Wide Body EBA 2017 Calculator [UPDATE 29Jan16]

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

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 … Download HERE
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.


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.


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.

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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.

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EBA Overtime Calculator (v2.6) [Update 27Oct17]

I’ve watched the EBA with some envy for the last three years. Between Overtime, Callout, Domestic Allowances, Leave and Days Off, the position of Manager hasn’t quite kept pace with the EBA. I’ve also been watching the need for a spreadsheet to calculate the Overtime, Callout and Accommodation Cancellation monies, but resisting the temptation to build one. I didn’t quite want to know how much I was missing out on.

Current Version : V2.6 27.Oct.17 : Down HERE.

– Corrected for leaving the wrong cells locked in 2.5 – no other changes.

I really would have thought we’d be on the new EBA by this RP, but apparently not? Anyway – 2.5 extends the sheet for a couple more RP’s just in case. Esp since there’s still seems to be a lot of overtime going around, even with an aircraft in maintenance for most of this RP …

– Ok, so after some discussion at a recent EBA meeting, positioning credit/before after duties (1 hour) is going to be paid for the time being. Meanwhile the lack of any payscales after 01Jul17 has broken my spreadsheet. For some reason I didn’t plan for the 3 year EBA of 2011 to still be in force …  fixed in 2.4

– After years of paying it, the company is now no longer paying a 1 hour credit for positioning before/after any other duty. Until recently, the 6 hours or so added to my day that is positioning up to BNE for Sim/Admin/etc is not worth Zero. The interpretation is that this event is “travelling” before/after a duty and not positioning under the EBA. Yeah right.- Positioning BNE/SYD/MEL no longer carries a 1 hour credit unless it’s completed as it’s own duty.
– Corrected adding error in Block Hours Total (Top RHS)
– Thanks to PM for spotting to bugs that I’ve corrected in V1.5
– Thanks to TH removed Super from Salaries to better compare Overtime with payslips in V1.6
– Now deals with Carry In/Out Flights that wrap from one RP to the next (see below) – V1.7
– Bug correction in Carry In/Out Flights & Updated to clarify that Push/Park are for Sked; Actual (was User) is for Actual Block (Tks TD) – now in V1.8
– Corrected Calc Blocks Time not showing 00:00 for midnight V1.9
– Added BNE/MEL positioning; change to allow for zero credit positioning on same day of Duty V2.0
– Added CCA/TCA/TFO Rank Selectors to incorporate appointment pay in overttime V2.1

The combination of recently updating my Tax Allowance Claim Calculator for the 2011/2012 Tax Year as well as seeing someone else’s overtime calculation sheet come past my inbox, I decided it was time to get off my tail and build one. I also decided to see how much I could test the data validation and conditional formatting functionality of Excel and turn it into a custom form like entry interface that would test and indicate both incompleteness as well as validity of entries. In the past I’ve always tried to maintain compatibility with Excel 2003, forgoing the really cool features of Excel 2007/2020 – not anymore.

VAI 777 EBA Overtime Calculation Spreadsheet.

I wanted my sheet cope with the following aspects, all in a single spreadsheet.

  • Ranks : It does Captains, First Officers, Relief First Officers; Check Captains, Training Captains and Training First Officers under the EBA.
  • 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 Level increments. Therefore the Overtime rate increases also. The sheet copes with this.
  • Duty Select : You don’t have to know the credit hours – just select the duty for each duty day and the sheet will use the relevant EBA Credit Hours
  • Leave : Having Leave impacts the Overtime Threshold, as well as the minimum number of days off required in the month – the sheet copes with this.
  • Positioning : There are two types of positioning – EBA (MEL-SYD-MEL or BNE-SYD-BNE) and All Others. The EBA has the standard credit hours – the rest you have to enter. The sheet uses the default credit for EBA positioning; facilitates your entry of the Block hours for non EBA positioning (SYD/KUL/SYD).
  • Ad Hoc Training : When you’re not a Check/Training Captain, but conducting Ad Hoc Training as an Instructor (NTS) – there’s a credit and payment. The sheet tracks this as well.
  • Data Filtering / Validation : As much as possible, entries are checked from lists for validity (Duties, Airports, Yes/No’s, etc). Anytime this is done – there’s a list box you can click to drop and choose from.
  • Summaries and Analysis : Once complete, quick reference summary at the top for Days Off; Leave; Sims; Admin; Standby/Open; Ground Duties; Credit hours (in relation to the Overtime Threshold); Callouts; Block Hours; Cancelled Accom and Ad Hoc Trainer. There’s also a list of duties with a count on the far right, and I’m playing with Pivot Tables and Charts in this one too.
  • Variables ?: I’ve coded as much as I can as variables that can be changed should I need it to. I can’t see anything changing in the EBA in the next 12 months – but just in case …

Let me run you through how to use it:

1. Basic Entries.

The first things the sheet really needs to know is your Rank (Capt, FO, CRFO); Pay Level (1 … 8); and which Roster Period you are looking at (currently only from RP 2012 3/4 onwards). Note that Rank now includes choosing Check/Training Captain/First Officer since this impacts some values.

Note that the Pay Level is the one at the start of your target RP. For most of the original VAI pilots that will be level 5 from RP 9/10 2012 onwards.

Note that when you point your mouse at a cell with a little red triangle in the corner – a hint pops up. Also not that when you click into a cell for data entry – if there’s validation on the cell (such as the requirement to select from a previously established list) a small down arrow shows to the bottom right of the cell – click the example here to see.

Having chosen these variables, the initial credit threshold (it will updated as Leave days are later selected) and Initial Overtime Rate should be checked. All the Dates down the LHS should also fill in for the 56 day RP.

The?Clear Button – clicking this will remove ALL entries into the sheet (From Rank through to all the duties and Positioning/Flight entries – and There’s No UNDO!

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Tax Time : Crew Allowances 2016/2017 {UPDATED 19AUG17)

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 : 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.

Cold Temperature Altimetry Corrections [Corrected 26Jun17]

I’ve been looking at Cold Temperature Altimetry Corrections in anticipation of potentially operating into such environments again in the near future. While my professional past includes operating the 777 to Moscow, Baku, Seuol, Beijing and a few other cold temperature destinations – most of the last decade has been focussed on Australia, Los Angeles, and the UAE. As such it’s been quite a while since cold temperature corrections have reared their ugly head – let alone metric altimetry. To say I haven’t really missed them is understating it.

Update 26.Jun.17 : Correcting Altitudes on APV – a Cluster

This one’s for you, Alex AFR!

The last week has been a whirlwind of contradictory opinions and conflicting manufacturer and regulatory guidance in this area. I am now firmly of the belief that I have no answer to the following questions (but I’m continuing to chase down something concrete, and definitive).

  • EASA guidance (AMC CAT.OP.MPA.126 (d) (2) Ii) (B), recently published) specifically prohibits changes to the FAF/FAP and DA/H (as opposed to “Minima” which would include MDA). From this document, correction to altitudes is not required from (and including) the FAP through to the MAP. Prior to final approach and the missed approach still requires correction.
  • Previous EASA guidance (AMC  20-27A App4 1.2 ) required corrections for initial, intermediate, missed approach – and the DA/H.
  • This document ( assumes that cold temp corrections have been made to the DA/H on APV.
  • The documentation provided by two Middle Eastern airlines to their respective crews conforms to this guidance. A highly respected Asian carrier however still corrects the minima on APV. My own airline conforms to the EASA guidance – no correction.
  • Meanwhile, there are FAA and several other regulators to do provide guidance on correcting the minima for APV.
  • That said, if you do not correct the minima on APV, I cannot find documentation that guarantees terrain clearance in the transition from the temperature independent obstacle protected final approach slope – into the temperature sensitive, correction required missed approach. Hence if you don’t correct the minima on an APV, you will be lower on approach – are you guaranteed obstacle clearance as you transition into the missed approach, with it’s requirement to correct temperatures?
  • The Middle Eastern carriers correct minima at 0ºC and below; and Terminal, Initial, Intermediate, Final (where necessary) and Missed Approach altitudes at -30ºC and below – with no clear explanation of why temperatures in between are ignored. There is some justification for this in the Boeing FCOM – but I’m not convinced.
  • Additionally the question occurs that if you correct your Intermediate constraint on an APV, but not your Final Fix (Point) altitude, your FMC commands a steeper (non CDFA) descent on the approach, and takes you below the minimum altitude between the IF and FAF. This would seem to be a clear violation of approach altitude constraints, and it’s unclear to me how you are protected at this point by the final approach slope inherent in APV approach design …
  • And for Alex – on baro-compensated FMS such as the A380, what corrections are required at the FAP, Minima for APV approaches. The A380 presumeably is flying the temperature corrected slope, which means if you do not correct the minima, you’ll be flying further down that slope than you would in either an un-compenstated uncorrected APV or an ISA approach – that can’t be right, can it?

As you can see – THIS IS A CAN OF WORMS. I can’t believe that I’m struggling to understand and obtain clear guidance on something that we’ve been doing for Decades (at least). This is really pissing me off.

It’s possible that the latest documentation from EASA contains an error (that would be the simplest for me!); it’s also possible that the recent change from EASA corrects a previous error. Frack.

More to come … meanwhile …

I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the concept, but as I dove deeper down the rabbit hole and came up hard against the fundamentals of the FMC and VNAV PATH on final approach – I was back to basics in trying to sort out what is required. Fortunately, I had the help of good friends at several other airlines to aid me in my quest. While they have reviewed the following material – any mistakes in what comes next are mine.

As always, the following content is couched firmly in the area of my own “expertise” – Boeing, the B777(-300ER), my airline. Your mileage may vary – but as mentioned I have passed this in front of a number of other consummate professionals across the globe.

Cold Temperature Altimetry Corrections

Aircraft altimeters and altimetry systems are calibrated for ISA conditions. When the OAT deviates from ISA, an indication error occurs in the altimetry information provided to the pilots as well as the barometric altitude reference passed along to the FMC and other systems. The 777/FMC does not currently have the ability to correct for non-ISA temperature deviations.

coldtemp1Deviations from ISA in terms of Altimetry are referenced against a ground-based temperature source, typically the temperature on the ground at the departure or destination airport. While it may not be entirely accurate, a uniform deviation is assumed from the ground to the level of the aircraft.
The size of cold temperature altimetry errors is proportional to:

  • The degree of variation from ISA; and
  • The height of the altitude being corrected above the ground temperature source (above airport elevation).

As shown here from the Boeing FCOM Supplementary Procedures, for a fixed deviation from ISA the correction required increases with altitude. For a fixed altitude, the correction required increases with height above the airfield. Note that ATC provided radar vector altitudes do not require pilot correction for cold temperature corrections.

Warmer the ISA


In warmer than ISA conditions, the altimetry system under-reads. When the aircraft is flown by reference to a barometric source (whether driven by the pilot/autopilot using the altimeter or the FMC using a barometric reference) the aircraft is invariably actually higher than indicated on the altimeter. An approximate rule of thumb is 0.3º of slope for every 15º of temperature above ISA.

For a Non-Precision Approach (whether driven by the pilot/autopilot using the altimeter or the FMC using a barometric reference) the aircraft will be higher than indicated. Since the error decreases with descent, the height above a 3 degree slope decreases until the aircraft is only a few feet above the required threshold crossing height. In effect the aircraft starts the approach high, descending on a steeper effective angle than promulgated by the instrument approach, which results in slightly higher descent rates and less thrust required. If a visual guidance system is provided the indications will show high on slope to the threshold (see below).

For Precision Approaches (whether ILS or GNSS based), the aircraft flies the commanded 3 degree (or otherwise) slope down to the runway and threshold crossing height. For such approaches, the altimeter will under-read since the aircraft is actually on slope, but the altimetry indications are impacted by the ISA deviation. This is often noticed at the outer marker crossing height check during precision approaches to warmer temperature airports. The minima will require correction for cold temperatures unless RA based (see below).

papiapproachBoeing do not require corrections for warmer than ISA temperatures, and this information is provided for guidance only.

Visual Slope Guidance

From a barometric based approach, in non-standard ISA conditions, the aircraft will be higher (warmer) or lower (colder) than the promulgated instrument approach and any provided visual approach slope guidance system. The height error decreases as the aircraft reduces height above the ground and the aircraft approximates a steeper (warmer) or flatter (colder) approach path, which is maintained to the threshold. This deviation from the visual guidance system approach angle will be reflected in the visual approach slope systems indications.

coldtemp3The values shown here are approximates for a PAPI system aligned at 3 degree slope and are for guidance only.

Correcting Minima (nearly all Approaches)

Precision (Cat 1) and Non-Precision Approaches (RNAV GNSS / RNP LNAV) based on barometric minima (both MDA and DH) require cold temperature corrections. You’re looking at your altimeter to to make your Continue/Don’t decision, and that altitude only provides obstacle clearance protection if it’s been cold temperature corrected.


The exception to this is APV (APproach with Vertical guidance) such as RNAV GNSS/GPS with LNAV/VNAV DH minima and RNP AR / RNP LNAV-VNAV approaches. Such approaches come with an operating temperature range on the chart (usucoldtemp11ally a minimum but often a min and max OAT). Down to the minimum temperature specified, the FAF and Minima (DH) are protected by a sloped obstacle clearance surface (OCS). There is no need to correct the minima for colder temperature altimetry, down to the minimum temp specified on the chart.

Note that Radio Altimeter (RA) based minima do not require cold temperature corrections.

Basic Modes using FPA in Non-Standard ISA Temperatures

When Flight Path Angle (FPA) is used in non-standard ISA temperature conditions, a higher approach angle (warmer conditions) or lower approach angle (colder conditions) is required to commence an approach from an un-corrected initial altitude. This is typically required for NPAs in high temperatures. For low temperature corrected NPAs the promulgated glide path angle should be used with FPA since the aircraft is at the corrected height above the runway, despite the altimeter indications.

Colder Than ISA


Here we go …

In colder than ISA conditions, the altimetry system over-reads. When the aircraft is flown by reference to a barometric source (whether driven by the pilot/autopilot using the altimeter or the FMC using a barometric reference) the aircraft is invariably actually lower than indicated. This can lead to unsafe clearance from terrain in relation to all minimum safe altitudes in the departure, arrival, approach and missed approach phases of flight. Boeing requires low temperature corrections when the ambient airport temperature is at or below 0C

SIDs and STARs

coldtemp5Minimum Safe Altitudes (MSA), Lowest Safe Altitudes (LSALT) and minimum altitudes on SIDs and STARs may need to be corrected in cold (Airport Temp At/Below 0º C) conditions. Corrections are based on the Boeing FCOM SP chart with extrapolation in accordance with the guidance provided. Corrections are made based on the ambient airport temperature and the height of the minimum altitude above the airfield elevation. Deviations from charted altitude constraints due cold temperature corrections must be communicated to ATC. Note that some FMC constraints cannot be cold temperature corrected (such as conditional altitudes).

The FMC & VNAV PATH in Cold Temperatures

coldtemp6Outside of the CDU LEGS page final approach angle, the FMC drives VNAV vertical path commands through the use of the on-board barometric reference systems, which are subject to cold temperature errors. As such for all instrument approaches, if VNAV is going to be used the FMC LEGS page altitude constraints will require cold temperature corrections. Crew should appreciate the difference between adjusting these altitudes to ensure clearance from terrain (yellow ovals) vs restoring the programmed aircraft flight path to that intended by the approach design (yellow highlight).

Strictly speaking, the Boeing FCOM requires corrections to altitude constraints, although correcting crossing altitudes is a similar procedure. Deviations from ATC cleared altitudes for cold temperature corrections must be communicated to ATC.

Once past the FAF, the FMC follows a path dictated by the geometric angle indicated in the LEGS page, as restricted by any constraining higher altitude in the LEGS page. However the FMC is fundamentally a barometrically driven device, and while a geometric angle is indicated on the LEGS page, in fact the FMC converts this to a barometric path based on the end of path lateral and vertical co-ordinates. As such the FMC flies the LEGS page slope by reference to altimetry, and is subject to temperature error. Since this error is magnified by deviation from ISA and height above the airport:

  • In warmer conditions the FMC will start the final approach high, and fly a steeper slope.
  • In colder conditions, the FMC will start the final approach low and fly a flatter slope.

coldtemp8With corrected FAF (or later) altitude constraints, the FMC calculates a steeper approach angle to meet this increased constraint altitude requirement. Since the barometric temperature error reduces with descent, these corrections will result in the FMC approximating the original promulgated approach angle (while believing it is flying the steeper angle).

coldtemp9Constraints that typically require correction are At, At-or-Above, and At-or-Below. Below constraints do not require cold temperature corrections.

In Short :
While nominally on a glidepath – FMC / VNAV PTH flies a barometrically calculated glide path that is subject to non-ISA temperature altimetry error.

Approach with Vertical Guidance (APV) including RNP-AR

coldtemp10APV approaches differ from standard NPAs in that they are constructed similarly to precision approaches with a sloped Obstacle Assessment Surface (OCS) in the final approach, rather than the traditional step-down criteria shown on such charts. These approaches must be flown in LNAV and VNAV, typically to a Decision Altitude (DA) rather than an MDA.

When these approaches are flown in cold temperature conditions, the final approach slope altitudes do not require correction, and the approach is flown from a lower FAF altitude on a shallower approach. The instrument approach chart includes a minimum ambient (airport) temperature below which the lower, flatter approach is not guaranteed to be clear of the OCS. When the ambient (airport) temperature is below the charted minimum, a reversion to LNAV only minima is usually available – but the charted LNAV/VNAV minima must no be used.


coldtemp11For APV approaches, cold temperature corrections are required to all altitudes outside the final approach – IAF, IF and other constraints as well as the Missed Approach. The FAF constraint does not require correction, nor any altitude constraint in the LEGS page after the FAF down to the Missed Approach Point (MAP). The minima while technically a barometric reference (you’re looking at an Altimeter) is protected by the OCS and so therefore does not require correction. On an APV in a cold temperature environment, you’re making your Continue/Don’t decision at a similar geographic location to an ISA approach, closer to the ground – but still clear of terrain (down to the minimum temperature on the chart.

General Use Allowance Calculator

I have recently been looking at the allowances paid down route to us in LAX, with a view to developing and easy way to identify a discrepancy in what we should be paid; and to re-calculate what the difference should be in the event of an early arrival or delayed departure. Accordingly, I have developed this spreadsheet to be used for this purpose.

Note that you can run this sheet on MS Excel for iPad (as well as PC/mac, etc) although the “Clear” and “Sort” buttons won’t work on IOS.

When complete, the sheet looks like the image below. The blue sections are where the user enters information. The port is entered at the top (currently supporting BNE/LAX/MEL/SYD) and you can compare scheduled with actual to see changes in the allowances.

Note …

  • The On Blocks Date/Time (arrival) and Off Blocks Date/Time (departure) values must be entered in the same time zone so a meaningful total days/hours value can be calculated.
  • While the ATO pays a per day allowance based on meals/incidentals (so if you go 1 minute into a day, you get the full days allowance) the company only pays meal windows and incidental hours actually you touch with your off duty down route time.
  • Note that early arrivals and therefore early sign off’s should generate additional allowances (where relevant).
  • Delayed departures that do not result in delayed sign on do not incur additional allowances – you need to have your return sector sign on delayed to achieve additional allowances.
  • While the CSP’s (A1) specify 80 minutes between Sign On and Off Blocks for all international departures (from Oz and elsewhere); the company has increased this to 90 minutes for LAX departures.
  • The values in the current sheet are relevant for Pilots under the current EBA; Cabin Crew will need to amend the values in the data sheet.


There is a second data sheet you can use to update/amend the values the sheet uses to calculate:


B777 – Rejected Landing

While it’s far too early to tell what actually happened, in light of EK521 it’s perhaps germane to re-visit a topic that I wrote about in my Procedures and Techniques document quite some time ago – the Rejected Landing. As a reminder – the text of that entry into my tome is below, along with Boeing’s paragraph from the FCTM.

The Boeing text on this fairly unique maneuver is pretty quick and bland. In no way does it hint at the hands and feet going everywhere this exercise can become when it’s taught to pilots during their initial training onto the aircraft type. I recently completed training this exercise in the simulator to two new Captains transferring onto the 777, and as always I ensured each trainee had at least two goes at it; one to make the mistakes; one to learn and apply the lessons; sometimes a third to turn it into a maneuver that holds no mystery and less challenge.

That’s both the beauty and the trap of the simulator. It’s actually quite a challenge to introduce this maneuver into a simulated training environment in such a way as to take the pilots under training by surprise. You’re not trying to do that in transition training anyway – the lesson plan in full is pre-briefed and the techniques and procedures that will be used in response to pre-programmed events discussed at length so that everyone involved can get the most from their time in this expensive device.

But when it comes to training qualified line pilots – being able to instill?parameters into a developing situation on an approach that will lead to a genuinely surprising need for a rejected landing maneuver is actually quite challenging. But that’s exactly what you need. When it comes to rejected landing – no line pilot is going to get a couple of goes at it to get it right in the aircraft; and when it comes, the requirement to perform the maneuver well enough may be a complete surprise.

A bounced landing in particular may well come off an unstable approach and therefore be a foreseeable incoming maneuver for the pilots concerned – but equally it can all go pear-shaped in the last 100 ft with wind and temperature shifts that take a slightly less aware pilot into the runway with some force – and probably back up again. Then you’re firmly in the potential rejected landing regime.

In some ways – much like AAR214 it is often the case that the automation is not the reliable friend in this scenario that it usually is for the pilots. Once you’ve touched down the inherent automation paradigm is slowing down and stopping. Given enough time on the ground (and?in fact, not all that much time) the spoilers deploy up off the wings to spoil lift and push the aircraft down onto the wheels, where the automatic braking is just about to kick in.

The TO/GA switches which would have initiated a go-around (commanding a Pitch UP indication and an actual Thrust Increase) only a few seconds before; are now disabled until the aircraft registers airborne again. Thus the pilots who are heavily reliant on the relatively automatic response to the TO/GA switches may not get what they have been trained to expect by practice and preaching.

But it’s still a Boeing.

Push the thrust levers forward – and there will be thrust.

Pull back on the controls – and the aircraft will pitch up if there’s any airspeed at all – even if there’s not quite enough airspeed yet; there’ll still be enough pitch up and start a pretty sprightly climb away from the ground.

But sometimes, we forget that – pushing the buttons we’ve been told to push and waiting for the Flight Director to tell us what to do now …

Procedures and Techniques : Rejected Landing Procedure

Boeing FCTM

A rejected landing is a manoeuvre performed when crew decide to action a go-around after the aircraft has touched down. The reasons for this are few, but included in them would be a late landing with potentially insufficient runway to complete the landing roll safely.

Note that this could occur after speed brake deployment, but prior to reverse thrust application. The application of the reversers commits the aircraft to the landing.

While the FCTM documents Go-Around after Touchdown, the following points should be noted about the Boeing procedure.

  • Go-Around after Touchdown is actioned using normal go-around procedures (see FCOM NP and QRH MAN)
  • After touchdown, the TOGA switches will be inhibited ? thrust application will be fully manual (maximum thrust should be used) and the flight directors will not give correct indications until the TOGA switches are used airborne.
  • Be aware that the stabiliser trim may not be set correctly and control forces may be unusual during rotation.
  • Speed brakes will stow and auto brakes will deactivate when the thrust levers are advanced sufficiently.
  • A takeoff configuration warning is typically generated as the thrust is advanced with landing flap.
  • Once airborne, the TOGA switches should be selected to provide normal FMA/Flight Director/Auto Throttle go-around.

Clipboard Reference : 06Jul16

ClipboardMost pilots at some point develop a set of crib notes on the aircraft and operation they fly. For some this is quick and dirty, it essentially gets them through line training and these home grown notes are often then abandoned.

Current Version : 06.Jul.2012 and can be downloaded as a PDF here.

For many pilots they are somewhat more extensive. For a few they become a complete re-write of all the manuals, including the company specific ones, and become a tome (or tomb) of information. In a very few instances – they become a source of reference for others and are sold as such. A friend of mine at Emirates has such a document for the Ek 777 operation. The last time I looked – it was 23.7 megabytes and 250 PDF pages that he now sells to other pilots. And it’s worth it.

I have developed various reference pieces in my time as well. Some continue. I have a database used to test myself with Questions and Answers. In that database are hundreds of questions on the 777, the A310-300/600 and the Fairchild Metro 23. There are also questions on?777 Recurrent Phases, A300/A310 Airbus Cbt Questions, Boeing 777 CBT Questions, Breast Feeding Support Group, Pilot Training From Engineering Dept, Cold Weather Operations, Drug And Alcohol Management, Dangerous Goods, Dangerous Goods 2010, Boeing 777 Fctm, Flash Card Questions, Flight Operations Manual, Airport ILS PRM Procedures, Boeing 777 Refresher Points, Reduced Vertical Separation Minima B777, Sep 2010 Exam, and Upgrade Questions. In short – anytime I come across an exam resource I try to find time to add it to the database. In the past I’ve sold it too.

Another resource that has survived is my clipboard document. It sits (surprise, surprise) inside my clipboard. Various things appear on and off it. Some stay from issue to issue, some are updated for accuracy and content, some things disappear to be replaced by something else.

In the past people have asked me for a copy and I’ve obliged, with the usual protestations of accuracy, legitimacy, relevancy and clarification that I am all care and no responsibility. As a Trainer, Checker, Training Manager and now a Standards Manager, the only thing that worries me more than seeing someone with a copy of my work (that’s outside the sphere of company documentation, much of which IS my work) – is seeing someone with an out of date copy. Hence this post and why you can find the latest copy of my clipboard document here.

Clipboard Reference

Here’s what’s on my clipboard document, how I made it, and why.

Boeing 777-300ER Unfactored Autobrake Landing Distance

I wanted to develop an appreciation of the effectiveness or 777 braking and the kind of landing distances I could expect across the range of airports we used to operate to at Emirates. I started with this table, which turns an approach reference speed as provided by the FMC and converts it into distance based on Surface Conditions (Dry or Wet with Good Braking Action) and the selected Autobrake.

[Read more…]

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


Low Missed Approach Altitude Restriction

LowMAA2A question concerning a recent change to the missed approach procedures in Dubai UAE (OMDB) has raised some interesting points about the 777 in this flight regime – high thrust, low altitude, high pilot workload; and ATC procedures that would seem to be not too well thought out.

Specifically the new procedure introduces a not-above altitude of 1300 ft AMSL after going around from a near sea level Precision or GPS approach minimum (1000 ft missed approach climb).

As any pilot of a two engine jet aircraft can tell you – early level off’s in the missed approach are not a good thing. Typically anything below 3000 ft introduces a significant workload on the pilots – and that’s when the missed approach is straight ahead, the autopilot is engaged and the aircraft fully functional. Add some manual flight and a non-normal element to this … the SandPit Pilots must be just loving this new procedure in the simulators in Dubai. The French did an extensive study on errors made during the missed approach and the folly of low altitude requirements in the missed approach path was just one of their conclusions.

This new procedure initially tracks straight ahead from the Missed Approach Point (MAP) [That’s a good thing] to DB710; but requires the crew to level off at 1300 ft AMSL [Not so good]. It then requires level flight for approximately 3nm [Why? Why?] during which a turn must be commenced (at DB710), and the then finally the missed approach climb segment may be continued (from DB711) to the final Missed Approach Altitude (MAA) of 3000 ft AMSL.

LowMAA1Multiple altitude requirements in missed approaches are nothing new. Typically however they are must-reach-by or at-or-above requirements to ensure terrain clearance, rather than “Stop” altitudes like this one. I haven’t looked around for a while, but I can’t actually recall a missed approach quite like this one.

That’s why I jumped into the simulator today and ran through it, just to see what it looks like. Looking at the chart – it looks like a dog’s breakfast. Looking at it in the simulator – I was not disappointed.

There clearly must be a reason driving this procedure. For the life of me I can’t think of an obstacle related one, unless a Sheikh has placed a permanent hot air balloon at 2000 ft off the end of the runway to see the sights, one of which is watching aircraft sailing by under his balloon at 1300 ft. This is Dubai remember, it could happen.

I can only assume that this altitude requirement in some way keeps aircraft going round from tangling with aircraft either (a) going around; or (b) approaching in the opposite direction on the other runway. In either case it’s a poor excuse for the potential cluster this introduces into the flight deck.

Thrust, Lots of Thrust

The biggest problem with these early level offs is Thrust. The 777 Autothrottle is supposed to limit thrust on a two engine go-around from full thrust back to a setting that guarantees at least 2000 fpm. It does this very, very well. In fact it does this so well that you usually get well over 3500+ fpm by the time things have settled down, which by definition is at least 2000 fpm, but is not particularly helpful when you’re trying to keep control of your aircraft. You have to remember these engines are designed to lift 350 Tons of aircraft (with one engine failed). Lifting the aircraft’s 250 ton landing weight on both engines is an underwhelming task to say the least. All two engine aircraft are fundamentally overpowered right up until the point where one of the engines fail …

Additionally the link between the software of the Autothrottle and the software of the AFDS Takeoff Go-Around (TO/GA) and Altitude Capture (ALT) modes is a tenuous one – in fact there isn’t one really. As such each and every time I ran this scenario – unless the pilot intervened, the 1300 ft restriction was exceeded by at least 100 ft because there was simply too much thrust/energy for the autopilot to capture the altitude adequately. This probably won’t set off alarm bells in the ATC center or the airline Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) programs. But it doesn’t look good in the sim on your check.

The really cool thing is that after this minor bust you’re about 1300 feet above the ground shortly after a go around and sinking back down to your required altitude – you guessed it, several times the GPWS activated to give me a stern “DON’T SINK” caution. It’s a good thing really. Because I spend far too much time operating this aircraft safely within the best practice envelope, I just don’t get enough practice at listening to GPWS warnings. It’s nice to know I can go somewhere in the world and operate the aircraft as the manufacturer intended but still get to hear “DON’T SINK” after the go-around …

What to do?

Well, you have a couple of options, all based around manual flight intervention. You could disconnect the AP early in the maneuver and manually capture the altitude, avoiding the altitude bust. Nothing is for free however, your workload will increase significantly also increasing the likelihood of error. Meanwhile your thrust won’t be behaving any differently, so as you push forward manually on the flight controls to capture your altitude (giving your passengers a free roller-coaster feeling) you’re likely to get an small overspeed as the thrust levers struggle to catch up. Options to fix that include overriding the Autothrottle temporarily and reducing thrust to contain the speed/altitude – or going full manual on the thrust. You thought the workload was higher going manual early in the missed approach? How is it now? The truth is that there just isn’t a simple, appropriate fix to this problem – if there was, the Autopilot would have been able to do it.

When to Accelerate

MAPP Accel1With an intermediate level off prior to the final MAA, the question occurs – when will you accelerate and retract Flap? Initially the speed will be flown based on the approach speed, with one stage of flap retracted in the go-around maneuver. Hence you are typically flying at Flap 20 and you’re a few knots below Flap 20 minimum speed, which is considered acceptable when you have a massive amount of thrust on and you’re rocketing up for the sky. But since you have not reached the final MAA, most airlines will require their pilots to retain this slower speed to ensure terrain clearance in the subsequent sectors of the missed approach procedure until reaching MAA or an earlier altitude that guarantees terrain clearance. As discussed elsewhere, typically terrain clearance for intermediate acceleration in the missed approach is not assessed – and there’s no indication that it has been assessed here. The presence of a 768 ft obstacle just at DB711 where you’re still held down at 1300 ft for no obvious reason isn’t encouraging. So the chances are you’ll want to retain your initial missed approach speed until you finally reach the MAA of 3000 ft AMSL.

But as your Autopilot Flight Director System (AFDS) captures 1300 feet as set in the Mode Control Panel (MCP) Altitude Selector – the speed automatically jumps up and the aircraft accelerates away, taking the decision away from the unaware pilot. Thrust – which is already very high for a 1000 ft altitude change – now increases as it’s released from the shackles of only needing to provide at least 2000 fpm, and instead drives to full GA thrust in order to accelerate the the Flap limit speed. Given this occurs as you’re still trying to level at 1300 ft – you can see why the altitude bust keeps occurring.

In any case – since most international airlines do not accelerate in the missed approach until reaching either MAA or a point at which terrain clearance is assured – you will NOT want to let the aircraft accelerate. This means winding the speed back after ALT capture; the later you managed to do this, the longer you’ll be under large thrust settings.

LowMAA4It’s worth noting that any physical change in the MCP Selected Speed after the TO/GA mode has been activated dis-arms the speed jump up when ALT captures. I demonstrated this several time today. Once estalbished safely in the go-around (Flight Mode Annunciator (FMA) modes verified; positive climb; Gear Up) – when the “Four Hundred” foot call was made I reached up and increased the selected speed by one knot. With this done, the speed remains at go-around speed when the AFDS ALT captures. This technique works even if you change the speed and then reset it to the initial go-around speed; or simply set it to the minimum speed for your go-around flap setting (Flap 20 or Flap 5) for a more comfortable level segment at 1300 ft.

