This is a two parter (or maybe three) on diversions. Enjoy! Like the book, for simplicity, pilots are male.
When pilots talk about diversions, chances are they're not talking about a fondness for Harlequin romances, basement model train sets or making homemade freezer jam. A diversion to a pilot most often means the unplanned arrival of his airplane at a place other than what it said in the "destination" box on the flight plan before departure. At its simplest it goes like this; airplane flies from A to destination B where weather is forecast to be within landing limits at ETA. Airplane arrives and finds it unable to land at B because of sudden crappier than forecast weather. Airplane diverts to airport C and lands.
It all sounds simple but diversions can be forced upon crews for a variety of reasons and can be quite stressful for a variety of reasons. These reasons usually occur near the end of the flight when fuel becomes a more pressing issue, especially if the diversion airport's (known as "alternates"} weather has deteriorated as well. Many "to divert or not to divert" decisions are not cut and dried. The Captain must weigh many factors in the decision with overall safety of pax and crew the number one priority. There is pressure on these decisions, even though they remain unspoken. Massive extra costs to the company. Inconvenienced, delayed and upset passengers. Crew Duty Day limitations grounding the crew and precluding a quick fill up and return to destination requiring an overnight stay. "Get-Home-Itus", the insidious mind set to "land where it says on the ticket!" found in some tired and cranky Captain. Get-Home-Itus has been responsible for much mayhem, incidents and accidents since flying began. NONE of the above should alter the decision to carry out what is the safest course of action. But I'll bet all who have been there will honestly admit that such things cross their minds as they strive to arrive at their decisions. Some random factors;
What is the weather here? Is it improving or not? How much extra fuel do I have? How many airplanes are stacked up ahead of me? Our duty time? The Flight Attendants' duty time? How much fuel again? What is the landing rate? What are the runway conditions? How much fuel do I have? How is the weather at my alternate? Is it holding? Worsening? How much fuel do I have? How long do I hold for an attempt to land? Fuel?
But eventually, the decision is taken out of the Captain's hands. Unless he is wheels down and cleared to land (or VERY close to it) he MUST divert to alternate with his flight planned fuel to alternate plus an approach plus his minimum in tanks (plus any extra for the wife and kids as we say) as the Captain so decides. To hang on further in a destination holding pattern to below this level with your fingers crossed is asking for trouble.
Or, a reason to divert can come as a total surprise (airport suddenly closes....later on that one) and suddenly, the Captain and crew, rather than thinking about that pint at their local layover pub have a whole lot of new things to do and think about and not a lot of time in which to do it.
What helps with the completion of a successful diversion is that the airports are picked very deliberately and filed as such on the flight plan before departure. They are not pulled out of the Captain's ear at the last minute or decided upon by flinging a dart at the local map. And during flight, it is the joint duty between flight crew and their "Star Fleet Command" flight dispatcher to monitor the weather at these chosen alternates in case they fall below limits. They do on occasion and I have had to change official alternate airports several times in flight during my career. It's no big deal but the vast majority of commercial aviation flights MUST "carry" a legal alternate airport. And for many years now, given the programmable magic flight management computers, air crews will often program their planned flight routing to their alternates from their destinations even before taking off. It's for "just in case" reasons, good airmanship and serves as a great time and work saver when things get hectic as you find yourself off to some place you hadn't planned on.
As mentioned, alternates are carefully chosen. They must be "legal" alternates which is simply pilot speak short form for an alternate airport that meets all requirements both on the ground and weather wise. On a long trip, an alternate may be selected even though the weather at take off time at the alternate may disqualify it. But if the weather is forecast to improve enough for it to qualify at the estimated time of arrival, it becomes a legal alternate again. A legal alternate must be able to accommodate your aircraft type with appropriate approach aids and lighting, (CAT III ILS is very nice!) sufficient runway lengths, ramp weight limits, fuel, water and lav service, catering, passenger handling, customs (sometimes) as well as the weather. Even something as simple as lack of a tow bar or a mule incapable of pushing back your big airplane will disqualify an airfield from the list unless a dire emergency warrants landing there. Filing a cross border alternate and actually having to use it can be a customs problem but probably less so these days with passports being the air travel ID document of choice world wide. So in short, you can't file Barney's Sunny Acre Air Patch, Petting Zoo and Flying School as your alternate from Heathrow to Toronto Pearson if you're flying a 747...even if the weather's fine at Barney's and he's a great guy. The reasons are obvious.
