Jan 30, 2007

More on airport security

As I procrastinate over my next "Day in the Life" entry about the ramp check and pre-flight prepartions, here's an hilarious video someone sent me. Funny and ironic:


Jan 29, 2007

Jumbo Gliders?

A popular aviation poster, often seen in flight planning centers, claims:

A superior pilot uses his superior wisdom to avoid having to use his superior skill.

The danger of platitudes is they can deflect us from thinking more deeply. Case in point...

As far as I know in the history of aviation only two Jumbo Jets have run out of fuel in mid-flight leading to the pilots successfully gliding the fuel-starved airliners to survivable landings. Coincidentally, both were Canadian-owned aircraft flown by Canadian pilots. I'm never sure what to make of that.

Anyway, if that poster is correct, we'd have to conclude that these pilots were of superior skill for pulling off such a feat, but of non-superior wisdom for running out of fuel in the first place. I once actually heard a fellow-captain make this claim regarding his colleagues. I believe he was engaging in something pilots do frequently as a defense against our fear of flying. We convince ourselves that if we can identify a colleague's failure (pilot error) which caused his accident, then we can fly secure in the belief that "I would never make that mistake - that couldn't happen to me ." Failure to look more deeply for the complete cause of an accident is only encouraged by platitudes such as expressed in that poster.

In both cases of Bringing Down Jumbo systemic errors in procedures and policies were in place long before the pilot entered the flight deck. These errors severely heightened the inevitability of an accident and the pilot was merely the last line of defense.

The mistakes in these cases included things like:
• questionable management decisions;
• inadequate training;
• inadequate system and maintenance support;
• inadequate corrective action by maintenance departments; and
• a regulatory agency which let these questionable practices continue.

Accidents are seldom caused by one failure. More likely they are the culmination of an unfortunate alignment of several failures starting at the Head Office and working right down through the system. Simply blaming the pilot for not preventing the accident, fails to catch and correct the larger contributing factors. Happily accident investigation techniques and policies have progressed over the years of my career and the Transportation Safety Boards in the U.S. and Canada now routinely search for more complete answers. This is leading to an ever-improving airline safety record.

Which is a good thing because we don't need any more Canadians bringing down Jumbos - neither pachyderms nor airplanes.

More information available here:



Jan 27, 2007

Jumbo Jets?

Have you ever wondered how the word jumbo entered our English language and was then applied to jet airliners?

Apparently, the word was derived as a name for a famous over-sized pachyderm and is comprised of "two Swahili words: jambo, which means "hello," or jumbe, which means "chief."" I haven't found any record of who first used it as a descriptor for the Boeing 747 when that amazing aircraft took to the skies. Was it some genius in the Boeing marketing department? Or perhaps an aviation reporter at a Seattle newspaper?

Anyway, there's a Canadian connection in that Jumbo expired at St. Thomas, Ontario after a collision with an express train. The name of the locomotive engineer is not recorded. Just as well. Who would want to be known as the man who brought down Jumbo?

Tomorrow I have an item about two other Jumbos that were also brought down by Canadians.

More information about Jumbo the elephant and his sad demise is available here:

and here:

Apology and re-edit

I warned you in the side-bar that I'm practicing on you folks. Last night I was tired but wanted to get my next posting up even though I knew it was still very rough. By putting it 'out there' I knew that I wouldn't be able to procrastinate today but would have to get back to polishing it. So I just did. I should also go back yet once more and add a revision number -- just like a pilot to come up with that idea.

I'm not a natural writer like some people - my ideas often tumble out in a huge blob and require constant massaging to make sense. Hopefully I will improve with practice.

If you read the previous entry and wondered at the number of spelling mistakes and poor grammar and awkward sentences, then chances are you probably read this draft version -- I humbly submit 'revision 1' and thank you again for your patience.


Jan 26, 2007

A Day in the Life: CYUL - CYVR - CYUL (6) revision 2

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.

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Departure Gate

Departure Time: -25 minutes

I once saw a chart for the brand new Bombardier Regional Jet illustrating how the aircraft could arrive from one flight and be ready to leave on the next in just a few minutes. This so-called quick turn-around capability is crucial to the airlines. Parked aircraft don't make money. The chart listed time to unload passengers and luggage, clean the cabin, renew the galley supplies, re-load the passengers and luggage and refuel the plane. I'm not sure if it included time for crew changes. That would be more realistic given how often we shuffle from plane to plane in a day's work. I don't recall if maintenance procedures were included. But the critical item overlooked is that all these activities transit the the same twenty square feet of floor space at the front of the plane. Here, located in close proximity are the main cabin door, the galley service door, the flight deck door and the aisle-way into the passenger cabin, along with the main galley and crew storage areas. It's kind of a golden quadrangle where the best-layed plans for a quick turn-around run smack up against the time-space continuum which dictates that only one object or person may occupy one space at one time. Regardless of what the chart says.

This equivalent space on our A320 suddenly looks like New York gridlock as our flight attendants rush in, opening closet doors, jamming suitcases and overcoats and personal items into lockers; the galley service crew begin loading supplies with much slamming and banging of carts and clanging of metal ramps attaching Cara truck to door sill. Our mechanic arrives and bravely dives into the melee, edging ahead of us into the flight deck. He reappears clutching the aircraft logbook and like a salmon swimming upstream he dodges his way out to the bridge again. He finds an out-of-the way corner where he can prop the logbook on one knee while making his entries; FO Paula heads in next while I stream in her wake. There we begin a sort of compact choreography. Suitcases are tucked into appropriate tie-downs, and flight bags are slung along the outboard walls; overcoats and tunics and hats are hung on the appropriate hooks. I retreat back to the bridge to give FO Paula room to start her initial checks. Besides, I'll need the logbook as soon as the mechanic is finished.