Missed Approach Commenced Above MAA

In my Procedures and Techniques document, I have a small paragraph on commencing the Missed Approach from above MAA and a suggested technique for it – we experience this occasionally in KLAX where the approaches often commence from 4000 ft – but the MAA is 2000 ft.

When commencing a missed approach like this one where you’re actually higher than an altitude requirement – the standard procedure of TO/GA, Pitch/Thrust, Gear won’t help – you actually want to continue the descent down the approach to the altitude restriction (1300 ft). For a precision approach the priority is to de-select Approach (APP) mode. By design an engaged APP mode will fly you straight through your 1300 ft requirement.

Additionally if you’re in APP?mode at 1500 ft it locks in and you’re only way out of LOC/GS at that point is to disconnect the Autopilot AND cycle both Flight Directors OFF. Having de-selected APP the AFDS should be in HDG/TRK and VS. Laterally LNAV is probably the best choice (is your active waypoint ahead of you?), and VS will suit you fine until you capture either MAA or the lower requirement (in this case the 1300 ft). If you’re capturing MAA (such as in KLAX) you now have the option of accelerating and cleaning up. But for this strange procedure – you may need to maintain your approach speed flying level until you eventually reach the final MAA of 3000 ft. Don’t forget to raise the gear at some point …

In Summary

In summary – odd procedures like this expose some of the limitations of our aircraft, it’s systems and our procedures. It’s worth running a few of these low altitude captures next time you’re in the simulator.

Finally – a recent NOTAM indicates that UAE ATC may have had a change of perspective on this procedure. Whether this comes from operational experience and results in a permanent change – we’ll have to wait until the next documentation cycle to find out.

EBA Allowance Calculator (Domestic Only) UPDATE

I recently developed a spreadsheet to check the domestic allowances I was being paid. The process was educational, to say the least. This initial version only checks domestic allowances – I will develop further to facilitate the checking of rostered vs actual international allowances as well.

Update : Recently Payroll have been paying correctly the meal allowances; but still persist on under paying the incidental allowance. I’ve also discovered they are unable to backpay correctly based on what was agreed was in error (hence V1.4 to allow you to enter backpay and highlight further discrepancies).

  • Version 1.4 (02Apr16) : Added a column on the RHS of the calculator to allow backpaid allowances to be entered and checked.
  • Version 1.3 (10Jul15) : Added allowances for post 01Jul15 (to be updated); unlocked the green allowances section for user edit.
  • Version 1.2 (14-Apr-15) : Bugfix Release (Dinner using Lunch Allowance in Duty Periods sheet).
  • Version 1.1 (05.Apr.15) : Initial Issue


Having only recently come to the EBA, I’ve started seeing the additional payments that come into my salary associated with Overtime, Callout and Allowances. The first of these two I track and check using my EBA Overtime Calculator, which you can get from the linked post. Certainly the comparison of what I believe I should be paid as compared with what I have been paid has been an educational process, illuminating for me both the detail of the EBA and inner working of the rostering and payroll systems, occasionally requiring follow up redress. I encourage everyone to check their overtime/callout when it’s paid every 8 weeks.

Allowances however are a different story. The process of calculating how much should be paid across a series of meal windows and an associated incidental period is relatively simple and I used such a process extensively in my Crew Allowance Tax Calculator (the latest of which can be downloaded from the link).

As such I figured it would be easy to develop a sheet to check my domestic allowances. To make sure I was doing it right, I started with the EBA, which is where I struck my first problem. The paucity of detail in this document covering a moderately complicated issue such as crew allowances at domestic and international ports was manifestly inadequate for my purposes. I fired off a couple of emails with comprehensive questions to the responsible line management, so far without a reply. In the end I reverted to the Short Haul EBA for the basis of calculation, the premise of which is basically that from the time you sign on at home Base for the purpose of operating Duty(ies) which include an overnight away from home base, you’re continuously paid Meal/Incidental Allowances until you sign off again back at home Base. This happens irrespective of whether meals are provided associated with your duties or not – or so my fellow domestic pilots advise.

I would like to give credit here to Dean Young, who provided the original formulae for the Allowance Checker. He was looking at this issue at the time as I was, and developed the formulae to assess the presence of a duty period over a meal window.

Dean was using a spreadsheet to fact check paid allowances, I used it for a different purpose (Tax) but the formula requirement was the same. His solution was elegant and with his permission I used it in my own sheet. Dean was responsible for much behind the scenes work in the early days of V Australia (we didn’t call it Volunteer Australia for nothing …), for which many will never appreciate.

Thanks Dean.

In any case I thought I had a handle on it so I started a sheet based on my Tax Calculator. It took me an afternoon to get a sheet I was happy with, which looked substantially like the following:


As always with my spreadsheets, the green cells are where you enter your information, the other cells are where you shouldn’t change things unless you want the calculations to go wrong. The Clear button deletes your entries in the green cells.

Basically you enter the periods away from home in green. On the 15th March I reported at 15:55 for a flight to BNE, to undertake a few days of simulator training, before returning to Melbourne, signing off at 18:50 on the 17th March after the flight home. The calculation is relatively simple where Incidental is purely based on hours away from home at a fixed rate; Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner meal allowances paid when your time away from Base touches any of the allocated meal windows. Or so I thought.

Allowance2However when it comes to checking the allowance you were paid – it’s a different story.

You see we are paid on a two week basis, covering a two week period, and we receive that pay about 4 working days after the close of that two week window. This payroll fortnight takes no account of your comings and goings and as such you can be paid for half of your time away in one pay check, and the rest of your time away in the next.

As such I was now confronted with the requirement to turn the fairly easy to enter blocks of time away from home base to a meal/date specific result that would be easy to check against the payslip. After much effort – I finally realised I couldn’t do it without code.

I therefore built a custom function in Visual Basic (Applications) for Excel, called:

Payslip (PaySlipDate As Date, Meal As String, Payrate As Currency) As Currency

This is certainly not my best piece of programming, it’s pretty quick and dirty, but it does the job. This formula requires three variables:

  • A Date – the date during the payslip period which is to be examined for possible allowances;
  • a Meal – the name of the meal band (“Breakfast”, “Lunch”, “Dinner”) which the calculation is to look for; and
  • a Rate – the rate of the particular meal allowance to be paid.

The value returned is either Zero (no allowance paid); in the case of Brekky, Lunch or Dinner the PayRate of the particular allowance if there is one on the date requested; or in the case of Incidentals – how much is to be paid in the way of an Incidental amount for that date.

This formula is incorporated into another sheet that looks like this:


  • The Payslip Date is Entered/Selected at the top.
  • The Start/End date of the related period fill in at the top, and down the LHS of the calculating area
  • Based on these dates, each Meal Period (and Incidental) for each date is reviewed in the context of duty periods away from base entered previously on the other sheet. If you were on station during a meal period on a particular date – this sheet detects that and fills in the amount. The incidental amount depends on how many hours you were away from Base (up to 24) and calculates it accordingly.
  • Once the sheet has calculated where you should have been paid something – the green cell next to the required payment value turns yellow.
  • The yellow cells are where you are required to enter something (one of the following):
    • Yes : You were paid the full amount. (enter the word “Yes”)
    • No : You were paid nothing against this meal/incidental allowance (enter the word “No”); or
    • $##.## : The amount you were paid (this is reserved for the Incidental figure as printed on your payslip).

The result?


As can be shown here, there is a missing meal, and the incidentals are rarely paid in full. From a review of the last 6 months of allowances calculated vs paid:

  • No incidentals are being paid on the first day of a duty (neither positioning up to BNE for simulator nor positioning up the day prior to simulator)
  • Incidentals are never paid in full for full days away from Base (my suspicion is that when I sign on to teach simulator in BNE, I stop being paid the incidental allowance).
  • The odd occasional meal drops out of the Company’s calculation. I originally postulated that when I signed on to teach Simulator, I was no longer being paid a meal allowance, hence the odd meal on most days there would be a meal allowance missing. However this turns out not to be the case – I can’t see any rhyme or reason as to why I’m missing a meal every now and then. Perhaps they’re not paying me when I skip meals?

Over the past 6 months the difference I’ve calculated comes to over $600. I have yet to claims these and will be doing so early next week. Many years ago I detected an error in the way I was being paid an allowance at Emirates, my previous employer. This error affected a small number of pilots several times a week (depending on them operating a particular flight pairing); but went back a couple of years. The solution was for the company to change the wording of our “contracts” so that the manner in which the allowance had previously been paid was correct. I don’t think that’s going to happen here .. but it will no doubt be interesting, especially given the vague wording of our agreement.

Deciding to Stop

TkoffInhibit2Many years ago when I was a junior FO new to the 777, I did one of my first recurrent checks in the simulator with an Examiner who started asking questions about the takeoff inhibits system. After several such questions – of both the Captain and myself – it became increasingly apparent that not only did we not seem to have the fullest of understanding of the in’s and out’s of this system, but that the Examiner himself was something of an expert. To my increasingly widening eyes he regurgitated fact after factoid as to the intricacies of this system, drawing a diagram on the board of such breadth and depth of complexity that by the time he was done, the result was unrecognizable as anything that could possibly relate to a system existing on this planet, let alone anything on board the aircraft. After it was over, I thought to myself “Man, this guy really knows the 777 inside and out. He Is Awesome.

Now, I know better.

This particular Examiner missed the point. While the Boeing transition course, and the associated documentation explains the system in detail – the value of this system is in not needing to know the nitty gritty. The reason this system is in place is to keep the detail away from the pilot’s attention during critical phases of flight – such as high speed takeoff – and only present just what you really must know in order to make simple what would otherwise be a complex decision at high speed during a time critical phase of high stress. Unfortunately that wasn’t communicated to me at that time, nor was it communicated 6 months later when I did another check with the same Examiner, nor even the time after that. I finally realised that this display wasn’t being done to teach me anything in particular (or at least not anything useful); it wasn’t even being done to demonstrate my lack of knowledge or lack of commitment to excellence (even though it seemed that way at the time); it was done to show me the extensive repertoire of nonsense that this gentlemen had command of, along with a very firm grasp of the non-essentials.

So when I was asked about this recently during a briefing I was conducting for a sim check on two pilots – I brought out my diagram …



I showed this on the screen, and told the candidates they had a couple of minutes it memorise it before I start asking questions. Not.

The EICAS alerting inhibit system – specifically referring to takeoff – exists to be used practically to determine:

  • What to reject the takeoff for at Low Speed (nominally less than 80 knots); and
  • What to reject the takeoff for at High Speed.

In spite of the excessive focus given to this system by some Examiners, the system itself is not a memorisation item. Some things are worth nothing from the diagram above however:

  • For the most part the EICAS Warning/Caution messages are not inhibited during takeoff and will display during the takeoff in association with the malfunction/failure.
  • The Master Warning/Caution Lights and Aurals are inhibited from before V1 (Decision speed) until 400 ft / 20 seconds after liftoff.
  • Generally speaking alerts that commence before an inhibit is reached will continue to show/sound after the inhibit subsequently commences. It’s a clue that you shouldn’t be carrying low speed failures into the high speed regime, essentially.
  • Pilots (Captains!) should be particularly aware that the CABIN ALERT Com message and the associated Hi/Lo Chime is not inhibited at all during takeoff. See at the bottom of this post.

So what do we stop for?

Low Speed (<80 Knots)

Low speed rejected takeoff’s are usually less critical and as such you’ll initiate a reject for less serious reasons. That doesn’t mean they’re not a handful.

My previous carrier had a policy for quite some time that all takeoff’s in minimum visibility were to be conducted with full thrust irrespective of the weight of the aircraft. The theory I guess was to minimise the time spent in the risk window racing down the runway in almost no visibility (125m), which is good as far as it goes …

In practice however, I sat beside a Captain once who was given a complete engine failure at about 50 knots in just such a scenario. At these speeds the autobrake does not arm, and the auto throttle is still actively engaged. He rejected the takeoff, closing the thrust levers, before reaching for the speedbrake. But he forgot to disconnect the autothrottle and so the levers advanced up again as he reached for the speedbrake lever. Being the big beast that it is, the still functioning non-failed GE90 777 engine had barely begun to spin down from it’s 115,000 pounds of thrust before the lever was back up again and thrust began to restore the barely previously left full power setting. Since at these speeds you’re well below VMCG (minimum speed for being able to steer the aircraft straight with large amounts of asymmetric thrust) – we were in the grass off to the side of runway before He (or I for that matter) could work out what was going on. A quick analysis, a reposition to the start of the runway, and we did it again. And I mean we did it again – off the side of the runway once more. After the third try, and the third attempt to mow grass with a 270 million dollar airliner – cooler heads prevailed and we took a break.

Here’s the good guts on a low speed reject.



High Speed Reject

High Speed Rejected Takeoff is an exercise in and of itself – practiced and perfected in no small degree during transition and upgrade training. Despite the veneer of calm professionalism pilots display at all times (which my wife calls my “air of authority” Ha!); the last thing we actually like doing is making really important decisions with serious outcomes during highly critical phases of flight – in a hurry. That’s why the inhibit system is so great – it reduces genuine complexity down to some fairly simple options.


Further …

Keen eyes will note that the CABIN ALERT chime (referred to as the PILOT ALERT by cabin crew) is not inhibited at all during takeoff – and neither is the associated Hi/Lo Chime. A useful exercise, to be followed by a consequence-free and open discussion afterwards, is the following I like to give to newish 777 Captains in “extra time” in the sim.

  • Heavy Weight Takeoff (high V1)
  • Failure of the Captain’s Pilot Flying Display (PFD) at 120 knots (say V1-50)
  • EICAS CABIN ALERT at 150 knots (say V1-30)

The PFD failure is nasty because the Captain/PF loses his/her primary reference for speeds, pitch, altitude, tracking – all that good stuff. If you haven’t had it before, it’s not a small thing. But two deep breathes and the 777 automatically switches the PFD across to the secondary screen and all is good again. Besides – you’ve been taught that unless the aeroplane talks to you during takeoff (Buzzer/Chime/Siren etc) – you shouldn’t stop.

Then the CABIN ALERT Hi/Lo Chime goes off. At this point, one of two things happen:

  • The Captain rejects the takeoff – “STOP!” After he’s closed the thrust levers, applying maximum braking (or at least he thinks he is); Raises the Speedbrake lever and applies full reverse; steers the centerline and brings 350,000 kg of aircraft and souls-on-board to a halt just short of the end of the runway, he picks up the intercom and hears the Cabin Crew at L5 asking the Cabin Crew at L1 where they should go to dinner tonight in LA … or …
  • The Captain continues the takeoff “GO!” … Once the takeoff is complete and the aircraft is clean and above terrain, he reaches down for the intercom and the Flight Manager informs him that there’s smoke everywhere through the cabin and it all started on the takeoff roll …

Despite the latter (nasty) scenario, the right decision is almost always to take the problem – whatever it is – into the air. While cabin crew are trained in the concept of sterile flight deck and are well drilled on not calling the flight deck for any reason during takeoff, mistakes are made and the chances are that any problem identified in the cabin – but not seen on the Flight Deck – at high speed is best taken into the air, rather than (potentially) off the end of the runway.


Having read the post above, a friend of mine asked “We seems to have a lot of guys stop for bird strikes in the high speed region. No indications of fire or failure just a bloody great thump. What do you think?? By the book it’s a no no.


RTO2When you are operating smaller aircraft on longer runways – it can be hard to argue with success, right up until the point where someone rejects at high speed for a birdstrike that doesn’t impact the aircraft’s ability to fly, and that aircraft runs off the side or the end of the runway. Fundamentally if the aircraft is safe to fly and you’ve reached the high speed regime, the manufacturer (and almost without exception your Standards Department) wants you to take the aircraft – and the problem – into the air.

Taking the aircraft into the air from the high speed regime is something we do everyday – sometimes several times a day – as part of our business-as-usual operational practice. Stopping the aircraft from high speed within the confines of possibly not longitudinally but always laterally limited piece of pavement is something we practice perhaps twice a year, in the simulator only. It’s a high risk maneuver. As such I agree with the Manufacturer (easy course to take, I know) – unless the aircraft isn’t safe to fly – take the problem into the air.

In some ways this argument parallels a similar discussion regarding Unstable Approach (see Checking in the Aircraft). If you get down to 1000 ft and you’re not stable, but you soon will be, why can’t you continue past 1000 ft and go-around later if you have to. The answer is that policy compliance here is required at least in part for the big pictures of safe aircraft operations. It may be justifiable that for your situation on the day continuation might not be unsafe at all; it is undeniable that the policy of requiring all aircraft to plan and fly to meet stabilisation criteria, and go-around if they are not stable, has reduced the industry accident rate considerable.

Recently I saw a failure in the sim at high speed of the loss of 4 of the 6 tyres on the LH bogie in a 777. I am certainly not new to any of the seats in the sim, and despite the fact that I am fully cognizant that when it comes to noise and vibration the simulator just can’t reflect the true severity we will see in the aircraft when the real thing occurs – I was surprised at the level of noise and vibration this failure gave us in the sim. As the examiner – I fully expected the Captain to stop the aircraft as a result, which he did not. Speed still increasing, thrust still there – “Go!“. While it was was what I wanted to see, what I expected (theoretically) to see, it was definitely nice to watch.

Checking Crew in the Aircraft

I’ve been sitting on this post for nearly two years. I originally developed the content for internal discussions within our Standards Department as the result of an occurrence on a check; then further developed it as I discussed the issues raised with my fellow Checkers; along with Checkers and Standards Managers from several other airlines. Interestingly while the issues were common across other airlines – there is a wild divergence in how far down this path various Airline Standards Organisations have gone. For myself I couldn’t publish this content while in a Standards Management role; subsequent to that I’ve been working and re-working the following until it’s at a point where I’m not happy with it – but it’s going out anyway. In truth I think the following is best suited to a discussion during a ground training day while upgrading new Check Captains. However before any discussion is entered into – the Standards Management team needs to consider the implications carefully and thoughtfully develop and document policy. The following content is also relatively complex (unfortunately) for which I apologise to anyone reading this not directly involved in Aircraft Training/Checking. That said – these issues could easily be mapped across to just about any industry seeking to train and maintain standards within an operational regime.

Update 06Jan16 : A friend of mine in a management role at a UK airline read this and asked a follow on question; question and answer at the bottom.

Training vs Checking

An airline standards organisation is typically responsible for both the training of pilots that takes place in the airline, as well as the checking of the standards of those pilots. As a generalisation, training is typically provided for the purposes of achieving a satisfactory standard in a subsequent check; rarely is training provided to qualified pilots as a means to an end (unfortunately). Such a following check can be at the end of a long course of training – such as a new aircraft type rating transition course; or following a short one – such as a single day of training in the simulator every six months followed by the Check simulator session. A Check event can also come to crew without any preparatory training – such as an annual line check in the aircraft.

Note : Some airlines have split Checking from Training into separate departments with separate lines of reporting for the Check and Training Captains. The Training Department is seen as a service industry, the service being the delivery of training and the product being the standards of the airline’s pilots. The Checking department is seen as an independent quality assurance mechanism, ensuring the standard of the product and providing improvement feedback to the Training Department based on assessment of the product – the standards of the pilots.

Having worked under a system like this (as well as the more traditional combined training/checking department); I like the split, not in the least of which because when you combine the two the Training often becomes subservient to the Checking; whereas I believe it should be the other way around, or in the very least equal. The biggest failing of the split system I believe is when you end up with Checkers who never train. Maintaining your training skills is crucial as a Checker, and it’s not something you can do effectively during a check.


Training is typically characterised by published lesson plans so the student(s) are fully aware of what they will be expected to do, and an open environment in which questions are asked by all involved – and equally, answered by all involved, before during and after the training.

The training is conducted by a Training Captain (or exceptionally a Training First Officer); and input/feedback/instruction (verbal and otherwise) from the trainer to encourage the student towards higher proficiency, is manifest. A good Trainer pitches the level of input for each student not just to push them towards at least the minimum required standard; but to improve each student’s own personal standard as well. Training can be of the non-recurrent type, typically for the purpose of gaining a new qualification – or of a recurrent nature, the latter being essentially training provided against tasks for which the student is already qualified to do, usually be followed thereafter by a recurrent Check event.

Note : The issue of placing training before assessment is a hot topic of discussion. Many airlines have moved to a “First Look” concept where pilots are checked before they are trained. While this may seem overtly unfair, this is because you’re coming at it from the wrong end of the stick. The purpose of recurrent training is not to prepare you for the check – but to improve your proficiency as well as address any shortcomings that may have developed in your standards.

The purpose of the check is not to assess whether the training you were given was adequate – it’s to ensure you are meeting the standard required to fly the aircraft safely, and to identify areas in which you need, or would benefit from additional training. Hence the ideal paradigm is firstly a check in which your ability to perform straight off the line is assessed; then you are given training which should be driven at least in part by the assessments taken during the check.

The content of the training and checking being delivered to pilots is slowly moving towards a paradigm where that content is driven by the performance of the airline’s pilots during checking. As the data from checking identifies that a particular manoeuvre is done poorly by a statistically significant number of pilots – more of the focus of training and assessment is introduced in subsequent recurrent phases of training onto that poorly performed event. This works best when your Check is done before the training, when the vagaries of your line pilots is not masked by the training delivered before a check.

Occasionally events are repeated in training to achieve a better outcome or illustrate a technique; moreover there is typically no limits on the number of repeats available to the student in order to reach a good standard (within the limits of time, etc). Checks on the other hand usually offer a limited number of “Repeats” within the check to allow a candidate to demonstrate competency only after having already demonstrating a lack of competency in that event within the check. More, an event can only be repeated only once, and must achieve a higher standard than was required at the initial attempt.

While Trainers assess performance and grade accordingly – including “failing” grades (which should be termed as a “Failure to Progress” or “Not Ready for Check” rather than “Fail”) this assessment is made on the back of training delivered and does not consider whether the student would have been successful at the task without the input of the trainer.

From the point of view of recurrent training, this is an interesting conundrum – why should we be providing training to pilots in something could have happened to them in the aircraft the day before they were in the simulator? Such training is provided on the back of decades of clear evidence that it’s required; in part this is to maintain and improve proficiency in an entire suite of events in which we expect all pilots to be able to deal with – events you can’t or shouldn’t practice in the aircraft. Jet Upset/Unusual Attitude Recovery is something best not done when First Class passengers are trying to balance their champagne glasses 10 meters behind you …

I deliberately use the word “Proficiency” when training, and “Competency” when checking.

Years ago I came across a phrase which has stuck in my mind to this day – through various training, checking and management roles.

Our intent is to Train to Proficiency; and Check for Competency.

Perhaps more than any other this characterises the differences in the task and the role of the assessors of Training and Checking. The implication here is that we look to achieve a higher standard in our students in training than we require of our candidates in checking – is this how your organisation does it?

Checking in the Simulator

Checking on the other hand, is a different animal indeed. In some parlance, the perfect check event is where during the assessment the Check Captain may speak to the crew as ATC; as the Flight Manager or Purser; as the Engineer; as Dispatch; as the Fire Chief; as the Company – but never as the Check Captain.

The candidate(s) are given an initial set of criteria as they would normally expect for a flight – the from, the to, various performance and weather data; in short all that’s required to get a serviceable aircraft from A to B; but they aren’t told what non normal events are likely to occur, how the weather will change, or which instrument approaches they are going to do. The Check Captain will vary the conditions (weather, airport/runway status, etc) and inject normal and non-normal events into the flight based on a confidential script to provide the opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate desirable behaviours; whether the basic competencies such as procedural application or manipulative skill, through to the higher order aspects of situational awareness; task management or decision making. Broadly speaking this skillset is divided in the Technical Skills, and the Non Technical Skills (formerly CRM).

This assumes that the session runs from beginning to end without interruption. Unfortunately this is rarely the case and often “repositions” are required in the simulator to position the aircraft and crew to a time, place and condition where they can then go on to demonstrate competence in a specific sequence or single event that will occur once the simulated aircraft is released. With this breakdown in the natural ebb and flow of the flight, the Check Captain is expected to “set the scene” for the candidates so they have a clear mindset adequate to the task they are about to undertake.

One major difference between simulator and aircraft checking is that in the simulator, the Check Captain is “God”, able to control the weather, the serviceability of the aircraft, the progress of the flight – even freeze the entire simulation or reposition the aircraft around the airport or around the world. While checking in the aircraft, we don’t have that option, unfortunately.

It’s a little excessive, but not incorrect to say that any input from the Check Captain to the Candidate during any check has the potential to invalidate the independent assessment of that check. It’s also not unfair to say this is a tremendous waste of resources and talent. Here you have a highly qualified, trained, experienced and motivated individual, sitting in a simulator (or an aircraft) behind two pilots who are probably willing to learn. But the Check Captain is not there to train; the Check Captain is there to check. From the point of view of making better pilots – 50% of our resources are wasted on checking. That’s a Trainer’s purist view, but a somewhat valid one I think.

So it can be seen that the role of Trainer and Checker is quite different. It is expected that all Checkers have the ability to train – but this is not necessarily a requisite skill. It is required that all Trainers have the ability to assess and grade performance – but this kind of assessment is subtly different from actual Checking. It’s fair to say that some Trainers would make better Checkers. It’s also fair to say that some Checkers would make superb Trainers and are in fact “wasted” in the Checking role. Unfortunately this is a consequence of a system that places undue reward (both monetarily and from a”prestige” point of view) on Checking over Training. To my mind we have this ass about; in the very least the roles should be remunerated equally.

At various times I have been involved in the conduct of interviewing Training Captains for the role of Check Captain. One of my questions of the interviewees (all of whom were current Training Captains) has been –

Once you become a Check Captain – which pilots do you think I (the Standards Manager) want to see you Fail?

In some cases, the response was that they were confident I (Ken) wouldn’t want to see anyone fail. While that’s not necessarily untrue, the correct answer of course is I (the Standards Manager) want anyone – everyone in fact – who fails to reach the minimum standard (of Safety) to be given an Unsatisfactory result. That’s incumbent in both the Checker and the Checker Manager.

Another area in which Checking is different to Training is the personal responsibility of the Trainer/Checker in terms of the Result.

As a Trainer when I’ve “failed” a student, it’s always a shared responsibility. The Student has been unable to reach the required standard to progress on to the next stage of training (or the Check) – on the back of the training I provided (or failed to provide). By definition, I own part of that failure as the Trainer who wasn’t able to train the student to proficiency. This truism remains valid whether the student is patently unsuitable for the role he/she is in or is training for; or if that student is just having a bad day. As the trainer, you own at least part of that failure.

On the other hand – as a Checker, you’re not there to assist anyone to achieve competency – you’re there to see if they can do it themselves. That said, most organisations recognise that the simulator is not the aircraft; that people have bad days; and as mentioned the system allow for some form of Repeat for a failed event within a check simulator session. This is usually only provided if there’s time available to do so; and only offered against an event for which the Checker has already graded the candidate a Fail/Unsatisfactory grade.

Unlike the Trainer, the Checker needs to be circumspect (depending on airline/regulator policy) on the feedback provided to the Candidate when giving a repeat. The specific reasons for the Repeat (against the failed event) must be provided to the Candidate. More input than this, and you’re starting down the road of training within the check, thereby invalidating the check itself. Your airline may allow this to some degree; most don’t.

Of course this is within the hothouse environment of the Flight Simulator – when you get out on the Aircraft; it’s a different kettle of fish altogether. This is where it really starts to get interesting.

Checking in the Aircraft

By definition – since repeats are only offered against an event that is a clear failure (below minimum standard); and of an event that brings an overall fail of the check – you can’t repeat failed events in the aircraft.

Ok Bloggs, that landing was unsatisfactory since you touched down about 50m off to the side of the runway in the grass and nearly hit the Control Tower. You control inputs were incorrect for the decreasing crosswind down final, and you didn’t apply rudder correctly in the flare to maintain the centreline. I’ll now position you and your 350 passengers out to 5 miles and we’ll have another go at that, shall we?“. If only.

In essence – any event in the aircraft that requires a repeat instead results in a failure of the line check. Any event which the candidate fails but does not result in a failure of the check, by definition is not a “fail” event in the check. For example, Bad Approach/Landing – fail your check. Crappy PA to the Passengers – not so much.

Traditionally the mantra of the line checker was that if you had to intervene in the progress of the flight, by definition this implies the failure of the candidate. What this means in practice however is in some airlines, a less than optimal situation may be allowed to progress to the point of a clear SOP/ATC violation before that intervention is forthcoming from the Assessor. Now we have a problem …

Annual Line Checking as a Crew Member

Annual Line Checks are conducted by a Check Captain who typically sits on the flight deck jumpseat as an extraneous member of the crew. While our aircraft only require two crew pilots; we have four pilots on board for reasons of crew rest. There isn’t room for the Check Captain as a fifth; hence on our flight deck the Check Captain is there also in an operational role – as a relief crew member. Logically (in terms of the check) when the Check Captain sits on the flight deck, he/she should not be involved in the flight; or at least involved to the least extent (safely) possible. However even when you’re not in a long haul environment, the point is moot. As a qualified Captain, as a professional (at least partly) responsible to the airline for the safe and efficient operation of the flight – can you really just there and let things degenerate to the point of a violation and not speak up – because it’s a check?

For each flight there is a Captain (CA), a First Officer (FO), and a Relief Crew Member (RCM). There is also the Pilot who is Flying (PF), and the Pilot who is Monitoring (PM). When the PF takes an action or fails to take an action that results in the failure of the check – what is the impact on the Pilot Monitoring who should have caught this? Or the Relief Crew Member who is sitting on the jump seat in the middle of the action with a (relatively) lower cognitive load than the other two pilots. Is the failure of one pilot the failure of the crew?

Consider also the situation where only one crew member (say just the FO) is under check. If this crew member similarly fails the check in such a way that could have been prevented by appropriate action or prompting by the PM or RCM who aren’t under check – is there any implication for their ability to operate their next rostered flight?

An important point to keep in mind is that the primary intent of this operation – and the focus of all crew (including the Check Captain) is not the assessment pass/fail of the crew members assigned to the flight that day – the mission is to get all the passengers and crew safely and efficiently from A to B.

This issue becomes more important as we discuss fail scenarios. With all this in mind – we’re finally at a point where I can discuss the issue at hand – assessment of candidates during aircraft line operations.


The following scenarios discuss some of the issues encountered by Check Captains during Line Operations, and highlight the need for Airline Check/Training Standards policy development on Aircraft Checking and the role of the Assessor. Let’s start with the most obvious, and probably most common.

Unstable Approach

After decades of incidents and accidents, it is universally recognised that best practice is for an airline standards department to establish an altitude at which the aircraft must be “Stable”. This includes appropriate lateral and vertical positioning from which a safe landing can be made; fully configured for landing (gear and flap); appropriate airspeed and thrust control; normal procedures such the Landing Checklist complete. Most airlines have this as 1000 ft; some airlines lower it to 500ft in visual conditions (some do not). If the aircraft is not stable by this “hard” altitude, the PM must call “Unstable – Go-Around” and the PF must comply. Similarly if the approach was stable but becomes unstable below stabilisation height – the crew must go-around.

Scenario : On approach, it becomes clear that the crew may not be able to comply with the company 1000 ft stabilisation requirement (on speed, configured for landing, checklists complete, etc).

  • Should the Check Captain intervene?
  • When should the Check Captain intervene?
  • If the Check Captain prompts the crew to take action to bring the aircraft back towards a stable profile – what impact does this have on the check?

The crux of the issue is not necessarily the independence of the assessor, but the conflict between the need for the Checker to remain hands off, let a situation develop and see the crew react appropriately – against the requirement to see the aircraft landed safely and efficiently at the destination.

While it would be nice to operate under the assumption that the only time an aircraft will get unstable is just before the crew fail a line check, in the real world, aircraft become unstable for a variety of reasons – environmental conditions and ATC intervention being the most common. It’s crucial that a crew who are becoming unstable have the capacity to recognise this situation; know how to effect change to bring the aircraft back towards stable parameters; have the judgement to call for a go-around when it becomes obvious that the approach is not going to meet the stabilisation requirements. How does a Checker know that the crew in front of him have these skills if he/she intervenes before the situation develops fully?

Against this is the requirement of (a) safety; and (b) the needs of the operation (to land the aircraft at the destination). The Checker must not allow a situation to develop that puts either of these requirements in doubt. Assuming the Checker has no immediate concerns as to the safety of the aircraft at this stage – remember that the aircraft, crew and Checker aren’t here today to evaluate their knowledge/skills/attitude (KSA’s) on a line check – we’re all here to take 350 passengers to the destination. The check is a side issue to the requirement to achieve the mission.

As with most of these issues – this will come down to the experience and judgement of the Checker. Similarly, if the Checker decides to intervene (“We seem a little fast today, don’t you think …“) the implied failure of the crew is also within the judgement of the Checker. The Checker will use a variety of parameters to assess whether this is a fail – how out of tolerance the approach was; whether the crew demonstrated awareness of the situation; mitigating factors such as ATC, Weather, etc. Intevention may not be a fait accompli for failure.

