Clipboard Reference : 06Jul16

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

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

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

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

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

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of my work (that’s outside the sphere of company documentation, much of which IS my work) – is seeing someone with an out of date copy.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

Clipboard Reference

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

Boeing 777-300ER Unfactored Autobrake Landing Distance

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

[Read more…]

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.

Checking Crew in the Aircraft

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

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

Training vs Checking

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

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

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

Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Checking in the Simulator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Checking in the Aircraft

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

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

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

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

Annual Line Checking as a Crew Member

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

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

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

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

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


Scenarios

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

Unstable Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenario : Very Unstable Approach

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

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

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

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

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

Scenario : Descent Altitude Compliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenario 4 : Taxi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Impact on the Check? Captain only?

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

Follow On

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

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

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

Pre-Flight Checkers Brief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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?

777 Autoflight Speed Protection – Asiana 214

I was asked recently to write for an internal newsletter to provide some Boeing 777 specific information to non-777 pilots on the role of the 777 Autopilot Flight Director System (AFDS) and Autothrottle in the Asiana 214 accident. The following article is based on that contribution.

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50,000 volts into the MCP

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

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B777 Cruise CoG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Read more…]

LNAV for a Localizer Approach

LLZ1I was recently asked whether we could still use LNAV to fly a Localizer Instrument Approach, and whether that was the preferred mode. This question was asked during a briefing on PBN which has caused some confusion.

Recently we’ve seen some changes in the way we do aircraft Navigation, or at least in the way we regulate it. PBN (Position Based Navigation) is here and exists in parallel with our existing Primary Means Navigation approval. We’ve moved away from the archaic limitations and practices of the specifics of manually and/or automatically referenced individual means of navigation sources and instead benefit from a system that encompasess and accounts for the limitations of all the individual available equipment and provides the best navigation information possible at any time.

Or we’ve just finally embraced GPS. It depends on how you look at it.

LNAV for Localizer Approaches

Localizer approaches are something of an oddity as far as they go. Basically it’s half a conventional ILS approach, where the glide slope (vertical path) component has failed, but we can still fly the approach using the Localizer (lateral path) albeit to higher minima and visibility requirements.

LLZ3Officially classed as an NPA – at the same time a localizer approach meets the recency need for an ILS precision approach (CAO 40.2.1-11.4); meanwhile our GPS Primary Instrument specifically excludes LLZ approaches (A1 15.5); even as PBN procedures make no reference. Finally the 777 Airplane Flight Manual references the (non) use of the FMC for the purposes of a Localizer Approach, but this is actually miss-leading …

CAO 40.2.1 Instrument Ratings
11. Recent experience requirements
11.4 The holder of a command instrument rating shall not carry out an ILS or LLZ approach in IMC as pilot in command of an aircraft unless, within the preceding 35 days, that person has performed in flight, or in a synthetic flight trainer approved for the purpose, either one of those approaches.

B777 AFM; Normal Procedures; Flight Management Computer System (FMCS)
The FMCS has been shown to meet the requirements of FAA AC 20-130A for a multi-sensor area navigation system when operated with radio or Global Position System (GPS) updating. When operated in this configuration, the FMCS may be used for enroute, terminal area operations and instrument approach navigation (excluding ILS, LOC, LOC-BC, LDA, SDF, and MLS approach procedures). The FMCS may be used to fly a RNAV approach procedure that overlays an ILS, LOC, LOC-BC, LDA, SDF, or MLS approach procedure when the localizer facility is inoperative subject to appropriate operational considerations, procedures, constraints, and authorizations.

CASA Instrument 187/13 GNSS Primary Means Navigation
4. Application
This instrument applies to the conduct of NPA procedures (excluding LLZ approaches) by … in B777-300ER aircraft with an RNP-capable RNAV system.

So what’s going here? Cutting to the chase …

The use of LNAV on a Localiser approach is fine as long as you have a valid Localiser signal and you remain within tolerance. When you use LNAV for this, your means of maintaining the centreline of the approach is the GPS / FMC / LNAV. But the means of validating your location on the centreline must continue to be the Localizer signal itself.

