Mar 2, 2007

A Day in the Life (13) - After start

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 - Main Ramp

Departure Time: plus eight minutes and counting...

“After Start checklist,” I say.

FO Paula hesitates for half-a-second then demonstrates one of the many ways in which she is infinitely more valuable to me than all the computers on the aircraft combined. She thinks. She uses reason. She corrects me when I’m wrong. And she’s tactful about it. No big red lights flashing. No alarm bells. Just a gentle reminder.

“We still have the QRH checklist…” She offers, realizing that my call for the normal after start checklist is an error caused by habit.

"Continue the QRH checklist," I correct myself, smiling.

“Omit the normal after start checklist and accomplish the following…” FO Paula reads and I work my way down the panels, configuring the aircraft specifically for taxiing to the de-icing facility.

APU Bleed*…….OFF. This avoids sucking engine exhaust into the air conditioning system. At the end of the checklist I’ll shut the APU down but for now it runs unloaded to cool off.

Engine anti-ice……ON. The engine idle rpm automatically increases to provide more hot air and I remind myself to shut this off if we suddenly hit an icy patch. The extra boost, though slight, has contributed to aircraft sliding off the ends of taxiways when the wheels could not grip.

By the time we finish this checklist, the APU is secured, the nosewheel and braking systems have been reinstated and checked, and various other items have been configured. Most significantly, the normal adjustments to wing flaps and spoilers have been deferred. We’ll configure these later according to another checklist and the actual weather conditions.

Finally we make a last check of some ECAM pages.

Doors and slides…….Checked and Armed. I bring up the ‘Doors’ page and discover that the emergency slide for the main exit isn’t armed as it should be. A quick call to the purser results in a thump to the door handle to seat the micro-switch and rectify the problem. Some things never change.

The over-wing emergency exits also have escape slides which are monitored by ECAM. I've seen passengers practice unlatching these while we're taxiing out. You can’t fault them for taking their pre-takeoff briefing seriously. But this triggers an alarm and master caution warning and my response is to immediately stop the airplane and check if someone in the back knows something they'd like to share with the rest of us - like why we should all be abandoning the ship.

Passengers and flight attendants usually assume that the pilots must be aware of everything happening to the aircraft. But this is often not the case. Evacuations have occurred while an aircraft was moving because no one thought to let the pilot know something bad was happening in their end of the aluminum tube. Details, details. But again, who can blame them. If I’m ever seated next to an emergency exit and see something burning that shouldn't be - like say a wing, I won’t waiting around for an invitation to leave. (more about this topic on Monday).

But today we have no abandonment issues and we continue the checklist.

Status page……Checked. ECAM has a special page which reveals if anything is incorrectly configured for this phase of flight. No surprises. It’s time to roll.

“Taxi clearance,” I call and FO Paula is already keying her mike.

“Montreal ramp, GooseAir One Eleven is ready to taxi, de-icing required.

“GooseAir One Eleven, cleared taxi east ramp. Contact Ground on one-twenty-one-decimal-nine short of taxiway Delta.”

FO Paula reads back the exit point as I glance at my ground movement chart. The direction of traffic flow from the ramp through the deice facility and over to the departure runway is familiar to us by now. What is a little surprising is that takeoffs have been switched from the twenty-fours to the sixes. The easterly wind shift is occurring. It wasn’t forecast until later in the day. The weather pattern is accelerating. And we have some reprogramming to do before takeoff - probably while parked at the de-icing center.

I look out to the marshaller and give him a wave to indicate we’re ready. He gives me the wave off which I acknowledge with a short flash of the nose taxi-light, happy to have negotiated one more pushback without incident.

I settle into my seat now, my left hand on the steering tiller and my right on the thrust levers. I'm about to relish one of the most gratifying moments of the day.

Elapsed Time: plus nine minutes… and counting…

Some interesting references:

Ramp crew hazards.

An interesting discussion regarding variations in hand signals used by different companies and different airports.

An unfortunate fatal ramp accident

*Here’s a Wikipedia entry explaining bleed air:


chris said...

Does QRH stand for something?

Aluwings said...

Quick Reference Handbook - a compilation of the most important checklists in condensed format. Thanks for asking.