If this (unstable) approach is called as “Stable” at 1000 ft – what then?

  • What is the impact on the Check for the Pilot Flying (PF); Pilot Not Flying (PM); Captain; Relief Crew Member (RCM)?
  • Should the Check Captain call for a go-around? If he/she does – what is then impact on the Check? For who?

Approach Stabilisation is a concept developed the the Flight Safety Foundation as part of the Approach and Landing Accident Reduction (ALAR) program, on the back of many, many incidents and accidents that were directly attributed to the inappropriate continuation of a fast/high approach to an unsuccessful landing. As such, continuing any unstable approach below the nominated height implies that safety has been compromised on the approach.

That said, there are degrees of stabilisation (aren’t there?); while technically an approach may be a little fast, or the last line of the checklist not quite done – it’s pretty close and it’s easy for the Crew and the Checker to allow the approach to continue confident that it will shortly meet the criteria. But while a line check is an assessment of a crew’s “normal operation” – if this crew is willing to take a “slightly” unstable approach past the stabilisation height requirement – what are they willing to do when no-one’s watching?

Contrary to this, the industry is starting to recognise the risks inherent in the get-out-of-jail manoeuvre that is the approach go-around. As more and more crew avail themselves of a go-around, and as we start to look more closely at it in the simulator, it’s being re-discovered that this manoeuvre itself presents some challenges. It involves a sudden and usually unexpected radical change to flight path, large amounts of thrust and pitch change – which is not usually a good thing. On the back of this is decades of crew being required by Regulatory Authorities to demonstrate proficiency in the single engine go-around from very low altitude in the simulator based on the assumption that surely if someone can do an engine out go-around near the ground, an all engine go-around from higher up is a no-brainer? As such regular exposure to the vagaries of all engine go-arounds, particularly from higher altitudes (such as off unstable approaches) has suffered. As it turns out – the two engine go-around from 1000 ft to a missed approach altitude that may be as low as 2000 ft can be a handful. Just ask an A320 pilot.

So therefore, sitting in your Checker’s jumpseat, watching a crew who have just operated a long haul flight find themselves a bit high/fast/late on the approach at 1000 ft – is it safer to let them get stabilised and land, or “force” them into sudden go-around by calling for it from the jumpseat? It must be acknowledged that such a call from a Checker may carry more “weight” than a similar call from the RCM. It’s probably better to reserve the call “UNSTABLE – GO-AROUND!” for particularly severe circumstances and instead perhaps highlight the relevant parameter(s) to the crew instead. Again – Judgement on the part of the Checker. This is why we pay them the big bucks.

So why didn’t this crew call “Unstable Speed – Go-Around.“? There are several possibilities including poor Situational Awareness (SA) or a lack of procedural knowledge. Another factor may be the PM not wanting to bring on the “fail” of the PF. While this may seem incredulous, you do get this in both the simulator and the aircraft – the PM is reticent to highlight deviations out of concern for bringing to the attention of the Check Captain the deviation. Like we didn’t see it anyway …

Ostensibly it’s the PF who is to blame for allowing the situation to develop whereby the aircraft is out of tolerance at stabilisation height. Therefore if this is a failure, that failure belongs to the PF, doesn’t it? However much more than “along for the ride” is the PM, who presumably sat there with a lower cognitive load than the PF, allowing the situation to develop. There was bound to be a point prior to 1000 ft when it was clear that (a) we might not be stable; and (b) we aren’t going to be stable. The failure to clearly call this to the attention of the PF is a clear failure of the crucial PM role – either in terms of SA (didn’t notice the situation developing); or violation (didn’t make the call). So it’s entirely possible that this failure will be shared with the PM as well – even if the PM isn’t actually on a line check. Now there’s a can or worms …

Finally we have the RCM who is under the lowest load of all, and can clearly see the entire flight deck from the center jumpseat. This crew member should have the experience and training to detect a developing unstable approach and call it in absence of anything coming from the PM. A check failure of the PF (and PM) may reasonably be stretched to the RCM as well.

Just to further illustrate the complexities – if approach was allowed to deteriorate without intervention of comment where a go-around at stabilisation height became a requirement, and the Checker didn’t make any calls to bring this to the attention of the operating crew – shouldn’t the Checker be failed as well? The answer is Yes – and this has actually happened.

Scenario : Very Unstable Approach

Another approach is clearly unstable, and results in a go-around at 1000 ft in accordance with SOPs. However it is clear to the Check Captain that the approach was never going to be stable, but the PF/Crew persisted with the approach all the way down to stabilisation height (1000 ft). The alternative – discontinuing the approach much earlier – was never considered by the crew.

  • Is this a Fail for the PF/PM/RCM?
  • Should the Checker have commanded a go-around (or otherwise highlighted the unstable nature of the approach) much earlier? And if the Checker did?

Note that this discussion assumes (a) that the Airline’s stabilisation policy includes a recommendation to discontinue an unstable approach when it becomes clear to the crew that the aircraft is not going to be stable by the stabilisation height; and (b) the scenario here is that the approach has been flown in such a way as to be grossly unstable, and that it is clear to the Checker well before 1000 ft that the approach is never going to be stable in time to comply with policy.

For an approach to be discontinued well before 1000 ft AAL, it is certainly within the purview of the Check Captain to intervene and subsequently fail Candidate/Crew who choose to continue the approach (or not choose to discontinue it). Judgement is exercised as to whether the action to continue is done wilfully, or through a lack of SA; or whether there was a genuine (mistaken) belief that the approach could have become stable in time. Even if the crew express such a belief – if in the judgement of the Check Captain stabilisation was never possible, a fail is definitely a likely outcome.

There is much discussion around this point. The issues of failing a pilot who executes a missed approach because of approach instability is rife with contradiction. Don’t we want crew who are unstable at 1000 ft to execute a go-around? Don’t we want to encourage this behaviour? While true, we also want crew who can position the aircraft appropriately for landing as well. Again the point of this exercise is not to pass/fail the candidate(s). The point of this exercise is not to see a crew member correctly assess approach stability at 1000m ft and commence a go-around. The point of the exercise is to deliver 350 passengers safely to the destination. The safety and intent of the operation itself should not be subverted by the supposed needs of a line check.

Scenario : Descent Altitude Compliance

During descent, the PF demonstrates a clear lack of SOP compliance in the setting of the MCP altitude selector to ensure Standard Terminal Arrival Procedure (STAR) altitude compliance. The PM/RCM make no comment on this. No actual STAR restrictions are breached.

  • What is the impact on the check?
  • Does it make a difference if the PF is the Captain vs the First Officer?

The FCTM makes it clear that unless altitude restrictions are closely spaced such that workload would be high as would be the risk of unintentionally “capturing” an altitude restriction – all STAR altitude restrictions should be set to protect the flight path from a violation. The most obvious reasons for this crew member not doing this are (a) uncertainty as to the correct procedure; (b) wilful deviation from the procedure; (c) bad technique through fatigue/error/etc. Without a clear violation, this occurrence in an of itself is unlikely to be a reason for a fail – but certainly it should be reflected in the grading of all three crew members. The occurrence may also be part of a larger picture of each crew member’s KSAs that might drive an overall unsatisfactory result for the check.

How does this change if the lack of SOP compliance results in a likely altitude breach (without Check Captain intervention)?

  • When does the Check Captain intervene?
  • What impact does this intervention have on the check?

Check Captains are absolutely required to intervene in the operation to prevent an altitude violation. It is likely that this intervention would result in a failure, but it is certainly within the judgement of the Check Captain to assess the likelihood of an altitude violation if no Checker intervention had taken place. By definition intervention of this sort must take place before it’s too late to correct it; but that then leaves a window in which the crew could have self corrected. Again, it’s big bucks time and the Checker is the one to make the call about whether the crew could have/would have self corrected in time.

How does this scenario change if the lack of SOP compliance results in an actual altitude violation?

  • Is this a fail? What if there were no other aircraft, no airspace breach, no real risk to the aircraft?
  • Who fails? The PF, the PM, the RCM?
  • What role does any fatigue of the first rest crew member play in relaxing fail criteria (to all the above scenarios)?

An altitude violation is a clear breach and should result in a fail assessment. This begins with the PF, but may necessarily extend to the PM as well. One further aspect is that if the PF was the First Officer, the PM (Captain) carries an additional responsibility here as the Aircraft Commander. It would be more likely that the Check Captain will fail the PM for an altitude violation if the PM was the Captain than the reverse (logically). Also within the realm of the Checker’s judgement is whether the RCM should share the fail assessment. Again if the RCM could have seen the impending violation – should have seen and called the violation – it’s probably a point of failure for the RCM as well.

Additionally – where was the Checker when this situation was developing without intervention; and the breach occurred without the Checker speaking up. Once again to take this to it’s logical conclusion – this is a fail for the Checker as well. Just imagine the paperwork …

Finally, it should be noted that Fatigue is an (un)necessary evil in the operation of all long haul flying. The Fatigue factor can certainly be part of the Checker’s assessment of crew performance, right up to but excluding a violation.

Scenario 4 : Taxi

After landing, the crew exit the runway via the wrong taxi way (as was instructed by ATC).

  • What impact does this have on the Check? For the PF, PM, Captain, RCM?

Once again, this could be considered clearance violation with potentially significant consequences. As always, there are judgement calls to be made – how clear was the exit instruction? Is there anything miss-leading about the guidance provided? Was the required exit realistic? Is this an intentional, unintentional or inadvertent violation? Big Bucks time. Clearly if the PF took the wrong taxiway despite clear instruction and clear markings, the outcome of the check could be in doubt. As always the complicity of the PM and RCM must be considered, and the Captain as PM wears additional responsibility for safe conduct of the flight. Finally – did the Checker really sit back and let it happen? Was the Checker asleep? Did the Checker missread the instructions/markings as well?

After Landing, the crew are instructed to hold short of the (active) second runway – but continue across it (or make the intention to do so clear).

  • Impact on the Check? For the PF, PM, CA, RCM?

Similarly we now have a definite violation with possibly catastrophic consequences, likely to lead to a failure of the check, mitigating factors aside. Assuming the Checker intervened to prevent the violation – is it still a fail? It should be, once again within the judgement of the Checker as to role and culpability of the PM, Captain, RCM.

During taxi in, the Captain elects to do Single Engine Taxi In (SETI), when clearly the turns, taxiway slope and configuration of the gate makes this an unwise decision.

  • Should the Checker intervene?
  • If the Checker intervenes, what impact on the Check? For the Captain, for the First Officer?

Single Engine Taxi In (SETI) is a fuel saving initiative where after landing and engine cooldown (3 minutes) one engine is shut down by the PM. Ideally it’s the engine that will be on the inside of all the taxi turns as turning against the live engine can be challenging (but not impossible). If you anticipate sharp turns in both directions, if there’s a lack or maneouvring on the apron for the final turn to the parking stand – SETI may not be a good idea. Additionally there can be other restrictions for operations with slick ramp ways, inclement weather, etc. In this instance it’s assumed that SETI is not clearly precluded by the operating restrictions, but clearly not ideal. SETI can save up to 15 Kg of fuel per minute of taxi (or holding position on the ramp) and multiplied across a fleet adds up to a significant cost and environmental saving.

Whether the Checker should intervene depends on circumstances, but certainly the option remains. In either case choosing to do SETI is unlikely to affect the outcome of the check, and may not even justify a grading impact or comments on the form … unless …

Having elected to do SETI, aircraft stalls to a halt halfway through a turn towards the operating engine, and the geometry/surrounds clearly don’t permit straightening or excessive thrust to regain movement. The Captain/Crew elect to re-start the engine to continue taxi.

  • Impact on the Check? Captain only?

Having (perhaps) poorly decided to conduct SETI, when confronted with the reality of the problem, the Captain elects to return to full operation, rather than risking a taxi excursion or damage to the surrounds through excessive thrust. Having made one questionable judgement, this Captain has made a good decision. For me personally this is a good sign and would be reflected as such on the check form. It’s unrealistic to expect that crew will make the best decisions at all times; how crew deal with poorly made decisions is at least as important as making good decisions in the first place. Not being a slave to your previous decisions is a good NTS attribute.

Having elected to do SETI, the PF is required to use excessive thrust to turn towards the operating engine and to taxi onto stand. As far as the Check Captain is aware, there is no damage or injuries to ground equipment or personnel, although the thrust applied was clearly excessive.

  • Impact on the Check? PF vs PM vs Captain?
  • What if the Tower advises that ground equipment was damaged/blown onto the taxiway?
  • What if the Ground Agent advises that one of the ground marshalers was injured by jet blast?

Use of excessive thrust at anytime is a significant risk in the 777, and a known problem with SETI and certain taxiway configurations. Unless the PF is certain the area behind the equipment is clear, thrust above that normal for taxi should not be used. Using this thrust places people and equipment at risk. Irrespective of who decided to do SETI and who is the PF during taxi, both crew carry culpability for excessive thrust use, although if the PF is the First Officer the Captain as PM carries perhaps more responsibility than the reverse. Excessive thrust use during taxi is unlikely to bring about a check failure – but damage to equipment and/or personnel is certainly likely to do so.


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been back through this extensive, at times inarticulate and confused writing. At times it’s sat in drafts for weeks without input. I’m not sure that a Summary is helpful, or even appropriate – but here we go.

  • No doctrine or philosophy no matter how well thought out and documented takes the place of the expertise invested in the Check Captain on the spot, on the day. Within established guidelines – it’s the Checker who determines the outcome of the check based on observed performance and outcomes.
  • Remember that on every flight there is a Crew. While an individual pilot may bear the direct responsibility for an action, omission or error – our basic operating paradigm is a crew working together to pickup the errors of others. In that there is safety for all – not just the crew on their check but the passengers on their flight. As much as a candidate may be under review on a check – so is the crew paradigm. Additionally the Captain of the aircraft (whether PF or PM) bears additional responsibility for the safe and efficient conduct of the flight that cannot be over estimated by the Check assessment.
  • While only one candidate may be under check today – all crew on the flight deck can be considered liable under the assessment and potentially could find themselves stood down as a result of a bad check. While most obviously the Captain bears responsibility for the untrapped outcome of an action/omission/error on the part of the First Officer – the reverse should hold true as well. In a long haul crew where relief crew are on the flight deck – an uncorrected mistake that isn’t picked up by the relief crew would also justify criticism, if not an actual fail assessment.
  • It is incumbent on the Training/Standards Department to train Checkers well; clearly document a policy in relation to Checking – and then back their Check Captain’s judgement when the inevitable Monday morning quarter backing comes. Despite the plethora of instrumentation and recording that takes place on a modern flight deck – none of this information is likely to be available to provide context for a check fail (unless it involved an actual incident). It therefore comes down the Candidate vs the Checkers word. If you can’t trust your Checker – either He/She shouldn’t be checking or you shouldn’t be in Management.
  • Never forget why we are here on the flight deck today. We are here to (a) Safely; and (b) Efficiently land the passengers at the Destination (or possibly, Alternate). The completion of the check assigned to this flight comes a long way behind. An un-necessary go-around on the way to that landing that could have been avoided if someone (including the Check Captain) had spoken up is likely an unacceptable compromise of both Efficiency and to a lesser degree, Safety. If as the Checker you find you can’t speak up on the flight deck without failing your candidates – you need to go talk to your Standards Manager.
  • A violation on a Check is just as unacceptable (if not more so) as a violation on a normal line flight, and should reflect extremely badly on all involved – including the Check Captain. Having to speak up as the Check Captain (or as a crew member) to avoid a violation may not be an automatic fail of the check – but is certainly a likely outcome and within the judgement of the Checker.
  • The responsibility and authority of the Checker rests partly on the Regulator; but mainly on the support of Standards Management and documented policy. If you have the support, but not the documentation – it’s time to roll up your sleeves and do some admin. If you don’t have the support of your Standards Management – I can’t help you; no-one can.

Follow On

After reading this post, a friend of mine in a Management role in a UK airline asked me the following:

“When you rock up for work as the check captain how involved do you get with the crew paperwork preparations and what kind of brief do you give them?

There are two questions here, starting with the easy one … on the back of my clipboard is the following:

Pre-Flight Checkers Brief

  • Introduction (Normal Line Ops)
  • Crew not Under Check (also PM/RCM Roles)
  • Asking Questions
  • Role of the Assessor (Safety, Efficiency, Assessment, NNM)

This translates into something like the following. As with all briefs, it’s pitched to my perception of the experience of my candidates, and the operation on the day, and my personal sense of whimsy.

“Just quickly, this is obviously an annual line check today for competency. I’m here to assess normal line operations and that’s all I expect to see.
Optional : [John, I realise today that this is not your check and you are along for the ride. However I feel it’s important to point at that you are responslible to the safety of the operation today just as much as XXX, and since I am a Check Captain, you must consider yourself under check as well. That doesn’t mean there will be any paperwork, questions, etc – but if something occurs that would result in a fail grade if this were your check, then being placed SOC is a likely consequence of that today.]
I won’t be asking you a series of difficult technical or procedural questions, but you can expect me to ask you questions during quiet time about what has come up in the normal course of events, and to talk about general or topical items of operational concern in our flight decks. I would also like discuss any questions or issues you want to talk about – so remember the more questions you ask of me, the less I ask of you.
My role today is independant assessment. As such I would ask you to allow me to sit back and watch you operate. I will not intervene unless I feel it’s appropriate, but don’t take my intervention as an indicator that your check is going badly. Remember I’m here not just for safety – but I’m a Captain in this airline and bear part responsibility for the safety and efficiency of our operation, so I might choose to speak up for something other than a fail point if I believe it’s appropriate and won’t compromise your check. You can definitely expect me to speak up for reasons of safety or to avoid a violation, but don’t rely on that – you guys are responsible for the operation today as you always are. In any event – I want to be a fly on the wall but I’m here if I’m needed.”
Or something like that … Moving on to the other question
Check Involvement in Pre-Flight Documentation

Logically the Checker needs to be involved in all aspects of the operation to the point where he can assess competence in the various activities, as well as provide the safety net from violation as is required of a Crew Member on the flight deck (if not the actual aircraft commander).

Practically that means becoming involved in the review during pre-flight, otherwise how can you (a) assess that the crew are performing as required and (b) detect that something has slipped by such as an illegal dispatch?

Now we’re firmly back in the groove of the participation of the Checker contaminating the check, but we were always there really. As a Checker there’s a constant reminder in the back of my mind that this is a check and I’m (a) keeping an eye on what’s going to so I can assess; (b) keeping an eye on what’s going on to ensure safety/legality/efficiency; and (c) be constantly aware of my level of involvement and the associated risk of contaminating the check. As long as I remember to keep that reminder going (no, I don’t actually have that voice in my head – just to note) – I’m confidant that I’m keeping all three requirementes in balance.

Like any other role, you develop your personal techniques over time, and learn from your mistakes if you’re honest about your own performance. In the classic two-crew-with-a-Checker-on-the-jumpseat operation I would suggest the Checker has to be a sponge in the preflight, aware of everything going on enough be able to assess and secure safety; but hands off as much as possible to ensure integrity.

The contrast with a LOSA audit is interesting. LOSA is an industry standard of assessment of flight deck operations developed by the University of Texas and the FAA in the late 90’s. Here you have an assessor on the flight deck always over an above the actual crew requirement with specialist training; someone who is aware of the SOPs and how things are supposed to be done – often from a “book” point of view rather than what actually happens in the aircraft on the day – often without local knowledge of the crew, the route, the aircraft type or even the airline. Truly an indendant assessor and free of the requirement to pass/fail the crew; from any real responsibility towards the efficiency or the safety of the flight (other than the obvious – “That’s the ground rushing up, isn’t it?”); free to observe and report. Add a Checkers rating to the observer without an aircraft/route/airline qualification and you have the perfect checker, from some points of view.




The introduction of the [] VNAV STEP CLIMB checklist highlights procedural handling of EICAS/ECL and the management of enroute climbing in the aircraft.

The FMC schedules step climbs throughout the flight based on the settings in the Cruise Altitude (CRZ ALT), Step Size (STEP) and potentially Step To (STEP TO) fields based on the aircraft weight, actual/forecast wind and temperature data and speed schedule (usually cost index). Additionally climb steps can be placed on the LEGS page of the FMC to schedule climbs at geographical waypoints in the flight plan, rather than the optimal weight/speed/wind schedule predicted by the FMC. What this all means is that for a long flight the FMC assumes that you will be able to increase your altitude as the flight proceeds, and calculates ETA and Fuel at Destination accordingly.

I remember when I first checked out on the 777, standard practice in my airline at the time was to set the Step Size to Zero during pre-flight and keep it there. In this way the fuel/time predictions for destination would be based on not getting any climbs – after all, how can you predict time/fuel based on climbs you may not get? At the time this was considered “conservative” and therefore safer. For shorter flights this was indeed unnecessarily conservative. For longer flights, it meant operating for half the flight with an “INSUFFICIENT FUEL” message flooding the CDU scratchpad … eventually wiser heads prevailed and we returned Step Size to the default value – which at the time was ICAO.

The “risk” here is that you may not get the climb(s) you need, but the FMC continues to assume you will. Indeed, if you pass a step climb point and don’t get a clearance, the FMC continues to calculate time and fuel assuming you’re just about to start a climb to the next step. This has been part and parcel of FMC’s of this type for decades and pilots haven’t been overly burdened by the requirement to monitor flight progress, seek climbs appropriately and deal tactically/strategically when we don’t get them.

VNAVStepFor whatever reason, Boeing have implemented an EICAS message when the FMC Step Climb point is passed without an associated climb. This message, rather than just prompting crew to seek a climb, also comes with a full EICAS NNM checklist – although how this can be called a non normal is beyond me.

Purportedly this iniative came from the FAA’s involvement in extending ETOPS approvals for the 777 beyond 180 minutes. Rumour has it the checklist will benefit from further refinement in future blockpoint updates.

Can’t come too soon …

Long haul pilots tend to be pro-active about climbing and often seek climbs prior to the recommended step climb point. This is usually in an effort to avoid being blocked from higher levels by the increasing numbers of other aircraft on the more common routes. If you can get up there earlier, you’re more likely to be the one blocking, rather than finding yourself blocked from those fuel saving altitudes. Do it too early though and you’re punishing yourself, with deviation from optimum altitude typically being a 2:1 ration against being high – that is, you are approximately equally less efficient being 2000 ft above your optimum level as you are being 4000 ft below it.

In any event – Since ideally we probably don’t want to run an entire NNM checklist everytime we pass a step climb point without actually starting a climb, there are now several unofficial habits I’m seeing creep in that are being driven by the inclusion of this checklist. This includes manually setting a step climb point a waypoint or three down route while you wait for a clearance to climb. This isn’t bad technique as it at least “resets the timer” for the prompt to remind you to climb, and is in fact one of the responses within the checklist itself. Which waypoint should you choose? Well, the next one would seem to be the most obvious, but otherwise – the next one where you change FIR to another ATC unit isn’t a bad choice either. Perhaps Auckland will be more pro-active than Nandi in getting you that climb …

Another is setting the step size to an increasing value, or to set the Step To altitude higher than 2000 (RVSM) or even 4000 (ICAO) to delay the climb reminder.

Another is to ignore the EICAS and leave the message there until you get your step climb. While definitely within the purview of the crew – this response doesn’t keep a clear EICAS which is something we actively encourage.

Another is to override the checklist instead of running it. This is definitely no recommended, since you’re effectively removing the checklist (if not the message) from serving it’s intended function – dealing with a situation on board the flight deck that the manufacturer has decided you shouldn’t be ignoring.

On top of these techniques is running with the actual checklist occurrence itself. As you can see the checklist is a essentially a decision tree that says

– Step climb is needed Now? – Then Climb! (Doh!)
– Step climb is needed Later? – Use the LEGS page to delay the Step.
– Step climb is NOT needed? – Remove all Step Climbs by entering 0 into the FMC VNAV CRZ page Step Size.

Of course what’s missing here is :

– Step Climb is Needed but ATC won’t give it to you? Ok then ….

The last action in the actual checklist (Step Size Zero) of course removes all reminders that a step climb is ever going to be needed for the rest of the flight, and is typically only the relevant choice towards the end of the flight when you are either unable to obtain or decide you don’t need that last increase in altitude. Setting 0 in the Step Size too early in a long flight will give you a falsely low estimate of fuel on board at destination (which contrary to common belief may not be the most conservative indication); as well as potentially an inaccurate estimate of your arrival time. Finally – find yourself forced down this path early enough and your FMC will continually be telling you you have INSUFFICIENT FUEL all the way to your destination (or not); or at least until you do get a climb. And we’re back to my Airbus airline of the mid 90’s that couldn’t learn from it’s Boeing pilots.

In the end this conundrum of what action to take when you aren’t able to climb straight away – or at all – enroute is something pilots have be dealing with since ATC was invented. I’m not convinced we needed a checklist to highlight it to us.

VNAV Path Intercept from Above

With the airline industry moving progressively towards GPS and GPS Augmented based approaches and away from the more traditional ground based navigation aid approaches, the use of LNAV/VNAV – with all it’s eccentricities – are becoming the norm for many airlines, rather than the exception.

The boon of flying such approaches more often is that your crews develop a body of expertise, particularly in regards to those eccentricities – but at the same time you expose crews to the vagaries of approach types that were previously not the norm, and to some degree were perhaps not designed from the ground up to be a mainstream solution for approach and landing.

Note : Stating that “VNAV may not have been designed from the ground up to be a mainstream solution for instrument approach” may sound a little harsh – but can you really look at the full scope of VNAV and it’s implementation across the various phases of flight from Departure to Destination (and go-around) and not shake your head and asked if someone really designed it to be this way?

Case in point is the requirement to intercept a VNAV Path based approach from above the programmed slope. For pilots coming from a precision approach – intercepting an electronic glideslope from above is less than ideal, but a documented procedure in the Boeing FCTM using Vertical Speed (VS) is provided.

The fundamental underlying assumption of this capture maneuver however is that the AFDS Glideslope (GS) mode is armed and will capture as the aircraft closes in on the electronic glideslope from above, hence providing protection against a below path situation developing during what can be a high workload phase of flight. There is no such armed mode in relation to VNAV – it’s either engaged (VNAV SPD/PTH) – or it’s not. Hence using VS to capture VNAV PTH approach from above is not considered appropriate.

VNAVCapAbv1Instead VNAV SPD is used. In this context – where VNAV is selected when more than 150 ft above the programmed approach path – VNAV SPD is an idle thrust descent mode, and the elevators will command speed without deviation (as far as possible).

Once the thrust levers reach IDLE (or earlier, if the PF overrides the thrust setting) – the PF can vary the thrust to control the rate of descent. Unless the rate of descent is excessive in regards to your Airline’s maximum rate of descent in the terminal area, retaining idle is usually the norm. The more likely requirement is to increase the rate of descent to expedite descent on the Flight Management Computer (FMC) approach path – using judicious Speedbrake.

Note that the MCP Altitude Selector is still a command instrument in this case – if you fail to capture the approach path before the relevant point on the approach – you’ll end up with VNAV ALT capture (ie: VNAV wants to go somewhere, and the MCP ALT-itude selector is in the way …). The MCP Altitude Selector also interferes with the progression of the approach down final, resulting in a capture anytime you forget to set a lower altitude, or the Missed Approach Altitude once that setting becomes appropriate. Refer back to the previous note on the designed-from-the-ground-up-NOT comment on VNAV.

It can therefore be seen that VS is not an appropriate mode. While it gives more direct control of the rate of descent (which may well be desirable) – the inability to arm VNAV means that the PF would be required to select VNAV when approaching the path – exposing the aircraft to a below path scenario in the event of a distraction (when was the last time there was a distraction just before an instrument approach …)

DP – thanks for the suggestion!


Basic Modes Engine Out Drift Down

EODDBasic1An engine failure at altitude above the maximum engine out altitude, followed by the obligatory engine out drift down is a bread and butter event for a cruise pilot. Typically this is practiced and evaulated using the highest levels of automation in LNAV and VNAV. For more information see Engine Out Drift Down and the FMA. However the ability to execute this maneouvre using basic autopilot/flight director modes is occaisionally tested – and a useful procedure to have when VNAV fails to do what you expect …

There are a couple of reasons why you might find yourself with the requirement to initiate and manage a basic modes engine out drift down from altitude, including a failure of VNAV to behave as expected/required – but the most common reason is because a Check Captain asks you to.

Broadly speaking the procedure required falls into one of two possibilities – when the FMC VNAV Cruise page is available; or when it’s not. When the FMC is there to give you an altitude and speed to aim for, you set those as part of the procedure shown here. Otherwise initial values of FL150 (or higher if MSA requires) and Turbulence Penetration speed are used until these can be refined using the QRH Performance Inflight.

Once VNAV is out of the picture, there are only two modes available for the descent – Vertical Speed (VS) or Flight Level Change (FLCH).

EODDBasic2VS would be a high workload solution since fundamentally you are looking for a speed targeting manoeuvre (which VS is not), and without the constant attention of the PF, VS at high altitudes can risk overspeed / underspeed excursions. Hence FLCH is the mode of choice for a basic modes drift down.

However since FLCH is an idle thrust mode and you want to minimise the rate of descent, the Autothrottle is disconnected and CON thrust is set manually. This is done using the Thrust Lever Autothrottle Disconnect Switches so as to leave the Autothrottle armed (not the MCP Autothrottle Arm Switches). Note that the Autothrottle is disconnected after FLCH is selected, since engaging FLCH after would re-engage the Autothrottle.

If the engine is actually failed (either EICAS [] ENG FAIL or the Fuel Control Switch in Cutoff) then when FLCH is selected, the CON thrust limit will be set, and the PF must move the thrust levers as required to maintain the CON thrust limit. If necessary, the CLB/CON switch should set CON thrust limit manually (but not not the actual thrust setting).

Standing the Crew Up

I’m working on an update to the Practices and Techniques document I developed in 2008. While this has been a published document in my airline for several years, it was recently taken offline and is now a training background reference, as was the original intention for it’s development. Just one of the many subjects beng added is a section on whether to Stand the Crew Up during a Non Normal on the ground. Most particularly applicable to a Rejected Takeoff – this issue is the cause for much discussion at times.

[Read more…]

777 Normal Procedures Flow Diagrams

What’s been missing for our documentation for some time is decent diagrams showing the normal procedures flows. The B777 normal operation centers around these flows, and the normal procedure ECL checklists that follow. For Normal Operations – the ECL Checklist is a “Done” list, where all then items you run through on the checklist should be done before you open the checklist.

By far the most common error we see in the simulator in regard to the flows is forgetting to select the CHKL button at the appropriate time to display the next ECL normal checklist; closely followed by innapropriately displaying the checklist early.

Before Start Flow

Before Start FlowThe Before Start Flow is triggered once the CM2 has obtained Start/Push Clearance from ATC. During the flow the CM2 will action an EICAS Recall “Recall … Engine Shutdown“. CM1 responds “Cancel EICAS” to the message(s) read by CM2 this action triggers the associated CM1 Before Start Flow (Trims). At the end of the flow the CM1 calls for the “Before Start Checklist“. Once this is “Before Start Checklist Complete” the CM1 returns to the Ground Engineer and pushback/engine start commences.

Before Start Checklist

Flow1The Before Start Checklist is called for by the CM1 once the trims have been set in the CM1 Before Start Flow. This assumes the associated CM2 flow is complete and the Before Start Checklist has been displayed by the CM2.

  • Flight deck door is verified by a visual check of the door and door arming mechanism by the CM2 as well as the center console door locking mechanism indications.
  • Passenger signs are read as positioned “AUTO, ON” (NO ELECTRONICS / SEAT BELT selector positions).
  • MCP V2, HDG/TRK and ALT should be called as selected, and verified appropriate. This includes the V1 (PFD vs CDU), V2 as displayed on the PFD (not just the MCP/CDU), an appropriate heading/track selection for the departure, and an Altitude selection appropriate for the (expected/cleared) departure clearance.
  • T/O speeds are called as displayed on the CDU, but the V1 and the V2 should be verified on the PFD.
  • CDU pre-flight confirms the completion of the CDU Pre-Flight Procedure as well as the Final FMC Performance Entry procedure. CDU-L should be set to the TKOFF REF page and CDU-R should be set to RTE Page 2 in preparation for the Departure Review.
  • Fuel is read from the EICAS totalizer indication and no cross check against required fuel for departure (OFP) is scripted, although a mental check of this is a reasonable action.
  • Trim commences with the Stabiliser setting as required from CDU-L and indicated on the Stabilizer Position Indicator. Note that prior to the completion of aircraft loading the stabilizer green band segments may not indicate correctly.

After Start FlowAfter Start Flow

The after start sequence is initiated after the second engine start. The associated CM2 After Start Flow commences automatically once the second engine EGT Start Limit has been removed.