FO Paula soon strides out and exits the bridge into the half-light of the morning ramp. She's packing the flight deck flashlight and pulling on the reflective vest usually seen on road construction crews. The ramp is a dangerous place full of unforgiving metal machinery being driven by busy baggage handlers who may be as sleepy as the rest of us. So we are required to wear the vest. Some believe it's because it has magical protective properties while others hold that it makes us an easier target. I retrieve the logbook from the mechanic and we exchange a smile along with some familiar kibitzing; "You break 'em, I fix 'em." "You fix 'em - I break 'em!" I slip back into the flight deck, stopping just inside the door where there's barely enough headroom to stand straight. Awkwardly flipping the the book to the current page I block out the surrounding chaos and concentrate on the things I need to check.

Has the mechanic properly signed off his daily inspections within the allowable time frames? Any new deficiencies that weren't listed in the flight plan? Any significant history over the last few days to be aware of? It turns out we have a clean machine which is a welcome discovery. Dealing with last minute snags is a pain.

I glance up at the over-head panel to check the status of the three navigation computers. According to Airbus they're called Addiroos, spelled ADIRUs, which supposedly stands for Air Data and Inertial Reference Units, but I think sounds more like an exotic species of genie from The Thousand and One Arabian Nights. This capricious triumvirate takes outside readings of static and dynamic air pressure and temperature and combines them with internal references from gyros and accelerometers. Then they compute things I need to know and transmit this information to the flight and navigation displays in language I can read. Apparently Addiroos need quiet time to accomplish all this for we must not disturb them by moving the airplane. It takes about ten minutes and is called alignment.

Addiroos can be quite fussy. I've seen the normal swaying and shifting of the aircraft on a windy day upset them enough that they will angrily flash their amber "fault" lights at me which means they have to start all over again. I used to know a little of how Addiroos do all this magic but my brain long ago shifted such information from need to know to used to know. I am certain however that once alignment is complete and the little white lights come on our Addiroos will faithfully track every subsequent movement of the aircraft so they always know exactly where we are -- even if I don't. I glance up and confirm that Paula has already charmed the genies and their musings will be completed in time for our instrument checks.

(For a somewhat more technical explanation of the ADIRUs, check the link at the end of this article).

Now I hike myself into my chair by using the grab, duck, swoop and plop method. That is, I grab the hand-hold at the top of the front windshield to steady myself then duck my head to clear the overhead panel and swoop my leg across the seat then finally plop my backside onto the cushion. Some pilots with shorter legs employ the step, grab, duck and flop method which starts with a step up onto the seat cushion. I'm too tall for that and would probably jam my head into the vee between the windshield and dash panel and FO Paula would have to call the mechanic to come lever me out. By-the-way, I've never yet seen a pilot stumble while getting in and out of the seats during flight and so fall onto the controls but when it happens it won't be pretty. I always remind passengers that when the flight attendant recommends keeping your seat belt on in flight, even during smooth weather, it's a good idea. Occasionally I have seen a pilot open a small gash on their forehead from failing to adequately complete the duck! portion of the sit-down drill.

Paula returns looking frosty. She confirms that the wings have accumulated some ice and snow. We'll definitely need a spray. I tap the transmit button on number two radio, turn up the flight deck speaker then advise the de-icing center of our spray requirements as well as our expected ETA. It's a little like making dinner reservations, but I wouldn't like to eat what's on the menu.

Soon my ear-set is plugged in and the speaker turned down again. My tie is hung in its special place on the side window post. Then like a mother hen settling carefully onto her eggs, I begin adjusting my chair and rudder pedals and armrests and head rest and lumbar support. This ritual is about more than comfort, although comfort's important too. It's actually about safety.

I begin with my eyeball location. Small pointers specially mounted on the center window post show me when my eyes are at the correct position for outside visibility. This gives me the best chance to see the approach lights and runway surface when landing in bad weather. If I sit too high or too low my visual references will be compromised. I tweak my electric seat controls up and forward a little at time until the indicators are in line. I guess you could say I'm doing my own alignment just like Addiroo.

The rudder pedals come next. The entire pedal assembly slides forward and back on a rail and I need them locked at the proper distance to ensure full travel when either leg is extended. If an engine fails at the critical moment during takeoff, I'll need all the rudder travel available to keep the aircraft straight.

The next adjustment is unique to Airbus pilots. The outboard armrest is an integral part of the sidestick controller - the "joy-stick". A lot of very elegant engineering obviously went into designing it. When set correctly a natural ergonomic action of pulling straight back on the stick won't add rolling input to either side and conversely, when we command a full left or right roll we won't add any inadvertent nose-up or down commands. During initial training we each find our unique sweet spot and memorize the alpha-numeric indicators on the two dials. We only need feed these codes into the armrest on subsequent aircraft we fly and we're set. My code is 4F. I often wonder if I should be concerned about that?

Finally ready, I look at Paula who has been busy with her version of the same rituals. Now it's time for the first big decision of the day -- who's on first - that is, who'll fly the first leg? Some Captains take a very rigid approach. They always fly the first leg. Then the FO knows what's expected. Other Captains like to add a little fun to the flight deck and employ the official toss of the lucky coin. One fellow even carries his special double-headed coin for the occasion.

I decide FO Paula will take us to Vancouver. She's already done plenty of Montreal landings this month (see method one above), and would enjoy the change of pace. We're also expecting low cloud ceiling and visibility when we return tonight. When parameters go below specified limits the approach must be flown by the Captain. There's one other minor consideration. Since I now wear eyeglasses I prefer flying in the dark to doing the paperwork in the dark.

So FO Paula launches into the pre-departure checks and I glance down at the clock...
Departure time: -15 minutes
(to be continued...)

(Click on the ADIRU graphic below to see all sorts of detailed information about this and every component on the A320 flight deck at Jerome Merriweather's excellent site:)

(graphic and link used with permission.)

