Ask 20 Questions …

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

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

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

Morning Ken,

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

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

Thank You, Kind Regards, Crew Control

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


From Ken:

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


From Crew Control:

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

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

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

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

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

3. How come there no “B” batteries?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Do bald chefs have to wear hair nets?

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

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

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

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

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

13. Why is yawning contagious?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why are there two number 18s?

18. Why does Henry like playing pool so much …

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

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

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

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

A practical joke to torment those with the fear itself


Fabulous.

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 …

 

TkoffInhibit1

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.

TkoffInhibit3


 

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.

TkoffInhibit4

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.

Addendum

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.

Response

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.

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?

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.

Implications

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.

Background

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

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.

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 …

northpolechart_Page_1

northpolechart_Page_3

northpolechart_Page_2

northpolechart_Page_4

 

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 …

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.

Handling

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.

The HUD

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.

Ken 


Jetlag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assessing System Status/Performance

Sometimes something as simple in the aircraft as looking and assessing the indications in front of you can be far more complex that it first seems. I was reminded of this in the simulator recently as several crews were required to assess aircraft pressurisation performance during a door unlocked indication failure in flight. First, some background.

Our current phase training includes a DOOR FWD CARGO unlocked indication shortly after takeoff. Apart from satisfying a matrix requirement and giving crew experience of this non-normal, the overt intent of this failure in the simulator profile is to give crew a reason to divert to the nearest suitable airport.

The DOOR FWD CARGO checklist itself requires that the aircraft be de-pressurised to ensure that if the door was to come off, less damage would be done than if the aircraft were fully pressurised. At this point the crew are at 8,000 ft and de-pressurised. Continuing to Los Angeles seems unlikely.

That said in a previous simulator we had two similar failures like this. The first was Door Forward Cargo indicating not locked in flight; the second was Door Forward Cargo – door comes off the fuselage out into the airflow and on it’s way down the side of the aircraft, takes out the right engine along with two hydraulic systems. As the instructor it was easy to confuse the two failures in the IOS – well, it was easy to confuse them once. Being pressurised/unpressurised never seemed to make much impact on the amount of damage that forward cargo door did as it embedded itself in the right engine – but I digress.

Anyway – so I was supposed to program a Door Forward Cargo indication failure on takeoff. I did this through the gear lever so I wouldn’t have to hit the button on the failure myself. I programmed the simulator so that when the lever was selected UP, the failure became active – and sat back to watch.

At least that was my intention – so far it hasn’t been successful. The Sim Instructor Operator Station (IOS) indicated the failure was active – but there was no indication to the crew, even after the takeoff inhibit ended. Oops. As it turned out later – this failure is only written by CAE to work on the ground. We’re still trying to find out why, but even knowing that isn’t going to change the fact that the failure doesn’t work airborne.

As such I was forced to improvise on the spot – often not a great recipe for training fidelity …

Sticking with the theme – I failed one of the other cargo doors instead. The problem now is that the simulator is VH-VPD which was our first owned aircraft, and it has the small version of the main cargo door aft of the wing. The size distinction is important in this failure. All doors on the aircraft (Cargo, Cabin, E/E Bay, etc) are “Plug” type doors – a Boeing innovation where essentially the door is bigger than the hole it fills and therefore the higher the pressurisation differential between inside/outside the aircraft, the less likely the door will come open. Don’t ask me how a door that’s bigger than the hole opens outwards to let the passengers and cargo in – that’s just magic as far as I’m concerned.

Despite being a plug type door, when not indicating locked the Forward Cargo Door checklist requires the aircraft de-pressurise. We have always presumed this is related to the size of the door. The smaller Aft Cargo door does not require de-pressurisation and diversion – as long as the cabin is pressurising normally. Thus despite the failure the crew would assess and continue on to Los Angeles, extending the sim session from 2 hours to 14. Since I needed them to divert (no coffee or toilet in the sim) the next obvious choice was … you guessed it, pressurisation failure.

Because I knew the small door failure wouldn’t cut it, I programmed them simultaneously. Rather than the instantaneous heart-rate-raising big bang failure, I used slow de-pressurisation. Essentially the aircraft would fail to pressurise because the aforementioned small door was not only unlocked, but not properly closed. Hence the crew would assess pressurisation, realise the problem, and return. At least, that was the plan.

This statement seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?

Note: The aft lower cargo door is in a safe configuration 
as long as cabin pressurization is normal. Positive cabin
differential pressure ensures the door stays in place.

That shouldn’t be too hard to work out, should it? Pressurisation at this point is assessed via the AIR Synoptic page. Apart from showing good bleed air from the engines to the air-conditioning packs, the AIR synoptic also shows values such as Cabin Altitude and Rate of Climb, Differential Pressure and Forwad/Aft Outflow value positions.

A good crew would typically see the picture shown here during climb after takeoff. By “good” I mean a crew who would initially see the failure, think about it, then ignore it. They’d have QRH familiarity and know that this checklist doesn’t come with memory items, but they’d also know what the most likely outcome of this checklist was. They’d follow Boeing doctrine and delay running it until the critical take off phase was over, the aircraft was clean (gear and flaps retracted) and usually wait until the aircraft had cleared any terrain issues associated with the departure airport. Thus typically the aircraft would be climbing through about 7,000 ft by the time they finished the checklist and had a look at the AIR synoptic to assess pressurisation.

A quick glance shows you – Cabin Altitude below aircraft (as it should be); Cabin Altitude Rate climbing (normal, so is the aircraft); Outflow Valves Closed; duct pressure adequate, differential pressure positive. The problem here is … the quick glance. Like me – you’re looking to confirm the normal, rather than seeking what’s abnormal and looking for indications against the normal bias – looking to confirm a problem. Now let’s look again.