Before Taxi Checklist

The Before Taxi Checklist is called for by CM1 after pushback/engine start is complete, the Engineer is disconnected and the flaps/flight control check is complete. The CM2 After Start Flow completes with the display of the Before Taxi Checklist.

  • Flow2Anti-ice is called based on switch position as selected in the CM2 After Start Flow. Normally the challenge response would be “AUTO” but in icing conditions with the EAI selected on, the correct response would be “AUTO” (wing anti-ice), “ON” (left engine anti-ice), “ON” (right engine anti-ice).
  • The EICAS Recall completed during the After Start Flow indicates aircraft serviceability status for flight.
  • Ground equipment reflects the removal of pushback tug and personnel removed after pushback is complete. This check does not obviate the requirement to report Clear Left / Clear Right prior to aircraft taxi.

Departure Review FlowDeparture Review

Once clear of congested areas and when workload is low, the PF will call for a Departure Review. This review of EFIS and other settings for the departure is conducted by the PM, and monitored by the PF during taxi. It completes with the display of the Before Takeoff Checklist (CHKL). WXR/TERR is only activated once CABIN READY has been received.

Before Takeoff Checklist

The Before Takeoff Checklist is displayed by the PM as part of the Departure Review flow. PF calls for the checklist once the Departure Review is complete and Cabin Ready has been received. The Before Takeoff Checklist can be done any time and does not need to be delayed until approaching the runway.

  • Flow3Takeoff Flaps setting is closed loop and defined by the entry on the CDU TAKEOFF REF page.
  • Cabin Ready displays on EICAS with a chime but is removed automatically after one minute.
  • Once Cabin Ready is received and the Departure Review complete, PF/PM will select WXR/TERR as appropriate. This is typically PF/WXR & PM/TERR however there is non restriction in both crew being WXR or TERR as appropriate for the specific threats of the departure.


After Takeoff FlowAfter Takeoff Flow

The After Takeoff Flow is commenced once the Flaps are selected UP. The PM should ensure that the flight stage is appropriate – low workload, low distraction environment. The Flow and the subsequent After Takeoff Checklist can wait until immediate terrain and weather clearance is assured, ATC is quiet, traffic is light and the immediate demands of the SID (tracking, speed, altitude) are met.

  • The APU … OFF is only usually required after a Packs on APU takeoff.
  • Similarly the PACKS … ON is only required after a PACKS … OFF takeoff
  • Note that if a NNM has occurred during departure, the CHKL button should not be pushed as this would pre-empt the selection of a NNM checklist by the PF

After Takeoff Checklist

Flow4The After Takeoff Checklist is displayed by the PM once the Flaps are selected Up as part of the After Takeoff flow. PF calls for the checklist once the workload is low and the aircraft clear of terrain on departure. PF can use the removal of the Pitch Limit Indicators (PLI) from the PFD as a tip to call for the After Takeoff checklist – although at high weights at UP speed the PLIs may not be removed straight after flap retraction is complete because of proximity to the manoeuvre margin.

Descent Preparation FlowDescent Preparation

Descent preparation is typically conduct by the PF who may hand over control to complete the setup. As a guide, preparation consists of some or all of the following actions/considerations, in any order determined to be suitable.

  • Recall EICAS and Operational Notes.
  • Obtain ATIS and if appropriate, updated TAF for Destination and Alternate.
  • Review weather and NOTAMS for arrival and diversion.
  • Select most likely FMC Runway/Approach, STAR and Transition.
  • Review Jeppesen Airport 10-7 Charts for specific station notes.
  • Estimate Landing Weight and enter Flap Setting and VREF Speed. Consider likely groundspeed and Descent Rate on final.
  • Set Approach Minima (Barometric and/or Radio Altimeter)
  • Review and compare Jeppesen with FMC, cross-check LEGS page Tracks, Distances, Altitude and Speed Restrictions.
  • Verify Approach, Missed Approach and Holding. For NPAs, validate FMC approach for LNAV and VNAV use.
  • Verify Missed Approach Path against Chart. Consider the impact of auto-LNAV engagement if differences exist.
  • Consider settings in NAV RAD, FIX, VNAV DES, DES FORECAST, OFFPATH DES, Approach RNP required, ALTN list.
  • Assess likely arrival fuel and compare with Minimum Diversion Fuel required.
  • Review Landing Distance Required and compare against Landing Distance Available.
  • Consider likely taxiway exit and select an appropriate Autobrake setting.
  • Review Taxi Route after landing in view of NOTAMS and likely parking stand.

Flow5Descent Checklist

The Descent Checklist is typically completed once the Arrival Briefing is completed. Like all normal checklists, the Descent Checklist is intended to be completed against actions that have been already completed.

  • Recall verifies the aircraft status for the approach and landing and should be completed prior to the preparation for descent and approach.
  • Similarly, Notes may contain restrictions or requirements that may well affect the choice of airport, runway or approach.
  • Autobrake is chosen after a Landing Performance Assessment.

Landing Checklist

Flow6The Landing Checklist is displayed by the PM after selecting Flap 20 (irrespective of the landing flap setting). When calling for the Landing Flap setting, PF will add a call to complete the Landing Checklist “Flap 30 … Landing Checklist“. These two SOP requirements are important barriers to forgetting to run the Landing Checklist.

After Landing FlowAfter Landing Flow

The After Landing Flow is actioned once the aircraft has reached Taxi speed, cleared all active runways, and the crew have received, briefed and understood the subsequent Taxi Clearance from ATC. The flow is actioned by the CM1 stowing the Speedbrake Lever – CM1 should not take this action until the aforementioned have been done. Should the aircraft be required to hold between two active runways – the speedbrake lever can be stowed and the flow completed while waiting. The flow completes (as they all do) with the EFIS CHKL switch to display the After Landing Checklist on the ECL

Flow7After Landing Checklist

The After Landing Checklist is displayed as the last item in the After Landing flow. The trigger to commence the flow is CM1 stowing the Speedbrake Lever after landing – irrespective of which pilot is PF

  • The Speedbrake lever is stowed after landing by CM1 and commences the PM After Landing flow. CM1 should not stow the Speedbrake Lever until all active runways are cleared, taxi clearance is received and the taxi brief confirmed/updated. If the aircraft is required to stop/wait between active runways, the Speedbrake Lever can be stowed and the After Landing flow commenced.
  • Strobe lights are left/turned ON while crossing any active runway after landing.
  • Clearing the runway, the PF may call for the PM to select the ground maneouvre camera (CAM) onto the PM ND. Ideally the PF/PM should turn off the WXR on that side prior to displaying the CAM, since WXR cannot be deselected on that side once the CAM is displayed on the ND.
  • Crew should be aware that extensive taxi after landing with the Flaps fully extended can be taken as a sign by ATC, particularly if communications with ATC has not been established.
  • If TERR mode was in use on landing, this is deselected as part of the After Landing flow by the onside pilot.
  • While this flow commences with the APU, starting the APU is typically delayed until approaching stand. At approximately 2 minutes prior to parking on stand the APU is started and the After Landing Checklist called for and completed.
  • Occaisionally the taxi to stand after landing is extremely short. In this instance the crew should consider starting a clock once reverse thrust is deselected to provide a time for the minum engine cool down after landing (3 minutes). Starting the APU by recall late in the landing roll is usually a better choice rather than commencing the After Landing flow before receiving/briefing the taxi clearance.

Shutdown FlowShutdown Flow

The CM2 Shutdown Flow commences once the N1s have reduce to 10% and CM1 switches the SEATBELT Signs … OFF.

Shutdown Checklist

The Shutdown Checklist is displayed as the last item in the Shutdown flow.

  • Flow8The Parking brake is an item where the required state is not scripted and the CM1 calls whether the Parking brake is Set or Released. That said, best practice is typically to delay commencement of this checklist until the the ground engineer has confirmed that chocks are in place and the Parking brake is released. Crew should be aware that leaving the aircraft with the Parking brake set and chocks not in place leaves the aircraft liable to roll on inclines once residual hydraulic press as bled away.

Flow9 Secure FlowSecure Flow

The Secure Flow is actioned once all passengers have left the aircraft. However if you’re handing over to the next crew these actions may not be required.

Secure Checklist

The Secure Checklist is commenced once all passengers have left the aircraft, and is to be completed anytime a handover to the next operating crew is not possible.

  • We have no policy on the retention of the ADIRU state after shutdown since we currently dont operate any turn around flights. Other airliens typically leave the ADIRU on for times on ground of two hours or less, although cycling the ADIRU off for 30 seconds to force a realignment is standard practice.
  • Flow9Packs are typically turned OFF for most of Virgin Australia operations as part of the Secure Checklist. This includes warm/humid countries where leaving the Packs on can causing icing issues after longer peroids on ground.


Engine Out Drift Down – and the FMA

I’m working on an update to the Practices and Techniques document I developed in 2008. While this has been a published document in my airline for several years, it was recently taken offline and is now a training background reference, as was the original intention for it’s development. Something that’s been missing for a while is some content on one of the bread and butter check/training events for cruise pilots – engine failure at altitude and the subsequent drift down descent.

[Read more…]

ACARS and Error Checking

I recently discovered something interesting about ACARS. There’s no error detection or correction. None. To be honest, when I was told this I wasn’t exactly surprised, but now that I’ve had time to think about it – I’m somewhat appalled.

Note : I have recently received feedback that some of my contentions in this article are incorrect, specifically that CPDLC messages are in fact NOT encrypted. I am endeavouring to souce more accurate information and will update when I have it. For the moment – Caveat Emptor.

Some background – ACARS

ACARS : Aircraft Communicatons Addressing and Reporting System

ACARS1ACARS is ubiquitous in most of today’s aircraft. Originally developed by ARINC in the late 70’s, this system is subsequently maintained by SITA and facilitates the communication of relatively short, heavily proscribed (no emoji’s!) text only messages between the aircraft and ground. Think SMS for Aircraft.

Fundamentally an Aircraft to Operator (and back) system, the infrastructure was co-opted to support the FANS CPDLC (Future Air Navigation System – Controller to Pilot Datalink Communications) initiative in the last decade. However messages sent by ATC to the aircraft are not only error checked – but encrypted as well. While no system is 100%, the likelihood of a message from ATC to the Aircraft using CPDLC (or the reverse) being eavesdropped or interfered with is extremely remote, if not impossible.

On the other hand – messages sent between the Company and the Aircraft are not, and this is an inherent weakness in the system. Rarely are these messages (or more correctly the accuracy/privacy of them) a personal concern – Weather, NOTAMS, ETA’s, Parking Bays, Messages about the Football) – all of these are zipping their way back and forth in real time, all the time. And can be read by anyone – such as here or here.

As you can see from the image included, not all messages are official. In fact when I write my memoirs, I have several anecdotes to include that refer not only to pilots (and company agents) forgetting not only that messages sent over ACARS are liable to be eavesdropped by a third party, but that messages sent to “Ops” go not only to an Operations Controller, but are often copied to an ever widening email distribution list that includes a wide array of line managers, training/standards managers, technicians and other parties …

A quick note on error checking for the technicaly interested (challenged).

CRC – Cyclic Redundancy Checking

ACARS3CRC is an acronym I mentally associate with disk errors. In the old days of DOS and early versions of windows – CRC messages after a Chkdsk (Check Disk) occurred where I was given information that did not really need to be actually understood in order to communicate clearly to me that I needed a new (bigger, faster) hard drive.

In essence CRC when applied to messages sent to/from an aircraft is part of the ARINC 702 A standard for FMS communications on transport category aircraft. The ASCII contents of the message are subject to a complex algorhythm that results in a short string that reflects the content of that message. As such any changes in the message can be detected by comparing the calculation result for the message received.

So apart from sending the message, the sending system also sends a form of “checksum” result of the CRC check along with the message. The receiver subjects the message part to the identical algorithym – and compares the calculated resulting checksum with the one sent alongside the message. If the checksums don’t compare (can you hear the FMC saying “check”?) there’s a problem and the message is rejected by the receiving system.

All messages sent to the FMC Flight Management Computer (Flight Plans, Wind Uplinks, Performance Data) in the aircraft are subject to this CRC process, and validation fail is indicated by the scratchpad message “INVALID (ALTN / TAKEOFF / ATC / FLT NO / FORECAST / PERF INIT / ROUTE / WIND DATA) UPLINK”. There are other reasons for the INVALID … UPLINK message, but a CRC fail is the main one.

I’m told that the requirement for CRC dates back to the early days of the system when the ARINC/SITA system was less “Robust” and is less applicable today, although still enforced for the more critical uses of the system – such as data sent straight to the FMC, of CPDLC comunications. For a somewhat cynical view of the concept that complex systems increase in reliability over time – see below.

But in essence, messages sent between the aircraft and the airline using the ACARS system (which despite some pre-formatting options are fundamentally free text messages) for all sorts of purposes – are unsecure (not encrypted) and not subject to any sort of data validity checking.

OK – so why is this a concern?

Takeoff Performance & ACARS

ACARS2Most airlines have progressed away from referencing paper manuals to determine critical takeoff performance and instead rely on some form of computer based system. While the administrative burden and cost to the company (and environment) of printing and flying around all those manuals cannot be under estimated – a number of compromises have to be made to produce a relatively simplistic set of printed solutions to the incredibly complex set of calculations that takeoff performance is in a modern aircraft – so the result is by it’s nature less than optimal. Additionally while the administrative burden of maintaining this system is clear, the potential for aircraft to be carrying around out of date manuals for months is not just folklore …

ACARS4The newer computer solution can be a tablet/PC (but not a Mac!) on the flight deck used by the pilots themselves, or via a remote system where the pilots use ACARS to request a takeoff solution, specifying in the message the various parameters of Airport, Runway, Takeoff Weight, Ambient Conditions, etc. A person at Ops with a tablet/computer or (ideally) a computer server uses these values to calculate a solution and sends them back to the aircraft as a pre-formatted display on either a screen or a printout – again via non secure, non error checked ACARS. Can you see where I’m going with this?

Why not use onboard tablets/computers exclusively? As usual the devil is in the detail. Just like having books on the flight deck, keeping all those laptops/tablets up to date with a host of airport/runway and most particularly obstacle data is a significant burden – and a significant opportunity for error. Maintaining a central repository for this information reduces the cost as well as the complexity. Hence airlines save money and produce safer results with the ACARS system.

But …

If this system is used to send this takeoff performance information directly to the FMC, then as mentioned the message itself is subject to CRC and the possibility of an error being introduced is extremely remote. But (as I’ve recently discovered) – very few airlines (none that I’ve found so far …) use this option. Instead the message comes to the pilot as a pre-formatted screen/printer text display which the pilots review and manually enter into the FMC. Apart from the manual entry error problem (don’t get me started) – there’s an inherent assumption on the veracity of the ACARS system which so far I haven’t been able to evaluate.

Complex Systems get Worse, not better, with Time.

At a recent discussion, CRC was referred to as a system that was required when ACARS was in it’s infancy, rather than the developed, robust system we have today. While that’s fine as far as it goes – but in general computer based systems don’t improve with time. As time goes on, complexity invariably increases as systems once developed to achieve a pre-determined scope and volume, are forced to work outside those limits and are (eventually) expanded and developed to deal with such changes and basic growth. Those change programs are rarely projects that are well scoped/funded and rarely involve any of the programmers who built the system in the first place. If you have any interest in this at all, I strongly recommend reading through to the end Quinn Norton‘s missive “Everything is Broken“. I’ve been reading Quinn’s stuff since the early days of Boot Magazine, and she is awesome – but this particular post should resonate strongly with anyone connected to a computer (and who of us is not?)

Your average piece-of-shit Windows desktop is so complex that no one person on Earth really knows what all of it is doing, or how. Now imagine billions of little unknowable boxes within boxes constantly trying to talk and coordinate tasks at around the same time, sharing bits of data and passing commands around from the smallest little program to something huge, like a browser. That’s the internet. All of that has to happen nearly simultaneously and smoothly, or you throw a hissy fit because the shopping cart forgot about your movie tickets.

NASA had a huge staff of geniuses to understand and care for their software. Your phone has you.

When we tell you to apply updates we are not telling you to mend your ship. We are telling you to keep bailing before the water gets to your neck.

You get the idea …

This seems to me to be a very good reason to move towards using the system as it would seems to have been intended – Secure, Checked Data, straight into the FMC computer that needs it, skipping the Human altogether.

After all – when has that ever gone wrong?

Airspeed Unreliable

The Airspeed Unreliable scenarios is one of the more challenging non normals faced by pilots in the simulator. Of the many serious malfunctions I’ve witnessed crew deal with in the simulator – this one more than any other has caught crew out to the point of a serious limitation exeedence (high/low airspeed) or potentially an airframe loss. In the real world, this failure has killed people in the past, with the Air Peru B757 accident being the most common one that comes to mind. However accident and incident statistics are replete with this outlier failure that has recently become a major focus of the world’s airline training systems, most especially after the loss of Air France 447 in the Atlantic.

While the Air France and Air Peru events were clearly accidents of the first order with significant loss of life – unreliable flight instruments malfunctions have cause significant loss of control incidents that were eventually recovered. The following text is taken from another incident report, where a fully functioning set of co-pilot (and presumeably standby instruments) remained available to both crew. In spite of this the aircraft suffered signficant deviations of flight path owing to a combination of the autoflight and pilot inputs.

At 2203 the captain’s airspeed indicator increased from 276 to 320 knots and the captains altimeter increased 450 feet in approximately 5 seconds. To re-capture altitude, the autopilot commanded pitch down approximately 2 degrees. An overspeed warning activated whereupon the captain retarded the throttles to idle. The autothrottles disconnected automatically but the autopilot remained engaged. The autopilot pitched down another 2 degrees before pitching up approximately 8 degrees. The overspeed warning remained on for about 41 seconds. The captain disengaged the autopilot and manually initiated a climb. Thrust remained at idle and the captains airspeed indicator decreased to 297 knots. The captain increased pitch to 12 degrees nose up, his airspeed indicator rapidly increased to 324 knots producing a second overspeed warning. The aircraft climbed to an altitude of approximately 35,400 feet above sea level (asl), then started to descend. The captain’s indicated airspeed reached a maximum of 339 knots, before decreasing as the aircraft started to descend.

The aircraft was descending through 34,700 feet asl with the captain’s airspeed indicator decreasing through 321 knots and the overspeed warning on when the stick shaker activated (a stall warning device that noisily shakes the pilots control column as the stalling angle of attack is neared). The overspeed warning remained on for the next 20 seconds, became intermittent for 26 seconds, then stopped. The stick shaker activated intermittently for about 1 minute and 50 seconds from its initial activation. When the aircraft had descended through approximately 30 000 feet asl with the captains airspeed indicating 278 knots, the captain increased thrust and within 9 seconds the stick shaker stopped. As the aircraft descended through 29,100 feet asl, the captain’s airspeed indicator rapidly decreased from 255 knots to 230 knots and the airspeed fluctuations stopped. The aircraft continued its descent to 27 900 feet.

Throughout this event, the first officer’s airspeed indicator displayed information that was not indicative of an overspeed event.

The point here is that to a fully qualified, current and experienced crew, this is a failure that can present a significant challenge to retaining flight control and returning the aircraft safely back to the ground. The benefit of simulator training in this area cannot be under-estimated. The two thrusts of this simulator training should be:

  1. Recognition and initial control; and
  2. The procedures and techniques that will be required to return the aircraft safely to the ground with erroneous flight instruments, in various weather conditions.

This latter point is crucial. While it’s absolutely imperative that such training give crew the skills to recognise this failure and respond appropriately to regain/maintain control of the aircraft – the challenge inherent in returning a modern glass jet aircraft to the ground without functional airspeed/altimeter readings cannot be understimated. Except of course the 787 and the pilots that fly it – where with the flick of a switch airspeed is calculated from angle of attack and is accurate to about 5 knots. B@st@rds.

Recency & the Retention of Manual Flight Skills

A (previously) unspoken impact on this failure is the effect of a lack of aircrew skills and recency on basic instrument interpretation and maniulative skills. What this means is, pilots who spend most of their time either watching the autopilot fly, or following what the flight director tells them to do are in a poor position when these two marvelous systems are not available. Compounding this are crew who either don’t fly very often, or get little opportunity for manual flight.

I myself am a product of what is perhaps the worst combination of the various factors that impact my skills and my recency to perform my most basic task – hand fly the aircraft.

  • While I learnt to fly on conventional instrumentation, I am fundamentally a child of the magenta line. My last 10,000 hours have been in EFIS glass flight deck Airbus/Boeing aircraft that were heavily automated, and typically subjected to airline automation policies that both encouraged the use of the highest levels of automation, and discouraged the practice of manual flight.
  • As a long haul pilot (all sectors 12+ hours, augmented crew) I typically fly perhaps twice a month, which means 4 sectors, two of which (if I’m lucky) where I get to be the handling pilot. If the weather is reasonable and the airspace/traffic conditions conducive, and my partner (and myself) sufficiently alert – I can do some manual flying. Typically I make every attempt to do so, but my experience of flying with and watching other crew fly – I find myself an outlier in this. Much of the flying I see is “200 ft to 200 ft” with the autopilot used to nearly the maximum extent possible.
  • Worse than this, I am a simulator instructor. Hence I fly slightly less than an average line pilot. Offsetting this is the fact that I have (limited) access to this fabulous million dollar toy in which I can practice my craft. Of course, things are never that simple and while our entire regulatory system is built around the concept that the simulator is just like the aircraft, I’ll let you in on a secret – it’s not. Coupled with this is the issue that while the ability to jump into the seat and do a takeoff or a landing to maintain/return legal recency is a simple thing – using the device properly to maintain the complete spectrum of of operational familiarty is not.
  • Finally – I’m a Check Captain, This means that if I’m rostered with 3 flights this month (and by implication no simulator access because my roster is full at that point), typically two of those flights will be sitting on the jump seat watching other pilots fly. While it was clear that such activities have a detrimental impact on manual flying skills, at least you were part of the operation and therefore gaining valueable experience of watching other operate. Or so we used to think …

All this means that I have precious little opportunity to maintain these skills, and practically none to develop them.

Current regulatory requirements state I must have done a takeoff and landing in the last 45 days. This takeoff/landing doesn’t have to be on the same flight, and it can be (and is) accomplished in the simulator.

Why is the Simulator Different?

Sim1I’ve hinted before that the simulator is not like the aircraft. Which is a strange thing to say, given that this multi million dollar device probably has hundreds of millions of dollars and decades of research making every effort into making it so. Well, from a technical point of view – it’s pretty good. The “feel” is not quite the same, but as a device that serves as a next-best alternative to the aircraft, it does a great job.

The problem is in the way we use it.

While the simulator functions quite well as a tool to emulate a suitable environment for maneouvre practice – takeoff, landing, engine failure, instrument approaches, missed approaches, etc. – the problem is that while you can be trained to demonstrate technical competency in these maneouvres – it’s pulling them all together in the line operational environment where the “simulation” falls down. Sometimes in the aircraft the most difficult maneouvre to pull off without compromising safety is pushing the aircraft back and starting the engines [OTP]. There are so many people involved in this process that sometimes a Captain is like a traffic cop in the middle of a jam, rather than a manager steering the process while simultaneously mantaining the big picture awarness to safely integrate what must be done with would be nice to see done.

Simulators can provide this environment – but the preparation required of the instructors and the training management is extreme. This kind of simulation is called LOFT (Line Orientated Flight Training); or LOS (Line Orientated Simulation) – or when you’re being checked and not trained – LOE (Line Orientated Evaluation). While LOFT/LOS/LOE heavily influenced training thought up to a decade ago, many airlines seem to be back at that point where their training syllabii are driven towards a token half-session LOS/E; combined with multi-repositioning maneouvre training that completes set exercises as dictated by a regulatory matrix.

I might add some of these maneouvre are patently irrelevant to “modern” aircraft. In my 777 which was designed in the early 90’s and is now over 20 years old – we have to practice the failure of all primary flight instruments, a failure more appropraite to the aircraft of the 50”s, 60’s and perhaps 70’s. This basically means failing my two LCD screens (assuming I don’t just lean back and look at the two in front of my Co-pilot), each of which have a mean time between failure of something like 400,000 hours. So far in my 9000 hours/18 years on the 777 I haven’t had one fail – only 391,000 hours and 782 years to go before this check event that I have to do every year becomes beneficial …

When we step into a simulator perhaps 75% of the available time for training and assessment will be taken up by regulatory based maneouvre requirements. Matrix’s that dictate that each 6 months you must to an engine failure on takeoff in the lowest visibility with the engine failing at close to decision speed, for example. Not only this this simple exercise consume perhaps 20 minutes of simulator time – it dictates the nature of that section of the session – there must be a takeoff, it must be in low visibility, etc. The option of starting the session in mid flight nearing your critical diversion point over the pole goes out the window.

One final thing on skill retention. The rules that determine how often I must do a take off and landing to be legal to operate may or may not adequately address manual flight skills (or at least, the manual flight skills required to do a takeoff and landing) … but it does not address the wider skills required for manual flight in non-normal operations, nor does it consider “operational familiarity”, or if you like, recency as it relates to everything we do that doesn’t include takeoff or landing. Most particularly this means the cognitive skills that sits behind the manipulative ones. I recently came across an article on this in the Journal of Human Factors. The article itself is fascinating but the conclusions are both logical and startling; namely …

  • After large gaps between flight exposure, the basic manipluative skills of piloting tend to fade slowly, and return quickly to a good level of proficiency with exposure.
  • However after the same abscence, the cognitive skills required to operate safely and efficiently fade quickly and take more exposure to build to previous levels of proficinecy.

This second one is crucial. You can throw a pilot into a simulator after 45 days do a few takeoff/landings and be satisfied that as far as that skill goes, that pilot is good to go. But what about the cognitive aspoect. As a member of a small group of highly skilled, highly qualified pilots who seldom touch an aircraft, and have been this way for 8 years now – I can confirm that the least of my worries is takeoff, landing, basic flying. It’s everything else – and most particularly exposure to high workload situations that require practiced cognitive skills that present the greatest challenge to proficiency, efficiency – and safety.

To (finally) bring this round to the original heading – if you barely get the chance to practice hand flying the aircraft (while thinking at the same time) – how much harder is it going to be to respond correctly when your instruments are lieing to you?

Airspeed Unreliable Checklist

AirspeedUnreliable1The Airspeed Unreliable checklist was revised in light of Air France AF447 to provide some short term figures for pilots to rely on. The basic intent of this change is to avoid the fixation that often occurs on airspeed and airspeed related alerts during this failure, to the exclusion of sensible pitch attitudes and power settings for existing aircraft configuration.

The settings promulgated in the checklist are designed to keep the aircraft in a safe (if not necessarily desirable) state of flight clear of high and low speed extremes for at least as long as it takes the crew to progress through the checklist to that point where they are looking up more appropriate values in the QRH. This may leave the aircraft in a climb or a descent, it may leave the aircraft at innapropriate (but safe) high or low airspeed compared to the normal flight regime. But safe.

It’s worth noting that the simulator leaves the Flight Path Angle displayed if selected. However while the FPA, PLI and Stick Shaker are fundamentally attitude based – all take airspeed as an input parameterfor validity checking. Boeing cannot guarantee that any of these will display, or will display correctly in the event of unreliable static/dynamic sources and hence the checklist warns against their use.

Cabin Altitude as … Altitude

In the event of a complete static port blockage, some crew have attempted to depressurise the simulator (Outflow Valves – Manual, Fully Open) to use the ASPC pressure sensor to provide an aircraft altitude through the Cabin Altitude display. This technique is technically (systemically) valid and will display an approximate aircraft altitude in a depressurised aircraft.

However it has been noted that when most crew takeoff with all static ports blocked (takeoff being the only time this is likely to occur), once crew recognise the malfunction, adopt the promulgated memory pitch attitude and thrust settings and commence the NNM checklist – by the time they achieve level flight in accordance with the QRH, they’re usually over 10,000 ft. Selecting the Outflow Valves open at this point would result in an EICAS [] CABIN ALTITUDE, followed by Oxygen Masks and a Rapid Descent – all while on unreliable flight instruments. As such this technique is not recommend by most Training/Standards Departments of the aircraft manufacturer. Using the Cabin Altitude earlier in this failure might indeed give you an altitude to maintain, but without valid power settings/attitudes, you’ll compromise your ability to maintain a safe airspeed until you get into the QRH.



I’m working on an update to the Practices and Techniques document I developed in 2008. While this has been a published document in my airline for several years, it was recently taken offline and is now a training background reference, as was the original intention for it’s development. Just one of the many subjects currently under revision is the section on Depressurisation Events – specifically the assessment of the Outflow Valve Position during an EICAS CABIN ALTITUDE or other related NNM’s that could lead to a Rapid Descent.

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Totalizer vs Calculated Fuel

I’m working on an update to the Practices and Techniques document I developed several years ago. While this has been a published document in my airline for several years, it was recently taken offline and is now a training background reference, as was the original intention of it’s development. Just one of the many subjects currently under revision is the section on Fuel Quantity Indication System (FQIS) – Totalizer vs Calculated Fuel. This comes after ongoing investigation of the fuel stratification issue (still unresolved).

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Weather Avoidance via Satellite

Weather avoidance is part and parcel of an airline pilot’s standard task list. From the Mark One Eyeball to the Rockwell Collins WXR-2100 Weather Radar there are various tools available to assist in this task; all of which leverage the training and experience an airline pilot brings to the flight deck. But my last trip illustrates the changes we’ve seen over the past few years in weather avoidance becoming a wider task that just the pilots on the flight deck, so I thought I’d share it here.

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50,000 volts into the MCP

Next time you reach up for something on the Mode Control Panel (MCP) – try and remember that 50,000 volts could be involved … Let me explain.

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Missed Approach Acceleration at ALT Capture

In another article, I discuss the issue of acceleration and cleanup in the missed approach. The Boeing 777 FCTM mentions accelerating at 1000 ft (AAL) in the missed approach, and many airlines use this point on two engine missed approaches. As discussed – this is inappropriate and potentially dangerous in the event of a single engine missed approach as terrain clearance is not assessed. We use the Missed Approach Altitude MAA (or if lower/higher and more appropriate, the Minimum Safe Altitude MSA) instead. We use this point on both all engine as well as engine out go-arounds to maintain procedural consistency and reduce the likelihood of a crew acceleration (inappropriately) early on a single engine missed approach.

AltMAA1Recently I was asked about early ALT capture in the missed approach. The issue of concern was whether we could accept “early” acceleration in the missed approach when it’s associated with AFDS ALT capture. In essence – this is acceptable and in fact expected two engine go-around behavior.

Basically when you’re climbing up towards an altitude at which you intend to level off, the Autopilot Director Flight Director System (AFDS) is aware of this since it’s usually set in your Mode Control Panel (MCP). The AFDS monitors your current altitude, your rate of climb and your target MCP altitude during the climb (among other things …) and schedules a capture of the altitude earlier if your climb performance is good.

At some point you enter a capture range as you near the target altitude and an altitude capture mode engages in the AFDS. This is indicate by ALT on the Flight Mode Annunciator (FMA) and the AFDS either (a) commands the flight director to provide guidance for the level off; (b) commands the autopilot to action the level off; or (c) or both.

How early the capture phase begins is mostly dependent on your rate of climb. A rule of thumb when manually flying is 10% of your rate of climb. If you’re going up at 1000 ft/min – you can expect to have to begin the level off at 100 ft to go. My read of the AFDS is that it’s a little more sophisticated than that (one would hope so …) – it schedules level off much earlier than I would when manually flying – see the picture above. The AFDS level off process is?primarily limited by a “g” limit that the autopilot is is allowed to actuate through the flight controls – aimed at providing a smoother ride with less stomach pulling for the passengers.

Note : It’s worth noting that during climb you’re in a speed-on-elevator mode where speed control is provided through pitch (elevators). When leveled off – you’re in a speed-on-thrust mode where the autothrottle moves to protect speed. However during the capture you’re on neither.

I once had the capture mode described to me as “the aircraft following a pre-determined 3D path in space/time” by a particularly nerdy (but brilliant) Instructor – in which speed protection is NOT guaranteed. This 3D path is calculated at the commencement of the capture mode, and the AFDS follows it until the aircraft is levelled off. As such if the environmental or thrust conditions change during the capture process such that the initial calculated path is now invalid – all bets are off and pilot intervention may be required to protect speed and/or altitude. Supposedly the altitude capture mode does not heave the ability to re-calculate on the fly …

I’ve seen this myself on several occasions, where a change in MCP speed or thrust available – or resetting the QNH – completely throws the AFDS and a reversion to basic modes or manual flight is required. The classic scenario in the sim is to fail an engine in a two engine go-around just as the AFDS captures altitude early because of climb performance. Pilot intervention is almost always required as the aircraft tries to follow a 3D capture path based on 2 engines, using the thrust available from just one engine.