Speaking of legalities, the regulations about minimum fuel on board (enroute, approach, missed approach, fuel to alternate and reserve fuel) are strictly spelled out for all commercial aviation. And money is a big factor in these planning exercises. Fuel equals weight and the old saying is that it takes fuel to carry fuel. The heavier the aircraft, the more fuel it will burn to carry that weight to destination. That is simply physics. And if the alternate is 400 miles away rather than 30, then you must carry the fuel required to reach it plus the specified reserve PLUS the extra fuel required to carry that extra weight for the entire flight duration! We're talking literally tons of fuel here.
A ridiculous example would be to fill a 747 to the brim to fly from Toronto to Montreal. Makes no sense whatsoever. The fuel used to carry that extra weight would far exceed the normal burn for such a flight....costing the airline money...and not to mention that it would have to hold and burn more fuel or dump enough of it to reduce down to the big ship's max landing weight. Many modern jets do not have fuel dumping capabilities anymore. I know the B-747-400 did not. The additional plumbing required for fuel dumping is heavy and the extra weight takes more fuel and more fuel costs....well...you get the picture.
We did this once when I was a second officer on a B-747-200 at AC. An engine ran rough on climb out of Toronto on a trip overseas. The Captain decided to return to Toronto which was the best decision. It was close by, weather was fine, maintenance available, it was probably "home" to the majority of passengers on board if the flight had to be cancelled, there was a place to dump fuel and lastly, one does not venture across oceans if one of your engines is not playing nice.
We set up in a race track shaped holding pattern over the middle of lake Ontario at around 10,000 feet and I started the fuel dump procedure. I flicked the switch and fuel blasted out each wing tip like two gigantic pressure washers. I forget the rate but it was impressive. It was also not the environmental disaster you are envisioning. The spray is so fine, and we being 2 miles up, the fuel was all but completely evaporated long before it reached the water. But there would've been a certain lingering odor...which is why we did it over the lake!
Until Part II
Over 'n Out
Hello again! This is my first journal post in about two years. My apologies. I enjoy writing them and, evidently, you enjoy reading them. And enough people have bugged me about it so I guess I should dust off some ideas and start banging the keys again. Here goes.
Ahem. Well, I actually DO have a missile in my basement and I thought that telling the story of how it got there might prove an interesting read.
Back sometime in the 90s, Liz and I attended an All Weather Fighter Aircrew reunion held at some hotel in Ottawa. It might've been the Delta. No matter. We were both excited to see some great friends and old colleagues from our Voodoo days at 409Sqn Comox, 410Sqn in Bagotville plus some characters from 425 and 416 (Chatham NB) thrown in for good measure. General Ray Henault was CDS (Chief of Defense Staff) at the time and as an old Voodoo pilot himself, he and bride Lorraine were in attendance as well.
As we approached the party reception desk, I recognized the familiar lines and colours of an AIM-4D Infra Red air to air missile (dis-armed mind) standing tall by the desk. The Voodoo carried two of these and they were so good, we fired them both at the same time on one target(!) The missile, used for weapons technician training, was to be raffled off that night! I thought to myself:
"I got nothing when I left the Air Force. Bupkis! (meaning I hadn't managed to "lose" anything of note before I left) Other guys had helmets, flying suits, flight jackets, flying boots, stick grips....some even had ejection seats in their basements!. I wanted that missile!" I must've been thinking out loud because Liz gave me that look and rolled her eyes. I eagerly bought 5 tickets and hoped for the best.
Well, t'was not to be. A gentleman by the name of Dave ("Threads") Morrow (VERY natty dresser) won the missile.
Though I had not worked with him in the fighter world, ( he was a few years older) I had flown with him as crew to his Captain at Air Canada a few times on the L-1011. He was a good guy with a big boisterous personality and fun to fly with. I also knew that at that moment, he lived in Ireland and commuted to Toronto Pearson to pick up his flights. That was one long commute! I wondered; "How the hell is he going to get a missile, even an inert one, into Ireland?" So I went to work. At an opportune moment, I cleverly sidled up to his date/girlfriend while he was off telling war stories with his buddies. I introduced myself and we chatted;
"So, I see you now have yourselves a missile?"