Jan 25, 2007

LGA RWY 31 visual arrival on a good day

You descend along the northwest arrival route and with the strong tailwind you work hard to make the 9,000 foot crossing restriction at Bayse. And just nearing the HAARP intersection where the STAR would tell you to turn direct to LGA VOR, they vector you out over the bay, into a spot where they just might give you a sudden right base into 31. So, you have to be prepared for that. But instead they send you direct overhead the VOR and then tell you; "after passing, fly heading (southward along Manhatten/Hudson River)" ... but you have to be prepared because at any moment they may decide there's room to 'dive' you in for a left hand visual approach via the Maspeth Tanks...

Now you are flying south along Manhatten - what a view! - and you have no idea if it will be for 2 miles or 20... but if you have a good TCAS, that shows all the flow of traffic around you, you can usually spot the hole when they'll turn you inbound to follow the 225 degree radial northbound for the published Expressway Visual approach to runway 31. ... So once you get turned around, you make sure to hit the appropriate descent and turning points; configuring the flaps downwind; probably taking the gear just before turning base, depending upon how closely the pattern is turning final. Sometimes there'll be another aircraft on a long straight-in from the east and tower will 'ask' you to keep it in close. And of course somehow through all this you are expected to follow the expressway and park for noise abatement; and you can't help but take a quick look down into Shea stadium as you roll into final and of course the approach should be stable from 500 feet, but you wonder how you are supposed to respect that with this really strong westerly wind blowing you through the turn onto final...

Then you absatively, possatootly must land in the first thousand feet of pavement because the runway is not long, but undershooting here would be deadly because of the earthen dike on the runway approach at the bay's edge; and it becomes a little more challenging when you hit the inevitable turbulence below 200 feet caused by the tumbling airflow swirling between tall buildings around the airport; and you don't dare flare high and get into a long float so you re-attach the airplane to the surface of the earth just a tad more firmly than you'd prefer, but it's on the numbers and you get on the brakes and clear at the first turn-off, which is good because the airplane behind you is looming really large in your windshield when you look over your left shoulder.

And then the game of musical radios begins as you quickly contact ground while deciding if you should pull further ahead and cut off the traffic coming along the outer taxiway, and of course you have to or you'll be leaving your tail inside the active runway zone at this crowded little airport; and the radio is so busy that your FO can't get a word in edge ways, but happily the taxing aircraft is piloted by someone sharp enough to recognize your predicament and has already slowed to let you into the conga line because you both know that that's the only sensible thing that the controller can arrange anyway; and you see your gate is open and the controller is still too busy to get a word in; so you follow the flow and take the same route you've always taken into that gate; and finally the controller gets a chance to talk to you and in typical, no-nonsense, professional style common to LGA, they just say, "good work Goose Air, Call the ramp..."

And your FO does and you maneuver just fast enough to keep from losing momentum so you don't have to add thrust in the close confines of the ramp area (so close here and yet no one ever seems to get hurt - and it makes you laugh again at how in YYZ with three times as much space they make you stop short and wait for a tow-in) ... and of course you keep both engines running for the same reason, to avoid needing more thrust in case it does stall out on you.. and this is the gate where the manual says (not in quite these words) "Don't screw it up, because this is an ancient bridge with no lateral adjustment in the head, so you have to park exactly on the stop line so the door will still open properly", so you pay really close attention to the lead agent who's standing on top of his tractor as he waves you in so you don't lose sight of him under the airplane... And you stop a little suddenly with a bit of a lurch when he snaps you the 'stop' signal.. and the nose of the airplane bob's down and up - not too drastically... and you set the park brake and go into the shutdown routine...

And you do things like this, and even more challenging, several times a day, at all hours in all kinds of weather... and then the next time you're deadheading in your civies, and sitting next to some business class customer who doesn't realize you're a pilot, you have to listen patiently as he tells you about how "It's all done by air traffic controllers who land the plane; and/or the computers..." And you bite your tongue and think "okay -- whatever -- if that thought makes you feel comfortable so you'll keep flying and paying my salary...." but you wish that for once, somehow, someone other than your pilot colleagues could gain just a little appreciation for how hard you work and how challenging it can be -- even on the good days!

Jan 24, 2007


I was recently in the grocery checkout line and noticed the cashier wearing a badge proclaiming: I'm New. Then in smaller letters below: thanks for your patience. It got me wondering what might happen if other occupations adopted such a button as a way of shielding newbies who are adjusting to the new responsibilities. For example what would it be like to suddenly glimpse one on your cardiac surgeon just as she reaches hesitantly for the scalpel and the anesthetic kicks in. Or what if you were waiting in the boarding lounge when your pilot strolls in sporting such a moniker? Would you try to book a later flight?

Airlines and regulatory bodies may not require badges on pilots but there are specific limitations imposed on new Captains. For example, we must fly a required number of hours in the left seat in our new status before we are allowed to land in the worst weather conditions.

There's a second regulation that prohibits newly-trained Captains from flying with inexperienced First Officers. This second injunction was something pilots' unions pushed for for many years. Some airlines agreed to invest in this extra measure of safety while others would only agree to comply "when feasible." Unfortunately, the times when it wasn't feasible usually coincided with the worst weather conditions. It took an accident to convince Transport Canada to make it mandatory.

There's no better example of Crew Resource Management than seeing how a Captain newly trained on an aircraft type, incorporates the guidance of an experienced First Officer. But it can be a trying situation when either the Captain doesn't like subordinates offering help or the junior partner lacks tact. Perhaps I'll write about some specific examples - the good, the bad and the ugly - another time.

When the chips are down, I know how valuable it is to have a highly-qualified co-pilot "watching my back." But I still think a New Pilot - thanks for your patience badge would be funnier. I wonder if my passengers would appreciate the humour? Probably not. Hardly any of them laughed that time I wore dark glasses and a white cane to the plane. Just joking.

Jan 23, 2007

The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction?

I've seen places like this from 35,000 feet, but seeing them up close has a greater impact. These photos of moth-balled, obsolete military aircraft were taken by a fellow on a low and slow cross-America flight in a gyroplane:

That's a fascinating story in itself, but these photos of aircraft graveyards raise some serious questions.

