Feb 22, 2007

A Day in the Life (9): I Will, You Will...

A description of a typical day's flight from Montreal to Vancouver and back - as a backdrop for a detailed, non-technical description of what an airline pilot does.

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Departure Gate

Departure Time: minus five minutes

There have been too many aircraft accidents where the first officer suspected something was not right but was too intimidated to speak out. And then it was too late. I believe first officers will speak up sooner if they know the captain is actually interested in what they have to say and especially if the flight deck atmosphere leans towards informality.

So turning to FO Paula, I launch into my patter:

"I try to follow the SOPs without getting too tense about it. So, anytime you notice me doing something you don't understand, it's probably not a display of my superior airmanship. It's more likely that I'm screwing up and the sooner you ask me about it, the sooner we can figure out what's wrong and fix it.

"When it's your leg make your own decisions regarding operational items like runway preference, flap setting, thrust setting and so on. I'll back you up as the PNF and call out any discrepancies or concerns. Hopefully we'll get through the cycle without scratching any paint or damaging any carbon-based units and even enjoy ourselves along the way.

"If something bad happens while you're flying, keep flying unless the drill requires me to take over or I say the magic words: 'I have control...' In the event of..."

A voice interrupts in the headset; "Captain, are we okay to remove the ground power?"

"Negative - standby one," I hastily call back. "Thanks for checking."

It's not uncommon for a busy ramp hand to just pull out the big cable and plunge us into darkness. I should have started our APU already, but this morning I've been distracted with the programming duties. A button push or two is followed by a long thirty seconds until the indications stabilize telling us the small auxiliary engine in the tail is ready. I push the next button in the sequence. Our lights flicker as the electrical load shifts onto the internal generator.

"Okay to disconnect." Then I reach up to select another button and hear the swoosh as the internal air conditioners begin working as well.

We return to our rehearsal for the three "scripted" drills. As we recite the litany, we move our hands to the appropriate controls mimicking the motions. This rehearsal is known as the "I wills..." Under more leisurely conditions we might stop along the way to discuss some finer points. For example, how would we handle a rapid loss of pressurization if it happened directly over a field of thunderstorms? It has happened. But this morning we keep to the basics.

Departure Time: minus four minutes

Me: "In the event of a Rejected Take Off I will call 'Reject' and immediately close the thrust levers, ensure maximum braking is being applied either with the autobrakes or manually, and I'll use maximum reverse thrust."

FO Paula: "I will monitor the braking, call 'Reverse Thrust Deployed' or 'No Reverse on 1 or 2' and monitor indications. I'll call '70 knots' and advise ATC."

Me: "I will apply maximum reverse and maximum braking until stopped, select forward idle thrust, set the parking brake, and call 'ECAM ACTIONS.'”

(ECAM = Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor - displays checklists in certain conditions.)

FO Paula: "I will accomplish the ECAM actions."

Me: "If an immediate evacuation is not required, I will make a PA announcement: 'Remain seated. Remain seated. -- In-Charge Flight Attendant report to the flight deck.' If an evacuation is required, I will call: 'Stop ECAM', and call for the Passenger Evacuation checklist."

FO Paula: "I will read the appropriate checklist."

Me: "In the event of an Engine Fire or Failure after V1, I will continue the take-off and rotate normally at Vr to 121⁄2° nose-up and follow the flight guidance system."

FO Paula: "I will call 'Engine Fire' or 'Power Loss' and cancel the Master Warning. When established in a definite climb I will call 'Positive Rate.'"

Me: "I will call 'Gear Up.'"

FO Paula: "I will select the landing gear up and disarm the spoilers."

Me: "When stabilized climbing above 400 ft, with an airspeed minimum of V2, I will call 'Auto Pilot ON' and have you select it for me. Once it's ON I will select the required heading and call, 'ECAM Actions.'"

FO Paula: "I will accomplish initial ECAM actions and advise 'Fire Out; Fire Not Out; or Engine Relight Initiate.'"

Me: "I will call 'Stop ECAM.' At the appropriate altitude, I will call and select 'Vertical Speed, Zero,' accelerate in level flight and call for Flap and Slat retraction on schedule. At the best climb speed (green dot) I will call and select 'Altitude - Pull; Speed - Pull; Maximum Continuous Thrust; and Continue ECAM.'"

FO Paula: "I will continue ECAM."

Departure Time: minus three minutes

Me: "In the event of a pressurization problem I will assume control with Autopilot ON and call 'Rapid Depressurization Drill,' I will don my oxygen mask, set my com panel and call 'Captain on oxygen.'"

FO Paula: "I will don my mask and call 'First Officer on oxygen.'"

Me: "I will select SEAT BELTS switch ON and call 'ECAM Actions.'”

FO Paula: "I will accomplish ECAM actions."

Me: "I will advise ATC. If we've had a complete, or explosive loss of pressure I will call 'Emergency Descent,' and we'll skip straight into that drill. Otherwise, I will make a PA 'Attention, Flight Attendants secure the cabin; Passengers take your seats.'"

FO Paula: "I will assess the pressurization and call 'Cabin Okay' or 'Cabin uncontrollable.'"

Me: "If you say cabin uncontrollable, I will call 'Emergency Descent' and initiate the drill, which is: Altitude Selector to an appropriate altitude and Pull. I'll Pull the Heading Select and turn if required depending upon known traffic or terrain. Pull Speed Select. Ensure engines reduce to idle thrust. Extend speed brakes to Full."

FO Paula: "I will complete the ECAM silently, and advise of any omitted items or pertinent ECAM messages. I will confirm ATC has been notified and set the transponder as required. If Cabin Altitude exceeds 14,000 ft, I will press the MASK MANUAL ON pushbutton for more than 2 sec."

Departure Time: minus two minutes

I now switch my communication panel to the PA system and say good morning to the folks. It's mainly an assurance that there are real people up here taking care of them and we actually do appreciate their patronage. I even do it in both official languages. Over the years I've become more confident in French -- just so long as there's nothing complicated to explain.

I hear the sounds of galley doors and storage units slamming shut behind me. I glimpse someone in the bridge swinging the main cabin door shut. It must be time to go...

Departure Time: minus one minute

1 comment:

chris said...

Wow, I'm very impressed (and glad!) to know that flight crews rehearse those procedures so assiduously. Prior to reading this post, I had presumed that such rehearsals were relegated to annual recurrence training. My confidence in airline fight crews has gone up a notch just knowing that emergency procedures are drilled so regularly and precisely.