The missed approach – particularly the two engine missed approach – can be an extremely dynamic regime where large rates of climb – anywhere from 3000 to 5000 fpm – can “normally” be achieved. As such the capture phase can begin quite early, and owing to the dynamic nature of the maneuver – can seem too early for a normal level off.

This is where the question comes in. I recently encountered pilots who were intervening in the event of an early ALT capture off a two engine missed approach, because our SOP is to continue missed approach climb to the MAA. This is not required. On a two engine missed approach, the climb phase can be thought of as over when the AFDS enters ALT capture, even if it seems to be doing so well below the MAA. Early altitude capture is (usually) an entirely normal and appropriate action by the AFDS (or the pilot) and the SOP to climb to the MAA before accelerating was never intended to preclude this. In any case – on a two engine missed approach you’ll (almost) never be limited by?terrain clearance and commencing level off at an altitude below the MAA appropriate to the rate of climb is absolutely normal.?The issue doesn’t present on single engine go-arounds because the climb performance isn’t there to generate early captures.

None of this is of course intended to limit the PF/Captain from taking action in the event of inappropriate behavior of the AFDS – Fly The Plane.

B777 Cruise CoG

CrzCog5Recently I’ve had a couple of discussions about the Cruise Center of Gravity (CoG) setting/default in the B777 Flight Management Computer (FMC).

Basically the 777 FMC comes with a default Cruise CoG setting on the PERF INIT page (shown). The FMC has a default value (small font) and valid pilot entries vary from 7.5% to 44%, although the typical operating range for a 777-300ER (in my experience) is 25% to 35%. Usually the further aft the aircraft is loaded, the better for improving takeoff performance and cruise performance (although not aircraft handling) – for reasons explained at the bottom of this article.

This is different from the Takeoff CoG (%MAC) entered during pre-flight. Despite setting the Takeoff CoG before engine start, this has no impact on the setting used by the FMC in cruise to calculate Altitude Capability. For various reasons, the further forward the FMC Cruise CoG setting, the lower the Maximum Altitude Capability calculated by the aircraft (see CoG, CoP below). At it’s typical worst (from 7.5% to a more reasonable value of 30%) this can reduce the Maximum Altitude calculated in the FMC by 1000 ft. The location of the CoG impacts other aspects of the aircraft, including fuel consumption – but the FMC does not account for these impacts. I’ve always assumed that it assumes the worst value – but when you ASS-U&ME …

In our 777’s this default is 30%. This is a pretty good approximate mid range setting. So good in fact that if you update it to the actual value on the day – a change of +/- 5% only results in a Max Alt change of a a couple hundred feet at most. Since we rarely travel around at Max Alt and instead usually maintain a margin 500 ft or so (by habit, training and common sense, rather than SOP) – this difference doesn’t change much.

CrzCog7I’ve recently discovered that there are still some airlines operating their 777’s with a default of 7.5%. This means that their VNAV Cruise Page is calculating Maximum Altitude with a falsely low value. While safe and conservative – it’s not especially accurate, and could have the result of preventing crew from climbing when the option is available.

At this point there would seem to be three options. (a) leave it alone; (b) introduce a near-enough default; or (c) introduce a procedure where an accurate value is calculated from the loadsheet and entered in cruise.

While reviewing the issue with the training manager of the particular airline, we diverged down the road of an interesting discussion of the benefits of a changed default vs a procedure. A changed default will serve most purposes most of the time, potentially introducing a small error (not always on the conservative side) where the default is different from the real value, but with little or no impact. The alternative is to introduce a written procedure the crew would utilise to determine an accurate cruise value from the loadsheet and enter it into the FMC – but introduce the opportunity for error. I was on the side of (b) – but this may as much be a situation bias on my part since this is how we operate.

CrzCog6Why do some 777-300ER’s have a default of 7.5%?

When I first operated the 777-300ER, the default was 30%. At one point early in the life of our new 300ER’s, this value was changed by Boeing to a full forward Cruise CoG of 7.5% – and we were not allowed to correct it. The reason behind this was the discovery during flight testing of some kind of aerodynamic anomaly related to the engine nacelle and the wing root – a vibration/flutter problem that only manifested when operating at or very near to maximum altitude. This was determined not to be a Safety issue – but more of a passenger comfort issue. By operating with an artificially low Cruise CoG value of 7.5% – Boeing lowered the Max Alt calculated by the FMC and kept the aircraft clear of the troublesome regime. I vaguely recall that eventually the problem was fixed through the installation of an air vane on the side of the nacelle – and a cruise CoG default of 30% was restored. But not everywhere it would seem …

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When do you Rotate?

A while ago I was looking into tail clearances on takeoff, rotation technique and most importantly what tools were available to train and evaluate rotation technique in the simulator and the aircraft.

Rotation5As part of this review the question was raised about the calling of “Rotate” on takeoff and the initiation of the rotation manoeuvre itself. It seems an esoteric distinction but when the takeoff is critical – high weight, high density altitudes where limitations such as maximum tyre speed become a factor – it can be part of the problem of rotation technique.

Before you read on, answer honestly the following question – When do You start to pull back and initiate rotation on takeoff?

  • When the PM calls “Rotate“; or
  • When the airspeeds indicates you’ve achieved VR?

The answer of course comes from the FCTM.

The requirement for the PF to initiate rotation at VR rather than “Rotate” has some implications for takeoff. If you weren’t already – as the PF you should have airspeed in your scan (along with everything else) during the takeoff roll, particularly as you approach V1/Vr. Essentially as you hear the PM call “Rotate” – you should have already begun the control input; you should not be reacting to the call.

It’s a small difference (made bigger by any delay in the PM (Captain!) to call “Rotate) but with the odd tyre speed exceedence seen in Abu Dhabi in the summer and occasionally Los Angeles at heavy weights – a difference that can bring you closer to an exceedence.

This concept provoked some discussions amongst the standards guys as to whether we should be calling “Rotate” a few knots early. Again – referring to the FCOM/FCTM – the answer is … No.


Years ago when my previous operator transitioned from the awesome Boeing 777-200/ER’s to the even more awesome B777-300’s – prior to the ultimately awesome (… at least until the 777-X!) B777 300ER’s – we were concerned about the rotation technique our pilots were using in the -200 aircraft and how that would translate across to the far more critical -300 aircraft. I promise I won’t call anything else awesome for the rest of this page.

While training was provided in the simulator to Instructors (to teach/assess) and to Line Pilots (to do!) on takeoff rotation to refresh them in preparation for the -300’s; one of the most effective solutions was produced by Engineering.

After each takeoff in the aircraft, the onboard maintenance computer would print off a takeoff rotation report which listed some of the basic parameters associated with the rotation itself and allow the pilots to compare their own impression of the rotation manoeuvre as against the data itself. Pilots were heavily cautioned against reading too much into the data and reminded that the prime reference was the FCTM technique – but it was fascinating how often a rotation that felt slow, looked slow on the data; felt fast, looked fast on the data – or felt ok, looked slow or fast on the data. Over time we trained into our brains and muscle memories the correct technique using the aircraft itself as our guide. Quite cool really.

Rotation6As an aside, I can remember several tailstrike incidents in the B777-300 (never the 300ER) during my time with my previous airline; all involved some fairly (not so) unusual (UK) weather with strong/gusty crosswinds involved. While information was never provided as to whether pilot technique was a factor – knowing as I did at least three?of the pilots in those occurrences, I really don’t think so.

Later the FCTM would be changed to recommend full TOGA thrust on all takeoff’s in strong and/or gusting crosswinds in all 777’s – an action which increases the tailskid margin on takeoff.

Boeing 777 Tailstrike Prevention Solutions

When the 777-300ER’s arrived they came with a software based tailstrike prevention system that would all but eliminate tail strikes. In fact to the best of my knowledge no 777-300ER’s have experienced a tailstrike in operational service – and the system had to be disabled during certification in order to produce the data necessary for unstick tests.

Across the various types of 777’s …

  • B777-200/ER/LR/LRF : Has tailstrike detection – but no protection.
  • B777-300 : Has tailstrike detection; separate tailstrike protection (physical tailskid); but no software based protection.
  • B777-300ER : Has detection; Tailskid Protection (tailskid); plus a software based protection system and semi-levered main gear which pivot during rotation to reduce the likelihood of a tailstrike.
Tailstrike Detection Skid

Tailstrike Detection Skid

Tailstrike Detection (All)

The detection system is a sensor/antenna mounted on the underside of the aircraft, not far past the point where the lower body tapers upwards towards the tail, and when activated alerts the flight deck that a [] TAILSTRIKE has occurred. This system is highly sophisticated, so to understand it – you need to read the next paragraph carefully.

Basically if you pull back hard enough during takeoff and drag the back end of the aircraft along the runway – you rip off this strategically placed orange fin, and an EICAS message goes off on the flight deck.

Highly sophisticated, wouldn’t you say? Still it seems to work.

In the event of an activation of this system – on any 777 – the checklist requires you to depressurise the aircraft and Land. Potentially you’ve done damage to the airframe, which could well be structural and include the cabin pressure cell.

Protection Skid/Cannister

Protection Skid/Cannister

Tailstrike Protection (Hardware, B777-300/300ER *)

The physical talkstrike protection cannister solution is a skid that retracts with the landing gear but during takeoff and landing provides a crushable cannister that absorbs the impact of a tailstrike. Note that you can drag this bit of kit along the runway – even crushing it – without activating the aforementioned detection system (no EICAS message). Apart from some harried calls from the crew and passengers – you might not even know it had occurred …?In any event in this circumstance it’s acceptable to continue the flight because the cannister has done it’s job of protecting the airframe, even if you failed to do so …

Accompanying this (B777-300ER only) is the implementation of the semi-levered landing gear which “consists of an additional hydraulic actuator that connects the forward end of each main gear truck to the shock strut. During takeoff, the actuator locks to restrict rotation of the main gear truck and allow takeoff rotation about the aft wheel axle, thereby improving airplane performance capability. During landing, the actuator is unlocked to permit rotation of the main gear truck and provide additional damping.

We like to think that the aircraft essentially hops off the runway at the end of the rotation sequence …

Tailstrike Protection (Software, B777-300ER)

The 300ER’s come with a software innovation that assesses the likelihood of a tailstrike during takeoff based on a sea of parameters that include not only tailskid height but pitch attitude, rotation rate, airspeed as well as pilot control inputs. This is a solution that is a direct benefit from a fly by wire control system – there’s no doubt a stack of software in the background operating on a stack of data coming in at (I believe) 60 frames of information a second. Basically the system calculates how low the tail skid will be at the lowest point in the rotation – and if it believe that clearance will be less than 1.5 feet (yes – that’s 18 inches folks …) – it springs into action. Effectively?it reduces the pilot commanded elevator input, slowing the rotation of the aircraft, thereby preventing a tailstrike while continuing the rotation manoeuvre.

There is no pilot feedback, and no advisory to the crew that this has taken place. Depending on your airline’s setup – the flight deck, Engineering and/or Flight Operations Department could receive a report from the aircraft that the event has taken place, incorporating a subset of the data generated during the activation of tailstrike prevention.

Additionally an airline’s flight data monitoring (FDM) program that monitors digital data continuously for exceedences in a variety of parameters may well detect in the takeoff data indications an execeedence of various values such as fast/slow rotation rate; high rotation pitch attitude at liftoff, etc. It’s worth noting however that FDM captures data at about 5 times a second whereas TSP works on at least 12 times as much data – I’ve seen circumstances where the TSP has activated, but FDM never caught anything unusual (enough) on the takeoff to report.

* Finally – it’s worth noting that the software solution on the 777-300ER is so good that recently Boeing stopped placing the physical cannister tailstrike protection solution on the -300ER’s; this protection originally provided on the 777-300’s is no longer required and Boeing have been looking at rolling the software system back to the 777-300’s.


Calculated/Totalizer Fuel & Pre-Fuelling

FQIS2After an 8 month hiatus – I returned to flying in August to the Los Angele route. On my first trip, I noticed that during the return sector from LA we had burnt more fuel than I could readily account for, and the FMC Progress Page Calculated Fuel was somewhat lower than the Totalizer fuel (more on this later).

Note : There are two means for determing fuel on board on the 777 – Totalizer Fuel (fuel sensed in the fuel tanks); and Calculated Fuel (calculated as fuel on board since start by the Flight Management Computer FMC)

Over subsequent flights, and based additionally on feedback from other Instructors – it appears we’re seeing some odd behavior in the Calculated/Totalizer split. From my experience (and that of others) – the following is what I would expect to see from these two values. Note I’ve validated my background data with other 777 operators who agree with my expectations.

  • Calculated equal to Totalizer in the very early stages of flight; typically within a couple hundred kg’s at top of climb;
  • Slow variance between steady state Totalizer and Calculated values; trending generally in one direction or another (Calculated exceeding Totalizer or vice-versa);
  • Often a developing Calculated/Totalizer split will reverse it’s trend for a while;
  • Split values of 1000 kg or more are unusual but not unheard of; usually towards the middle or last third of a long haul flight you would see this maximum value;
  • Such larger values have usually reduced to a few hundred kg’s approaching Top of Descent;
  • There has never been an absolute consistency of Calculated Higher or Lower than Totalizer all the time across Aircraft/Sector/Season, etc.

What I’ve been seeing however is the following:

  • At Top of Climb, Calculated is up to 1000 kg below Totalizer;
  • This split tends to increase slowly over the rest of the flight, occasionally reversing back towards but not coming under the original Top of Climb 1000 Kg split
  • At Top of Descent (3x LAX-Australia sectors so far) – a split of about 1500 kg’s; Calculated always below Totalizer.


It should be remembered that all FMC fuel predictions are based on the Calculated value. Based on the expected behavior of the aircraft systems – we have always trained that for most of a long haul flight, the FMC Calculated fuel on board (and hence the FMC fuel predictions) are the more accurate figure. At the end of the flight – the Totalizer should be (more) accurate, but pilots are reminded to review the Calculated/Totalizer split – particularly those cases where the Calculated is higher than the Totalizer, since this can lead to false impression of fuel state on descent.

With a 1500 kg lower Calculated value, and a slightly increased fuel burn – we are seeing the FMC/EICAS [] INSUFFICIENT FUEL message, which cautions the crew that based on current FMC predictions, they will not land at Destination with enough fuel to conduct a missed approach and proceed to their Alternate with statutory reserves intact. This message is not a train smash – but it’s an indication that fuel consumption has been in excess of what was planned, and combined with poor weather could lead to a diversion.

However if this message is coming up based on a falsely low Calculated value – in comparison to the higher Totalizer value – then this is a concern. I should mention that like all airlines there’s an active fuel monitoring program in place which utilizes extensive onboard recorded data to ensure that the aircraft is consuming fuel as it should, resulting in performance decrements that are maintained in both the flight planning system and the aircraft to enable accurate fuel consumption prediction.

Before I go much further, I’d better recap on the systems for those who are still catching up …

[Read more…]

Temperature Inversions and Takeoff Performance Calculation

A while ago I scheduled a temperature inversion in a simulator session in preparation for our operation to Abu Dhabi’s summer. For further reflections see Performance Limited Takeoff and High Temperature Departure Abu Dhabi.

The issue of temperature inversions and the implications for takeoff performance calculation raised so many issues that I ended up having to remove the sequence from the session. I set about reviewing what the industry had in this area – particularly as relates to practice and procedure for dealing with reported temperature inversions.

There ain’t much. The theory is all there of course, covering the various mechanisms under which LLTIs (Low Level Temperature Inversions) are formed; their association with Windshear; the likely effect on performance. But when it comes to dealing with them practically …

Note : All of the following information is the collation of research from various sources. Specific references to values and performance impacts, and any procedural or practical recommendations are personal opinion only and in no way reflect policy or practice of any airline or flight department. Caveat Emptor.

Low Level Temperature Inversions (LLTI)

4300155_origIn the International Standard Atmosphere (ISA) the outside air temperature (OAT) decreases at a rate of 2 degrees per 1000 ft. In fact it’s not quite that simple, since the dry adiabatic lapse rate (DALR) is nearer 3?degrees/1000 and the saturated adiabatic lapse rate (SALR) nearer 1.5?degrees, so moist air rises less rapidly than dry, hence clouds that continue to build vertically while there’s high moisture content, hence the planet on which we live replete with clouds and rain and trees and forests and oceans and … but I digress.

On top of this, weather characteristics and the geographical environment may affect the lower layer of the atmosphere to produce an increase in ambient temperature with ascent, rather than the expected (various degrees of) decrease. This is called a temperature inversion and down low, abbreviated as an LLTI.

The wikipedia entry is decent. For our purposes the basis of formation isn’t necessarily relevant, but we can look at two types for our purposes – Known and Unknown. The unknown kind can be half expected (based on local experience) but is rarely accounted for – it just comes as an annoyance on performance as your all-engines operating aircraft encounters it. The likelihood of an LLTI occurring at the exact same time as a critical engine failure with an obstacle constrained flightpath is so statistically remote that we can ignore it.

Or is that what we say about ATC and mid air collisions?

But when planning a takeoff with a known LLTI – usually reported by ATIS after pilot observation “Pilot reported Low Level Temperature Inversion of 15 degrees at 1000 ft” – you’re now planning on the loss of an engine when you hit this thing, which makes it somewhat more serious.

An LLTI for our purposes occurs at low level and rarely penetrates 2000 ft AGL. A 10 degree temperature inversion is considered quite significant and will usually be reported on the ATIS. Dubai is a prime location for LLTI’s where the ambient temperature is relatively high during the day but the ground cools quickly and significantly at night, setting up the conditions for a morning LLTI. I’ve flown through LLTI’s of 20 degrees (all engines operating) and the effect is noticeable – generally a marginal but detectable loss of performance. The fact that it usually hits just as you reduce to climb thrust, commence 3rd segment acceleration and occasionally as you reduce flap doesn’t help. But two engine performance is not the issue here and a LLTI will never be anywhere near the impact of actually losing an engine – just to keep things in perspective …

Performance Impact

All performance is based on density altitude and temperature is a key factor. The higher the temperature the higher the density altitude, the thinner the air and the less performance from your engines (and wings, etc). The key performance factor we’re interested in here is thrust from the engines, and since we’re usually talking about higher temperatures, it means we’re usually operating beyond the flat rating temperature of your engine. So we’d better start with that and talk about Flat Rating and Tref.

Flat Rating and Tref

TempInv3For certification purposes – turbine engines are required to be able to produce a minimum fixed thrust throughout their operating life. This predictable thrust level is constant up to a certain ambient temperature – above this temperature the thrust produced by the engine is scaled back as OAT increases. The point at which thrust starts to reduce is known as the Engine Flat Rated Temperature (or Tref in Airbus speak) and is usually defined as an ISA deviation. For the GE90-115B engine the flat rating temperature is 30 degrees C at Sea Level (or ISA+15 degrees).

There should always be a margin between the thrust an engine is capable of producing and that required of it by scheduled takeoff performance. Below Tref this is defined by a pressure limit on the engine. Above Tref, it’s defined by a temperature margin, and can be loosely associated with the difference between the EGT achieved during the takeoff roll and the EGT the engine is limited to at Takeoff Thrust. The GE90-11B’s are unlimited at an EGT of 1050 degrees C and below (N1/N2 limits apply also), or with a 5/10 minute All Engine/Engine Out limit of up to 1090 degrees .

TempInv2Both above and below Tref – this translates broadly speaking to a margin below a critical exhaust gas temperature (EGT). In essence under ISA conditions a new engine will produce “maximum thrust” at a lower EGT than an engine at the end of it’s operating life.

For both of these engines, that “maximum thrust” is a pre-determined figure that your performance calculator has to be able to rely on. For a takeoff in excess of Tref, your performance computer counts on less and less thrust from the engine. A general rule of thumb is a loss of 0.75% thrust for each degree of temperature increase above Tref.

FADEC Thrust Setting

Another factor to bear in mind as we draw inexorably closer to actually discussing dealing with LLTI’s is thrust setting during takeoff. An engine with Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) continues to “tweak” the thrust set during the takeoff roll. Typically allowing for the increase in inlet pressure as the aircraft accelerates – in fact the N1 or EPR will be adjusted for a series of factors during the takeoff roll to produce a command parameter (N1/EPR) that results in the required thrust. When the ambient temperature increases on takeoff (instead of decreasing) it can be seen that the impact on thrust produced can be different depending on whether you’re above or below the Tref.

Watch the N1 during takeoff sometime – you’ll see it continue to change as the aircraft accelerates, even though the thrust levers are de-clutched in “HOLD”.

TempInv9N1 : Is not actually a parameter used directly for engine thrust management. N1 is corrected internally in the Electronic Engine Control (EEC) as a function of the TAT (depending on aircraft speed). This corrected N1 (referred to here on as N1-K) bears a direct relationship to thrust.

As temperature increases but remains below Tref, N1-K is constant with the thrust produced even as as N1 increases. In essence as the temperature decreases it requires more and more N1 to produce a constant thrust (N1-K). Unfortunately – we see N1, so I’ll keep N1 as a primary parameter for our discussion.

Ignoring the affects of increasing airspeed for a moment …

  • Below Tref – as temperature increases, N1 increases to maintain a constant Thrust (N1-K)
  • Above Tref – N1 will decrease with increasing temperature, as will Thrust (N1-K)

TempInv10EGT is a little different. Power management is essentially established to maintain a constant EGT (in relation to a critical maximum EGT) above Tref. So below Tref, EGT will increase as OAT increases until OAT is at Tref, after which EGT will essentially remain constant with further OAT increases even as thrust decreases.

Ok, so we now have enough information to start looking at LLTI’s. If you’ve followed so far, you can see how we might choose to plan for a LLTI depends on the relationship between ambient OAT and Tref – remembering the B777-300ER’s GE90-11b engines are flat rated to 30 degrees C (or ISA+15).

During takeoff the EEC’s continuously compute N1 based on the current ambient temperature as sensed by the TAT probe at the top of the Engine Nacelle. Thus the effect of a LLTI on takeoff performance will depend on the type of takeoff being performed and on the magnitude of the temperature increase.

TempInv11LLTI; Maximum (or Fixed Derate) Thrust; Ambient below Tref

If you’re conducting a Maximum (or TO 1/2 derate) thrust takeoff with the ambient OAT below the flat rating temperature and a temperature increase occurs such that the ambient remains below Tref – the EEC’s will increase the N1 to maintain thrust required (N1-K constant) for the higher temperature. The EGT will increase but remain below maximum EGT.

Because this all takes place below Tref – there’s little impact on thrust. You may well still notice aerodynamic effects – but thrust loss is not one of them.

TempInv12LLTI; Maximum Thrust; Ambient above Tref

If your conducting a Maximum (or TO 1/2 derate) thrust takeoff and an OAT increase occurs that takes the ambient above Tref – the EEC’s will reduce N1 to maintain power management requirements rather than thrust required. This is the engine protecting itself to avoid an EGT exceedance. Thrust levels will reduce (compared to a “normal” takeoff) to maintain a constant EGT. The higher the OAT above Tref, the greater the reduction of thrust.

As a general rule, a temperature inversion of 10 degrees will result in a thrust reduction of about 10% (anywhere from 8% to 12% depending on the engine). However the loss of thrust applies at the maximum magnitude of the temperature inversion. Typically the temperature increase in an LLTI is uniform; thus the thrust reduction associated should also be uniform through the atmospheric LLTI.

LLTI; Assumed Temperature Takeoff

If you’re using assumed temperature with a temperature inversion, the following two cases have to be considered:

  • TempInv13If the OAT increase stays below the Assumed Temperature, then no effect on thrust will occur. The EEC’s will detect temperature and regulate thrust accordingly and not be limited by the Assumed value. Thrust will therefore remain constant compared to the standard atmosphere takeoff. You’ll see an increase in EGT due to the higher ambient; again you may notice aerodynamic effects – but thrust loss isn’t one of them.



  • TempInv14If the temperature increase goes above the Assumed Temperature – then the assumed temperature solution is dropped by the FMC. The thrust solution reverts to maximum thrust (or max TO1 / TO2 thrust) and the implications are similar to the previous two situations – LLTI with Max Thrust above/below Tref. This scenario is less likely since it requires an already higher temperature on ground with a limited amount of reduced thrust and a temperature inversion higher than the difference between the OAT and the Assumed Temperature. Or is it?

That said, the situation in Abu Dhabi is actually quite close to what is being described here. A limiting takeoff where some derate (not much) is still available, where the ambient temperature is above the engine flat rating temperature – coupled with a report LLTI of 10 degrees or more. This sounds like a vintage Middle East morning departure.

Before we move on – it’s important to note that a temperature inversion during takeoff has little effect on engine performance when it occurs during Maximum/Derated/Assumed Thrust takeoff where the OAT is below Tref.

TempInv8Effect of an LLTI on Aircraft Performance

It should be clear now that for an LLTI to be a consideration on takeoff performance, the aircraft needs to be in the following scenario:

  • Ambient temperature at or above Tref (30 degrees / ISA+15); or Ambient temperature plus LLTI temperature change in excess of Tref.
  • Maximum Thrust (TO) or Max Thrust plus Assumed (TO-nn);
  • Engine failure at V1; with an Obstacle constrained flight path (the runway will be behind you before you enter the LLTI);
  • LLTI is such that it results in a regulatory net flight path margin cancellation and leads to compromised obstacle clearance.

In all other cases, even if performance is affected the result is a detrimental flight path lower than the nominal one, but clear of obstacles and minimum net flight paths.

It’s worth nothing that FAR/JAR Part 25 rules introduced conservatism to account for inaccuracies of the data used for performance calculation, and although not specifically mentioned, the case could be made that LLTI’s are part of in that consideration. There is however no specific documentation to state or imply this.

Module7-013The minimum climb gradient commencing at 35 ft above the runway for the second segment is 2.4% for a twin engine aircraft. Beyond this is a 0.8% margin between net and gross calculations. Typically a 10 degree LLTI over 1500 ft will halve the gross gradient between the planned/actual and net flight path if all else is equal. This implies that even with the LLTI the aircraft will remain clear of obstacles.

However the LLTI affected flight path is a curve, with performance continuing to degrade the higher and further the aircraft goes until it reaches a point where the aircraft will be below the net flight path. However LLTI’s are usually relatively shallow in nature, with a more normal atmosphere prevailing above which would restore climb performance to the aircraft.

What To Do?

If you don’t expect the engine to fail – LLTI’s are not a consideration. The combination of an engine failure with an LLTI of more than 10 degrees is extremely remote, which is perhaps why regulatory authorities have never addressed this issue. Hence we tend to ignore the possibility of unknown LLTI’s.

It’s somewhat different when you’re the Captain, and the ATIS says you have an LLTI over the airport, that probability has just been increased to 100% – now you’re back catering for an exceedingly unlikely engine failure into a known LLTI.

It should be clear now that when the ambient is below Tref; when there a healthy derate (assumed or otherwise); when there are no obstacles on departure – the LLTI is a consideration, but not a limiting one, or one that would result in a change in takeoff performance calculation.

Note that the use of TO1 or TO2 implies that if needed you can advance the thrust to full TO in the event of degraded performance. You’ll want to make sure you’re not operating in the low weight/low speeds part of the envelope where control can be compromised by full thrust in respect of VMCA/V2.

inversionTherefore let’s address the specific scenario of concern as follows and suggest a recommendation.

  • Ambient temperature at or above Tref (30 degrees); or Ambient temperature plus LLTI temperature gradient in excess of Tref.
  • Maximum Thrust (TO) or Max Thrust plus Assumed (TO-nn);
  • Obstacle constrained flight path;
  • LLTI is such that it’s likely to result in a regulatory net flight path margin cancellation leading to compromised obstacle clearance (at least 10 degrees)

If this is your scenario one possibility is to add the temperature inversion value to your OAT in order to correct the temperature used in performance calculations. For older engines that are EGT limited at higher thrust settings – this will recover some of your lost margin against EGT redline. If you’re using assumed thrust – you can still do this as long as the inversion does not exceed the assumed temperature value.

As with all such recommendations – this is only a real decision when it comes to a payload limited departure. It’s the Captain’s decision on the day to offload cargo and/or passengers and bags against the possibility of an engine failure combined with a reported LLTI and an obstacle critical flightpath. It’s worth emphasizing again that there’s no regulatory basis/requirement for this, even though there is no doubt that temperature inversions have a direct effect one engine and aircraft performance during climb.

Hi Temperature Departure Abu Dhabi

After a debacle in Abu Dhabi – and another occurrence involving offload and a 4 hour delay – I was asked to prepare some specific advice for Captains operating out of Abu Dhabi.


AUH Temperature Chart

Due to high temperatures, most Abu Dhabi departures during mid-Summer experience a potential performance penalty for departure; in most cases resulting in loss of revenue payload, possible departure delays due offload and in the severest of cases the offload of all Cargo, Standby Passengers/Bags and Revenue Passenger Bags to enable departure.

At this time of year the midday temperatures in OMAA are in the mid 40’s. When contrasted with the average load carrying capability for our 777’s in these temperatures; and the high loads of passengers and freight departing Abu Dhabi during Summer – it’s clear that crew will be required to plan for a performance limitation on takeoff.

Note : The data provided here is for information only and not for operational use. Any statements of rules of thumb; values of temperatures and winds; preferred runway selections; performance limit weight changes due ambient conditions such as Temperature, Wind, Runway Selection, APU-PACK usage etc are informational only – all takeoff performance estimates must be verified and calculated by the crew in the actual operating environment of the day.

AUHHiTemps2Effect of Temperature

From the charted data – it can be seen that increasing temperature has a significant impact on the load carrying capability of the aircraft. Once below the Certified Takeoff Weight, each degree increase reduces the takeoff performance limit by at least 3 Tons – often more.

Assuming a full load of passengers and crew – at planning temperatures of 40 and less, some revenue cargo can be carried for the departure.

However as the temperature increases, the performance limiting condition reaches a point where revenue cargo cannot be carried. In a highly subjective calculation – this is indicated by the yellow/bold sections of this sample chart. Your mileage may vary.

Effect of Wind

It can be seen that an increasing headwind component helps increase load carrying capacity by an average of 300 Kg/Knot. However this rule of thumb is far from reliable because there are points at which headwind helps with a specific performance limit and the increase in permitted takeoff weight is higher (900 Kg in some cases for 1 knot increase in wind). Crew must examine various contingencies of the wind before deciding on a planned set of departure conditions.

Departure Time

Our departure time of 11:00 am leads up towards the peak heat of the day. This has two operational impacts. Temperatures are high and therefore our capacity to fill the aircraft is compromised. Additionally any significant delay to the departure – such as to offload cargo/standby passengers in order to comply with a weight restriction – takes the aircraft into even higher operating temperatures. Once into this peak temperature regime (about 14:00 Local) it can be up to 4 hours after scheduled ETD before temperatures reduce.

Sea Breeze

During the morning temperatures build and OMAA general experiences southerly (crosswind) to easterly (HWC RW 13) winds of up to 10 knots. That said – usually the breeze is less than 5 knots and of variable direction.

Between late morning and early afternoon a wind change is usually experienced (RW13 -> RW31) and winds of up to 10 knots can result. Once the sea breeze is established it’s normal for temperatures to commence a slow decrease through the rest of the afternoon.

AUHHiTemps3Choice of Runway

All runways in Abu Dhabi are of equal length and approximately equal slopes (actually 0.05% up to North/West). There are obstacles in the database off the end of all runways, and RW13 L&R have an EOP. It is this last factor which determines that generally RW31 gives better takeoff performance than RW13. However this advantage is generally less than 1 Ton and is quickly negated by wind.


APU to PACK will generally provide a takeoff performance increase of about 3.5 Tons. Crew should familiarise themselves with the APU to PACK procedure from the FCOM SP during pre-flight; and consider reviewing the APU to PACK detail in the D5 OPT Guide prior to flight operations in Abu Dhabi.

APU To PACK in Abu Dhabi forces some additional operational considerations. Due to high on ground temperatures – with a full load the cabin temperature towards the back of the aircraft will be in the high twenties prior to engine start. As such the requirement to run two Packs out to the runway for passenger comfort is almost a certainty. Recommended technique is:

  • Use conventional data entry procedures to enter all takeoff data as planned for the departure – even if you’re not sure those figures will be used for takeoff. Select APU in the Assumed Temperature line, verifying small font APU on the Upper EICAS.
  • After engine start verify large font APU on Upper EICAS and Single Pack APU operation.
  • If deemed necessary delete the APU entry in the Assumed Temperature line of the CDU THR LIM page and verify dual pack operation to the cabin. This action will delete the takeoff speeds from the FMC.
  • Delay the Takeoff Review and Before Takeoff Checklist until final takeoff performance entries are complete
  • Plan to position near the runway such that a short delay will be acceptable to ATC. When ready, perform the FMC Final Performance Entry procedure in full and re-enter takeoff performance data while the aircraft is halted with both operational crew involved as scripted.
  • Complete Takeoff Review and the Before Takeoff Checklist when ready.
  • If APU to Pack should fail – Turn the Packs OFF (refer to SP) nearing the runway (note 30 seconds minimum before thrust advancement) in place of APU to Pack.