If you look, and count, and reflect for a few moments that each of those aircraft represents multiple millions of the gross national product of the USA over just the past few decades, do you start to wonder? These are not old aircraft. In one photo there seems to be a half-dozen or so C5-A Galaxies - Jumbo Jets... at what? about $100,000,000 (one hundred million!) per copy originally? And B-1 bombers? The marvels of the fleet just a few years ago...

So many questions arise it's hard to know where to begin. Why so many airplanes? What is the complete tally of all the mothballed planes in the USA and the rest of the free world? They were built to protect us from the threat of the old Soviet Union during the arms race of the 1950s to 1980s. So, presumably those nations also have similar fleets rusting away?

And then I wonder about ships -- I've seen acres of mothballed warships in the harbours around San Francisco and Oakland, and Norfolk. How much does an average warship cost?

Add to this, the things we don't see -- mothballed missiles and missile silos, and their warheads. And bombs - atomic and otherwise. I imagine these would cover acres as well.

By comparison, how large is the active fleet today? At what rate are these being mothballed and replaced? And how much money is being spent researching yet even better weapons? And who are these new weapons protecting us from? Terrorists armed with suicide bombs constructed in caves?

And while I’m at it, I wonder about a lot more of our other technological ‘stuff’ that becomes obsolete amazingly fast in our accelerating push to go further, faster for ever-less urgent reasons. I would include civil aircraft - there are huge graveyards of those around too - and of course acres and acres of rusting automobiles and who could measure the mountains of obsolete computers the world has produced in just over two decades.

How much raw material was consumed? How may hours of human labor and effort went into building all this? How many lives used up?

I find myself wondering what an economy might look like where there were no arms and no factories mass-producing soon-to-be-obsolete 'stuff'? Such a world couldn't happen overnight -- imagine just the unemployment. But then, imagine how much constructive work might be achieved instead... Enough to seriously change the world I bet.

But this is all clouds-in-my-coffee musing, unless we change something fundamental in the core of who we are as people-groups and as nations. And that's a whole other story....

For a long time we've believed that knowledge and reason would solve our problems. So, we've concentrated on education as a way to improve ourselves and education is a good thing. But guess what? We're still pretty much the same people morally as we ever were. Why? Isn't 'knowing the facts' enough? Why does evil remain so strong? So strong in fact, that more people have been slaughtered by wars in the twentieth century than in all previous nineteen combined.

I just keep coming back to the same conclusion. The evidence is everywhere from the graveyards of our technologies, to the unknown graves of the 30,000! children who will die today and everyday, from a lack of life’s basic needs such as clean drinking water, nutrition, simple medicine and security. There’s a deep-seated madness inherent in our civilization -- heck, maybe all civilizations. But the madness in our dominant western consumer-driven culture is most apparent because the magnitude of our madness can be measured in acres.

Could it be that this madness, as revealed by these acres of obsolete technology is the real Weapon of Mass Destruction we should be concerned about? And isn't it ironic that these rusting hulks spell destruction by our own hand -- for surely any world this crazy is doomed.

That is, unless something changes.

Jan 21, 2007

Ground Delays - a hold by any other name...

"Goose Air Thirteen, I have a holding clearance when you're ready to copy..." Not the words a pilot loves to hear. A hold usually means late arrivals, wasted fuel and increased workload. Thankfully, holding times have been reduced at destinations using flow control programs.

It works something like this: busy ATC centers like Chicago O'Hare routinely use data such as staffing levels and weather forecasts along with runway configurations to calculate a maximum number of aircraft they can accept each hour. They then look at the inbound flight plans to see where this capacity might be exceeded. When over-flow is inevitable they start assigning slot times. Using each flight's estimated en route time they calculate a take-off window at our point of origin. This information is sent along to us as a wheels up time. I make it sound like there's a room full of controllers somewhere using Casio calculators and an old abacus to work all this out, but I'm assured they hardly ever use the abacus. In fact, the last time I visited a center and saw the flow control program in action, it was running on a PC desktop computer.

Once we have our wheels up assignment we begin figuring out how to deal with it. We may be able to delay our push-back, but if other flights need our gate we will taxi out to some holding point on the airport. Depending how much time we have to kill, we might choose to shutdown the engines while we wait. Tower controllers work with us to ensure we get airborne within the five-minute window allowed.

Once en route we may experience more minor delays. For example, at places where the airways converge we might be assigned a short hold or 'S' turns and speed restrictions as arrival controllers work us into their conga line.

Of course, throw a few surprise thunderstorms into the mix, and it's back to square one. As one old captain used to quip; "That's why we get paid the big bucks!" -- for those times when the best of plans go astray.

Flightaware graphs of ORD arrivals and departures;

Jan 20, 2007

Shoot downs

When flying over Cuban airspace en-route to Jamaica, I'm always aware of a cautionary note on the navigation chart. It says that if we stray off course without ATC approval, we will be shot down. Rather blunt. It reminds me that several civilian airliners have been shot down over the years. I'd prefer not to be one of them.

This Flight Safety database shows the many cases of aircraft shot down:


Jan 18, 2007

A Day in the Life: CYUL - CYVR - CYUL (5)

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.

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Terminal building

Departure Time: -35 minutes

The last thing we see as we leave the crew room is our image in a large mirror. Intended more for the Flight Attendants I suppose, but still pilots also wear spiffy uniforms and follow precise guidelines regarding appearance. So I check that my hat is straight and my tie is on. I sometimes joke that I have the only job I know where I can earn a six-figure salary wearing a clip-on tie. I rationalize that it's a safety concern. Imagine the surprise a terrorist will have when he grabs at it to choke me. I'm sure that in the ensuing confusion I'll over-power him and save the day. I also once read that ties cut off blood circulation to the brain. I definitely need all my brain-blood.

I should mention that not all pilots are clothing troglodytes. I've heard tell of some who actually own suits and wear them on their days off - with their blue jeans I presume.