"Yes." she replied through clenched teeth.
"And you live in Ireland I understand."
"Yes we do."
"And how is Ireland these days?"
"Wonderful, thank you."
(Insert more clever small talk here)
"Well, it was lovely to meet you. (It really was) I'm off. By the way, before I go, what's Dave's go-to favourite drink?"
"A large martini" (without hesitation)
"And what would be his favourite gin?"
"Very nice. Thank you again. Bye for now."
Armed with this vital intel, I tracked down Dave in a gaggle of buddies. He was deep into "There I was..." mode with the "him" and "me" gloves on and everything. I waited for my opening, struck right from his 6 o'clock and whispered in his ear:
"Dave, a jug of Bombay Sapphire for the missile"
"DONE!" says he, without even turning around!
So we dragged the thing home to Barrie on the roof of our van. Luckily, it came with its own custom plywood storage box that looked rather more like a coffin for Andre the Giant. Strapping the thing on the roof racks naked and in the "go" position would've badly frightened the horses I thought. The boys were absolutely ecstatic when I opened the crate and stood it up. It's heavy too! Took all three of us to muscle the thing down the stairs. Word spread around the neighbourhood and soon we had urchins from all over banging on the door wanting to see if the rumours were true. Good times and good fun...especially the looks on the kids faces.
Back to Ottawa. Although promised, I could not go and buy the gin. (Hint: Ontario, 1990s, LCBO, weekend...hello) And Dave and I never crossed paths again before we all launched for home on Sunday. Now fast forward to spring 2019. Dave had forgotten all about the gin and the missile but I hadn't. We met up at a monthly luncheon for RAPCAN (Retired Airline Pilots of Canada...Florida Chapter) at Indian Rocks. The convenor warned me that Dave would be in attendance so I went armed. After standing and retelling the entire saga before the assembled group of airline vets, I reached down to a bag hidden under the table and withdrew the largest bottle of Bombay Saphire gin known to man and presented it to Dave. I even had a blow up print of "his" missile to go with it. There was much laughter and the look on Dave's face was worth the price.
Picture below. The room where the missile stands is a single purpose theatre room and bar. So we had some fun with the decorating. Maybe too much fun. It looks much better with the lights dimmed and no, there are no green velvet curtains(!)
Until next time
Over 'n out.
The lesson plan briefing went well. My student was well prepared. A tad young at 2 1/2 but I figured he could handle it. When I finished and asked if he had any questions, he said;
"No Grampa. Can I have a drink now?"
So we headed out to the flight line together. Our bird shimmered in the afternoon heat. Not much talking going on. I think he was a bit nervous and I was trying to think of anything that I may have forgotten in the briefing that could bite young William in the butt during the flight.
It was going to be a challenge. Our MTOW was 240lbs. We were right at that and maybe even a tad over. I knew we were well over our all up ramp weight but figured we'd burn a few pounds taxiing out to the button. Add to that a hot day and a lower than ICAO standard altimeter setting and our take off pressure altitude was pretty high. A reduced thrust take off was out of the question. No way we could meet 2nd segment climb requirements. It was going to be a max grunt effort for sure...bend those thrust levers right into the panel. If we took a bird or lost one on take off, I'd have to do it perfectly...no room for error. I'd have to take control from William as engine cuts were definitely not on the lesson plan.
We flashed up and taxied out. Checks complete...ready to go. I called load for the numbers and they had bad news. Had to go back to the gate to shift some cargo....C of G was so far forward it exceeded our take off stab trim setting limits. Bummer. We head back to the ramp to move the stuff, got it all done but with the C of G correction and a passenger who got nervous and deplaned, we managed to board a last minute passenger. A gorgeous young red head named Isabella. She winked at me and said; "Grampa, it's Izzy for short."
The lesson plan was not completed to a satisfactory standard but it certainly wasn't all Williams fault. Our weight was so high that we never even got out of ground affect..gutless wonder pig of an airplane! We got to an altitude of about 1 ft. for most of the flight. Student displayed a tendency to constantly turn right but kept looking out the left side smiling and waving to the fans. Needs some work on that. However, line astern formation station keeping was outstanding. Never budged an inch from the leads tail for the whole flight!