Thus the use of LNAV on Localizer approaches is acceptable with the same constraints as the use of the Autopilot/Flight Director LOC mode on a localizer approach – the engaged mode must keep the aircraft within navigational tolerance (half scale localiser deflection in either mode) at all times. There is no reason why LNAV shouldn’t achieve this to the same (or better) level of accuracy as the localizer signal; and both modes demand similar levels of situational awareness from the crew to ensure this. As long as you are monitoring the localizer on approach (and not just the flight director) – LNAV is a good choice.

As an aside – I like the use of LNAV to intercept the localizer for any ILS based approach, particularly when an overshoot (as scheduled by LOC capture) could infringe the approach of a parallel runway. However this does demand a higher level of SA from the crew than APP mode, since it delays arming glideslope capture until LNAV has sorted out the turn to final.

Tax Time : Crew Allowances 2012/2013

It’s Tax Time again 2012/2013 and as since I’m one of those lazy people who does all the work at the end, instead of keeping up with it as it goes along – the first thing I need to do is update my Allowance calculator spreadsheet. I’m posting a copy of the sheet here for?you guys to download because each year more and more crew ask for a copy and I can’t remember who’s asked for it and who hasn’t. Note the Taxation Determination for FY2013-14 can be found here.

Note : My accountant is now saying that after discussions with the ATO, he is not recommending claiming more than the Company pays in allowances?without receipts. Therefore while I’ve still prepared

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

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 


Missed Approach Acceleration

I’ve recently been contacted by a friend from a previous airline who now works for another Middle Eastern carrier, flying 777’s. Interestingly enough – he’s chasing down information on Missed Approach Acceleration – an issue I also encountered when I arrived here at V in 2008.

Essentially at that time the initial training for the 777 Type Rating was provided in our own 777 Flight Simulator by Alteon, which is now a Boeing Company. While the contract required that our in house developed SOPs (based primarily on Boeing FCOM/FCTM documentation) were to be taught to our transitioning pilots – we encountered a number of stumbling blocks. One of these was Missed Approach Acceleration.

Note : This post has been updated to include some analysis on turn radius and potentially compromising the calculated splay by accelerating prior to MAA/MSA.

Background

At the bottom of an instrument approach, if visual reference is not established the crew are required to execute the Go-Around procedure and commence a Missed Approach. Initially configured for landing – the undercarriage is raised and some of the landing flap is retracted in the go-around procedure as the aircraft transitions from the descent to a climb.

This is the beginning of the Missed Approach Procedure. While the procedure may involve lateral manoeuvring (turns) – what I’m primarily concerned with here is the vertical component.

From an initial climb speed of essentially the final approach speed, at some point the aircraft will need to accelerate, retract flap and reduce thrust from the go around (typically maximum) thrust setting to something like Climb/Max Continuous and establish level flight at a safe altitude. The bone of contention is when that acceleration phase commences. When I arrived, our students we being taught to accelerate at 1000 ft AAL in the missed approach, in common with the take off profile.

However a missed approach often does not follow the same departure track as a take off, and while intermediate acceleration for engine out departure profiles is assessed – this is not the case for engine out missed approach climb.

Boeing References

There area  number of Boeing FCOM and FCTM references in this area.

FCOM NP 21.40 “Go-Around and Missed Approach Procedure”

The FCOM normal procedures reference specifies acceleration at “acceleration height”.  This term is not defined elsewhere in the FCOM or FCTM.

 — — — — — —

FCTM 5.64 “Go-Around and Missed Approach – All Approaches”

The go-around profile diagram in the FCTM again refers to “Acceleration height” without further defining this term.

 — — — — — —

FCTM 5.58 “Go-Around and Missed Approach – All Engines Operating”

This section covers in detail the acceleration and flap retraction segment of the missed approach in more detail.

Go-Around and Missed Approach – All Engines Operating

The minimum altitude for flap retraction during a normal takeoff is not normally applicable to a missed approach procedure. However, obstacles in the missed approach flight path must be taken into consideration. During training, use 1,000 feet AGL to initiate acceleration for flap retraction, as during the takeoff procedure.