FO Paula also sports a natty blue necktie and the same military style hat as my own. I must remember to complement her on her clothing sense. Back in the '70s' when women pilots were cracking this male bastion some companies made them wear ridiculous-looking uniforms that only served to undermine their authority. I'm talking about bowler caps and ascots that looked like rejects from a 1950's flight attendant museum. Thankfully this didn't discourage them. Most women-pilot uniforms now avoid that silliness. The seventies were also the days of longer hairstyles for men. To better accommodate our flowing locks many of us tried hard to lose the hats. Literally. Somehow today, with looming airline bankruptcies and mergers, uniform issues have faded into the background. Except perhaps for deciding which style of tunic best fits the new Magnum.

And speaking of security, this morning I'm thankful we aren't heading south of the border. Since 9-11 the procedures in the U.S. pre-clearance center make me vaguely uneasy. I'm sure we're being violated yet I'm not sure how. Like some kind of security whore I want to protest, "...do you still respect me?" as I re-assemble myself - slipping my shoes back on and getting my belt re-fastened and my jacket and hat re-adjusted and my flight bag and suitcase re-stacked and ready to roll. It's such a nice feeling when it's over that I can't scurry out of there fast enough, eager to get on with easier stuff like flying airplanes in thunderstorms.

One day, another captain apparently became over-agitated at being treated like the enemy instead of the solution. When his favorite Swiss Army knife was confiscated he marched to the airplane, removed the crash-ax from it's holder and stormed back to the security checkpoint. There he brandished the shiny chrome hatchet and dared someone to "confiscate this!" I wonder how many of his passengers decided to take a later flight?

Personally I'm so tired of the semi-strip-search routine, I now wear a plastic belt buckle and airport-friendly shoes guaranteed to be metal-free. This heightens my chances of getting through the scanner 'ding-free'. But my real pet peeve is watching security agents relieve passengers of nefarious nail clippers, while five minutes later they were offered an assortment of decoratively-shaped, instantly-lethal weapons in the form of heavy glass liquor bottles from the duty-free store. Delivered right to the door of the aircraft, no less. Thankfully, this morning in the domestic end of the terminal we can take the special crew-access door, where procedures are a little less insane.

As we plow onwards through the sea of passengers, I hear one little boy exclaiming in that loud and unaffected voice only kids use. "Mommy look! A policeman..." His mom looks over and I smile my best airline smile. She begins the, "No, honey. That's the pilot who's driving us to Gramma's today..." routine . I've also been mistaken for doormen and luggage handlers.

I recall one evening with Captain Ren Fortine. We were standing on the curb outside the terminal after a long day's flying, waiting for our hotel shuttlebus to arrive. A cab sped up and a harried family spilled out. Dad began slinging the luggage from the trunk onto the sidewalk next to us. "Get these over to the United Airlines counter right away - we're late for our flight." He had obviously confused us with the Sky-Caps. Captain Ren, grinning widely grabbed the two largest suitcases and hustled them through the revolving doors. What could I do? I grabbed the other two. We deposited them onto a luggage cart as the family scurried up. Someone realized the mistake and there were red-faces and laughter as Captain Ren refused to accept the tip. "Hey! I'll take that," I thought to myself. "That's good beer money." I was just off 'flat salary' -- that is, the first few years when our wage scale is actually below the official poverty line -- so I was only half-joking. We wished them good-flight and hurried back outside before someone ran off with our bags.

This morning as FO Paula and I arrive at our gate at the far end of the domestic wing no-one has press-ganged us into luggage duty, and we've had a good walk, and the activity level is rising. Passengers are milling about, some sipping Starbucks, some engrossed in a newspaper or t.v., others on cell phones and still others sprawled on seats half asleep. This is the part of the flight where I feel most scrutinized. I wonder how many passengers are looking us over gaging if we're worthy of their trust. This is more keenly felt when there's been a recent air disaster in the news.

Eager to escape public view, I stop only a moment to speak with the gate agent. We're expecting a full load. Day's were I could offer the extra flight deck seats to employees traveling on a pass. Now the cockpit is restricted to active company air-crew. I confirm that we have no one requesting this privilege. The agent also says we should be loaded and out on schedule. The airplane has just been towed in from the far ramp where it sat overnight. Our flock of flight attendants is heading down the bridge. We follow them. I grab a quick peek at the the nose-wheel doors to make sure the aircraft number matches the flight plan. Huddling in the cold bridge-head, we wait while the ramp folks adjust the door-sill and lower the overhead rain-shield. Then there's a rush to the front entrance. Departure time is nearing and there's still much to do.

Departure Time: -25 minutes
(to be continued...)

Jan 16, 2007

Hawkins and Powers Aviation

Several years ago I happened to drive by KGEY airport near Greybull, Wyoming. When I caught a glimpse of some old Royal Canadian Air Force CF-119 "Flying Boxcars" I had to stop and find out what they were doing so far from home. I discovered that a company named Hawkins and Powers Aviation was responsible for this oddball corner of the aviation world. I immediately thought that it would be a great name for a fictitious "Airline" - you know - an "Anything, Anywhere, Anytime -- no questions asked" fly-by-night, CIA kind of company.

Turns out that truth is almost as much fun as fiction. Here's a story written by someone who visited them as I did and blogged about it. These guys do some really out-of-the-ordinary flying. This link describes the experience of three of their pilots who were involved in the 2004 remake of the movie, Flight of the Phoenix. Also check out this video of one of their aircraft that experienced a major structural failure in flight.

Here are snapshots taken from Google Earth which reveal a fleet of oddball and obsolete aircraft being cannibalized to keep others flying. Maybe you can help identify some? ( click on the snaps for a closer look)

Closer view of south ramp...

North side parking area...

Jan 15, 2007

Mystery Runway

I love Google-Earth. Today, I'd like to use it to enlist your help in solving a mystery. We can call the game "Name That Airport" ... As the winner, you will receive a free, virtual flight to the airport in question in the imaginary aircraft of your choice (some conditions apply - such as having a copy of Google Earth at your disposal).

