Jan 12, 2007

A Day in the Life: CYUL - CYVR - CYUL (3)

A description of a typical day's flight from Montreal to Vancouver and back - using it as a backdrop for a detailed, non-technical description of what an airline pilot does. This may be too detailed for some, but hopefully others will enjoy these insights into the routines followed by all airline pilots in one way or another. It's a very clock-bound, routine-bound life after all. And as a career progresses, staying 'fresh' within this kind of highly-structured environment, becomes part of the challenge.

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Flight Planning

(Previously)... It seems clear that this winter storm system is gaining speed as it crosses southern Ontario, heading for Montreal. I suspect that our return trip tonight will be more interesting than I'd originally hoped.

Departure Time: -45 minutes

The clock is ticking down and it's time to make our way to the gate. Our aircraft hasn't flown yet today meaning we have some extra pre-flight checks to do. We'll also have extra details to attend to because the wings will need de-icing before take-off.

"Shall we head down?" I ask F/O Paula Martine, "Did you check the gate?" She did. Changes sometimes occur at the last minute. I'll double-check the aircraft ID once we get to the bridge too. Occasionally I've walked on board to find another crew already at work. It happens rarely, but produces some red faces as we scramble to find out "who's on first."

Paula carefully installs the last of the documents on her official clip board. It's one of the FO's sacred duties to carry The Clipboard. I don't mean those little knee boards that most pilots use when flying those small planes like Pipers and Cessnas. I mean real clipboards suitable for The Front Office of a real airliner.

We must carry specific documents - besides those we'll find normally on the aircraft itself. An old aviation saw goes, "We don't fly until the weight of the paper equals the weight of the pilot." And just like my mid-riff, the paperwork seems to have increased over the years. The regulations stipulate that we need a printed copy of the latest flight plan, along with specific weather information, NOTAMS and the ever-growing stack of items printed from the Technical Bulletins data-base which contains any recent changes to the Aircraft Flight Manual. Also, once on board, the datalink will start spitting paper out like... well, like it grows on trees (sorry, couldn't resist). Because of this appetite for paper and the fact that the first Airbus accident was a spectacular encounter with a forest, there are plenty of one-liners floating around about how Airbus hates trees.

Paula hoists about an elm-and-a-half off the counter, and we make our way back over to the luggage rack. With some FOs the clip board obviously represents a welcome opportunity for self-expression, a veritable work of art. It's a chance to strike out against the conformity and uniformity of the job. A chance to be a real rebel. Uh-huh.

Paula's is a basic office-style board but personalized with handy colored charts and graphs and lists of pertinant information glued and fastened in various pockets of transparent plastic. The edges of the board are worn just enough to convey the message that its owner is neat and orderly, but not a novice. All sorts of standard clip boards are in use, from the colorful plastic folding models, to the plexi-glass planks, and even aluminum. The ultimate boards are those aluminum models that form sizable storage compartments when they flip over on themselves to open or close. They hold tons of paper and include features like multiple pen holders, and calculators and other specialties that take this unit into the realm of Compact Portable Flight Planning Center (CPFPC, to use an acronym, which is almost mandatory in the modern aviation environment).

As computer technology progresses I'm sure we'll soon see an eCPFPC (or of course the Apple version - iFLY) that includes a Dual-Core Pentium processor, with 80 Gigs of digital storage, capable of handling electronic charts as well as the old fashioned paper versions. Not to mention of course a built-in cell-phone/pager/Blackberry/personal organizer and fullscreen iPod... and I'm only half-joking. The world of digital charts and flight plans has been threatening to make inroads into airline operations for at least a decade. But somehow issues of liability for errors or damaged data always seems to leave us shuffling reams of paper. It's ironic that no matter how fancy and capable the million-dollar on-board computers and flight plans are which come installed in our 'magic' bus, we-the-pilots are ultimately responsible for confirming the correctness of the data using twenty-five-cent paper charts.

The final critical feature of any clipboard is the clasping mechanism itself. Some have fancy clips that require fiddling and even two hands to operate. FO Paula's has a huge steel spring that would make an excellent leg-hold trap if we ever needed to survive in the woods. Thankfully she gets it stowed safely away in her flight bag without losing a finger, and we're ready to go.

From time to time some FOs manage to leave a clipboard behind in the flight planning room. Ask me how I know. Luckily it was Victoria, which is a smaller terminal, so I didn't have far to run back for it. Now that we have datalink and a printer on-board, we have the option to print the necessary docs right in the flight deck. But the paper format is more cumbersome, so it's not ideal.

I've gotten started on Pilot Accouterments and I could write something about flight satchels, and suitcases and Pilot Watches - don't get me started on Pilot Watches or we'll never get to the gate on time. But the clock is ticking and it's time to move on.

Departure Time: -40 minutes
(to be continued)


PJR said...

Breitling(Sinn)? Navitimer or Airwolf?
Or perhaps the X33? Or Citizen Nighthawk? a GMT or G-shock perhaps?

Aluwings said...

Yes! So many toys, so little time... sigh...

DeAnn said...


Spoof ...Hitler gets angry w pilots... Reference all the electronics

gmc said...