If initial manoeuvring is required during the missed approach, do the missed approach procedure through gear up before initiating the turn. Delay further flap retraction until initial manoeuvring is complete and a safe altitude and appropriate speed are attained.

Command speed should not be increased until a safe altitude and acceleration height is attained. Accelerate to flap retraction speed by repositioning the command speed to the manoeuvre speed for the desired flap setting. Retract flaps on the normal flap/speed schedule. When the flaps are retracted to the desired position and the airspeed approaches manoeuvre speed, select FLCH or VNAV and ensure CLB thrust is set. Verify the airplane levels off at selected altitude and proper speed is maintained.

Acceleration subsequent to a Go-Around should not be commenced until:

  • Initial manoeuvring is complete.
  • A safe altitude (or flap retraction altitude) and appropriate speed have been obtained.
  • Obstacles in the missed approach flight path must be taken into consideration.
  • During Training, 1000 ft AGL may be used to initial acceleration for flap retracting, based on the procedure used during Take Off.
FCTM 5.60 “Go-Around and Missed Approach – One Engine Inoperative”

The FCTM does not differentiate the acceleration and flap retraction stage of a go‑around for engine out operation. In fact the recommendation is that the same procedure is to be used.

Go-Around and Missed Approach – One Engine Inoperative
The missed approach with an engine inoperative should be accomplished in the same manner as a normal missed approach except use flaps 5 for the go-around flap setting for a flaps 20 approach or use flaps 20 as the go-around flap setting for a flaps 25 or 30 approach. After TO/GA is engaged, the AFDS commands a speed that is normally between command speed and command speed + 15 knots. The rudder is automatically positioned by the TAC to compensate for differential thrust with minimal input required from the pilot. Select maximum continuous thrust when flaps are retracted to the desired flap setting.

This implies that acceleration and flap retraction during an engine out go-around:

  • Should not be commenced until the same criteria has been met as for a normal go-around;
  • That the same procedure is advisable for both All Engine and Engine Out manoeuvres;
  • That 1000 ft AGL should be used during Training.

The Problem – Missed Approach Acceleration at 1000 ft AAL

This is the crux of our problem. Owing to the references in the FCTM to acceleration at 1000 ft AAL “During Training” – Boeing/Alteon teach their/our students that Missed Approach Acceleration (both All Engine and Engine Out) requires acceleration to be commenced at 1000 ft in the missed approach. This is actioned by increasing the speed on the MCP – and it’s wrong.

As we’ll see below – ICAO PANS OPS has no concept of acceleration and clean up in the middle of a missed approach. While it’s true that there is a concept of initial, intermediate and final missed approach segments, these refer to climb profile (initial missed approach finishes as the aircraft reaches positive climb in the missed approach manoeuvre) and terrain clearance – there’s an increased terrain clearance requirement in the final missed approach segment.

The primary reference document here for us is the ICAO document 8168-OPS/611 (volumes 1 and 2).

PANS OPS Missed Approach Procedure Acceleration

An instrument approach requires a maximum nominal gradient of 2.5% from the commencement of the intermediate missed approach segment, to the completion of the final missed approach segment.

Terrain at certain airports may require gradients in excess of this in which case this is documented on the relevant approach plate.

The missed approach path is segmented into Initial, Intermediate and Final – with associated limiting speeds (Cat D aircraft) of Intermediate 345 kph (186 knots) and Final 490 kph (264 Knots). The delimiter between the intermediate and final missed approach segments is the obstacle clearance achievable.

As such, while the speed limit associated with the missed approach construction should allow acceleration to Vref 30+80 after a go-around, the missed approach path construction itself does not include any allowance for an acceleration segment. This does not mean intermediate acceleration cannot be undertaken – but no terrain clearance allowance is made. The aircraft must clear 2.5% from the MAP (Missed Approach Point) to the MAA (Missed Approach Altitude).

As primarily a JAR-OPS airline, a detailed examination of the FAA United States Standard for Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPS) documentation has not been completed for this issue. However it is know that an intermediate acceleration segment is not part of the American regulations, and minimum gradients of anywhere from 2.1% to 3.3% are in use, terrain notwithstanding.