Today's mystery airport is located approximately 160 miles northeast of LAX (...the following measurements assume I'm reading the GoogleEarth scale markings correctly). The airport comprises 4 runways - one of which is the reason I first noticed this airport during departures from Los Angeles. It is huge and shaped like a triangle. Again, if I read the Google scale indicator correctly, the widest end (Runway 19? There are no standard markings on it), must be about 500 ft. wide, and the clearway around it must be at least 1,500 feet wide. The runway itself is about 12,000 feet long. Judging by the shadows etc. there are some significantly large buildings/hangars at the south end. There is also something at the north end, but I have no idea if it's a building or something else (from one angle it looks like the road goes underground at this structure).

Anyways, here are a series of screen shots taken in Google Earth. If someone has a good atlas or the aviation charts of the region, maybe they'll know what this is. (You should be able to click on these photos to get a larger image.)

Photo 1: From 13,000 feet. Notice the compass rose in the top right corner; the scale range in the lower left; the camera altitude in the lower right corner:

Photo 2: From about 60 mile up
- the route markers might help locate this on an atlas:

Photo 3: Northeast sector from LAX:

A Day in the Life: CYUL - CYVR - CYUL (4)

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.

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Flight Planning

Departure Time: -40 minutes

FO Paula heaves her flight bag onto the cargo strap of her roll-a-board crew suitcase. I don't bring mine on these turn-around trips anymore. She takes pity on an old man and offers to add my flight satchel to the stack, but I decline. Carrying this thing is the only form of exercise I get any more.

I have thought about getting one of those flight satchels that also has wheels, but I'm old school - a real pilot's pilot. Okay - I'm too cheap to buy another 'brain bag' when this one is still perfectly good. Well, maybe it is hanging together by a thread, but it only has to last as long as I do.

I remember when real pilots would never deign to use wheels of any sort -- those were just for flight attendants and the odd pilot who had legitimate back problems. But he would have to make sure everyone knew it was "because of my bad back..." One captain made me laugh by dubbing his chariot the "wimp wheels."

But that was back when the luggage wheels were cumbersome things at best. Having to set up and take down the whole thing at each enroute stop was a hassle, not to mention a hazard when sometimes the bungees would snap back flinging those big metal hooks at the eyes and other sensitive parts. And it was not just a coincidence that when folded the things most-resembled giant mouse traps for the fingers. Ask me how I know.

Finally, some genius figured out how to hide the wheels inside the suitcase. And then, seeing as we already had them, well we might as well use them -- right? No wimping out now, just good common sense. Use 'em if you got 'em. I hope the inventor becomes very rich! What a great idea...

These bags have become the defacto standard for airline pilots. I noticed one day that my FO was carrying his roller-equipped suitcase like a regular bag. I looked at him and said with concern in my voice; "You do know that there are wheels on that thing, don't you?"

He laughed, ensured me he did and went on to explain he was carrying it because the wheels were worn out from too many miles of dragging through the winter salt and slush in the parking lots. The axles were badly rusted. Later he tried rolling it and it produced a terrifying wail approximately like a herd of cats being ingested in a jet engine. I quickly told him how much more macho he'd look carrying it.

Departure Time: -40 minutes
(to be continued)

Jan 14, 2007

Terminal Distraction

One of Captain Ren Fortine's* duties was to conduct Base Checks on newly-trained DC-9 pilots released to his base. This gave the company one final quality control check on both the pilots and the training programs. It also gave the pilot familiarization-time on some key airports in his new route structure. In some cases the base check would routinely stretch over two or three days.

New DC-9 First Officer Branyen Burke* was on the second day of a three-day base check and everything was going fine. During the reduced work-load of cruise, supervisory Captains often conduct quizzes about details of the aircraft and discuss nuances that may have been missed during training.

In the midst of such a discussion, Ren glanced up and saw a lovely view of the city of Regina as it was about to pass under the nose of the airplane. He figured this would be a good time to see if Burke was fluent in the use of the P.A. system. He turned to the first officer and said; "Would you make an announcement please and let the passengers know we're jsut about to pass Regina."

"Regina?" Burke exclaimed, "We're supposed to be landing in Regina!"

A demonstration of the DC-9's excellent steep-descent capabilities soon followed.

A Stitch in Time Saves... (a DC-9?)

Captain Ren Fortine* was an excellent pilot and well-liked by those who flew with him, but he was known to occasionally forget minor things. Like the day he arrived in flight planning, dropped his satchel against the far wall in 'luggage row' and then flipped the top open to retrieve a planning map. But instead of the expected manuals and approach charts, he discovered his wife's Singer sewing machine. The day before Ren had bought a spiffy new chart bag and his wife had claimed his old one for her sewing room.

A hurried phone call was made and the correct bag was soon delivered to the airport. In the meantime Ren was kept busy with requests from his amused colleagues to re-sew some loose uniform buttons.

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)

Jan 10, 2007

Float Planes "Grounded" by Bad Weather?

There have been days when the local Air Canada feeder hasn't been flying due to fog, yet we've flown by float plane because the harbor weather is favorable. Today however, the float planes are floating, not flying. (I think that's about all the 'f's I can get into that sentence...)

Aviation terminology can be confusing when dealing with float planes. For example, when a float plane touches down in the harbor, should we say it's Landing or Watering? And on a morning like this one, should we say that the float planes are Grounded? or Watered?

Just a little snowy day silliness while I procrastinate from editing another blog entry.

Today's view from the Nanaimo Harbour Cam

Reference View:

Absent Minded Pilot - story 2

Expressway 1 Departure

Captain Ren Fortine* had a houseful of friends staying with him over the holidays. They were heading back to Toronto on his flight, so naturally, Ren drove them to the airport. They were running a little late as the car lurched to a stop in front of the Winnipeg departures door. Everyone piled out of the car and Ren hurried inside to grab a luggage cart while his friends unloaded the baggage. He helped them check in at the front counter, then directed them towards the right gate. They joked about having their captain in full uniform ushering them through the terminal building.

