Feb 8, 2007

A Day in the Life: CYUL - CYVR - CYUL (7)

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: -15 minutes

It's the first flight of the day for this airplane so we have some extra pre-flight checks to do. Later, I'll tick the box in the logbook to tell subsequent crews they can revert to the abbreviated ramp check.

FO Paula sweeps rapidly and precisely across the instrument panels. I watch as she starts at the top left hand corner and proceeds efficiently through the required pattern checking the position of each switch, cycling some units through the first-flight-of-the-day test procedure, and generally ensuring that the aircraft is configured properly. This entire procedure, which took hours of tedious memorization to learn, can be completed in less than five minutes, if all goes well and we have no interruptions

This morning we have only two. The Purser drops in to ask if we need a cup of coffee - which we do. Then just as we've picked up the scan again, the lead ramp attendant calls into our headsets from the push-back tractor:

"Good morning flight deck. Communications check. Confirm brakes set."

I fumble for the intercom button, while glancing towards the hydraulic brake pressure gauge. "Communications okay - brakes are set."

Funny thing is - our manual is written as if I initiate this call when I'm ready. That seldom happens. The lead is usually moving around the aircraft monitoring the multitude of tasks his crew is performing. He knows where to reach me when he needs me - this confirmation tells him it's safe to pull the wheel chocks.

Managing interruptions is something we do every day. Yet our manuals are written as if we are in control of who calls us when. Which of course is completely unrealistic. The controllers at ORD for example, aren't going to hang around waiting for us to finish a checklist. So we all learn to deal with interruptions while our manuals and training procedures pretend they don't happen.

I quickly re-scan anything I missed during the interruption. FO Paula finishes checking the center console, then reaches for the sacred clip board and looks to me to confirm I'm ready to listen in. I check my radio control panel and headset volumes and give her a nod. There’s a short wait until the clearance delivery frequency falls quiet, then she jumps in:

“Clearance Delivery, GooseAir One Eleven at Gate Five Alpha with information Charlie to Vancouver.”

At most US terminals and now many Canadian ones, our IFR clearance arrives by printout on the Data-Link system. Montreal isn’t there yet. So we have to do it the old fashioned way.

“Goose One Eleven, to Vancouver. Runway two-four right with a Dorval Five, flight planned route, maintain flight level two eight zero, squawk one zero four four. Have a good flight.”

(translation: flight plan to Vancouver is valid with no alterations; Take off on runway 24R and follow the initial route and altitude instructions on the Standard Instrument Departure (SID) chart labeled Dorval Five; initial cruise altitude is flight level 280 (approximately equivalent to 28000 feet); set the transponder to code 1044)

“GooseAir one eleven, Dorval Five, squawk one zero four four. Good day,” FO Paula replies.

"GooseAir One Eleven readback correct, departure frequency 124.65, contact apron ready, bye"

Sweet and simple as long as there are no last-minute alterations to deal with. She reads the Dorval Five details and I set three-thousand into our altitude alert window. She twists the four-digit code into the transponder then prepares to recite key information from the flight plan while I poke furiously at my MCDU. (Multifunctional Control Display Unit - often pronounced Mcdoo).

If Adiroos are Arabian genies, then Macdoos must be some sort of strange Scottish trolls. We have two trapped in the center pedestal, one near each pilot’s knee. They provide our main gateway into the mysteries of Airbus magic.


Departure Time: -10 minutes

1 comment:

Aluwings said...

Editing note: After reviewing this article I realized that ATC had forgotten to include the Standard Instrument Departure instruction. "They" have been properly corrected in this oversight - and I have added a couple of small notes of explanation regarding clearance 'lingo'...