Procedural Commonality – All Engine vs Engine Out

Because of the excess thrust available during a two engine missed approach, an intermediate acceleration segment could potentially be scheduled during a two engine missed approach and still allow the aircraft to remain clear of terrain. However this would mean documenting, training and relying on the recall of two different procedures for the missed approach, depending on whether this is flown with one engine inoperative or not. Most airlines reach the conclusion that this carries an unacceptable safety risk against an acceptable loss of potential engine wear and tear and extra fuel usage for the relatively few two engine go-arounds that are encountered in normal line operations.

Many crew have enough difficulty scheduling a 1000 ft acceleration during an all engine missed approach, without having to remember not to do it during an engine out missed approach.

Engine Thrust Limits

Extending the missed approach segment to the MAA has the potential to infringe on the 5 minute limit on engine thrust in excess of Maximum Continuous Thrust (all engine) or the 10 minute limit on engine out thrust in excess of CON thrust.

However the risk of an exceedence of the 5 minute all engine limit is low, owing to the excess thrust available when two engines are operational. In any case, during a normal all engine missed approach a setting significantly less than TOGA thrust is scheduled (enough for 2000 fpm) unless required by the performance of the aircraft – in which case it’s … required.

Our crew are trained to be aware of these limitations and in the event of a 5 minute or 10 minute exceedence, manual selection of CON thrust is available to the crew through the CLB/CON switch on the MCP, terrain clearance permitting.

It should be noted that the 5 or 10 minute limit exceedence is likely only when a high MAA is involved. A high MAA is almost certainly the result of significant terrain in the missed approach path, which is exactly the situation where an intermediate acceleration and flap retraction would most put the aircraft at risk.

Acceleration : Airspeed, Turn Radius – and Splay

One point commonly made in defence of delaying acceleration is that by increasing speed, you increase your turn radius, and therefore potentially compromise the calculated splay. This has some validity to a point, but not as much as you might think. Engine out flight paths are calculated based on a maximum of 15 degrees angle of bank until the aircraft has begun accelerating. Once airspeed increases – this limit is thrown out the window both by certification and the autopilot/flight director system. At clean speed the aircraft should schedule at least a 25 degree angle of bank turn.

Based on the 777=300ER – the potential range of initial missed approach speeds ranges from a light weight 130kts out to Max Landing Weight Vref Flap 20 (Engine Out) of about 169 knots. In either case the aircraft would clean up to Up Speed (Min Clean, or Green Dot speed on the Airbus) of about 229 knots. So – making the numbers simple:

  • Turn radius assuming no acceleration would be based on a speed range of 130 … 170 kts; turn radius calculated using 15 degrees AOB.
  • If acceleration is commenced early – a maximum speed of 230 kts and a maximum bank of not less than 25 degrees.
Therefore you can compare the calculated 15 degree turn radius of the non-accelerating aircraft at 170 kts with the accelerated (up to 230 kts) aircraft at 25 degrees angle of bank. The result looks something like this:
And in graphical form …
What this tells us is that essentially the accelerated aircraft turning at 25 degrees bank will have a smaller turn radius than the maximum speed unaccelerated aircraft, out to almost (but not quite) the clean speed of the aircraft. It’s really only in a very small corner of the envelope that your terrain clearance is at risk – from the point of view of turn radius.

 — — — — — —

In Summary : SOP Missed Approach – All Engine & Engine Out

We train our crew using the standard Boeing FCOM NP’s, with an additional document (SOP Guide : NPs) to clarify interpretation and any procedural differences.

Both All Engine and Engine Out missed approaches are flown to the Missed Approach Altitude, without acceleration. PF/Capt may elect to accelerate early if above MSA and confident of remaining so to the completion of the Missed Approach flight path.

Crew are training in this procedure through documentation, in the simulator and during line training. Boeing/Alteon notwithstanding.

Decision Making Models

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

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

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

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

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

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

F O R – D E C

Facts

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

Options

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

Risk/Benefit

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

Decision

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

Execute

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

Communicate

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

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

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

DECIDE (US FAA)
D – Detect
E – Estimate
C – Choose
I – Identify
D – Do
E – Evaluate

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

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

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

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

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

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

3P’s
P – Perceive
P – Process
P – Perform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nterrogate
P robe
A ssess
D ecide

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

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

What model does your airline use?