Now Ren was getting even later for work so he rushed up to the flight planning center, grabbed his flight satchel, met up with his F/O, who had the flight planning details completed and the two pilots hurried off to their gate rushing to depart on time.

Minutes later, as they climbed through twenty thousand feet, Ren remembered that he'd left his car sitting in front of the terminal building, doors open, engine running.

Jan 9, 2007

A Day in the Life: CYUL - CYVR - CYUL (2)

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. (Second installment... of ?)


Departure Time minus: 1:00:

I find F/O Paula hard at work at one of the planning kiosks. We exchange greetings. It's been a few weeks since we last worked together, so I tell her I'm looking forward to the next installment of her continuing saga of home renovation problems. As expected, she's already pulled up the flight plan from the dispatch computer and printed the update to the aircraft technical bulletins, as well as other information we'll need.

I log into the computer weather terminal for a self-briefing. Starting with the overview maps I work down into the various databases and graphics for a more detailed look. For a half a second I'm boggled yet again to realize that I'm viewing actual snapshots of the earth taken from space while I was driving to work.

There are some likely areas of turbulence early in the flight that will affect our cabin service. I make a note to include this in the flight attendant briefing. Cloud cover? Jet stream location? Fronts? If we were flying southward I'd be concerned more with the usual evidence of thunderstorms affecting those destinations but today, in early December across Canada, I'm more concerned with runway conditions and snowstorms and icing conditions and en route turbulence reports.

Other than the frontal system that is currently causing some local snow showers, meaning we'll need to deice the airplane before takeoff, and then some strong wind and rain showers on the west coast, it looks like a good day for the flight to Vancouver. The return flight may have some surprises I realize as I glance further down the Montreal forecast. I see that we have an amended forecast. Basically this means that the meteorologists missed the first attempt. And if they got it wrong once, why should I believe they've got it right now? Isn't amended forecast some sort of oxymoron? I may have grown slightly cynical over the years because I've been caught too often in uncomfortable situations due to inaccurate forecasts.

In the days of cheap fuel, everyone admitted weather forecasts weren't very accurate, and we compensated by throwing on more fuel. Fuel gives us time - and options. But now fuel is very expensive and companies dole it out with a teaspoon. They justify dispatching aircraft with minimal reserves based on the high reliability factor that the weather department claims for the forecasts. I often wonder if top level managers in met departments feel pressured to 'validate' their forecasts because they have to justify the multi-millions of dollars taxpayers have invested in weather networks and super-computers. (Oops - do I need to upgrade that self-assessment from slightly cynical to moderately cynical?)

Anyway, this morning the amended forecast is setting my spider senses to tingling. 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 minus: 45:
(to be continued... )

Here's an approximate summary of the typical time from the check-in until pushback:

20 - 30 minutes to check schedules, NOTAMS*, ammendments to our flight manuals, review company bulletins, conduct a weather** briefing via computer or phone link to flight dispatch; check for records of aircraft deficiencies and how they might affect the plan (called Minimum Equipment List items or MELs); analyze the flight plan itself, checking the reasonableness of the routing, altitude profiles and most importantly, the fuel load.

15 - 20 minutes to get to the airplane; this has become more of an issue since 9-11, especially when flying to the U.S. when we have to pre-clear customs. Sometimes getting through the security checkpoints is the most stressful part of the day. Another reason I prefer to work fewer, longer flight legs.

10 - 15 minutes to get installed in the flight deck, check the log book, do an external inspection, and brief the flight attendants

15 - 20 minutes - accomplish the pre-departure checks of the aircraft systems; program the flight management/guidance system; conduct emergency briefings

60 - 85 minutes Total (Alloted time as per duty regs and company pay etc.. 75 minutes)

* NOTAM is an acronym for NOTICE TO AIRMEN. These bulletins are compiled for airport and enroute facilities all over the world, and published in various ways. In our case, flight dispatchers sift through the many sources and publish sub-lists applicable to our areas of operation. Still the list of messages can be long and difficult to absorb.

Most of the items are trivial things for our operation, such as: "MILITARY AIRSPACE RESTRICTION .... (and a list of latitude and longitude points which are almost meaningless without an appropriate map and plotter)... FROM 00H TO 08OOH DAILY FROM 3,000 TO 12,500 ASL... " Which is not of much interest to us today because we'll be flying well above 12,500 feet.

Besides, we'll be coordinating our navigation with the Air Traffic control system who will bear some responsibility for keeping us clear of such things. But you can be sure that if I was flying my little airplane today, I'd be paying much closer attention to those coordinates.

It's just no fun seeing yourself on the eleven o'clock news squatting on the runway edge with your hands clasped on top of your head while an anxious young soldier points a huge gun at your noggin. (Ask the two pilots who stumbled into the restricted area around Washington, D.C. not too long ago... anyone have a link to that video on Youtube perhaps?)

In contrast, often buried at the bottom of a page there'll be a small item like: "CYVR LOC 08R U/S (and some coded numbers indicating a range of times and dates...)." This could well be critical to our flight, because this indicates that a key part of the instrument landing system at Vancouver airport is not working. This will affect us only if the wind requires a landing on the eastbound runways so this probably won't be an issue, but it's nice to be aware.

** Weather reports for aviation come in several different formats. The ones we use most are called TAF and METAR. TAF refers to the forecasts related to specific airports, while METAR refers to the observations of actual weather which are taken every hour (or more frequently in fast changing conditions. I don't have a clue what the acronym, METAR stands for - but do I care?)