  • Cabin Altitude – 5,500 is quite high. The cabin altitude is controlled in part by the selected cruise altitude. High takeoff weights (and therefore lower initial crusing altitudes) combined with the high cabin differential pressure capability of the 777 (9+ PSI), initial cabin altitudes in the 3000-4000 feet range are normal. This one is at 5,500 because the door is slightly ajar and the pressurisation system is unable to maintain the required lower altitude as the aircraft is climbing. It’s doing it’s best – I’ve been seeing cabin altitudes up to 2000 ft below the aircraft in the climb with this failure – but still to high for an initial cabin altitude.
  • Cabin Rate – 800 fpm is not extreme, but again given the high diff of the 777 and the typically lower initial cruise altitudes, you see less than this typically.
  • Cabin Differential Pressure – a Delta P of 1.2 is way too low. In cruise it would be well over 8. The 1.2 here is because the hole in the aircraft is not quite big enough to equalise the pressure – the Bleed Air/Packs are working hard. But 1.2 is far too low for this altitude when the pressurisation is working “normally”. Speaking of holes in the aircraft …
  • Outflow Valves – The basic operating premise of an aircraft pressurisation system is that air flows in at a faster rate than it flows out – but it does flow out. It is only during Non-Normal events that you see fully closed outflow valves. Closed outflow valves are an indication that the Bleed Air/Packs are unable to provide adequate airflow – a pressurisation problem.

It’s very easy as the instructor to sit at the back and judge the errors of your students in front of you. It’s slightly more difficult to divorce yourself from the insider knowledge you have as an instructor and assess realistically. In this case, the signs are subtle – but they’re there. I could certainly not state with my hand over my heart that confronted with the same situation the first time, I would have picked up on these indications. For me though, the outflow valves are definitive. The only time they’re both closed airborne is when something is wrong.

The discussion point here is the concept of assessing a system on the aircraft. With EICAS Warning/Caution/Alert messages – we are no longer used to looking at gauges and indicators and assessing the performance of a system. We are also separated from the normal operation of the aircraft by automatics and self monitoring systems and synoptics pages that were looked at during initial training, but now remain hidden away until they’re required by an unusual situation. We’ve become quite reliant on the alerting system to diagnose failures and provide clear, simple indications of what the problem is and what we have to do next.

So far most crew have missed the pressurisation problem that I programmed in concert with the door failure. Once the aircraft climbs above 10,000 ft (and the cabin above 8,000 ft) the pressurisation failure becomes clear and the crew act accordingly. For myself, serendipitously this experience has taught me to take simple checklist words such as “cabin pressurisation is normal” more carefully.

Deep Blue Orchestra

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

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

deepblue is the orchestra unleashed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

deepblue we never forget who we are performing for.

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

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

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

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.

Implementation

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.

Conflict

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 …

Will the REAL Ken Pascoe … stop stealing my mail.

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

Sorry, Who has my books?

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

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

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

That’s the end of that, I thought.

I was wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, Who has my eMail?

Anyway, now it’s happening again.

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

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

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

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

Well, some of these have gone missing.

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

So I chased it down.

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

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

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

Perses, thy name is Ken …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End of the Beginning.

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

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

This Week.

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

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

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

Last Month

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

“Your motherboard was fried”, he said.

“How” I asked.

“Dunno – it just happens” he said.

“How often ?” I asked.

“Basically Never”, he said.

Enough said.

Last Year

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

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

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

Most of the last Two Years

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

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

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

– – – – – – – –

Follow Up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emirates A300-600R

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

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

Mostly …

A300/310 FMC CDU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first step in this process?

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

Fatigue – A Societal Issue; not just Aviation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers, a book by Malcolm Gladwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performance Limited Takeoff

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

   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –

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

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

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

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

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

Briefing

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

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

Operations had thoughtfully provided the basis of their calculation:

Runway 13L; Temp 40; Wind Calm

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

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

At the Aircraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Zero Fuel Weight

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

This is when things started to wrong.

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

Wind and Temperature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too Much Fuel

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

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

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

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

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

The Passengers

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

The Staff Travel Passengers

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

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

Decision Time

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

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

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

Push Back

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

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

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

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

Saved by the Wind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript

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

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

Lessons Learnt

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

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

In summary:

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

Looking forward to the comments on this one.

How do YOU keep it up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about that for a minute.

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

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

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

Just a small nugget for you to digest.

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

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

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

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

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

My Friend the Chocolate Cake – 21 Years and Counting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jet Lag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airline Pilot : A Life of Irregularity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hacked by Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

Chocolate Cake instead of Nuclear Chicken.

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

Singapore Ferry

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

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

Wing Seong Fatties, Ben Coolen Plaza, Singapore

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

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

How often have you been coming here” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Friend the Chocolate Cake

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

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

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.

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.

Hardware.

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.

Software.

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 …

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

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

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

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

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

Ok, so this wasn’t going to work.

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

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

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

 

Interview for Airline Management.

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

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

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

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

Why am I adding my two cents on this?

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

So, what am I doing to prepare?

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

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

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

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Commuting to Work

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

Geelong to Sydney.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So – what’s your commute?

 

Red Door Cafe, closed Sundays for … Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, basically” she said.

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

 

I was THAT GUY …

Recently, I was THAT GUY …

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

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

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

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

The stage was set. Roll on the First Act.

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

Sleepy Me : “Hello?”

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

Confused Me : “Ok.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me : ” … ”

Me : ” … ”

Me : ” … ”

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

Me : “Hang on. I’m having a Moment.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After that, the departure became the normal routine.

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

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

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

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

 

Infinidim Resurrection

Welcome to Infinidim.org – Mark Two!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care all – Regards, Ken Pascoe.

Lost Opportunities

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

Let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead …

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

Ken