 

Managing the Mass (B777)

Passing by In and Out on the way to KLAX

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

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

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

Stabilised Approach Criteria

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

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

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

Boeing 777 FCTM

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

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

Delayed Flap

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

Flap 5, Flap 5 Speed down the Glide Slope

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flap 15 on Approach?

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

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

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

Thoughts?

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.

Paired Oceanic Transition Waypoints

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

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

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

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

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

Oceanic Arrival Transition and CPDLC Position Reporting

For the past several months I’ve been experiencing a CPDLC anomaly approaching the west coast of the US. Essentially I’ll come back from crew rest and begin preparation for the arrival into LAX. At this point the FMC will reflect the basic OFP route of:

Lat/Long -> ELKEY -> LAX

… where EKLEY is the end of the Oceanic area and LAX is of course the VOR at Los Angeles airport.

The problem comes about as I commence my customary preparation for the arrival, which includes selecting a STAR (Standard Terminal Arrival), Approach and Runway. This changes the route and sets off an alarm with Oakland Oceanic Control. An automated system advises the relevant controller that my FMC no longer matches our notified flight plan and eventually this results in a warning message to me on board the aircraft. It’s difficult negotiating/explaining the situation over a CPDLC link – and so essentially I return the FMC back to match the flight plan.

I prepared everything else I could for the arrival – Weather/NOTAM review, Charts, Briefing and the rest of the aircraft setup. Then once we were cleared out of Oceanic airspace – about 15 minutes before top of descent – I entered the arrival details into the FMC, had the PM cross check it and down we went.

The first time this occurred I didn’t think about it very much, but the second time I saw it was as a Check Captain sitting in the back seat, watching the primary crew prepare for the arrival. Essentially the same thing happened, except the crew delayed all arrival preparation activity until the could enter the arrival into the FMC. This meant that the briefing didn’t start until descent was well commenced and the whole thing was a bit of a shambles.

So I called Oakland Oceanic and spoke to the senior controller, who explained what was happening, and what had change to bring it about.

As it turns out, after a number of position reporting errors, Oakland Ocenic activated the alerting system that was now causing us problems. Essentially every 12 minutes (or so) the aircraft reports position via CPDLC to San Franciso Oceanic. This report consists of current position, estimate for the next position, and the name of the following waypoint. Thus on the several hundred mile run into ELKEY – it was reporting estimates for ELKEY and that the following position was LAX, which matched out Flight Plan. But as soon as we changed the FMC to reflect the fact that we weren’t going directly over the top of KLAX airport to the LAX VOR, the automated system still generates an alarm that our FMC doesn’t match the Flight Plan. And so on it goes.

I had an extensive discussion with the Senior Controller and together we realised that the solution was to file via the paired waypoints that complete all oceanic transitions across the Pacific – in this case:

Lat/Lon -> EDSEL -> EKLEY

Thus all position reporting right up to EDSEL would not reveal any changes to the flight plan after ELKEY. By the time you get to EDSEL and the problem is likely to occur, you’re cleared out of Oceanic Airspace, talking to SOCAL (Southern California Control) and the anomaly is moot.

I advised my company of this in April. In the meantime there are several options that can be considered to get around this problem.

Route 2.

Our FMC’s incorporate a Route 2 facility.Thus you can build an arrival, approach and runway in Route 2 , then activate it later on when cleared. This allows the crew to setup and brief and prepare for the approach – even check the route in the FMC – without interfering with the active flight plan.