Until next time
Over 'n out.
This is a quick one.
One of the chapters of "Flight Lines" begins with a cute two liner;
Young boy; "Dad, when I grow up, I wanna be a pilot!"
Dad; "One or the other son--you can't do both."
Brother-in-law Dave Reid sent me this video and is proof positive that the above lines are true. They look like grownups, but inside they're kids and their toys that are just a little more expensive! And as Dave said, perhaps a little too much time on their hands.
It's about 7 minutes long and watch it right to end.
Until next time, over 'n out.
PEACETIME BRAVERY - THE AIR FORCE CROSS
Military personnel do not always need a battlefield to act with bravery.
I had an old flying recollection the other day that led to the writing of this blog segment.
Way back in the mid seventies, I was a shiny new CF-101 Voodoo pilot on 409 Squadron at CFB Comox BC. Those who flew in that era were part of The Cold War, a war in which, the Viet Nam disaster aside, there was much posturing and maneuvering but thankfully, not many shots fired.
I recall sitting in the Comox Officers' Mess dining room at one of 409 Squadron's infamous wine luncheons where all except the duty crews in the "Q" and Combat Alert Center gathered to do some serious male bonding over steak and wine after flying had shut down for the day. Sitting opposite was an older officer, (maybe 35!) a captain and AI navigator who may have been new to the Squadron or a visiting guest of the Squadron. I can't recall but either way, I hadn't met him. He was tall, slim with some white sprinkled in his close cropped hair, had a quiet voice and a gentle manner. He wore a striking ribbon on his uniform that I had not seen before--white with diagonal red bars. The only ribbon that was common (to me) in those peaceful times was the "Canadian Forces Decoration" or CD for short. It was also known as the EGO ribbon--Everybody Gets One(!) and signifies 12 years of faithful service or undetected crime--take your pick. I asked about his ribbon and he quietly replied;
"It's the Air Force Cross"' and that's all he said. I now know what that medal signifies.
More recently, after my way-back machine moment, I was exchanging emails with Captain (Retd) Bill "Charlie" Gladders and I asked if he (Bill ) new this officer's name. He did, and I had one of those forehead smacking moments. If you have read my book, "Flight Lines" you will have met Charlie, a memorable Air Force colleague, several times and who features prominently through my "Voodoo Days" chapter. Bill also let me know about another such award recipient who was flying in an older CF-100 "Canuck" aircraft. I allowed that the stories behind the awards may make an interesting blog post. He agreed and here it is.
The CF-100 officer's Canada Gazette story is posted immediately below and my friend from the mess is the second one. The incidents are remarkably similar and rather than steal the thunder from their amazing stories of bravery, I will let you read on.
ALEXANDER, Flying Officer Charles Maxwell, CD (133192) – Air Force Cross – No.433 Squadron, Station North Bay – awarded as per Canada Gazette dated 29 October 1960 and AFRO 222/60. Born May 1931, Denny, Scotland. Educated in Scotland; served two tours with RAF before joining RCAF in Toronto, 1956; posted to No.433 Squadron, December 1957. Uniform held by Canadian War Museum.
During an Air Defence Exercise on May 24, 1960, Flying Officer Alexander was the navigator in a CF-100 aircraft which was participating in an aircraft interception at 43,000 feet. Shortly thereafter, the pilot of the aircraft suffered extreme anoxia. He was receiving no oxygen whatsoever as the result of a fault in his oxygen system. Flying Officer Alexander instructed the pilot to descend. The pilot responded and commenced an immediate descent but could not actuate his emergency oxygen supply. Flying Officer Alexander elected to remain with the aircraft and continue to talk the pilot into bringing the aircraft under control from an extremely erratic descent. Flying Officer Alexander noted at one point that their speed was 650 knots and they then entered the cloud deck at 7,000 feet still in a dive. The pilot gradually responded to instructions and pulled the aircraft out of the dive but the aircraft ended up in an inverted position. Flying Officer Alexander then successfully managed to instruct the pilot to roll the aircraft into a strait and level flight at approximately 10,000 feet. A ground control landing approach was then commenced. The pilot did not respond to instructions given by the GCA Controller and it was necessary for Flying Officer Alexander to guide the pilot all the way down. The pilot was still under the effects of anoxia upon landing to the extent that he did not round out but flew onto the runway. It was also necessary for Flying Officer Alexander to instruct him on braking action and direction. After a successful landing, the pilot remembered practically nothing of what had taken place. Flying Officer Alexander, when faced with the decision of ejecting or remaining with the aircraft, chose to remain in an effort to save his pilot and aircraft. Through coolness and devotion to duty he managed to avert what would have been a fatal accident.