Over Fuelling

When planned at 40 OAT – the flight can include 10-15 tons of cargo with a full load of passengers, based on a re-dispatched OFP fuel load. However if temperatures increase and a subsequent offload (or non-load) of Cargo is undertaken – even with 3 ton below refuelling the aircraft can be left with too much fuel to even depart with minimum passenger load.

If an over fuel situation develops, De-Fuelling is almost always NOT an option. One option to consider is pushback and taxi to hold near the runway – to wait for fuel reduction (minimum 2.0 tons per hour during taxi) or improved ambient conditions (post peak temperature, wind change, sea breeze).

Flight Planning

The Flight Plan will be prepared to a forecast temperature at the time of departure plus (based on recent operational experience) a margin. In all likelihood it will include some capacity for revenue freight.

If the flight is planned with cargo, captains should consider the following plan of action:

  1. Obtain an estimate of the ZFW required for Revenue Pax/Bags and Standby Pax/Bags from the AUH Ramp Dispatcher.
  2. Obtain a minimum fuel OFP from Nav Services for this ZFW.
  3. Refuel the aircraft to this minimum fuel (instead of originally planned OFP less 3 tons)

This will enable the crew to decide to offload/not load cargo (and potentially standby passengers/bags) – and be left with just the fuel required to complete the mission, giving the minimum takeoff weight available for departure and therefore the greatest margin to the performance limited takeoff weight. Although the correction figures could be considered to correct for freight offload – the magnitude of values involved are beyond the accuracy of the LAND/RAMP correction figures.

PushBack, Taxi, Departure – Performance Entry

Pre-Flight : can be characterised by finger-flying calculations on the OPT; multiple sources of ambient conditions (Tower, ATIS, Aircraft OAT); changing ambient conditions; different ZFW/TOW figures provided from different sources. Captains must proactively manage these conditions and decide early on a plan to minimise the risks associated. The integrity of the Final OPT Calculation and the Data Entry Procedure is paramount.

Decision Time : There may come a point where the Captain will have to make a decision on a ZFW that can be accepted based on a conservative use of the OPT and expected temperatures/conditions. The decision to take on cargo and the fuel to carry it must be balanced against the possibility of increasing temperatures that could force a cargo offload – and a delay into even higher ambient temperatures for the departure.

Performance Data Entry : Captains may well find themselves having to enter critical performance data during taxi. It is strongly suggested this should be done in full compliance of the Final FMC Pre-Flight entry procedure after a full cross check of the final OPT solution (from scratch) involving both operational crew members while the aircraft is halted near the departure runway. Takeoff Review and Before Takeoff Checklist is delayed until the completion of the Performance Entry Procedure.

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 …







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.


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.


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).


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!


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 …






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 …

Tax Time : Crew Allowances 2012/2013

It’s Tax Time again 2012/2013 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. Note the Taxation Determination for FY2013-14 can be found 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

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.

Clean, CON then …VNAV ENG OUT -> EXECute.

VNAV ENGOUT 1A not-so recent amendment to the B777 FCTM (followed by a more recent update to the FCOM and QRH) instigated a procedure where ENG OUT mode of the FMC VNAV page is selected (confirmed) and EXECuted once CONtinuous thrust has been set after takeoff. While this sounds logical and orderly – as usual the devil is in the details and the specifics of actioning this needs to be understood and considered by the PF/PM should they find themselves in this situation.

Specifically – executing ENG OUT at this point in time of the departure removes the VNAV climb page speed/altitude restrictions. Typically this means the loss of 250/10000 on most initial climbs – but also any other coded or entered VNAV Climb Page speed/altitude restrictions. At our typical operating weights (in excess of 320 tons) this usually means an ENG OUT climb speed of about 285 knots.

Interestingly, any LEGS page restrictions on climb speed remains in spite going to ENG OUT mode.

Is there really anything wrong with this? You could safely assume that in the event of a non normal such as an engine failure (whether MAYDAY or PAN PAN PAN) , you’re no longer subject to the 250/10K restriction. And you’d probably be right. But it’s best keeping everyone in the picture and asking/advising ATC before doing so.

Perhaps the biggest alarm bell that goes off for me when I see this is that when the aircraft accelerates after the execute – it takes the crew by surprise. Since this procedure is new and therefore most crew haven’t seen it done – they’ve never seen the removal of this restriction before either, so should I be surprised?

Except that they have seen it. Immediately between the “VNAV Engine Out … Confirm?” from the PM and the PF’s “Execute“, the FMC VNAV Climb page shows you the future – Maximum Altitude with Engine Out; Cruise Altitude, reset as required for single engine service ceiling; Engine Out Climb Speed … and no 250/10,000 speed restriction. But no-one spots it. The PM doesn’t call it; the PF doesn’t see it during the (peremptory) cross check required before the “Execute“. I agree that it’s easier to see things that appear and things that are marked inverse because they’ve changed; but our job description is not to only notice the obvious when making FMC changes.

What should you do in this situation? If your SA is high, you’ll notice the change in target speed, the control column input as a nose down input is applied, and the change in pitch attitude on the PFD. Assuming you weren’t aware of the coming change, I would expect you to speed intervene and maintain current airspeed, whether UP speed or 250 knots. The next time round, the solution would be to speed intervene before executing ENG OUT. Anything else is too fiddly with the CDU while at a high workload period of flight.

All of this tells me we still have a way to go before we reach a gold standard of understanding what the FMC is telling us during these Confirm … Execute exchanges; and that VNAV is still (at times) damn confusing. Well, that last part I definitely knew.




Non Normal Management Model – ANC AAM

Some time ago I wrote about a review of a Decision Making Model (FORDEC). During that article I clarified that there is a clear difference between a Decision Making Model versus a Non Normal Management Model. Usually you have to deal with the NNM first before you get as far into the flight as having to make real decisions with conflicting information and requirements. I’m using ANC AAM – Aviate Navigate CommunicateAssess Action Manage.

Please note that :

(a) Diagrams are NOT my forte; and
(b) I’m NOT doing anything new here.

Non Normal Management Model – ANC AAM

Many pilots, in most situations, have no need of a non-normal management model to follow. Their training, practice and experience combined with SOPs and the support of a good PM/PF to take them through most NNM events to a good result without incident.

However outside of these beneficial influences, pilots at the beginning of their careers; pilots who don’t benefit from a common structure that promotes functioning as part of a team on the flight deck; pilots new to type, to a set of SOPs, to a Company; pilots experiencing a NNM the like of which they haven’t been directly trained for – in all of these situations a common management model framework brings direction and control to a NNM event. Encouraging both process and flow through the procedures while emphasising the importance of the basics – Blue Side Up; Power + Attitude = Performance; Who’s Flying The Plane?; and all that good stuff.

It must be appreciated that ANC (most particularly Aviate) underpins all NNM management. At no point should the instructor be able to lean forward and ask that terrible question – “So … Who’s Flying The Plane?


Aviate Navigate Communicate (ANC)

ANC is an axiomatic industry standard to assist crew in task prioritisation at any stage of flight – not just during NNMs.

  • Aviate emphasises aircraft flight path and control – both PF controlling flight path; PM monitoring both flight path and the PF.
  • Navigate is a priority with the inherent aspects of Terrain Clearance; awareness of Weather and other wider navigation goals – including ATC compliance.
  • Communicate follows once aircraft flight path is assured and short term navigation has been agreed and implemented by the crew.

Assess Action Manage?(AAM)

AAM structures the less immediate non-normal handling sequences for the crew. When a NNM presents (after ANC) AAM inputs flow and process to the next crew response to the NNM event.

  • An Assessment phase requires crew to slow down, review indications and think prior to selecting the …
  • Action which can range from Memory Items, NNM checklist, or just the agreement that an immediate response is not required. After that …
  • Management of the NNM at the end of AAM release the crew into more traditional handling aspects of decisions relating to Return/Diversion; Weather and Terrain assessment; Aircraft Configuration Impact; Passenger Needs; Aircraft Performance Impact – and how these impact back on the Return/Diversion decision.

Note that at either the Assessment or Management phase the crew may well be required to utilise a Decision Making Model when the correct resolution is not clear to all involved – or especially if there’s conflicting views on the best (that is, safest) way forward.

Change (not as good as a Holiday)

Should the scenario change (such as a change to the NNM; an additional NNM; change to the conditions of weather/fuel/passengers, etc) – the pilot may well be required to abandon the current process (whether in the midst of Navigate/Communicate or Assess/Action/Manage) – and return to AviateFly The Plane.

Sample Scenario : Engine Failure After Takeoff (EFATO)

During takeoff, an engine malfunction (severe damage) results in a failed engine with the additional loss of a hydraulic system. Apart from thrust loss, the primary means of flap retraction has also failed. The PF has dealt with the initial yaw response of the failure and safely delivered the aircraft to 400 ft, where the memory items associated with any applicable NNM checklist would normally be commenced. What do the crew do now?


Aviate Navigation CommunicateAssess Action Manage

Aviate : Flight path always remains the highest calling for both the PF and the PM. Power, Attitude and Performance are the active task of the PF; monitoring remains the primary task of the PM to keep the aircraft safe.

Navigate : In this specific NNM – the PF/PM must consider the requirement for any Engine Out Procedure (EOP) to keep the aircraft clear of terrain. The EOP takes priority over everything else other than Aviate. Note that while navigation has come in at 400 ft during this narrative – it’s entirely possible that a turn may have been required earlier to comply with an EOP that keeps the aircraft clear of obstacles close in on the takeoff flightpath.

Communicate : Communications can be a priority for several reasons – whether to advise the intention to deviate from clearance to satisfy the requirements of the EOP; or to ensure that ATC are in the picture to be able to offer assistance when it becomes required. Of course, Aviate/Navigate remains a priority over Communicate.

Assess : Having ensured ANC, the crew now need to assess the required response to the NNM. In this situation, this is a formalised assessment of the EICAS and engine failure indications as well as any immediate requirements of a hydraulic system loss (this is a 777 – there aren’t any). In this situation – it’s a formalised assessment of EICAS commencing with an EICAS message Review (noting both Engine and Hydraulic failure indications) as well as assessing airframe vibration indications. In this case – checklist memory items will be required.

Action : The PF now calls for the action phase, “Engine Severe Damage Separation Left Memory Items“. Both crew are involved in actioning the checklist memory items. As always – ANC remains paramount with both PF and PM required to ensure/monitor flight path and compliance with the EOP during the Action phase.

Manage : Management commences after the required Assess/Action responses to the NNM are complete. By this time the aircraft is clean, clear of terrain and any relevant NNM and NM checklists are complete. Management at this point necessitates Decision Making – in which FORDEC may be required. The aircraft is damaged, with a landing performance impact from both the engine and hydraulic failures. These and other Facts?such as weather and terrain will require the crew to determine and evaluate the available Options?and the?Risk/Benefit to flight those options present, before agreeing on a Decision as to a course of action. Once a decision is reached the crew will Execute the decision along with all the necessary communication of intent that implies. Any good decision making process requires follow up and at some point the crew must implement a positive?Check that the outcomes are as expected.


ANC AAM – Circles within Circles

ANC and AAM do not exist in isolation. ANC overrides any sequence of events from the beginning to the end of the flight. AAM is continually in use during various phases of flight in response to stimuli external to the crew – for example:

  • During acceleration and cleanup after takeoff, the failed hydraulic system results in the EICAS alert [] FLAPS PRIMARY. The crew response? First response is always ANC – Fly The Aircraft. The crew will Assess the failure, understanding that the FLAPS PRIMARY alert indicates that the flaps are attempting (and succeeding) to retract using the secondary (electric) system. As such, the only Action required is perhaps to monitor airspeed as flap retraction will be slow and speed intervention may be required to keep clear of the flap limit speed. The flap system failure will involve itself later in the Management phase as a Fact when deciding the final disposition of the flight.
  • Having completed the acceleration and flap retraction phase of the takeoff – the crew have to decide what to do next. ANC requires that the crew ensure continued safe flight path, and suggests the requirement to make a short term Navigation decision. This navigation decision is typically between continuing away from the departure airfield; holding in the area; or diverting to a takeoff alternate. Much of this decision making is often made on the ground as part of the departure brief.

The 777 EICAS incorporates AAM principles as part of the EICAS Review / Memory Items / Checklist / Notes /Non-Normal before Normal methodology. During the above scenario, EICAS prompts crew during the takeoff (within the bounds of takeoff inhibits) with a series of alert messages (Warning, Caution, _Advisory) – some of which have checklists, some of those checklists require early completion of memory items. ANC requires that crew ignore these during the first critical phase of flight to 400 ft (unless Aviate is compromised). At 400 ft with ANC established the crew Assess the need for a response and Action the required memory items.


FMC Scratchpad Messages

There has been some discussion recently around FMC scratchpad messages, their role in flight deck alerting, and an appropriate crew response. Most particularly around the habit that some crew develop – usually during transition simulator training when many spurious messages are generated and often cleared without real understanding of their meaning). We areseeing this in the sim and in the aircraft – occaisionally to the detriment of the operation of the aircraft.

FMC (Flight Management Computer) scratchpad messages are generated at the bottom of the screen built into the FMC CDU (Computer Display Unit). It is a one line display that the FMC uses in order to pass a message onto the crew. They are not (directly) a part of Boeing’s design intent for the alerting system of the aircraft – that said, some of them do come with an EICAS alert FMC MESSAGE – many do not though.

The scratchpad itself is the incongruous name given to the bottom line of the CDU. Any text entered in via the keyboard or line selected down from the higher lines of the CDU end up in the scratchpad. From here they can be either cleared or line selected up into one of the lines of the CDU display above. As an example, you can use the keyboard to enter the name of a waypoint “YOW” and enter it into the LEGS page to change aircraft navigation.

The scratchpad is also where the FMC places messages. These messages cover many purposes – data entry errors; a requirement for additional information; details of uplink/downlink COM status, and more. Apart from the messages themselves, the FMC CDU also has CDU Annunciator lights on the front used to communicate as well (DSPY – Display; OFST – Offset; MSG – Message; and EXEC – Execute) – do you know (exactly) what they all mean?

Scratchpad messages are classified as follows, and come with the following annunciations:

  • FMS Alerting Messages (Scratchpad Message, EICAS FMC MESSAGE alert; CDU MSG light)
  • FMC Communication Messages (Scratchpad Message, EICAS COM Message (FMC) annunciation; CDU MSG light; Aural High-Low Chime)
  • FMS Advisory Messages (Scratchpad Message, CDU MSG light)
  • FMS Entry Error Messages (Scratchpad Message; CDU MSG light)

The use of the same space for data entry and to communicate messages would seem to be somewhat fraught – but not when you realise that there are actually two display lines in this area, one over the other, with the scratchpad data entry line having priority over the scratchpad message line. It is this feature that allows you to retain a scratchpad message while you correct the situation that prompted it – which is in keeping with the way we are trained to deal with most error messages on the flight deck. For example …

You were/are off track (due weather) and now that you are in the clear, decide to head back towards track and return to FMC LNAV navigation. You turn the track bug and the aircraft follows. You’re pointing towards the next waypoint, and select LNAV on the MCP. At this point LNAV appears in white on the FMA indicating that LNAV mode engagement is armed; but an FMC scratchpad message annunciates “NOT ON INTERCEPT HEADING“. According to the FMC Pilots Guide “LNAV is selected on the MCP and the airplane is not within the capture criteria of the active leg, or the current heading does not intercept the active leg.

The most common response to this is to clear the scrathpad message and adjust the track of the aircraft so that it intercepts the active leg. However if instead the message was left in the scratchpad, while you turn the aircraft to intercept the active leg, the FMC would re-evaluate the intercept and remove the message by itself – validating the action of the Pilot Flying. From a CRM/NTS/Error Management point of view – this is a far more satisfying solution.

But wait, there’s more …

I mentioned that in fact there are two scratchpads – and there are. It is possible to interact with the CDU scratchpad, either entering data via the keypad or line selecting data down from the CDU screen into the scratchpad, while retaining the scratchpad message in memory. Any use of the scratchpad by the pilot will hide the message, but retain it (if it’s not cleared first). Once you have used the scratchpad and cleared it of your entries – the scratchpad message will be displayed.

Note that although it may seem clumsy, it’s impossible line select a scratchpad message into a CDU LSK position – but still, it seems like a lot of bother, doesn’t it.

But consider the case of a runway change on departure. A new runway is selected and the FMC generates “TAKEOFF SPEEDS DELETED”. It’s telling you something important – “New performance data is entered after the VSPEEDS have been entered on the TAKEOFF REF page, a takeoff thrust selection change is entered after the VSPEEDS have been entered, or pilot-entered values do not comply with the relative takeoff speed check. The crew must reselect proper VSPEEDS.”

Normally the pilot manipulating the FMC will clear this message (hopefully with the acknowledgement of the other pilot) and then ideally deal with the missing speeds straight away. However it is entirely possible to retain this message right through a takeoff speeds entry process until the speeds are re-entered, at which point the message will self clear. Which of these two process is less prone to error – less prone to forgetting to re-enter your speeds?

In any event, our discussions did resolve one thing – we are going to introduce an SOP whereby a pilot who intends to clear a scratchpad message is required to confirm that action with the other pilot. For the most part – this should be happening anyway, but taking this action raises the visibility of a good habit – and give Check Captains something to look for as well.

Practices & Techniques : The FMC is trying to tell you something – why aren’t you listening?

The CDU scratch pad is the FMC’s prime method of trying to tell you something. Messages like “UNABLE HOLD AIRSPACE” or “TAKEOFF SPEEDS DELETED” or “ROUTE DISCONTINUITY” are the FMC’s way of communicating a problem to the crew – a problem that is valid, even if the crew don’t understand the message. It’s not uncommon to see crew clear those messages with minimal acknowledgement, a habit that unfortunately commences during simulator training.

CDU Scratchpad messages need to be dealt with like any other annunciation in the flight deck. Noticed, Called, Analysed, Acted Upon. Some of the more common(ly ignored) FMC messages are listed here.

VAI SOP Standard Calls require the CM1/CM2/PF/PM to confirm a scratchpad message with the other pilot prior to clearing a message. This requirement commences once the pre-flight initial CM2 setup / CM1 cross check is complete.

While there are scratchpad messages which are all but inconsequential to flight (STANDBY ONE or INVALID ENTRY) and there are messages which are commonly understood and occur routinely (INSUFFICIENT FUEL [during route changes]; UNABLE HOLD AIRSPACE; DRAG REQUIRED or UNABLE RTA) there are also messages which can have a significant impact of flight path and flight safety (DISCONTIUITY; INSUFFICIENT FUEL; RW/ILS FREQ/CRS ERROR; or TAKEOFF SPEEDS DELETED).

Finally, a smart pilot may not choose to clear an FMC CDU Scratchpad Message – but instead retain the message in the scratchpad until the underlying cause has been corrected. The CDU is fully functional while a scratchpad message is displayed with any data entered into the scratchpad line replacing the message until that data is either line selected into the CDU or cleared, at which point the message is returned – if it’s still valid. An example of this could include “NOT ON INTERCEPT HEADING” when LNAV has been armed but the aircraft is not tracking towards an active leg – correcting the aircraft track will clear the scratchpad message.

Standard Calls : FMC Scratchpad Messages

The FMC CDU communicates with pilots through data entered and calculation results on the CDU itself, four CDU Annunciators (DSPY, OFST, MSG and EXEC) and CDU Scratchpad Messages. These messages are categorised into Alerting, Communication, Advisory and Entry Error messages.

Anytime a CDU scratchpad message is generated after the initial pre-flight CM1/CM2 data entry/cross check procedure is complete – the CM1/CM2/PM/PF is required to check awareness in the other pilot prior to clearing the message. This is required whether the EICAS FMS MESSAGE is generated or not.


For a conservative NTS operation – consideration should be given to not clearing certain scratchpad messages, but instead dealing with the underlying cause behind the messages. Once the cause has been dealt with, the scratchpad message will be removed by the system. D5 Practices and Techniques refers.

The Boeing 787 – Evolutionary and Revolutionary

The Boeing 787 is certainly a revolutionary step from anything Boeing has done recently – and from anything else Boeing seems to have planned in the future it would seem, judging by the 737-Max.

From what I can glean on the web, the 737 Max while incorporating some revolutionary technologies in the engines and airframe – is essentially a 737NG on the flight deck, and certainly several steps behind the 777 – which entered service 17+ years ago in 1995. South West being the launch customer for the 737 probably has something to do with that, as well as minimising the training for all the 737 pilots in the world – you’ve gotta love legacy equipment … but I digress.

I was recently in Singapore viewing the new Boeing Training Facility, their 777 simulator and other facilities. Purpose built, the facility was impressive and a clear sign of Boeing’s commitment to the growth of Asian airlines and their orders for lots of Boeings.

Of particular interest to me are the procedural trainers that Boeing have in place. It’s easy to see how these wonderful devices can be used to supplement and replace fixed base simulator sessions in the transition syllabus. Flows can be practised and with the addition of in depth system displays that respond to panel selections and programmed systems failures – this brings a low cost alternative to the use of a very expensive full flight simulator, without the distraction of motion and visual. I should think will in the very least provide equal training value (you’re always pressure for time in a Simulator) with the potential to produce better outcomes given good instruction. Students transitioning onto the aircraft can sit with their partner and review the lessons ahead of time, maximising the potential learning benefit when they do enter the full flight simulator.

The picture on the far right is a screen short of an overhead panel segment with a live systems display that responds to switch selections and other system related events. What a fabulous addition to a training center.

While the 777 simulator was familiar, and the 777 ground trainer a pleasant surprise … I was there for a promised ride in the 787 … which we eventually got to.

B787 Sim Ride

There’s no end of detailed reviews and videos on the 787 on the web – I wasn’t in the sim long enough to compete with those, and having not done any training on the aircraft – we didn’t even see a non-normal – I wouldn’t even try. This is just a touch and feel write up.

I suspect we were all looking forward to the 787 sim. I’ve done quite a bit of reading about the aircraft, and have several friends who are either flying it already or are instructors/test/delivery pilots on the aircraft. Jetstar and Qantas are getting them this year (we saw some JSQ pilots in Singapore on conversion courses for the 787) and there’s a remote possibility Virgin may eschew the A350 and order B787’s as well (although I’m not holding out much hope personally).

The flight deck was pretty much as I’d expected to see, with the exception of the HUD ( Heads Up Display ) – I’d completely forgotten about it. Stu has flown and trained on the HUD before but I haven’t encountered one. To be honest I approached it with trepidation and in fact kept putting it away. I was focussed on getting the most of the 787 as a 777 pilot – seeing what came of those skills thrown into the 787 as it were. I wasn’t disappointed but used the HUD for my last circuit.

The Displays

As a 777 pilot – the displays were simply a joy to behold. Pure Boeing with nothing of that half-finished look Airbus screens all seem to inherit. The central EICAS screen has gone and been replaced by two large PFD/ND screens in front of the pilots. Half of the ND is taken by the pilot who has the EICAS display up – nominally the PF although I suspect this will come down to an airline determination for the most part. As the PF I wanted EICAS over on the PM side so I had that enormous Nav Display – until I was asked to look for something on it, at which point I could see the benefit of the PF not having to stretch across to look.

For the Boeing pilot – the screens are purely evolutionary here – a clear, thoughtful developmental process onwards from the 777 displays. Some of the features were a joy to behold, such as the RNP envelope indication on the ND and the vertical profile display. Our 777’s don’t have this (even as our 737’s on the domestic fleets do, for the most part) and the vertical situational awareness benefits it brings are immediately apparent.


I can’t speak much to the handling, I just didn’t see enough of the envelope. Being only Boeing’s second fly by wire commercial aircraft (?) (unless you count the 777 several times – 100, 200A, 200B, 300, 300ER, 200LR, 200LRF, etc) I would not have expected much variation from the 777 and didn’t find any. Ground handling (as much as it can be in a sim) was conventional. Acceleration on the runway was impressive (as it always in in an empty aircraft) and I managed the first rotation without to much “staging”. Everything after that was entirely conventional and once again, like slipping on the 777 glove. As always I’m sure there were hundreds (thousands!) of little bits of software code working away to make the flight easy – and it was. Paul or Stu thought it was a bit touchy in pitch – I can’t speak to that. It was lovely to fly.


I flew my first circuit without the display. I just wanted to enjoy basic flight without the gadgets (Ha! No gadgets in a 787 – Sure!) However downwind I lowered it into place and started exploring. As someone who flies with glasses on, I initially found the HUD something of a challenge. Apart from focussing issues (which were mostly in my mind, in retrospect), I had difficulty in obtaining the exact seating position that revealed the entire HUD. I kept finding that either the FMA at the top or part of the compass rose at the bottom went missing. On one of the videos below, I moved the camera around to give you an idea of what I was initially experiencing. As an instructor who has “debriefed”a vast number of pilots for seating position in the 777 over the last 10 years , the irony was not lost on me. 

Eventually I found my spot. Should I ever end up instructing in the 787, I’m clearly never going to have to discuss seating position with the pilots I train. If they can see the HUD, they’re in the right position. If they can’t – they’re going to have to get into the right position, and that’s the end of it.

Paul flew his entire first circuit (radar vectored ILS) on HUD alone and did not find it challenging. By all means we would get more from it having done a HUD training package first – I was still finding additional prompts and information highlights in the HUD late on final. I was fortunate enough to be given some time in the e-Jet sim last year and there were thrust and speed assistance mechanisms on the e-Jet PFD that are strongly reminiscent in the HUD. It’s a great bit of kit – my last approach was in Cat 2 weather with a manual landing at the bottom and the HUD certainly comes into it’s own in this environment.

I took a couple of videos of the HUD during Paul and Stu’s flight. If you’re interested – there are far better videos on YouTube and I suggest you go look at those.

Unfortunately there wasn’t time for much more than that – we’d spent too much time (as far as I was concerned!) reviewing the Boeing facilities – the reason we were there! – but I’m certainly looking forward to my next encounter with the 787.


Tax Time : Crew Allowances (v3.1)

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.

Stop Press?: ?My Accountant found that I had AUH and KUL with the wrong country codes (yes, submitted my tax VERY late this/last year. The master sheet has been corrected and can be downloaded here.


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 TD17/2011 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.


Essentially the Australian Tax Office produces a Tax Determination each year which covers this issue. The one covering FY 2011/2012 is TD17/2011?and is urbanely titled “Income Tax : What are the reasonable travel and overtime meal allowance expense amounts for the 2011-12 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 $100,840 AUD
Mid : Between $100,840 and $179,350
High : Greater than $179,350

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. In case you missed the link at the top, you can download it here. 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…]

Decision Making Models

We are reviewing Decision Making Models at the moment. On the 777, we’ve used FORDEC, which is very close to the European model, except we’ve replaced “Check” with “Communicate”, which may or may not have been a good thing. Other fleets in our airline are using GRADE or NMATE.

There are several reasons why Decision Making Models are in use. The popular notion is that there are some pilots who can’t make decisions, and need a model; just as there is a popular notion that some pilots are natural “decision makers” and no matter how complex the decision, they never need a model; the truth is perhaps somewhere in the middle.

Modern aircraft are both very complex and highly simplified. Information presentation systems, coupled with alerting and electronic checklists take what could be a very complex system and reduce it to essences that pilots can pretty easily deal with. There are a couple of problems with this though.

One of these is the Non Technical Skills requirement. Even after the Captain (or First/Second/Relief Officer) has reached a good decision based on complex information after risk analysis and implementation review – this has to be communicated to (and agreed to by) everyone else – this is better achieved when everyone is along for the ride, rather than told when you’ve reached the destination. Or at least, ideally it should. Some of the natural decision makers out there who aren’t necessarily thinking these things through methodically (consciously) but still coming up time and time again with the right decision – may not be the greatest of communicators.

Finally – there’s the QF32 factor. Where the problem is really bad and the information is so complex, so changing and so overwhelming, that a reasoned decision taking all factors into account allow the situation to develop fully to avoid impulsively rushing in – may not be possible. It’s get the aircraft on the ground time.

In any event – with a few models on the table (in the Group) – we’ve been trying to reach a consensus …

F O R – D E C


  • What is the full extent of the problem?
  • Gather all relevant Facts.
  • A problem which has been well defined at best usually suggests its own solution and at worst prevents the crew from going down the wrong path.
  • It is important to stay focused on defining and understanding the problem rather than rush to the solution.
  • There will often be more than just the one problem requiring a solution and they will all need to be carefully considered and then dealt with in order of priority.


  • What options are available?
  • Define the different options you have, considering that there may be several possible options to facilitate a safe outcome.
  • Time can be considered as; critical, available and required. There are very few problems that require immediate action. In the vast majority of cases a considered and well developed plan is going to lead to a safe optimised resolution.
  • The use of open questions can assist in staying problem centred. “What do you think …?”


  • What are the risks and benefits associated with each option?
  • With the given situation, what are the assessed risks in pursuing a course of action weighted against the perceived benefit?
  • With the given situation, do we return for an immediate landing overweight or do we take up the hold and jettison fuel?
  • With the given problem, do we land on the longer runway with a crosswind or the shorter runway with a headwind?


  • Which option have you decided on?
  • After spending an appropriate amount of time on the first three steps, the commander must eventually make a decision.
  • This is the step that many people instinctively leap to, however correct application of a management model will lead to a process driven solution that will have initially focused on accurately defining the problem, analysing the options before finally deciding on the solution.


  • Execute the selected option. Once the decision has been made, the plan must be put into action


  • Communicate your intentions.
  • Once the plan has been executed, the commander must ensure that his intentions are communicated to all interested parties.
  • This will include the cabin crew and passengers within the aircraft, along with relevant agencies on the ground.

Irrelevantly, one special moment in all this has been finding out the various models that are around and in use. It’s been fascinating – here’s a sample. All models have their good and bad elements. Many share common ideals and drivers – since the problems all the models are trying to address are substantially similar.

DODAR (British Airways)
D – Diagnose
O – Options
D – Decide
A – Assign
R – Review

D – Detect
E – Estimate
C – Choose
I – Identify
D – Do
E – Evaluate

NMATE (Boeing)N – Navigate
M – Manage
A – Alternatives
T – Take Action
E – Evaluate

S – State the Problem
A -Analyse the Problem
F – Fix the Problem
E – Evaluate the Result

G – Gather Information
R – Review the Information
A – Analyse the (you guessed it) Information
D – Decide
E – Evaluate the Course of Action

F – Fly the Aircraft
A – Analyse the Alternatives
T – Take Action
E – Evaluate

R – Review the problem
A – Analyse
I – Identify solutions
S – Select an Option
E – Evaluate

A – Aircraft (Consider the Problem)
D – Destination (Appropriate)
F – Fuel (Sufficient)
P – People, Pax, ATC, Company etc.

P – Perceive
P – Process
P – Perform

O – Observation
O – Orientation
D – Decision
A – Action

C – Clarify the problem
L – Look for data and share information
E – Evaluate different solutions
A – Act on your decisions
R – Review performance

(this has to be the best one surely?)
P – Pool the facts
I – Identify the problem
L – Look for Solutions
O – Operate
T – Take Stock
(perhaps not)

SADIE (Emirates in the 90’s)
S – Share Information
A – Analyse Information
D – Develop the Best Solution
I – Implement your decision
E – Evaluate the Outcome

R – Recognise
C – Control the aircraft
C – Contain the emergency
S – Safe Flight
D – Decide
A – Act
D – Divert?

S – Situation, define
O – Options
C – Consequences of actions
S – Select (an Action)

D – Detect
E – Estimate
S – Set Safety Objectives
I – Identify
D – Do
E – Evaluate

During the discussion the following models were advanced by the “Managers” I work with. I must admit I got at least halfway down them until I realised they were pulling my chain. Some of these require inside knowledge – next time you have Paul or Stu on the other end of a Beer, ask them.

A ssess the problem
P erform the correct memory item
P erform the correct checklist
L et ATC know what you are up to
E xecute the diversion

I nterrogate
P robe
A ssess
D ecide

B elt sign ON
E xamine the problem
S ound the alarm
T ell the cabin
P riorities
R isk assessment
A ction plan
C hecklist complete
T hreat and error management
I ndicate intent
C onsider the options
E xecute the plan

K now the problem
E xecute the diversion
N otify ATC
S ecure the aircraft
C hecklist complete
H old if required
A irport for diversion
I nform passengers
R eview the risk

What model does your airline use?



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 …

The risks of the ExPat Lifestyle.

Reuters reported a while ago the arrest of two Emirates Cabin Crew in Dubai for the exchange of illicit text messages. There’s more depth to this story, as it comes on the back of divorce proceedings (a year earlier) and insinuations that the two texters had been in a relationship while the junior cabin crew member was still married, etc, etc. Pretty standard stuff really in the hot house of an Airline expatriate community.