Route 2 has the following limitations:

  • You can’t predict fuel/time with Route 2. Thus until we have a clearance, we would not have an accurate idea of fuel/time/top of descent planning until STAR clearance received and Route 2 activated. We tend to arrive in LAX with bags of fuel anyway (at least until we improve our EDTO limit) but it’s still not ideal.
  • When reviewing Route 2 you can’t get time/altitude predictions which means if you want to evaluate what altitude/speed an aircraft will be transiting a waypoint, you can’t. This is a technique crew can put to good use. In particular you can delete a hard constraint of the active route – without executing – and see what speed/alt the FMC would want to fly you through at that point, thus gaining pre-situational awareness on whether the STAR will have you high or low at that point; whether the constraint will be binding on the descent path; etc. You can’t do this with Route 2.
  • Activating and executing Route 2 is at least  little fraught in that you end up with crew activating and executing a route that is out of sync compared to their progress on the active route. You can’t update Route 2 with a route copy because you lose your changes. You can edit Route 2 to keep it in sync with where you are up to in Route 1, although current track doesn’t follow so when you activate it you would still have to go direct to the correct waypoint before executing. On the other hand if we encourage our crew to regularly use Route 2 for arrival preparation into LAX and activate/execute it shortly before top of descent we will at least ensure our pilots become intimately familiar with all the tricks and traps of using an inactive route – as the Flight Safety Officer it will also be fun to read the reports in the meantime …
  • I personally would have concerns about flying a route that won’t be checked after it has been activated. To be honest I can’t yet articulate what my concerns are on this one – but loading Route 2 well ahead of time, then receiving a clearance, then activating and executing route 2 sometime later and flying it potentially without the time to check it thoroughly – that worries me.
  • If we start running around on Route 2 we are going to have a small set of senior captains (not pointing to any particular Asian airline here, or ex French aircraft drivers) who are going to insist on route copying and re-activating so Route 1 is the active route all the time, and I will be forced to mock them which is not good for morale.
  • This practice will hamper the more useful technique of planning the diversion in route 2 during times of bad weather at destination. This planning would need to take place after the clearance is received, at about the same time as the arrival briefing, with is a busy time. Diversion Alternate planning is a better use for Route 2 than as a work around for an ATC shortcoming.
  • If we go down the Route 2 route (sorry) ATC wins. Bugger that.
Route 2 is a viable short term fallback option – certainly better than doing nothing at all – but the simple solution is to plan via the paired oceanic exit points.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I haven’t see any progress on this issue since my initial investigation and report in April. On my last flight to LAX, I had an arrival established in the FMC when I went off to last rest. When I came back, it had all been deleted. I asked the Sen FO – someone very experienced and capable (one does not necessarily imply the other …) – what happened to my arrival?

Essentially while ATC had not detected the discrepancy, it turns out that my cunning plan to fool ATC and leave ELKEY-LAX (route discontinuity) – FICKY / STAR / Approach / Runway – screwed up the arrival time shown on the in flight entertainment system, and the passengers start to worry about their connections, so my careful preparations were abandoned. Once again.

Back to the drawing board. Or at least Route 2 for the time being.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you hope your presumption is correct …

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

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

[] ELEC AC BUS L

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

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

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

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

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 …

So, Who should Fly?

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

First, some background.

Delaying Final FMC Performance Data Entry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final FMC Performance Data Entry

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

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

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

That said …

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

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

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

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

Who Flies?

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

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

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

Let’s look at some of the documentation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain/First Officer Authority Gradient

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

Cockpit Authority Gradient

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

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

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

Risk Analysis and Change Management

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

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

Ken.

References (Apologies for my poor referencing skills …)

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

So what is the Killer EFB App?

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

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

The Killer Application.

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

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

Flight Deck Applications.

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

Cabin Applications.

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

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

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

Perhaps, but probably not.

EFB the technology enabler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

EFB Adventures

EFB as installed by Boeing in the 777

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

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

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.

How Slow Can You Go …

Recently I was asked to write an article for an internal company training newsletter about flying slow. Having finished it I thought I’d replicate it here for others. Note the following article is aimed specifically at the Boeing 777 series aircraft, although the concept is common across all transport category jet aircraft flying slow at high altitude. Comments welcome!

Flying Slow.

It seems that no matter how close we are to our scheduled arrival time, ATC regularly require us to slow down as we approach top of descent. You’d think that after managing a flight of 14 hours so as to be exactly on time into Sydney, they could at least give us some credit over those who are arriving early or late.