PARKER, Flying Officer Donald Franklin (56135) – Air Force Cross – No.416 Squadron – Awarded as per Canada Gazette dated 4 January 1964 and AFRO 2/64 dated 10 January 1964. This award is thoroughly documented in Secretary of State papers (RG.6 D.1 Volume 359, file 114-2-A1-3 “Awards – Specific – Air Force Cross (Granted)” Parker was first recommended by his Commanding Officer, W/C E.D. Kelly, on 7 May 1963. The station commander, G/C A.F. Banville, concurred the same day; A/V/M M.M. Hendrick concurred on 29 May 1963. This was duly considered by the Personnel Members Committee at AFHQ; on 18 July 1963 A/V/M W.A. Orr (acting Chairman of the Committee) forwarded recommendation to Chairman of Decorations Committee, Secretary of State. The Decorations Committee met on 1 October 1963 and approved.
On the morning of 10 April 1963, Flying Officer Parker was the navigator of a CF-101B aircraft of No.416 All-Weather Fighter Squadron participating in a tactical exercise. During the second mission in which he and his pilot participated, while making an attack on a target aircraft at 20,000 feet, Flying Officer Parker was surprised to observe his aircraft turning in the wrong direction for the intercept manoeuvre which was underway. Upon querying the pilot, Flying Officer Parker deduced from the replies that the pilot was in difficulty and suspected that a malfunction of oxygen equipment was the cause. He calmly, but emphatically, directed the pilot to descend and follow emergency oxygen procedures. When this action produced no tangible results, and from further remarks made by the pilot, Flying Officer Parker realized that the pilot was seriously ill. He then commenced to direct the pilot to return to base and prepare to land the aircraft. Although the situation was obviously hazardous, Flying Officer Parker did not even declare an emergency in his radio transmissions since he had reasoned that this would unnerve the pilot completely. Nevertheless he elected to remain with the aircraft and to attempt to save it and the pilot. Handling all radio transmissions himself, he soothed, persuaded and encouraged the pilot through the approach and landing in less than ideal weather conditions, in spite of the pilot’s uncertain and often incorrect reactions which caused the aircraft to repeatedly approach critical performance limits. Following the landing, the pilot collapsed almost completely and was helpless. Flying Officer Parker climbed forward to shut down the engines and assist groundcrew and medical personnel in removing the almost unconscious pilot from the cockpit. Throughout a dangerous situation, Flying Officer Parker demonstrated exceptional courage, devotion to duty and loyalty to his pilot, in hazarding his own life when he might have safely ejected from the aircraft. His cool and skilful direction, which made full use of the pilot’s severely limited ability, was instrumental in saving both their lives and a valuable aircraft.
If you are interested in reading about more AFC recipients, you can visit this link:
Next blog post: "The go-around"
Until next time, over 'n out.
Several decades ago, author Arthur Hailey wrote a great book called "Flight Into Danger". It was such a good yarn that it was also made into a movie. It was also titled "Runway Zero Eight" which was the title of the book that I read back then. It concerned a Canadian commercial carrier flight from Winnipeg to Vancouver in 1956, the unusual happenings on board and the exciting conclusion where an ex WWII spitfire pilot and a Flight Attendant (Stewardess back then) saved the day, their own lives and the lives of all on board. The emergency on board stemmed from the fact that because the flight had been delayed, a substitute caterer was pressed into service and the fish meal choice was tainted. The other meal, chicken, was fine. So, all who chose the chicken were OK but all who chose the fish, including both pilots, became so ill that they were rendered unconscious or otherwise completely incapacitated. I am not clear whether the book theme prompted the regulation or the regulation provided the idea for the book. It matters not now. The regulation I'm referring to is the one that prohibits the pilots from having the same meal. At Air Canada, (and I assume all other world class carriers) that not only can they not have the same meal, the meal must be warmed up in different ovens as a further precaution. Meal trays were prepared with cutlery, condiments, salads, desserts etc and kept refrigerated while the "casserole" style hot meal choices covered with aluminum foil were warmed up after take off until ready for the flight meal service. Unlike passengers who have raised complaints about airline food to an art form, I was usually quite happy with the food but that's just me. When you think about it, being served a hot meal with nice wine at 35,000 ft while traveling at 8 miles a minute is a minor miracle. Not only that, now you can have gluten free, kosher, low cal, low fat, or vegetarian variations of the same meal. People who whine about this should try the bus next time. I digress.
