us – and it just turned out that everybody wanted to be home with their families”, she said – as if this were the most normal thing in the world.

“So you’re closing one of your biggest mornings, because you and your staff would prefer to be home with your families.” I said, hoping this would communicate clearly my incredulity at this concept.

“Yes, basically” she said.

Staff of Red Door Cafe – my hat’s off to you. See you Wednesdays.

 

I was THAT GUY …

Recently, I was THAT GUY …

Have you ever slept in for work? In aviation that takes on a special meaning, given the way the tasks of dozens of people and departments revolve around the scheduled departure time of a flight.

In my previous company we were collected for work by crew transport – a blue Volvo Station Wagon. The car would come and collect each crew member in turn until both (or all four) crew were in the car, then head for the airport. Every now and then you’d be in the car, waiting outside someone’s villa, wondering where the guy was. A few phone calls later and you’d be on the way to the airport on your own while “that guy” got up, dressed and headed to the airport under his/her own steam. Meanwhile at briefing, at the aircraft – you’d manage the departure – doing the job of two pilots – while you waited for your collegue to turn up.

Recently, for the first time in my career, I was That Guy.

I was due to operate Melbourne to Johannesburg on a Saturday. As is my custom, I e-mailed the crew (including Mark the Captain I was to be training) on the previous Wednesday evening, introducing myself, discussing the flight and the training that was to take place, laying out a suggested rest pattern for the flight. I mentioned the departure time of 22:00 (10 pm) and said I would not be staying in the crew hotel the night before, but driving up from Geelong for the flight. I received two replies and one phone call as the result of the e-mail, none of them raising the point that I had written 22:00 whereas the actual departure time was 10am.

The stage was set. Roll on the First Act.

So I’m in bed Saturday morning at 8:30am, grumpy at the kids because their noise downstairs had woken me when I was trying to sleep in, when the phone rang.

Sleepy Me : “Hello?”

Strange Female Voice : “Hi this is Mark’s girlfriend.”

Confused Me : “Ok.”

Mark’s Girlfriend : “I have his mobile phone.”

Confused and increasingly dis-interested Me : “Ok.”

Mark’s Girlfriend, trying harder : Can I give it to you, to give to Mark?”

Increasingly confused Me : “Sure. Are you in Geelong?”

Mark’s Girlfriend, becoming confused : “Geelong? No, I’m near the airport.”

Seriously confused Me : “Well, I’m in Geelong. How can I get his phone?”

Mark’s Girlfriend : “Mark is at the plane – why are you in Geelong?”

Still slow on the uptake Me : “Why is Mark at the plane? The flight is not until tonight.”

Slightly alarmed Mark’s Girlfriend : “No, it’s a 10am departure this morning.”

Not yet alarmed, but mildly concerned Me : “No, it’s 10pm tonight.”

Annoyingly sure of herself Mark’s Girlfriend : “No it’s 10am. I just dropped Mark off, and the crew were there.”

Me : ” … ”

Me : ” … ”

Me : ” … ”

Mark’s wondering Girlfriend : “Hello? Are you there?”

Me : “Hang on. I’m having a Moment.”

Me : (having collected myself) “I’ll call you back.”

I headed to the nearest computer and logged on the company web site. Eventually … 10am departure. “Oh Shit.” I said. My wife Meg called over – what’s wrong. “Departure is in ninety minutes” I said. Un-said is that Geelong is a 70 minute drive from the airport, I’m in pyjamas, un-shaved, un-showered, unpacked, un-breakfasted, generally un-all round. “Oh Shit.” says Meg.

I headed for the shave/shower routine, while Meg rounded up the kids and doled out jobs. Then she threw clothes into a suitcase for me, dressed and headed down to iron a uniform. I raced through the morning routine, threw a few extras into the suitcase (including a jumper after a quick look at JNB weather) and headed downstairs. Fin had made Brekky and Coffee for me. Ruby had packed a sandwich. Lewis was headed for French tutoring that morning, and was getting ready to get himself home afterwards. I threw on my uniform, attached the pilot paraphernalia (wings, ID, name badge, pen, calculator, etc) and grabbed my flight jacket and headed for the car. From the first phone call at 8:30am, it was now 8:50. We were on the road by 8:55am. There was no time to drive myself – parking at the airport could cost me 30 minutes.