This brings about a question I’ve been asked a few times lately – how slow can we go? The Boeing FCTM is curiously absent on this question. If you want a short answer – use FMC Best Holding Speed, unless in Turbulence or near Maximum Altitude (in which case choose something faster). If you want to know some background … read on.

There are several possible answers to this question.

  • Turbulence Penetration – 250 kts; 270kts; .82M or Vls +15 knots, whichever is higher.
  • FMC Best Holding Speed
  • Vls (lowest selectable speed) itself.

NB : Vls is an Airbus term. On the Boeing it’s the top of the amber arc on the Airspeed tape, and is given the cumbersome name Minimum Maneuverer Speed by Boeing. It’s the lowest speed the Autopilot will choose to fly at, it’s the speed the Auto Throttle will maintain if you try and fly slower.

Turbulence Penetration (Vb)

Remember that Turbulence Penetration Speed (Vb) is just that – a speed chosen for the penetration of Severe (or more typically Moderate) turbulence. It’s not a speed designed to give a smooth ride to the passengers; it’s not a speed selected to provide the greatest compromise between low and high speed stall – instead it’s a maximum speed at which the aircraft is designed to survive a maximum gust of 50 fps/3000 fpm (yes, this is simplifying more than a bit). As such it’s not a speed designed to limit how slow you can fly the aircraft. It’s not bad choice – particularly if you are being asked to slow down in light or moderate turbulence – it’s just that if the air-mass allows and you wanted to fly slower, you could.

As an aside, those of us who were on the aircraft in the early days will remember that turbulence penetration used to be Mach .84 at altitude. You’d be cruising along, hit a bump, speed intervene and speed up. It was awesome – we encountered a lot of turbulence in those days, particularly when we were in a hurry … On the 777-300 with its higher Vmo this had no real issues but on the -200 aircraft, particularly when the turbulence experienced produced indicated airspeed instability – high speed excursions were not unusual past Mmo. Eventually Boeing brought Vb back to .82 (and then later modified it to be at least Vls +15) in order to provide a consistent speed across the range of 777 aircraft that kept us clear of Vmo on the -200 and Vls on the -300/200LR.

Best Holding Speed

FMC Best Hold Speed

Best Holding Speed is a good choice. It’s often closer to Vls than Vb but still provides an increased margin of available bank angle (or dynamic increase in aircraft weight) than Vls itself.  The best holding speed can be obtained by inserting a present position (PPOS) hold in the flight plan – without executing – look at the pending hold, the best holding speed is on the bottom right hand side. Remember that this speed does not account for turbulence. Also while it does account for weight and altitude and therefore will provide a margin over high and low speed stall/buffet – best holding speed is in fact chosen specifically for maximum endurance – maximum time aloft. Don’t forget to erase the modification to your flight plan.

While it’s not specifically a minimum speed – the FMC Best Holding Speed is usually a good compromise choice when asked to slow down by ATC.

Lowest Selectable Speed

By design, this is clearly the lowest speed that should be considered for flight. This speed will be less than Holding Speed, and less than Vref 30+80 when below FL200. While a valid choice at lower altitudes, it reduces your margin above events such as auto throttle wakeup, EICAS AIRSPEED LOW, stick shaker and other occurrences that are down linked expeditiously to home base. When cruising between FMC Optimum and Maximum Altitudes in the 777-200 (and especially 777-300) slowing towards Vls could well leave the aircraft without enough thrust to recover speed – a descent would be required. Excess thrust simply isn’t available in those aircraft (particularly when CRZ was the chosen thrust reference) and anything below approximately best hold speed was behind the drag curve – occasionally you required simply more thrust to recover speed than was available, and a descent shortly followed.

NBVls is an Airbus term. Boeing refer to it with the  cumbersome name Minimum Maneuverer Speed

In Summary

There are of course a myriad of speeds you can choose to fly at. It’s incumbent on the PF to select a speed that complies with ATC as much as practicable, in keeping with the safe operation of the aircraft. The speed you choose needs careful consideration anytime you’re operating in turbulence or above Optimum/near Maximum Altitude – margins are reduced and while the 777-300ER doesn’t lack thrust, in turbulence you might find yourself having difficulties recovering if you choose a speed too far behind the drag curve.