We ate a lot of chicken. Plentiful, available, inexpensive and flexible, the flight deck choices were almost always "something and chicken". Beef & chicken, fish & chicken, pasta and chicken, lasagna & chicken, etc.
Captain; "What's for dinner?"
F/A; "Um...something that looks like it might be fish, and chicken."
Captain; "Chicken please."
Most crews operated on the unwritten rule that whoever was doing the flying got first pick. That's the way I always did it. Some old Captains, if offered, always took the beef or steak regardless. Others would offer the choice to his F/O even if he was doing the flying himself.
You've heard of breast of pheasant under glass?
We used to call chicken "breast of bird strike under foil"
Passenger; "I've had this same chicken meal for my last two flights. I demand to know why."
Senior F/A; "Lady, I've been eating this chicken for 30 years. I'm sure you can handle it twice."
I'll finish with a yarn that didn't make the book.
A little boy was ushered into the flight deck to visit the pilots and he stood in shy silence behind the centre pedestal between the pilots' seats. The Captain was sitting with his arms folded, scowling straight out the front windscreen and he did not acknowledge the little boy. In contrast the F/O was the perfect host, welcoming the youngster with a big smile. Soon they were having a grand conversation and it became apparent that the little boy really wanted to be a pilot when he grew up. This went on for several minutes with the little boy asking very intelligent questions about the airplane and the F/O answering with much patience and good nature.
Suddenly the Captain turned to the boy and boomed;
"So! You wanna be a pilot eh!?"
The little boy was startled and looked up at the Captain with saucer eyes.
"Er...ye...yes sir" stammered the little boy.
"Do you like eating chicken!?"
"Wha? Um yes.Yes, I like chicken."
"Then you'll do just fine!"
And he turned back to staring out the window. Maybe he offered the choice, his F/O scooped the steak and he just finished the chicken...again!
Until next time over 'n out
There's a small part in the book where I touch on Christmas greeting cards and the bizarre humour that often results when the regular sentiments of the Christmas season are accompanied by crests, coats of arms and translations of Air Force Squadron Latin mottos. The mottos usually have something to do with war, loyalty, fidelity, stalking, hunting or striking or killing--not the things you see in Christmas cards as a rule. Then there was the card Liz & I got from Jim and Maggie Reith years ago about Santa's Annual Proficiency Check Ride with a Flight Inspector. It was pretty funny. Any pro pilot knows that every check ride has at least one engine cut on take-off--arguably one of the most critical airborne emergencies there is, except perhaps an engine fire thrown in for good measure. Well someone has turned the card into a video and it is attached to my email. I can't upload it to this blog. It's worth a look but I hope the inspector missed. You'll see why when you watch.
To all who are reading this who have read and/or purchased "Flight Lines", I would like to say thank you for your support and kind words. I would ask that should you feel inclined, that you take a minute during a quiet time and pen a testimonial, review, critique or a rotten tomato up-and-in heater about your thoughts on the book, good or bad and post them here, or on Amazon or on Good Reads or all three! It would be very much appreciated. Who knows? If I get enough positive ones, it may stir me to start another book but as the old saying says, "Be careful what you wish for(!)
To all, a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.
Until next time, over 'n out.
The previous post was about ATC/flight crew language problems at busy airports and the delays and hazards that can result.