After dropping Lewis at tutoring, we hit the highway for Melbourne Airport.  I rang the FO and discussed Flight Plan, Weather, NOTAMS, Johannesburg and how the departure was progressing. To complicate matters, immigration was chaos and the entire crew was late getting to the aircraft. The GPS gave us an ETA of 9:58 (for the 10:00am pushback). I eventually got through on the phone to Crew Control who were bemused and of course unable to make any impact whatsoever on the chain of events that were to come.  But it gave them that feeling of being part of a team …

Pulling up at the Airport at 9:55 I got out, kissed my wife and she said “Are you going to wear that jacket?” I looked down and found I was wearing my Tamair pilot bomber-jacket from 1995. Hm. Jacket off and I went in.

Check in was quick – funny how quick it is when there’s no-one else there and the staff are waiting for you-and-only-you – and the ground staff escorted me to the aircraft. I only began to slow down as I entered the aerobridge and had to work my way past 100+ passengers waiting to board. So much for a surreptitious arrival …

It was 10:00 am and we were obviously not going on time – I hoped that wasn’t because of me. I arrived at the flight deck and Mark (Captain under training) and Stuart and Wayne (FO’s) had things well in hand. We were still waiting for a final weight from load control so we could determine a fuel load. We were going to be delayed 20 minutes for connecting passengers. I sat down, and caught up.

After that, the departure became the normal routine.

Because of connections, the passengers weren’t all on board until 10:25. We received a final weight at 10:15 and tried to advise the refueller, to find that he’d decided he had better things to do than wait for a fuel figure from the pilots, disconnected his truck and driven off (we were still 5 tons short). We eventually got him back at about 10:40 to finish us off. ATC delayed our push 10 minutes because of Ramp congestion. When we finally did get push clearance, ATC could not contact the Tug Driver – and so cancelled our push/start clearance. For some reason known only to themselves, Melbourne Airport is the only airport IN THE WORLD I’ve ever encountered where ATC insist on talking separately to the tug as well as the pilots. When they were unable to contact the tug quickly enough, ATC cancelled our Push/Start. It would have been nice if ATC’d told us as well …

As I said, things settled quickly into a normal departure. Not. We pushed an hour late.

Once we were on our way, I apologised to the crew and thanked them for their efforts to get things going without me. Once in JNB I realised that I was woefully under packed with no warm clothes and an overnight low of 1 degree. I wished I’d kept the Tamair jacket actually, it would have fitted in nicely in JNB society, although may have gotten me mugged. I bought a round of drinks or two in JNB and a box of chocolates for my wife and Mark’s girlfriend. About halfway through the trip I realised I had only the pair of shoes I was wearing (nothing extra packed) and they didn’t match. They were close enough that no-one else noticed (or so I keep telling myself) but I kept looking down at them, thinking …

So I have been “That Guy” finally. Congruent with my past experiences, the wheels didn’t fall of the trolley as a result, despite some wobbly-ness. As usual the rest of the team pulled together to get the job done. One of the many benefits of working as part of a crew as opposed to an individual in an office – where they probably wouldn’t notice me being late for work!

 

Infinidim Resurrection

Welcome to Infinidim.org – Mark Two!

Back in 2001 I decided I needed a web site. In the years that followed I documented various activities – most of them associated with my employment with Emirates and the activities I undertook there both for and apart from my employment as a pilot.

Since I left Emirates and Dubai and moved to Geelong to work for V Australia – Infinidim.Org has lain barely touched. The last three years have been a frenetic ride which hasn’t really subsided at all – but I felt it’s time Infinidim.Org was renovated and I returned to some blogging and documenting of what I’m doing.

Not that the web has been neglected in my absence from Infinidim – much great work was done (mostly by Marty Khoury, but I had some involvement) with Virginetics – a web site dedicated to the pilots and cabin crew of V Australia. Unfortunately with the introduction of the company’s own LMS, Virginetics will come to an end soon.

I’ve also been contributing to Flight.Org – in concert with Marty Khoury, Adam Saddington and a few others – you’ll find a large number of my blog posts over the past couple of years, notably those associated with the Delivery and Inaugural flights of V Australia’s 777 operation, as well as (two years after the event) the blog I wrote associated with Leaving Emirates. I will bring those blogs over to Infinidim at some point.