The story is told in the context of similar incidents in Dubai, touching briefly on a British Couple who face jail in Dubai for kissing in public, and several other incidents of public lewd behavior by British tourists in Dubai (Ed: What is it about the British on tour – how come they get all the fun?)

Living and Working Expatriate.

There are two aspects of this that interest me. It again raises that old chestnut of the trade off’s of leaving your home country for a career – particularly an aviation career – which involves faster promotion, more money, affluent lifestyle, faster planes, faster women …

My partner and I got married, pregnant, had a baby and moved to Hong Kong – all in a year. With the aviation market in Australia stagnating in the years after the 89 Pilot’s dispute, coupled with the issues I was having seeking employment as the son of a dispute pilot, a position with Cathay Pacific on B747-400’s seemed like a dream come true. In a few ways it was, but as much research as you may choose to do (and we didn’t do much) – nothing prepares you for life overseas. The stories we could tell – we moved to Hong Kong just as the first paramedic trained ambulance driver had saved his first life (in 1992!) and went from community service advertisements in Australia against drink ‘n drive to Honk Kong government service announcements recommending against the discard of used large white goods (Washers, Dryers, Refrigerators) out the upper story windows of large apartment blocks. You think some of our TAC ads are too explicit …

Four years later when we moved to Dubai for me to take up a position with Emirates, we felt we were far wiser and more aware of what we were getting ourselves into. We had no idea. In the the 13 years in Dubai, we saw first hand events and experiences (to ourselves and others) that would curl your ears and probably keep you in your un-rewarding, career stagnating 60K a year airline job. Another time …

This article is an indication of just one of the intangibles that are sacrificed to the altar of career and income when you go expatriate. Civil Liberties in countries such as the UAE are regularly sacrificed on the altar of political and religious expediency. And I’m not talking about fornicating on the front lawn of the Dubai Courts, but often momentary lapses of judgement that would incur no penalty at all in most parts of the world, but can be life and career changing in the Middle East (and elsewhere).

And … Context.

To finish, another fascinating aspect of this article for me is the context. If you note carefully, it’s filed under “Oddly Enough” where you’ll also find articles on a Female Porn Movie Director who is running for Parliament in the UK and a NZ woman who ran over her husband … Twice. This trivialisation of a jail sentence of two expats who were in a relationship and sent themselves explicit text messages is an interesting feature of Expatriate life.

Your friends and to some extent your family will abandon you while you are overseas. You are living the high life, benefiting from immoral regimes and spurning the country of your birth – you deserve what you get. That’s not something they tell you at the airline interview …

To Go or Not To Go.

Your career is stagnating, and between the meager salary and taxation, you’re struggling to make ends meet. Positions with Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Korean, Asiana, Vietname – all are beckoning. All promise high salaries and low taxation, some promise of career progression and excellent lifestyles as well. How can you resist? Well …

Managing the Mass (B777)

Passing by In and Out on the way to KLAX

Friend and fellow podcaster Karlene Pettit recently blogged on managing the A330 speed/configuration during approach. I thought it might be interesting to explore the topic on the 777.

The point of Karlene’s article is that often the manfacturer’s profile doesn’t comply with the ATC environment we find ourselves in, and the performance characteristics of the aircraft we fly are such that conforming to ATC speeds on approach can lead to a requirement for exploring the flight envelope a little in terms of configuration and speed down final approach.

Any discussion about speed and configuration on final – especially when diverging from the manufacturer’s documented profiles – needs to commence with a review of the Stabilised Approach concept.

Stabilised Approach Criteria

B777 Stabilisation CriteriaBehind any discussion of speed and configuration on approach is the Stabilised Approach criteria. The specifics vary from airline to aircraft type, but the essential concept is the same. The stabilised approach concept has distant origins but was developed and promulgated by Flight Safety’s Approach and Landing Accident Reduction program. A clear decision point on the approach – typically a height above the runway – by which the aircraft must meet the stabilisation criteria documented by the airline. The criteria typically requires landing configuration, final approach speed, minimal required lateral and vertical divergence from the published approach path – essentially in position to land. It may even require the completion of the Landing Checklist.

Know your company stabilisation criteria and remember that not only must you meet the requirement by the decision point or go around – if at any point during the approach you realise you won’t be able to meet the requirement – you should go round then and not wait until the stabilisation point. My airlines’s requirements are pretty standard and the stabilisation altitude is 1000 ft.

Having established in our mind the stablised approach concept, optimising the approach prior to that point requires a clear understanding of how the Boeing FCTM promulgates the instrument approach.

Boeing 777 FCTM

The Boeing FCTM covers the 777-200/ER/LR/LRF/300 and 300ER, which means a variety of approach speeds. Apart from the documented aircraft variations, the FCTM is also aimed at a wide range of pilot skills and backgrounds, providing a clear, conservative baseline of operations which professional aviators must use as a basis from which to expand and extend to suit the operational environment.

A quick glance at the pictured profile shows quite a reasonable profile for an aircraft vectored in for a 2000 ft ILS with minimum run in to the FAF – but this is patently unsuitable for operations into many capital city airports – such as Los Angeles KLAX, or Melbourne YMML – where glideslope intercepts well above 3000 ft AAL are common. Flying that approach with gear down, flap 20 at glideslope alive and landing configuration at glideslope intercept won’t endear you to the approach controller. You’ll also chew through a several hundred kilos of your reserve fuel that might come in handy should you need to head for your alternate.

Delayed Flap

The FCTM documents a delayed flap concept for Noise Abatement or under “adverse conditions” (surely that describes ATC at KLAX?) which essentially flies you down the ILS with Gear Down, Flap 20, delaying landing flap selection until approaching 1000 ft AAL. At reasonable weights the 777-300ER Flap 20 speed is around 160 knots, which is still a little slow for final approach sequencing, and once again you’re basically dragging the aircraft in with lots of gear and flap.

Flap 5, Flap 5 Speed down the Glide Slope

Assuming for a moment glideslope intercept at altitudes AAL of 2500 upwards, experience has shown us that the 777’s (all of them) can be flown into a 3 degree slope with Flap 5, Flap 5 speed.

Note you need both of these – if you call for Flap 5 as you capture the slope, the aircraft will usually refuse to slow to Flap 5 speed – indeed at idle thrust it will often accelerate.

If you like living on the edge you can fly clean, level, at Up speed as the glideslope comes alive, calling for Flap 1 and 5 in turn, reducing speed and you’ll typically be at Flap 5/Speed as the glide slope captures – as long as you aren’t distracted by a radio call or the deceleration isn’t degraded by turbulence.

From that point what happens next depends on a range of factors including the specific aircraft type, the landing weight and therefore approach speed, ambient conditions, glideslope angle, etc. But in essence you’ll get one of three results.

  1. The aircraft will maintain Flap 5 speed, with minor use of thrust on the way down (light aircraft, smooth air).
  2. The aircraft will keep Flap 5 speed, but the thrust remains at idle and you might well get some creeping increase in the speed.
  3. The aircraft will begin a slow acceleration down the slope, with the engines at idle thrust.

The first two are acceptable, the second requiring monitoring. The third possibility is typical in the heavy 777-300ER or even lighter aircraft when ambient temperature is high and thermal activity tends to de-stabilise your approach speed. At this point – this is where Flap 15 comes in.

Flap 15 on Approach?

I was taught for many years that Flap 15 (and Flap 25 for that matter) is a takeoff flap setting and therefore has no place during approach (lots of verbal flight deck hand slapping at this point). It took me a few years in the left seat (including training under a regime that for a time enforced this) and not a few progressive check/training captains to unhook my thinking in this regard. Flap 15 is a flap setting and nothing more. It uses the same minimum speed as Flap 20 (Vref30 + 20 knots) but carries less drag. While there are no limitations or issues using Flap 15 on approach, the FCTM does describe Flap 15 as a “manoeuvre” flap setting. It’s intended use is outbound / turning inbound on the approach, rather than down final … but …

Flap 15 is perfect when you’ve intercepted the glideslope at Flap 5/Flap 5 speed and find yourself in a speed-unstable configuration. If the thrust remains at idle and the speed (typically at 180 knots for Flap 5, perfect for ATC separation requirements) begins to increase, Flap 15 adds enough drag to recover your speed control. You can retain your 180 knots without the drag of Flap 20 and continue down the slope. Until …

The Flap 5/15 ILS continues to a point at which the end of … Gear Down (Speed Brake Armed) -> Flap 20 (Checklist Up) -> Speed Reduction -> Flap 30 -> Landing Checklist Complete … meets the stabilisation point of typically 1000 ft AAL. This sequence typically takes about 800 ft if done without interruption – a more conservative value of 1000 ft covers range of operating environments. So as you approach 2000 ft AAL, you should be thinking of establishing the landing configuration having optimised your approach to this point quite well indeed.


Paired Oceanic Transition Waypoints

A while ago I wrote about issues we were having with inserting an arrival and approach into LAX prior to exiting Oceanic Airspace across the Pacific. Essentially during the 500 mile run into our exit point (such as ELKEY) our FANS system would send a CPDLC report every 12 minutes or so announcing to the world that the pilots on board the aircraft had been playing with the waypoints in the FMC after the exit point. Automated alarms and queries from ATC – and we’d have to remove our carefully built arrival until we were out of Oceanic Airspace and approaching descent into LA.

After a discussion with Oakland Oceanic while on the ground in LA, I worked out that the solution was to flight plan out by the two paired oceanic points, thus denying ATC the option of sneaking a peak at our flight plan after the last Oceanic waypoint.

Well, today we tried it and it wasn’t a problem. Our exit point was ELKEY and so Nav Services planned us via EDTOO->ELKEY->KLAX. I had the arrival and approach inserted and briefed shortly after I came back from rest with nary a peep from San Francisco.

One complication is that since we use effectively a random routing of lat/lon waypoints across the Pacific, and often don’t follow any of the established airways into the Oceanic exit waypoints, the additional waypoint may add a few track miles to our route. Nav Services has reviewed our most commonly used routes and decided on a standard set of paired waypoints for the exit. We should start seeing these paired waypoints on our flight plans, solving the problem of delayed FMC preparation for the arrival into LAX.

Crew need to understand the need behind these two paired waypoints, particularly in the event of a bit of a kink over the leader waypoint prior to the exit – and not ask for a direct to the Oceanic exit.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Recently I was in the simulator with two other instructors. One was my First Officer, the other was the Sadist … ahem … Sim Instructor. We were running without the ECL (paper QRH for NM and NNM) and the APU was failed. Climbing through about 5000ft, Los Angeles for Sydney – we received [] ELEC BUS L on the EICAS – the loss of the Left AC Electrical Bus. Fortunately I was flying and so my long suffering FO was forced to deal with not only this failure, but all the consequent failures, through the paper QRH.

Although reference to a few paper checklists are involved – when you look at the checklist – it’s a no brainer really. You try a few resets, see if the APU fixes the problem, but in the end without the ability to restore the left electrical bus, you’ve lost … Window Heat (Left) and a Primary Hydraulic Pump (Left). No Biggie …

” That’s It? ” my fly-buddy observed. I advised him to look at the roof.

Of course with the loss of one of the two main electrical busses in a modern (fly by wire) aircraft – there are a whole host of ancillary services lost. Many of these are reflected by the amber lights on the overhead panel.

Having looked at the roof – you later discover even then that it’s not the whole story. In this particular scenario we decided to return to KLAX. Part of the return process was fuel jettison down to maximum landing weight. Guess what? Without the Left Bus – the main tank jettison pumps are failed. You’ll be advised of this … when you start the fuel jettison.

I didn’t give this a second thought (I think I’ve been stuck on the same aircraft for too long) but it was interesting the discussion we had afterwards about this little quirk of the Boeing EICAS/ECL.  There are no EICAS/STATUS messages to advise you of everything you’ve lost, and in many cases until you attempt to use something that’s failed – you won’t know about it. Older aircraft used to publish a Bus Distribution List (Electrical and Hydraulic) so that you’d know exactly what you’d lost with a particular electrical bus failure – but not on the 777. My fellow pilots were vaguely disturbed by the lack of information.

We discussed it. Our decision to return was primarily based on passenger comfort. The entire aircraft had lost galley power, IFE and other passenger services and we decided it was unrealistic to continue 14 hours to Sydney without them. Would knowing that we weren’t going to be able to complete a fuel jettison have affected this decision to return … no.

We came up with scenarios where knowing fuel jettison was compromised would lead to a different diversion airport, but in the main they were pretty far fetched. In most cases it would have resulted in diverting to that other airport anyway using some of the fuel we were unable to jettison.

It’s an interesting system design/human thought process discussion. It’s one of those cases where you presume that the manufacturer has gone to great lengths to ensure the Need To Know list is complete and correct, and accounts for all the possible permutations of the operational environment.

And you hope your presumption is correct …

Practices & Techniques : You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

Do you remember the rest of the Mick Jagger song? Well, that’s how Boeing treats pilots when it comes to NNM failures that impact multiple systems. As strange as it may seem – the aircraft will tell you what (it thinks) you need to know, when (it thinks) you need to know it – but it doesn’t go about telling you what you’ll probably want to know. The longer you are on the 777 (or more correctly, the more often you are in the Simulator) – the more you’ll find this to be true. As a student/pilot you’ll feel vaguely betrayed by the aircraft; as an instructor it’s a mild source of amusement … for example …


Clearly I’ve eliminated the intermediate steps from the checklist, but from the picture here you can see that with this failure – if you are unable to recover the Left or Right Bus – you’ll lose Window Heat and a Primary Hydraulic Pump (Left or Right for both of these, depending on the Bus lost). No biggie, right? Well, now look at the roof.

Of course with the lost of an entire AC BUS – you lose a whole host of services. The amber lights on the roof give you more information, but for the most part, you won’t be told what you’ve lost until you try and use it.

Case in point – ELEC AC BUS L disables your ability to jettison fuel from the Main Tanks. Fuel Jettison will commence but eventually the system will fail and you’ve probably be left with a requirement to run the Overweight Landing Checklist – albeit with significantly less fuel that if you hadn’t attempted Jettison. Many pilots feel they should be told during the ELEC AC BUS L checklist that they’ve lost Fuel Jettison – but should they?

That’s an interesting discussion – but the point is that you won’t always be given everything you want to know about NNM events in the aircraft. Often at the conclusion of a NNM – particularly an electrical or hydraulic system failure – a general synoptic and overhead panel review can reveal more detail about what just took place.

B777 EICAS/ECL Guide

Some time ago I wrote down all that I had been taught and learned about operating the Boeing 777 Electronic Checklist (ECL) in conjunction with the onboard Electronic Indication and Crew Alert System (EICAS). I’ve updated it along the way as I became an instructor and it’s become more and more of a formal document along the way.

Now it’s here on Infinidim. The disclaimer below says it all – read at your own risk.

If you have any comments, corrections or suggestions, please let me know in the Comments at the bottom of this post.

EICAS (Engine Indicating and Crew Alerting System) is the centralised system for monitoring the normal (NM) and non-normal (NNM) status of modern Boeing aircraft. It is a one stop shop for engine indications and crew alerting and in combination with the Electronic Checklist (ECL), providing a human centric set of problem solving tools for modern aircraft.

This document does not seek to explain the basic mechanics of EICAS or ECL and assumes that you already have the relevant systems and procedural knowledge from the Boeing FCOM, QRH, FCTM and some practical experience. Instead here I explain the philosophy behind EICAS and ECL, providing a consistent framework for all crew to use as a basis for handling EICAS messages, ECL NM and NNM checklists and NNM events in a consistent manner, using the best practice CRM/NTS principles of the modern multi crew cockpit. You will also find some handling tips that have come from experience with the aircraft.

You may find some of the procedures and techniques documented here somewhat pedantic and stilted, but they are intended to produce a level playing field in the handling of NNM events across crew of varied language skills, company cultures, experience levels and degrees of fatigue – these procedures become second nature with repetition.

Note that nothing in this document should be considered authoritative over any procedures found in the Boeing Normal Procedures (NP’s). The NP’s and your airline Flight Operations Manual document are overriding.

Finally, note that while most of the contents is applicable to all 777 models, a few items (such as 5.9 Engine In Flight Start Envelope) are specific to the B777-300ER with GE90 Engines.


This document is based on extensive research and operational experience of the Boeing EICAS/ECL found in the 777, in conjunction with documented procedures in the Boeing 777 QRH, FCTM and FCOM. Material incorporated in this guide is taken from all three of the relevant Boeing documents, as well as Boeing publications from issues of Airliner magazine and other sources.

As such this document is to be regarded as secondary in precedence to all these reference texts and should not be actively referred to with respect to operation of the aircraft.

Additionally this document incorporates techniques that have been developed and tested in conjunction with Simulator Training but not validated in operation of the aircraft, and must be read with caution.

Top Of Climb Checks

The pilots of many airlines have a procedural flow or checklist of items they review after the aircraft reaches cruising altitude. These are rarely documented in Airlines SOPs and even more rarely are they based on anything from the manufacturer. This is because fundamentally today’s airliners pretty much tell you what (it believes) you need to know, when (it believes) you need to know it when it comes to aircraft systems status. The pilots monitor fuel usage, flight progress, geographical situation with respect to enroute airports and the weather at those airports – but for the most part the aircraft keeps truckin’ on irrespective of how attentive the pilots are to the flight. Did I just write myself out of a job?

Top of Climb checks are traditionally the domain of the Training Department. Often personal techniques spread across instructors and training departments until eventually most of the company is performing a drill based on a (perhaps) a relatively common understanding, but damn little basis in documentation. Generally this means crew are doing something they don’t really understand, and don’t really understand why – to the point where they become very serious and pedantic about it. Inevitably this results in a kick back and in a reactionary move the trainers are advised to stop teaching any form of top of climb checks since the manufacturer doesn’t specify one. This lasts for a while until someone starts doing one and it catches on through the students to other instructors and then to the line … and the circle of life goes on.

At a recent training meeting there was a call for a documented top of climb check. Spirited discussion pared this down to the essentials and it was agreed to document one in the P&T. Thus I am surrendering to the Circle of Life …

Practices & Techniques : Top Of Climb Checks

Boeing SOP’s don’t specify a flow or sequence required after Top of Climb (TOC). Many airlines develop their own SOP flow at TOC – V Australia has chosen to specify a recommended list of actions and considerations at TOC, as follows.

  • Fuel/Time on OFP
  • Aircraft Trim
  • OFP Preparation
  • Complete NOTAM/Weather/INTAM/NTC Review

Fuel/Time on OFP

The TOC Time/Fuel should be recorded expeditiously on the OFP against the appropriate waypoint. The enables the calculation of climb fuel/time and can be compared against ACARS Departure Report Takeoff Fuel to also calculate Taxi Fuel. Note the Fuel On Board at TOC is not a particularly accurate reflection of fuel progress against Minimum Required fuel (MINR) – the first waypoint after TOC provides the first accurate indication of fuel status.

Aircraft Trim

Once the aircraft has stabilised in cruise, aircraft trim should be reviewed. It’s unusual for one of our aircraft to require more than one unit of rudder trim; but it’s not unusual for some rudder trim to be required.

The FCTM provides two rudder trim techniques, the second of which is required in the event of excessive rudder trim or aileron displacement as the result of the first technique. An excessive requirement for rudder trim should potentially be recorded in the aircraft maintenance log.

As the aircraft burns fuel and progresses through the flight, trim setting should progressively be reviewed.

OFP Preparation

OFP Preparation is covered in detail elsewhere (Practices & Techniques : Filling in a Flight Plan) but the following areas need addressing shortly after top of climb:

  • Completion of the Departure Times/Fuels (Out, Off, Ramp Fuel etc)
  • Navigation Log Waypoint Times to the end of the OFP
  • EDTO Contingency Summary Page

NOTAM / Weather / INTAM / NTC Review

The pre-flight environment is hectic and often time poor. The essences of the pre-flight documentation review is to ensure a legal and safe dispatch. The review of all Enroute Airport NOTAMS/Weather and FIR specific NOTAMS is not a requirement of this phase of flight.

However once established in cruise, it’s crucial that the flight crew review completely all the documentation provided for the flight by Navigation Services. The impact of NOTAMS & Weather at non-EDTO airfields and FIR NOTAMS should be reviewed and if necessary notes made to provide this information to the relief crew for the next handover. Since it’s often NOT the Primary Crew who review Departure/Destination/Alternate Weather and NOTAMS during pre-flight – this is the time for those areas to be reviewed in detail to ensure nothing was missed.

Systems Review ( [Very] Optional )

If desired, the PF can consider a system review of the aircraft at top of climb. It must be noted that this is for personal awareness only and is not a required procedure. When reviewing systems pages, you’re not expecting to see anything unusual – that should have been notified by EICAS.

  • EFIS  ENG  for Secondary Engine Indications (leave displayed)
  • EICAS Recall (Messages, Exceedences) – Cancel
  • EFIS STAT review Status Messages.
  • EFIS ELEC / HYD / FUEL / AIR / DOOR / GEAR /FCTL  Systems Pages
  • FCTL –> Consider Aircraft Trim and trim the rudder as necessary
  • CHKL – Should show the Descent Checklist …
  • FMC VNAV ENG OUT Maximum Altitude/Speed for Enroute terrain awareness.

I should mention that each of these systems pages should be reviewed for normal operation. Think carefully before you decide something is no normal (especially if there’s no associated EICAS/STATUS message …)

After this, the FMC FIX and ALTN pages can be prepared for EDTO Alternates / Enroute Situational Awareness.

Setting Final Approach Speed … On Final

Sometimes during a NNM in the simulator you see that when landing configuration is established, and the aircraft is being manoeuvred around the approach at the minimum flap manoeuvre speed – a further speed reduction will be required to set the NNM checklist specified reference speed (plus 5 knots). Exactly when to set this speed often becomes a discussion point in the debrief …

The most common error is to forget to reduce the speed and fly the approach and landing at the minimum flap speed, rather than reduce it to final approach speed for final approach and landing. This results in a slightly longer landing distance.

The next most common error is to reduce speed too early – the aircraft is left manoeuvring (turning, levelling) at several knots below minimum flap speed.

The correct technique is to set final approach speed – when on final approach. That is, when established on final descent straight in to the runway.

Practices & Techniques : 5.39 Setting Final Approach Speed … On Final.

Occasionally NNM events that require a non-standard final approach speed create a gap between the PFD placard minimum speed for the existing flap configuration and the required final approach reference speed – despite in landing flap configuration.

Specifically – while planning to land at Flap 20 because of a NNM, the manoeuvring component of the approach (vectoring, outbound, turning inbound, etc) is completed while maintaining the Flap 20 minimum speed.

However final approach and landing will be flown at the NNM checklist specified reference speed (+5 knots) which is often based on Vref 30 (plus additive) and can be several knots below the Flap 20 minimum speed. If this is the case – then the time to set the speed to the final approach reference speed is … when on final approach with, descent established towards the runway. Intermediate manoeuvring should be accomplished at the minimum flap speed – in other words don’t reduce speed too early (and don’t forget to reduce it …)

Runway Change on Departure

A Runway Change, particularly once the aircraft has begun to move under it’s own power, can be a profound change to implement on the flight deck.

If you sit on the flight deck in cruise, look around and consider the worst sequence of runway change – say from a long runway away from terrain and weather, to a shorter runway in a different direction towards terrain and weather – then roll your eyes over all the switches, buttons and knobs in the flight deck and all the FMC CDU pages and entries as well – there are dozens (at least) of potential changes required to action a runway change. All while taxiing for the new runway (not a good idea) or while stopped on the taxiway, blocking aircraft behind you (otherwise know as collateral damage). Oh, and you’re burning fuel (about 2000 kg/hr) at this point as well, I hope the runway change was towards your destination, rather than away from it.

In looking at all the changes required on the flight deck – did you miss the biggest one? The Pilots. Each pilot develops during pre-flight a mental model of the Departure, including aspects of aircraft movement across the ground and through the air, configuration during takeoff and what will be required to change that configuration airborne, direction of turn, acceleration, noise abatement, speed and altitude control and other more subtle aspects of the departure. In the midst of what can be quite frankly the chaos of a runway change on the run – you’ll need to re-build that mental model as well. Often it’s easier to get the plane to do the right thing after a runway change than it is to update the pilots on the full implications of the change on the flight.

Preparation for the expected runway and the associated development of a mental model is accomplished during pre-flight in a sequenced, logical, time pressure free flow (I know it doesn’t always seem that way …). Each time you depart, the majority of actions performed during pre-flight that relate to the specific runway are performed the same way each time, and runway specific items are not separated out from that process. We never set the flight deck up, calculate and cross check takeoff data, complete the Departure Briefing, then the Pre-Flight and Before Start Checklists – then finish of by doing all those items only related to the runway. Preparing for runway is integral in the pre-flight process – which is why determining the changes that must be made when the departure runway changes can be such a challenge.

In my previous company I was fortunate (?) to experience many runway changes. We flew a higher number of sectors each month, runway changes were, well if not common place, at least regular. As a line pilot, particularly a First Officer, I never gave it a great deal of thought – you just did what had to be done.

When I moved to the Left Hand Seat, I had a number of encounters which altered my world view. I suddenly found I was managing a runway change, rather than actioning one – and that made all the difference in the world (how many times has that been said by new Captains about 12 months after they upgrade …). Eventually I developed for myself a Runway Change Procedure and stuck it on the back of my Clipboard.

After that, every time I was subject to a runway change – whether on stand or approaching the runway – I reviewed it. Over time it grew a little, but it hasn’t really changed for quite a while.

When I commenced Training for my previous airline, it became even more useful. For some reason as a line trainer, I seemed to attract runway changes (more related to the nature of the multi sector flying than a personal vendetta by ATC, I hope …) and whether Cisco or Pancho (or Diablo) on the flight deck – I would pull it out and use it after making the change. My little checklist made it onto many other pilot’s clipboards as a result, and if you line trained with me in those days, there was always a lively discussion in cruise about runway changes.

As an aside – I have never been a fan of preparing more than one runway for departure. I would often see command training candidates, seeking to be prepared for any contingency on departure, who’d would prepare for multiple possible runways on departure. This would include the use of Route Two and preparing takeoff performance data for the possible runway change(s). Usually only two were involved – the planned runway and the most likely change. I see that practice regularly now with Abu Dhabi and occasionally Los Angeles and Sydney.

I remember on one memorable Singapore departure, where my budding Captain under training had 8 distinct sets of takeoff calculations going – two runways, variable winds, and it looked like rain … When he was considering two runways it looked simple enough but having started down that road …

In that particular instance we had one runway in the FMC, a different heading set on the MCP, and we’d briefed on the third possibility, with speeds and takeoff performance entered for a fourth (it’s amazing what you can achieve on a distracted flight deck during pre-flight) before I called a halt to the exercise and we started again. Some days you were just never meant to push back on time.

My advice – and that’s ALL it is, this is NOT policy – is prepare for just one runway. Set everything up for just one runway. By all means think about the possibilities – for example, if a runway change is possible, knowing whether you’ll be performance limited on that runway is a good thing – but keep your aircraft and your mind on one runway until that option is gone. Then start again with the new runway. I would also point out that while you can pre-calculate take off performance and write it down, when the change comes you should be sticking to procedures and pulling out the laptop for both calculation, cross check and data entry. So why confuse things? Nothing like having three sets of numbers written on the flight plan to incorrectly choose from when you’re checking data entry during pre-flight …

When I arrived at my present company I was fortunate to inherit the responsibility of establishing the aircraft SOPs. While I stuck as close to Boeing as I was comfortable with (accompanied by input from an extensive review of several other international 777 operator’s SOPs) I made sure that my little runway change procedure (above) was inserted into the Normal Procedures for the 777. During the few runway changes I’ve had, I’ve used the checklist. From discussion over the last few weeks, many other pilots have as well, contrasted with some of our pilots who have never seen it. Personally I now find with so little flying, it’s become indispensable, although clearly, I’m biased.

Owing to recent events, we are re-evaluating that checklist and moving it to a more accessible location on the flight deck (well, more accessible for others, it will stay in my clipboard for me). As part of that re-evaluation I reviewed updated documentation for several airlines and found that Delta and United both have similar a procedure. Focussed primarily on the FMC and impacted by their own specific type of performance limits – our new one certainly incorporates anything I’ve found in other airlines. The version below is a draft only and subject to approval, but hopefully we’ll see it soon in print. Certainly it’s availability in a more accessible form will highlight it’s existence to crew who are subject to runway changes in future.


What is yet to be determined is how it will be used. Going on my own practice, I typically work as a crew to implement the change and cross check the work done by the other pilot – then just as everyone agrees all is done, I drag out the checklist and verbally review the items, getting assent from the other crew at each item before continuing down the list – effectively, a done list. In fact when you review the documentation below, it’s something of a hybrid between a procedure; procedural guidance – and a checklist.

Thinking about it – I would prefer crew continue action runway changes as they always have – by relying on experience and the recent familiarity they have with the pre-flight process that’s brought them to this point. Chances are crew will do the best job of thinking of all the items they should – the checklist should be used as a follow up to catch the items that might otherwise cause a safety issue.

Runway Change on Departure

A crew make dozens of entries, selections and decisions during pre-flight that are tied to a specific runway and the departure direction associated. In addition a complex mental model which includes terrain, weather and procedural implications is established by briefing and other thought developing processes. All of these are typically accomplished through practiced, familiar processes that happen in sequence and are the result of learned, practiced behaviours.

Hence a runway change – especially once the aircraft has begun to taxi – is a significant disruption to many aspects of safe flight. Dozens of changes are often required to ready the aircraft for flight, including changes to the aircraft setup:

  • Airways Clearance and ATIS
  • Take off performance calculation
  • Aircraft Configuration (Flaps, Thrust)
  • FMC (Runway, SID, Takeoff Performance)
  • MCP (Modes, Heading, Altitude)
  • Engine Out Procedure (Fix page, FMC EOAA)
  • Departure Briefing

While most of these changes are mechanical in nature and can be the result of a checklist – such as the Runway Change Procedure shown here – more complex is the development of a pilot’s mental model of the taxi, takeoff and flight departure. This can generally only be achieved – particularly across the flight deck – by repeating/updating the Departure Briefing once the changes have been determined, evaluated and implemented in the flight deck.

Often the first indication of a previously unknown runway change is the direction of pushback in the push/start clearance. In this case the most appropriate response is usually to cancel push/start, remain on stand and action the change. While this can result in an OTP departure delay, it results in a better change action with less time pressure on the crew to accomplish what needs to be done.

Once the aircraft has begun to move, the recommended response to a runway change is to find an appropriate place for the aircraft to stop so all crew can be involved in the procedure. While relief crew can perform some useful preparation for a runway change during taxi, PF and PM should be fully engaged in ensuring safe taxi of the aircraft, rather than actioning a runway change procedure while the aircraft is moving.

The Final FMC Performance Entry procedure must be actioned in full no matter how small the changes involved in takeoff performance – from ZFW verification through to MCP and VNAV Climb Page Altitude/Fuel Checks. Once the Departure Briefing is updated the Takeoff Review and Before Takeoff Checklist must be completed (or repeated if necessary).

Relief Crew on the Flight Deck

Ok, so this one may be a little controversial. As you read it remember that unlike many of my professional brethren, in my dim dark past I actually have been a Cruise Relief First Officer (actually a Second Officer, or more accurately at times, the Captain’s sexual advisor) on a ULH operation for almost 3 years; and in my case I was usually under the Command of a Pom, which as a 23yo Aussie wasn’t fun at times. Far too many nights at metric flight levels into Mandalay being told how to use HF (for the xth time) by someone with a hyphenated surname and a multi million dollar provident fund … :)

The presence of additional flight crew on the flight deck over and above the standard two crew complement can be a challenge for some Primary Operating Crew to manage. Wavering between under utilisation where the Relief Crew sit and twiddle their thumbs, to over utilisation where the Captain spends so much time telling the Second Officer what to do next (as well as what the SO’s doing wrong) that his own tasks suffer. Yes, these are the extremes and over simplifications / dramatisations; but at times, not by much.

There are a couple of Asian airlines that operate with 4 crew (2 Relief Crew) who relegate the Relief Crew to the passenger compartment during pre-flight, waiting to be told when to come up to the flight deck to start relief duties. One presumes that in those airlines their presence on the flight deck overall was considered more a hindrance than a usefulness.

The role of a Relief Crew member on a flight deck can also be a challenging one. Decades of research and documentation clearly define the roles of Cisco and Pancho on the flight deck. No one defines what Diablo was supposed to do, unless Diablo was there for his engineering expertise (a Flight Engineer) in which case in effect, he was a Primary Crew member. SOPs rarely define roles for Relief Crew outside of some generic tasks that actually belong to the Primary Crew but can be delegated; including checking status of emergency equipment and documentation; the presence of pillows and blankets in Crew Rest; tidying up and other such duties. My company is presently going down the road of doing so and it’s a minefield, I can tell you. I have SOPs from a couple of Asian airlines as well as a few of the US ones which have done so. I like the US ones.