From the opposite end of the spectrum, watch the YouTube session below for a prime example of how it all works 99.9% of the time. It's an Air France B-777 doing a night arrival at LAX and is the picture of precise crew cooperation--a professional, calm, quiet, unhurried, approach and landing. There are no sweaty palms, no panic or raised voices as there is no need for any. The two pilots (the first officer is flying and the Captain is working the radios, gear and flap selections) are clearly comfortable and "ahead of the airplane".
The clip starts with the airplane downwind for 24R just at the final stages of the SADDE 6 (pronounced say-dee) STAR into LAX. (Standard Terminal Arrival Route) Their heading has downtown L.A at about their 11 o'clock position. This arrival routing is stored in the aircraft Flight Management Computer (FMC) and comes complete with route fix altitude and speed restrictions and places them ready for their base leg and then to their intercept heading to the final approach track. It is the standard inbound routing for aircraft arriving from the north bound for LAX. I've done this same arrival dozens of times in the A-320.
Watch and listen and read the captions as they come up. They are informative. Stick with it...you'll be bored probably. Visitors sometimes asked if we ever got bored with airline flying. My answer was always the same. "Yes. And that's exactly how we like it. In this business, boring is good!"
Enjoy the approach!
Until next time, over 'n out.
The last post concerned Chicago O'Hare and the ATC pros that run the show at one of the busiest, craziest airports on the planet. The contollers are often under immense pressure to move the machinery around safely and efficiently, keeping their cool and understanding that the flight decks of the aircraft they are shepherding to land or take off can be just as tense an environment. Sometimes they can forget. After all, their "customers" actually leave the ground with all that that entails.
The international language of civil commercial aviation is English, partly because it is spoken and understood in such a large percentage of the world but also because it is a more technical language than, for instance, any of the so-called "romance languages" I heard one guy once quip that the English phrase "lower flaps" took up a whole paragraph when translated into French and that by the time you got it all out, you would've crashed. An embellishment for sure but the point is taken--English seems to be a language more suited to technology or areas where crisp and concise information needs to be passed quickly. International flight crews are expected to be fluent to a certain level of English but I have heard that some carriers have resorted to carrying translators with them on the flight decks because their pilots have not made the grade but have to fly the airplanes to both generate company revenues and to earn their keep. This is obviously a hazard, especially at busy international airports. London's Heathrow airport has a very lengthy and formal procedure to obtain IFR clearances before departure. It is a regal pain but one reason for it may be that at this literal crossroads of the world, where thousands of passengers and tons of machinery from all countries of the world meet up and are all hurtling around in close proximity, ATC needs to be sure that not only all players are on the same page, but that all players understand what page they're on. LHR's safety record is second to none and perhaps this is partly the reason. Problems with poor communications are evident everyday in all walks of life. But when communications have to do with large equipment in motion carrying passengers, it clearly becomes vital---as in vital signs.
Pilots comfortable with the language, customs, airport, local terrain and procedures can do some things that pilots less familiar would never be asked to attempt. There was the "crow-bar" approach at La Guardia in a DC-9 (or equivalent) where ATC, seeing a small gap opening up in the arrivals line on a clear day, would fill the slot by "dropping" in an airplane to speed things up.
"Air Canada 756 La Guardia can you make thirty-one from there?"
"La Guardia Air Canada 756, rog." (I never heard "no we can't"---ever)
"Air Canada 756 La Guardia go tower eighteen seven now. Thanks. Seeya!"
After some furious fast hands flight deck work and a steep carving descent, mission accomplished. This would never even be asked of an airport "stranger"
The tower controllers at LAX often asked us to switch runways at the very last minute for whatever reason.
"Air Canada final right side LAX can you shift to the left?"
"Rog" and away we would go with an aggressive left turn then right to line up again.
I've done it many times there, sometimes inside the marker. The move is, to a well trained, confident and competent crew, a safe, straightforward hands and feet excercise. But I have heard it on good authority from LAX ATC that when a carrier arrives from Asia, they assign their runway 300 miles out and never EVER change it. Evidently many Asian carriers do not handle change too well and I'll bet some has to do with language.
The video and recording attached to my email is an example of this problem and indicates quite clearly the stress and impatience of a very busy ground controller at JFK when an airplane, even one that is on the ground, fails to "get the message". Please return to the email and give a listen.
Until next time, over 'n out.