More recently I’ve been fortunate to be involved with Flight Podcast – broadcasting conversations with such amazing aviators as Eric Moody of Speedbird 9 (“All Four Engines Have Failed”), and just recently John Bartels of QF30 – the inflight oxygen bottle explosion. If you haven’t listened to any of our podcasts I encourage you to do so. I listen to them again even after recording the episodes!

This post is the commencement of my return to personal blogging on Infinidim. I encourage you to also keep an eye on Flight.Org and Flight Podcast – I’ll be posting there as well.

Take care all – Regards, Ken Pascoe.

Lost Opportunities

I’m really angry at myself today. Every now then then life brings past you the opportunity to step outside the box and do the right thing – sometimes this requires a little thinking, sometimes it requires to you step outside the group-think. Today I failed that test, and I’m disappointed and annoyed at myself.

Let me explain.

I’m in the middle of a Los Angeles layover, and as I often do caught the crew bus from the Long Beach Hotel our airline stays at to South Coast Shopping Plaza this morning. The bus leaves the hotel at 10am and usually leaves the shopping center at 2pm to return.

This day the bus was extremely full (over full in fact) with crew reading, chatting and listening to music on the way. As we pulled into the shopping center, Miguel the bus driver asked us about the pickup time. Since I was behind him in the second row I asked Miguel what the options were. He said One or Two o’Clock. I called back to the Crew in the bus “Guys – pickup time : One or Two O’clock.” The response was overwhelming One.

Kath one of our FM’s in the front row next to Miguel was listening to her iPod and didn’t hear the question, her ears full of the rock music that was so loud we’d commented on it during the ride – despite the noise of the bus and the crew, in the row behind her we could hear her music. I leaned forward and said to her “Kath – One or Two o’clock pickup?” ?- and got no response. Someone commented “Well, I guess that makes it One O’Clock Then!” and we laughed. We all got out of the bus and dispersed into the shopping center. I don’t think any of us noted that Kath never really heard the change of pickup time. Miguel, sitting next to her, didn’t realise this either and later on was sure he’d mentioned it to her directly. Apparently not.

Well you can guess what happened later on. The bus came at one and we were all there except Kath. We quickly realised what had happened waited fifteen minutes to see if she was going to turn up.

Thinking back, at this point we a couple of very good options.

– We could have waited until 2pm. None of us had planned on the early pickup, so One shouldn’t have been onerous.

– We could have a taken collection (as it turns out about $6 each) and left someone behind to wait for Kath and ride back in a taxi with her.

Miguel advised he had the afternoon free, but didn’t commit to another pickup – despite our assumption to the contrary. And so off we went. Thinking about it – it was one of those group-think decisions where everyone else seems set on invading Poland, so we should probably just go along with it. At no time did someone say “Do we really want to abandon our crew member to an expensive taxi ride, rather than _____ or _____ ?” I suspect had any of us really stopped to analyse what was about to happen, we would have done something different. We didn’t, we just sort of … left.

Conversely, had I personally have taken the lead that I should have (I was “Senior” on the bus as a Captain in the airline) then for very little individual cost (time or money) the result would have been an overwhelmingly positive one – All the crew on the bus putting themselves out for another crew member. Another day at V.

One reason I am so annoyed at myself, is that in the past I have always tried to extend my role as the leader of a team on the plane to the fullest of it’s logical extent on a layover, including supporting crew who are down route but not on my flight. This role naturally devolves to the Flight Manager, but I have always considered myself responsible as well for my crew down ?route. In the past this has meant taking crew to Doctors and Hospitals and staying with them until they’re sorted, chasing up paperwork and ensuring company involvement and ongoing crew support handover in such situations, sorting out tickets and rosters when family?tragedy?has struck while crew are away. I’ve always been pleased and proud of my involvement in these situations in the past.

Instead …

I bumped into Kath in the foyer this afternoon. She was extremely upset, to the point of being tearful. The Hotel had refused any possibility of collecting her; the taxi fare had cost her $75, although I think much of her distress was at?being?abandoned by her?colleagues. I comforted her as best I could, we had a sit and a chat. After I left her I went away to think about things, and wrote her a note of apology, along with a contribution to the cost of her taxi fare, and slipped it under her door. I’m fairly confident that when the crew find out that she was forced to take a taxi they will also contribute. None of those on the bus today were bad people, just … leaderless.

Ken