It’s Relief Crew.

Our airline runs with a Captain and First Officer as the Primary Crew; and two Relief First Officers as Relief Crew. I prefer to refer to any crew member who is on the flight deck ostensibly for the purposes of providing in flight cruise relief as Relief Crew rather than by their grades (Second Officer, Cruise Pilot, etc) because that’s what they are – fully qualified crew who are there for relief purposes. In my airline as I function more often as a Relief Crew member than a Primary Crew member because I’m always sitting on the jump seat as a Check Captain, with at least one other Captain on board and in Command. In my previous airline, we had only Captains and First Officers hence the Relief Crew were another Captain and First Officer. Thus as far as I’m concerned – it’s the Relief Crew and the Primary (or Operating) Crew.

So based on my lessons learnt in the past as a Second Officer, my time spent as a First Officer, Captain, Training and Check Captain, time spent as a member of both Primary and Relief Crew – looking back here are some thoughts. I’m not going to try and tell Primary Crew how to manage Relief Crew – that’s for a committee to work out. But from watching and doing, here are some suggestions of the more common things I see a Relief Crew member could improve on – whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned aviator, sitting back there watching from the seats that see all.

This is not a manifesto – it’s certainly not SOP or policy for my current airline or any other airline I’ve ever worked for; neither is it ordered. This is more of a personal criticism of my own time as a Relief Pilot (from both an SO and a Check Captain). Think of it as random thoughts seeking to promote discussion. Here goes.

Highlighting Primary Crew Omissions/Mistakes

One of the roles of the Relief Crew Member is to provide backup to the robust primary multi crew procedures and calls already established to detect and correct errors and omissions on the flight deck. It is important that the Relief Crew Member allow the primary crew to use these established procedures to self detect/correct – as a crew – before providing correcting input from the relief crew seat.

An example would be a mis-selected AFDS setting such as a heading or an altitude in response to an ATC instruction. While compliance with ATC clearances are paramount in such situations and a Relief Crew Member must speak up promptly if a clearance limit exceedance is imminent – ideally the Relief Crew Member should give the Primary Crew the opportunity to self correct.

Timing is Everything

There are times when Relief Crew must weigh the potential consequence of a Primary Crew Slip/Omission against the possible consequences of speaking up immediately.

At one extreme – highlighting the lack of external aircraft lighting at speed during the takeoff roll would not be considered an appropriate contribution to the sterile flight deck environment.

Less obvious would be the omission of turning the exerior lights off as the aircraft passes 10,000 ft on climb. While the fallacy of speaking up during takeoff case is clear to all, for this second event an appropriate Relief Crew response might be to wait until past transition altitude, wait until not approaching a cleared level and clear of ATC communications before identifying the omission.

As any Sim Instructor can tell you – there is a world of difference between the operating and non-operating seats on a flight deck. While potentially the Relief Crew Member has more brain capacity to monitor and catch omissions than either the PF or PM; at times it’s also not unusual for the Relief Crew member to miss an element of a situatuion, rendering less significant – or even irrelevant – an omission detected from the relief seats. If situation permits the time available to sit on your hands for a minute or two and review – it’s not a bad idea (again, also gives the Prmary Crew more time to self-correct).

Apologise when you’re Right

As much as timing can be everything – contributions from the Relief Crew made in a challenging or derogatory manner are also be contributory to a poor flight deck environment. Years ago as a Second Officer I was taught by a Senior Check Captain that anytime I was contributing to the flight deck in such a way that I was right and the Primary Crew were wrong – the best course of action was to accompany the correction with an implied apology.

At first glance this seems like a strange technique but if you think about it  – it works. Most professional pilots are perfectionists and as much as CRM teaches us that we all make mistakes and the correction of those mistakes by a team member leads to a better overall solution and is entirely normal and expected; still corrections from Relief Crew are sometimes seen internally as personal deficiencies by Primary Crew.

Additionally some pilots who have extensive (or very little) two crew experience sometimes have difficulty in adapting to corrections and suggestions from relief crew. Corrections offered in the manner of suggestion or inquiry often achieve the desired result in a less confrontational manner than when offerred in such a way as to be perceived by a particularly sensitive pilot as criticism – and you often can’t tell that’s the way it was received.

Say what you want – I learnt this techique as a 23 year old second officer on a 747-400 and I use it now as a check captain correcting 23 year old second officers in the simulator during training and checking. Back then it ensured the best chance of getting my point across while maintaining the relationship. Now it disarms defensiveness and self-recrimination and encourages a good opportunity for discussion and learning in the training environment.


Sometimes error/slip corrections proferred by Relief Crew are not welcomed by the Primary Crew. This can be for many reasons – because the issue is not seen as important at the time by the Primary Crew; because circumstances un-noticed by the Relief Crew invalidate the comment; because the Primary Crew are under significant workload and their stress levels are high; etc. There is seldom a good reason for Primary Crew to snap back at a Relief Crew Member after raising a concern – it is almost always an unusual behaviour brought on by circumstances and should be treated that way.

In the end, the reasons for primary crew irritability are irrelevant. As the SO, having voiced your concern your role is complete. There are however two clear mistakes that the Relief Crew Member can make in response. The first is to disengage from the monitoring role. CRM from the 80’s taught us that when a Captain snaps at a First Officer so as to (momentarily at least) destroy the two crew relationship on a flight deck – there are two failed parties involved. The Captain who initiated the disengaging act – and the First Officer who disengaged. As a Relief Crew Member, when you feel you’ve been unfairly treated – disengagement is never an appropriate response.

The second mistake is to respond and become involved in a “discussion” about the event or subsequent interaction. Your aim was to highlight a problem and you’ve done that. The fact that you got your head snapped off for it is wrong – but irrelevant. Be the bigger person and don’t respond to perceived provocation. The tense environment of takeoff, climb, descent, approach, landing and non-normal operations can produce role interactions that the participants wouldn’t dream of elsewhere. The Bus or the Bar are usually the best times to commence a discussion of such an event.

Thoughts? Don’t all flame me at once …

So, Who should Fly?

Currently I’m evaluating research on the roles of the Captain vs the First Officer in the detection and correction of procedural errors on the flight deck. Fortunately I’m not looking at our entire operation, just one small corner of it.

First, some background.

Delaying Final FMC Performance Data Entry

Our SOP’s are pretty much based on Boeing’s for the 777. Initially the FMC is (almost) completely programmed by the First Officer while the Captain does the walk around outside during the pre-flight phase. I say almost, because the crucial takeoff performance figures are left out deliberately at this stage.

The Captain will verify the FMC entries made by the First Officer against the flight plan and other sources once back on the flight deck. Once again critical Aircraft Weight, Take off Thrust / Configuration / Speed and other take off related performance information is left blank.

There are good reasons behind delayed entry of this data. The first is the changing nature of this information during pre-flight – between initial data entry and pushing back for departure a number of the variables upon which performance information is based can and does change. Aircraft weight, departure runway, airport weather, configuration – and several more – are all subject to change. If the FMC were completed initially, each change on one of the variables would require an update to the FMC.

There is also the likelihood that a single change in a variable can produce several settings changes in the FMC. All this multiplies and complicates the process of achieving accurate, cross checked performance information into the FMC.

Thus we wait until we have the final weight of the aircraft known and updated airfield weather data available. Then if necessary a re-calculation of takeoff performance data is done and the final figures entered into the FMC shortly before pushback.

The cross check for the initial FMC setup is one pilot entering information into the FMC; later on a second pilot independently verifies the data entered.

Final FMC Performance Data Entry

Once the load sheet is received and a final run of laptop calculated take off performance is done – the Final FMC Performance Entry Procedure results in (hopefully) the accurate entry and cross check of the required data. The importance of the accurate calculation and entry of this information cannot be over emphasised.

While the procedure certainly looks complicated (as shown here on the right), a lot of the complexity here comes from the detailed scripting of who does what in terms of the source of the information and who has it; the entry of information and who does it; and the cross checking. In practice it’s a lot easier than it reads.

This procedure is learned and practised on the ground using a computer training aid and then a flight simulator until it becomes fluid from recall. A competent crew with procedural repoire aren’t at all challenged by the correct completion of this procedure – omissions and errors stand out clearly to an observer familiar with the flow it.

That said …

Reading through the procedure the roles of the two pilots involved are clear.

First Officer has the take off performance data (laptop) and provides the figure to the CA.
Captain has the Load Sheet (aircraft weight and center of gravity) and enters the numbers provided by the First Officer.
– First Officer cross checks that the numbers provided to and verbalised by the Captain are actually entered correctly into the FMC.

This is where the current issue comes in … Who should be doing What?

The cross check here is two pilots working together using a tightly defined, scripted procedure to enter data across several pages of the FMC. Omissions by one pilot should be picked up by the other. Though it ties up both pilots at once and is subject to an elevated risk due any interruptions; this procedure is considered industry best practice.

Who Flies?

There has been a number of research projects, based on data collected from airline flight operations, examining the rates of error production – and more importantly the rate of error detection – when comparing a procedure done by the Captain and monitored by the First Officer, versus reversed roles. Our procedures (above) are clearly designed based on the Captain – being the more experienced and therefore more likely to correctly action a procedure – as the protagonist in our script physically entering the data.

However there is data now (actually it’s been around for a while) to suggest that while an increased error rate may occur if the junior less experienced crew member is performing a procedure, the error capture rate (as enforced by the Captain) is significantly higher, achieving an overall better result.

As such, the procedure I was taught and have been using for 15 years; the procedure we’re now passing on, would seem to be ass-about. The First Officer should be entering critical performance data while the Captain provides, monitors/cross checks.

Let’s look at some of the documentation.

ATSB AR2009-052 Takeoff Performance Calculation and Entry Errors : A Global Perspective

The impetus of this report was the Emirates A340 Tail Strike incident in Melbourne, March 2009 – an investigation which interestingly is still ongoing. While prompted by this incident, AR2009/52 doesn’t dwell on the Emirates event in Melbourne, instead selectively reviewing related incidents from Australia and Overseas.

For the most part our procedures are highly compliant with the observations and recommendations of this report. That said, I did see 9 ways in which we could improve safety with respect to our operation – inside and outside the flight deck – and provided the summary to Flight Operations Management.

In particular, this table from AR2009/052 caught my eye. It took a while, but I was able to track down one of the authors, Dr Matthew Thomas and obtain his report and some additional data. I’m still working through this in detail at the moment as I formulate a report for our Standards Committee to look at altering our procedure.

Behind the data and the statistics is essentially the axiom that while a First Officer may make more mistakes (statistically) than a Captain; a Captain is much better at detecting – and correcting – the mistakes of the other pilot that a First Officer is.

From my personal perspective, I’ve been training and checking pilots here since pretty much the first pilot arrived 8 months before our first aircraft did. During training and occasionally during checking, this specific procedure has at times not been without error and as such the cause of a number of debriefing discussions. In essence I’ve been watching Captains making mistakes in the data entry/checking of this procedure on and off for two years now – albeit usually minor, low/no direct impact mistakes.

During the subsequent debrief discussion, the procedural error would be clarified – but also discussed was the lack of cross check from the First Officer. Only rarely do I encounter a lack of procedural knowledge on the part of the FO – just a hesitancy to correct the Captain over what was perceived as a relatively minor procedural error – particularly in the check/training environment. This is classic flight deck authority gradient stuff.

Captain/First Officer Authority Gradient

If you think about it – both our Captain and First Officer are trained (at least in terms of the aircraft/operation itself) to a pretty similar standard; in our airline both hold a command aircraft type endorsement/command instrument rating on the aircraft; both are trained initially and recurrently according to the same lesson content. From the training point of view, there’s no reason to expect that our First Officers make more mistakes than our Captains. Add on top of this the fact that as a new start airline – most of our First Officers came to this airline with significant experience levels; the competency gradient between the Left and Right hand seat is pretty flat at times.

Cockpit Authority Gradient

In addition to the style adopted by the Captain, the interaction between the flight-deck members will define the authority gradient between the two. A steep gradient results in ineffective monitoring from the co-pilot, and a flat one reduces the Captains’ authority by constant (unnecessary) challenge. The optimum gradient, which may differ between individuals and national cultures, encourages an open atmosphere to monitor and challenge, while respecting the Captain’s legal authority. Most airlines encourage a flat cockpit authority gradient, since there are a number of nationalities, levels of experience and different cultural backgrounds in the pilot group. Nevertheless the duties and responsibilities of the pilot-in-command should in no way be affected by a shallow authority gradient.

Based on this fairly equivalent capability (at least in terms of aircraft knowledge and procedural familiarity) one would think that the CRM concept of Authority Gradient would be pretty flat in our airline as well. But in terms of this procedure – it would appear this is not the case.

That’s the beauty of reversing the procedure so that the First Officer enters the data and the Captain cross checks – challenges – the accuracy : Authority Gradient works for the final result. The solution would seem simple – reverse the procedure so that the First Officer enters the data and the Captain monitors and cross checks. Simple enough.

Risk Analysis and Change Management

Any proposed change to SOPs undergoes a review of a fleet management committee to evaluate the need for and impact of the change. A change like this however is going to be something else again. I all likelihood we’ll involve personnel from the Flight Safety Department to evaluate the risks and benefits of the procedural change. Assuming the benefits are considered worth the risks, then the risks need to be managed – including managing the risks of the change process itself.

The concept of the First Officer flying with the Captain monitoring as a safety paradigm is not new. While it’s application to an operation as a whole is unlikely to find favour – I’m hoping it’s application to this little corner of our SOPs will improve the safety of our operation.


References (Apologies for my poor referencing skills …)

– An Exploratory Study of Error Detection Processes During NormalLine Operations, Thomas/Petrilli/Dawson.
– Eliminating “Cockpit Caused” Accidents; Captain Steve Last.
– Calculating Errors, Linda Werfelman, Aerosafetyworld.
– Take-off performance calculation and entry errors: A global perspective, ATSB AR2009052.
Use of erroneous parameters at takeoff, Anthropologie Appliquee.

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.

777 Thrust Reference Setting Anomally

There is (what can only be described as) a software bug  in the Thrust Reference setting software in the 777. While this bug manifests itself in several situation on normal and non-normal operations, it manifests significantly with flight safety implications during VNAV engine out approaches.

I discovered this issue back in the late 90’s when I was working in the Sim. I kept noticing it and writing it up for the Sim Engineers to fix. They would report back that they’d fixed it (or couldn’t understand what was wrong); another instructor would review the fix and miss-understand what the original report was about, and clear the fault. Then later I’d see it again, and report it – and round and round we went.

Eventually the Sim Engineers hunted me down and got me to show them exactly what the problem was – which I did. We all referred to the FCOM, agreed that it was not working, but then one of the S/Eng asked me “What does the Aircraft do?”. Hum. I said – so I went and checked. Lo and Behold – the Sim wasn’t the problem, the aircraft was. Oops.

I brought this to the attention of several levels of  Training/Technical management, without much interest, so I circulated an e-mail amongst instructors and ensure my students were aware of it.

In early 2000’s – A friend of mine at Cathay approached me about it (someone sent him the email) and they chased it down with CAE/Boeing as well (to no avail as far as I can work out – the anomaly is still there). Then about 3 years ago a pilot upgrading to Command at Ek was commencing an engine out NPA into a high altitude airport in Africa – and managed to stall the aircraft because of this (actually I would suggest there was some SA involved as well). This kicked of another flurry of investigation – including approaching me for details (which amused me greatly since I’d left the airline and come to V). But again – nothing much seems to have come from that – because the anomaly is still there …

Boeing’s airplane design is such that GA (Go Around) is set as the thrust limit (displayed above the N1 indication) any time the flaps are extended (FCOM 04.20.16 refers) or the glide slope is captured. One assumes that Boeing’s intent was that GA should remain the thrust limit to either Landing or the Go-Around in order to provide maximum available thrust for manoeuvring while configured for landing.

However when VNAV is engaged after flaps have been extended, the Thrust Limit is reset to CRZ. Irrespective of the demands of the situation (Weight, Density Altitude, Configuration, Selected Airspeed, etc) – by design the auto throttle cannot command more than this selected Thrust Limit – CRZ.

In most normal ops situations this reduced thrust limit is adequate to preserve airspeed irrespective of configuration (Engine Out, Gear, Flap) – particularly in the 777-300ER. But 777’s with less thrust such as the -300/-200, or in performance limiting situations such as weight in excess of MALW, high density altitudes, etc – insufficient thrust can exist to maintain airspeed/altitude.

Prior to a low speed excursion, stick shaker activation and AP stall protection, the problem can be corrected by :

  • Selecting GA through the FMC Thrust Lim page;
  • Pressing the CLB/CON switch (only CON* thrust limit will be selected, not GA);
  • Simply pushing the thrust levers forward (a disconnect for Manual Thrust is probably the better suggestion).

* While CON thrust should be enough to maintain speed at maximum landing weight, higher weights may require even more thrust.

Scenario Description

Assume a 777 at maximum landing weight, approaching the final approach fix (FAF) at platform altitude for an Engine Out NPA. The crew intend to use VNAV for the approach, but have manoeuvred to the initial approach altitude using Basic Modes (FLCH / VS). Configured correctly at Flap 5/Flap 5 Speed, thrust reference will most likely be GA, set automatically when the Flaps were extended.

At 3 nm from the FAF, Gear Down/Flaps 20/Flap 20 speed is selected. Thrust levers retard to slow the aircraft to Flaps 20 speed. Meanwhile the PF will set the minima in the altitude select window on the MCP, check track, engage VNAV PATH and speed intervene.

However with the selection of VNAV, CRZ thrust reference is set – unnoticed by the crew. As the aircraft approaches Flap 20 speed, thrust levers advance in anticipation to achieve speed stability (giving the PF the tactile feedback expected of thrust maintaining speed), but thrust is now limited by CRZ thrust. On a Bad Day, Engine Out with the combination of near maximum landing weight and/or high density altitude, CRZ thrust is insufficient to maintain speed, but often enough to preclude a negative speed trend indication. Speed will now continue to reduce until (a) descent for the approach commences, (b) an increase thrust limit is set; or (c) stick shaker/stall protection.

Speed Protection? At minimum manoeuvring speed, low speed protection would normally kick in (minimum AFDS speed or eventually auto throttle wakeup), but in this case this protective feature is limited by the CRZ thrust limit setting. The only low speed protection (through the autopilot) that will function is stall protection – as the aircraft approaches stick shaker speed, it will pitch forward and descend with failed FMA AFDS mode indications.

Prior to a low speed excursion and stick shaker activation, the problem can be corrected by selecting GA through the FMC Thrust Lim page or pressing the CLB/CON switch (CON thrust limit only will be selected) – or simply pushing the thrust levers forward – whether disconnecting the A/THR first or not. CON thrust should be enough to maintain speed at maximum landing weight. Higher weights may require more thrust.

Additionally …

  • On all approaches (after flap selection), FLCH may set CLB/CON, but glide slope intercept will reset to TO/GA.
  • TO/GA switch FMA mode activation sets GA thrust, so GA thrust limit is set during all go-arounds.
  • Flap extension beyond 22.5° sets GA thrust limit.

This anomaly does not impact on other NNM procedures (such as Windshear and GPWS). These recalls require either TO/GA Switch activation and/or manual thrust.

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.


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.


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?

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?

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 …

Is Ek leading the way?

As a pilot who spent the most significant portion his career in Emirates, I still tend to keep my ear to the ground as to what’s happening in the Sandpit. While rumors abound and scuttlebutt is ever present, I’m hearing from a couple of sources both inside and outside Ek of developments in the pilot recruitment market.

– Emirates recently wrote to it’s pilots seeking feedback on any friends or compatriots back in the home countries who might be willing to fill slots in the airline in the coming months. In thirteen years I don’t recall this ever happening and this unusual event is probably the progenitor for the recent series of YouTube videos ( 1 2 3 4 5 6 ) on recruitment into a un-mentioned Dubai based international carrier. I don’t know if you found them funny but as someone who caught all the references, I was wetting myself. Except “The BBQ” – boys, what’s the reference to the BBQ?

If you haven’t seen these movies then I suggest you pop over now, as there have been at least two such occasions in the past where such videos have not lasted long on the net. I don’t know who put these together, but this pilot is either ex-Ek or has more front the Myers.

– As a result of a couple of well publicized incidents, and several non public ones, Ek raised it’s recruitment hour minimums as well as the minimum requirements for Command. This left not a few FO’s dis-advantaged and seriously un-happy. I’m now hearing that these minimums are being re-evaluated. Reportedly the recruitment target for this year has gone from something approaching 30 pilots to something well short of ten times that number, necessitating a goal post shifting in hitherto unusual direction. Additionally it depends on who you talk to, but it would seem the monthly flying hours of a good portion of the crew, particularly the 777 fleet, would justify the reported lack of manpower at the moment.

All this is every interesting for those FO’s in Ek approaching upgrade, or pilots outside the company seeking employment, but what about the rest of us? Is this indicating a more substantial recovery across the industry at large in the wings? The US market still seems soft, and similar noises aren’t coming from Europe. However recruitment does seems to have begun in Asia once more, with this pilot having received two e-mail contracts in the last couple of weeks, although with salary packages below what was being offered three years ago. If the industry is turning, it will be signaled by recovering markets in the Middle East and Asia …

Such trends take a long time to manifest themselves back here in the land of Oz, but perhaps with the Middle East Airline Monsters recruiting more heavily as this year wears on, we might see a softening in airline management attitude in Australia as more and more Australian airline pilots look back overseas again for greener pastures in the … desert.

So what is the Killer EFB App?

Today I am at Day One of the Airline & Aerospace MRO & Operations IT Conference, looking primarily at EFB and EFB enabled systems. As I sort through the assault of information that comes at you at these events, I’ll be musing here on Flight.Org on what I’m learning.

Whether seeking the heftily priced Class Three EFB – typically installed by the aircraft manufacturer with its certified software and links with onboard aircraft systems and the outside world – or the less capable but more realistically priced Class One or Two EFB solutions, Flight Operations and more recently Engineering Departments have spent the better part of a decade struggling to justify the expense of even the lower end solutions into the aircraft and airline’s systems. They’re looking for the Killer Application.

The Killer Application.

The Killer App will make a clear case for the EFB. It will patently justify the investment in hardware, software and software development to airline management and the accountants. As such it will bring to the airline operating efficiencies in numerous areas of Flight Operations, Engineering, Flight Planning and Navigation, Technical Services, In Flight Services (Cabin Crew), and more. It will justify the conversion of paper to electrons for all the trees currently on the aircraft – including the conversion of manuals from Word-printed-to-PDF into thoroughly described true XML document objects. Not to mention increased flight safety in the form of an auditable “paper trail” of document updates to the aircraft, and thus greater visibility of compliance with regulatory requirements and significantly decreased human errors rates in the delivery of this material. Also improved situational awareness for flight crew in the air and most especially on the ground through the GPS enabled chart applications.

All of these efficiencies and improvements are offered by EFB as long as we can find the Killer App to pay for it. So which is it?

Flight Deck Applications.

It’s pretty clear now that the Killer App won’t be on the flight deck. It won’t be the Jeppesen (or other) charting software, with its pricing model so clearly based on the individual delivery of paper charts to each pilot that steps into an aircraft. No cost savings there, irrespective of the improvement to flight safety. It won’t be eTechLog either, despite the interest shown by Engineering in the accurate, timely transmission of aircraft fault data (from the cabin and the flight deck) to maximise the potential for defect rectification during the limited aircraft turnaround times in today’s airlines. It certainly won’t be eReporting with its timely, digitally signed, encrypted transmission of training grading data or other flight operations / engineering / cabin crew department reports and data. No smoking gun there I’m afraid. Will it be in the Cabin then?

Cabin Applications.

This is where the focus has turned in most airlines – particularly those resisting to various degrees the lowest-cost mentality, intent on providing a service to their returning customers. Arming the cabin crew with detailed, accessible, graphical, individualised passenger contact history (good or bad) to achieve either service delivery excellence, or service recovery. On the fly tactical re-seating tools for split families and groups. Point and Shoot cabin defect recording, with connectivity that ensures that a defective seat will either be fixed or blocked prior to the next revenue paying passenger sitting in it.

Or perhaps a tablet with a camera (sorry Apple iPad) that enables pictures of defects, lost items, even passenger service excellence/recovery features (“Let me take a picture of you and your new wife Mr. Jones – where would you like that e-mailed to?”). Are these the apps that will finally deliver EFB into our aircraft for the rest of us?

Or perhaps with the associated connectivity, EFB can savage away at the millions of dollars of credit card fraud borne by most airlines selling duty free and other high priced goods on board the aircraft. Being able to verify credit cards and engage sophisticated ground based algorithms utilising up to the minute information to statistically identify likely suspect cards, prompting crew to require either alternative forms of payment or an ID check. Is this the app that will pay for EFB?

Perhaps, but probably not.

EFB the technology enabler.

What most airlines seem to be missing is The Vision. The difficulty experienced in identifying the Killer App over the last ten years is that there isn’t one. The Killer App is the EFB itself.

Like the Internet of the early 90’s, EFB is not something Flight Operations buys to add to its stable of new toys – it’s a tool the entire airline benefits from, something that will bring competitive operating efficiencies and safety improvements, even if you don’t quite yet know why or how.

Like the Internet, EFB is a technology enabler which should be the domain of no single airline department but be managed by the IT department itself to enable all relevant departments to consider it as a platform available for technology development. With its issues of operating systems and application certification, relatively limited memory capacity, periods of significantly reduced bandwidth and perhaps relatively high hardware costs (for the Class 2/2.5 devices) – access to this resource needs to be carefully evaluated and managed by a department interested preserving the operating efficiencies of the device itself – preserving the technology for all to use – instead of a single department or application. Doesn’t that sound like a well functioning IT department in action?

Contrary to the premise of this article, the EFB Killer Application can in fact be an EFB killer – when the choice of hardware, operating system and software so skewed towards the implementation of one use of the device results in a reduction of the operating efficiencies of others and precludes future application development and deployment.

Like the Internet, EFB hardware and software selection needs to be made as much as practicable on an open source basis with a view to enabling the applications of today and tomorrow. An open source operating system, hardware that will increase potential functionality, develop software with an eye to future operating system releases.

Build it, Buy it, and the Apps will come. Where have we seen that before?

EFB Adventures

EFB as installed by Boeing in the 777

My airline is currently looking at various options for an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB). Originally meant to come with our spanking new 777-300ER’s, they didn’t – for a variety of timing, manufacturing and political reasons. Thus we have an exceedingly handy clip/chart holder and a neat little cupboard where a hundred thousand dollar EFB should be. Hopefully all the cabling necessary to install an EFB at some point is somewhere behind that cupboard.

Accordingly I’m on my way to Singapore to the Airline & Aerospace MRO & Operations IT Conference which is featuring a variety of EFB solutions. As well as a plethora of vendors touting their wares, we’ll hear a couple of airlines speak about their implementations, notable among them Cathay Pacific. Despite the obvious cost saving, flight safety and business process efficiency cases that can be made in favour of EFB on the flight deck, most low cost airlines have been slow to embrace the technology, instead looking at deploying it primarily in the cabin and potentially spilling it forwards through the flight deck door as if by accident. H shouldn’t think our airline won’t be any different in this regard.


The original hardware paradigm for the EFB was manufacturer specified, part of the aircraft and of course, incredibly expensive. Whether limited by the hardware selection or the certification process, EFB in this form has in fact been quite limited in the software it could run, often restricted to Charts, Manuals and Performance Calculation – strictly flight deck centric activities. Enabling the various communications and reporting tools now expected by today’s airlines never seemed to be a priority for the major manufacturers.

The GEN-X replacement for Manufacturer EFB

Following this has been a move towards airliner specific tablets (see the GenX device) which while far more cost effective and intriguing from a flight deck use point of view, are still aimed squarely at the flight deck and therefore missing the point as far as today’s growing low cost carriers are concerned. Tablet devices built specifically for aviation use fail to benefit from the accelerated hardware and software development that accompanies wider use consumer devices such as the iPad, or the coming Android tablets. That said, anything to be used on the flight deck comes with a significant regulatory and certification requirement, which can be prohibitive for a consumer device. Devices such as the GenX typically come with STC’s and other type specific approvals that can make line introduction far simpler than the alternatives.


EFB software has developed since the initial implementation of electronic access to airport and en-route charts. The movement away from the limited Linux and compromised Windows implementations (often both running on the same device in separate partitions) with third party software restrictions hasn’t exactly been a move to an open platform, but through the insistence of a few airlines, thick client access to Documentation and Manuals, technical defect reporting for the entire aircraft, linked onboard aircraft systems for the purposes of communication and data transfer and aircraft performance calculation are a few of the flight deck specific applications in use. Aft of the flight deck door there are a variety of customer service and cabin crew task specific activities on tablets, ranging from tactical seating re-allocation, dealing with flight delays and re-scheduling, bar and duty free tracking, and more. As more airlines enable broadband internet onboard, these devices will benefit from subsidised internet access enabling Company communication whether synchronous such as Instant Messaging/eMail or asynchronous Company Reports, Training Forms, etc.

One notable candidate for the consumer tablet EFB crown is UltraMain who are attempting to provide the entire gamut of airline needs from the Cabin through to the Flight Deck. As well as in place cabin apps they have also developed a eReporting module for general data capture use. Will this software have the flexibility to record training data? That’s something I’ll be looking closely at over the next two days.

Interface Needs.

Personal tablet devices – mainly iPads – are rapidly becoming common on flight decks as flight crew deal today with an ill considered rush towards the electronic implementation of paper manuals used for study and reference. While for the most part, the evidence is anecdotal – the technical competency and procedural awareness of crew in the airline industry has not come through electronic documentation process unscathed. Quick access to documentation – especially a decent search and find feature – is becoming crucial as many airlines have ceased providing any paper documentation to pilots, leaving the few paper manuals onboard unfamiliar to pilots who would have previously been intimate with the printed rules and procedures that define the modern flight deck. The transition of PC to Tablet has come with sacrifices in the interface that can make it difficult finding information – an unacceptable compromise.

iPad vs Android.

As Android tablets begin to proliferate, the strengths and weaknesses of both platforms will be exposed to the airline environment. Apple’s locked down tablets will not lend themselves to airline in house software development with quick development cycles for targeting software development solutions required to undergo approval by Apple, and developed software made available through the internet to the devices. The hardware itself without a card reader or USB port and the software without an accessible file system will seem at once both secure and extremely limiting. Conversely the Android operating system can be locked down through administrator level operating system software, while allowing the freedom of USB, a card reader or Wifi access to a file system.

That said, Android is currently suffering from a degree of platform fragmentation the iPad is not exposed to. While much has been made (or over made) of the Android fragmentation issue – in part it’s endemic to the degree of freedom Google has given to hardware manufacturers. While a single hardware manufacturer (iPad) significantly limits choice, forward and backward compatibility is typically guaranteed for at least one hardware development cycle. Developers deploying iPad apps today can probably expect to enjoy distribution on next year’s iPad 2 with little or no modification required – as next years iPad 2 developers can expect their apps to run on this year’s device. While the introduction of iPads into the cabin as IFE devices as much based on availability and a play on public perception of the desirability of the device as suitability, the iPad will continue to make a compelling case as the competitive Android tablets reach the marketplace.

All that said, Google have recently stated that Android fragmentation will be a thing of the past with the release of Android 3.1 (the “Ice Cream Sandwich” release – don’t ask) which will be a common operating system across both Tablets and Smartphones. In fact this won’t solve anything, there will always be legacy hardware that phone manufacturers will refuse to support with the latest release of Android – because they want you to buy a new phone.

Speaking of In Flight Entertainment, I’m sitting in an economy seat on a Singapore Airlines A380, exploring the IFE solution at the moment. While the screen is large, it’s not touch screen (capacitive or otherwise) which reduces interaction to the clumsy, seat attached phone-like device that was so cool in 1996. The picture is dim and washed out, but comes with an RCA video input so if my laptop had a decade old video out port I could watch my personal content on that washed out screen. No idea how I’d hear the audio though.

It has a USB port to connect a thumb drive, although not an external hard drive, even one separately powered through my laptop’s USB port. It can view PDF’s with a clumsy software reader that is streets behind my pocket smart phone, let alone the iPad. I can watch video off the thumb drive, although what format it supports I can’t begin to guess, since it won’t recognise the AVI, MKV, MP4 or M4V files I copied across to my thumb drive. There was a time – say about 2004 – where this technology would have impressed me, but not now. It’s the kind of technology that looks good on paper, but the execution is fatally flawed.

The Future.

Despite Apple’s head start, Android’s implicit design strengths will make the tablet arena a fascinating place to watch over the next few years. Aviation will bring a unique flavour to this face off, perhaps a microcosm of the battle brewing in the corporate world over the replacement of RIM’s Blackberries. As aviation explores and implements both Android and the iPad in the aircraft, the strengths and weaknesses of both platforms will be exposed. Watch this space.

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 …


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?


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.