At any rate, these weather tools are presented in a complex coded format that was dreamt up in the days when data had to be transmitted over a very limited telemetry system. So the codes are very compact, omitting extra characters wherever possible. This at least has the beneficial side effect of employing hundreds of ground school instructors teaching aviators how to read this strange dialect. And as we live in the age of cheap data, there have been attempts to update this system to a clearer format using plain language or even a graphical representation. Alas, these are slow to catch on. Part of the reason of course, is that after putting so much effort into learning the codes, 'real' pilots disdain any retreat to such neophytic tactics. The professionalism of any pilot caught using such things, would be seriously questioned.

If you happen to be meteorologically-inclined, you can find all sorts of examples and explanations of these codes on the internet. Once having learned them, you can put them to use at one of the many online sources of aviation weather. And if you find out what METAR actually stands for, please let me know. Maybe I care more than I realized...

An FAA Alaska site

Nav Canada briefing site:

Jan 8, 2007

Absent Minded Pilot - story 1

The funniest parking lot story I've heard was told to me by a captain I used to enjoy working with. Often his spousal unit used to chauffer him to work, especially in the early years of his career when they had only one family-mobile. Anyway, late at night, after a four day trip, he arrived back from his flight cycle and as usual hurried down to their rendez-vous point in front of the terminal. He waited. And waited. And began fuming that she was late -- very late. So, finally, freezing cold, and frustrated and angry, he stomped over to the cab-stand and hired a taxi for the ride home.

He stormed into his house, and began a verbal tirade about his spouse's apparent failure in the family transportation department. Finally, when he paused for breath, she asked, "Are you finished?" He remained silent. Then she calmly informed him, "You took the car to the airport."

Jan 6, 2007

A Day in the Life: CYUL - CYVR - CYUL

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: December, 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Flight Planning

Departure Time - 3H15M:
I'm flying to Vancouver and back - a 'turn-around' in airline parlance. I prefer flights like this. After almost thirty years of hotel rooms, restaurants and crew cabs, I'm fed up with the 'glamorous life' of travelling. So when the alarm clock sounds, it's wonderful to wake up at home and in the early morning darkness know where the light switchs are, and where that toe-cracking night table is, and what city I'm in without having to open the curtain to look.

The day before a flight, I find myself watching public weather reports for the region I'll be flying into. As I sip my morning coffee and listen to the morning news, I already know that we are under the influence of a warm front that slid over our area last night, and the following cool front with more snow and northerly winds is expected sometime later tonight - long after I should have returned from Vancouver. Meanwhile, on the west coast, they've been experiencing the usual early December weather, with rainshowers and moderate winds. The prairies are forecast to be mainly clear and mild. All in all, not bad for December in the Great White North. My daughter tells me that, "As Canadians, we are secretly in favour of global warming." She may be on to something.

Departure Time - 2H15M:
I used to enjoy the trip to work when I was based in Winnipeg and when I first moved to Montreal. Then the terminals were small enough that I could park in the employee lot and take a mind-clearing five minute stroll to or from the flight planning center. Now, the continuing growth of the airports have pushed employee parking lots out into the industrial no-man's land, where walking, even if it were close enough, would be a life-threatening activity.

So, I huddle by the lexan shelter, collar turned up against the morning chill and then scramble aboard the crew bus with the other denizens of the morning shift. Quick - make a mental note of the zone number. More than once, flight crews have been spotted wandering around the parking lot trying to remember where they left their vehicle four days earlier.

A weak morning sun struggles to lighten the eastern horizon as observed through grimy bus windows, while I cling to the grab-bar against sudden bus-lurches. This experience always makes me chuckle. In order to get the aircraft pushed-back on time, we sometimes used to carefully commence the procedure extra slowly, at about 5 k.p.h., while the last few people were still standing in the aisles. But not any more. Now the regulations stipulate that absolutely without exception for always-and-always, we can't budge a wheel until all the luggage is stowed and all the passengers are seated, and counted, and then and only then may we depart. But when we arrive at our destination, our passengers are disgorged into various other vehicles from busses, to underground subways that leave them hanging by their fingernails as they lurch and bounce from one terminal to another at 30 or 40 kph. So silly, but of course it errs on the side of safety and minimizes lawsuits.

Departure Time - 1H15M:
Finally, I arrive at the flight planning center by the requisite time - in today's case, and hour and fifteen minutes before departure. The countdown to pushback starts in earnest. The place is a hub of activity and noise and distraction. Crew members are milling about, some arriving from all-nighter flights, others like myself preparing to start the day. The phone behind the clerk's desk is ringing as I catch her attention and make sure she knows I've arrived. I manage to find a corner to stash my flight bag - they never design enough baggage stowage room into these facilities - quickly grab the contents of my mail folder for later study enroute - then it's on with my preflight routine.

I make a bee-line for an open computer terminal and check the scheduling pages to print out today's flight details and crew names. First Officer - Paula Martine*. Good, no changes from my monthly schedule. At the beginning of each month when you print out your schedule and list of co-pilots you'll be flying with, there are those names that make you cringe a little, and those that make you smile. Martine is definitely a smiley. She's just a pleasant person to work with. Her calmness, and relaxed sense of competency easily sets her amongst the top of the list of pilots I like to work with. I imagine her school report cards used to say something like, "excellent student... plays well with others..." I wonder briefly what the F/O's reactions are when they draw me for a trip. I hope it's generally positive, but what the heck - you can't please all the people all the time.

Many years ago, to reduce the possibility of personality clashes on the flight deck, the union and company agreed that the monthly bid system should be arranged to allow FOs to bid around the captains he or she absolutely can not work with. Conversely, there are stories of some captains, at the end of a difficult few days, handing the FO a slip of paper with the captain's employee number written out, along with a very strong 'hint' that perhaps the FO would be happier adding this number to his list of captains not to fly with. I've always wondered if the company monitors these 'incompatibility' lists . It seems this would provide a good early-warning indicator of problems on either side of the cockpit.

I make a quick confirmation that the bidding computer has my choices for next month's flying, then it's time to get on with the actual flight planning.

Departure Time - 1H00M:
( to be continued ...)