When In O’Hare…
Chicago O’Hare airport can be an absolute pressure cooker at the best of times. It’s one of the busiest airports in the world and has claimed that distinction for many years. Newark and La Guardia are both close seconds but toss in a line of nasty mid-west summer thunderstorms and things at O’Hare can quickly go off the rails. Luckily, on this day we were not trying to land—we were trying to leave, and found ourselves number ninety-six (96) for take-off in an A-320 while a line of thunderstorms roared past overhead. But instead of having us all putz along in a huge conga line, snaking around the airport in the rain and burning up precious fuel, the ATC pros running the show just pushed us back more or less on time and then taxied us out somewhere to a huge vacant ramp area somewhere in the airport’s back forty. They said it looked like a serious delay, told us to shut down our engines if desired and that they’d be sure to call us back a few minutes before our turn was coming up after the storm passed and the train started to roll again. In those days, cell phone use was prohibited when the doors were closed. So after parking and shutting down both engines, with our trusty APU keeping the lights on and the airplane nice and cool inside, I turned the belt sign off, directed the girls to open one fore and one aft main cabin doors and announced that passengers were “free to use their cell phones and move about the airplane.” Now they could phone whoever they had to phone about their delay and not bust the rules of the day. They were happy--using their phones or the lav or stretching their legs, and I was happy—the fuel gauges weren’t moving south and we were safe on the ground while lightning flashed and the heavens emptied barrels of rain on us.
The ATC troops at O’Hare are definitely major league. But given the experience and performance (and stress) levels of O’Hare ATC, the flight crews were expected to conform and comply with any and all procedures and instructions with both speed and precision. Failure to do so invited the scornful wrath and hurled verbal lightning bolts from the harried and impatient gods in the tower. Pilot indiscretions could be rewarded with a trip to the Penalty Box. (no, really) O’Hare has a clearly charted holding area called the “Penalty Box” where they send offending miscreants to sit and wait in embarrassment until they are called back to play nice with the others. And since it is VHF radio communications, everybody on the frequency hears the sentencing being handed down;
“Air France seven nine three heavy, O’Hare ground, I said left on Alpha, not right--taxi instructions cancelled. Penalty Box. Turn right on Charlie, proceed to the box and park north side facing east until further advised.” Just like two minutes for tripping!
You just knew that flight decks all over the airport were chuckling and giggling and pointing their fingers while the red faced crew of Air France went to sit in the corner.
To actually leave O’Hare, you had to contact (if memory serves) about five frequencies before you even got to tower frequency to clear you for take-off! First, you contacted Ramp Control to report that you were ready to push. Then they sent you over to Clearance Delivery to get your IFR clearance (aka airways) Then they sent you back to ramp for push back clearance, start up and taxi. Then they sent you over to “Metering” who would then clear you to taxi to a hold point on the ramp just short of the busy highways that would take you to your departure runway. These busy highways were the protected domain of “O’Hare Ground Control”. You were to taxi to this hold point as instructed where metering then switched you over to O’Hare Ground. and then you were to listen out and wait for further taxi instructions that took you to your assigned runway. YOU WERE NOT to call ground control for taxi instructions no matter how long it seemed to take (as if they’d forgotten about you—and sometimes the wait time would give that impression) for ANY reason except perhaps if you were on fire. Well, on this day, a keen young F/O at Air Canada hadn’t read that memo and his Captain may have missed it too. This is doubtful, so the Captain must’ve had a great layover and was in a rather cavalier mood because evidently, he was going to let events play out . They were holding as instructed, the ground controller sounding like a cattle ranch auctioneer who breathed through his ears, but this keen and impatient F/O started jumping in calling for taxi instructions;
“O’Hare ground, Air Canada 748, taxi.” No response.
“O’Hare ground, Air Canada 748 at the hold point. Request taxi instructions”. No response.
“O’Hare ground, Air Canada 748 holding for taxi instructions” No response.
The Captain must’ve been turning his head away and biting his lip off. Finally, after four or five attempts to butt into the frazzled and frantic world of an O’Hare ground controller, with a strong south-side Chicago accent, he erupted and flung his lightning bolt;
“AIR CANADA! YA KILLIN’ ME HERE! TURN RIGHT DIRECT THE PENALTY BOX! I”LL CALL YA BACK IN FORTY-FIVE MINUTES!”