Apr 4, 2008

A Day in the Life (33) On the Beam…

A description of a typical day's flight from Montreal to Vancouver and return - as a backdrop for a detailed, non-technical description of what an airline pilot does. (check left hand column for series index).

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - Turning Final

Time: CYVR Arrival minus 0H03

The auto-flight Genies are all locked onto the electronic glide slope signals.

We’ve been working hard since the descent started, trying to keep ahead of the ever-changing conditions. It’s often like that in flying. The workload swings from not much happening to more than you can handle very suddenly. We both feel the need for a break in the action so we can relax just a little and make sure we haven’t forgotten anything. But that can’t happen just yet. We’re crossing the Final Approach Fix for this runway and there’s more work to do.

“Gear Down, Landing Check,” F/O Paula announces. She reaches up to the autoflight panel and cancels the 180 knot speed restriction. The auto-thrust will now try to keep us flying at the best speed for the approach, but that means we need to decelerate another 40 knots or so while following the descending glideslope. More drag required.

Time for me to spring into action. I lean forward to reach the little wheel-shaped switch that lowers the landing gear. Noise erupts from the floor beneath our seats but it’s nothing compared to the noise the aircraft makes if we land with the gear retracted. I continue around the flight deck accomplishing the required details.

We cross-check our altimeters, and when the green annunciators for the wheels come on we both cross-check those. As we pass the actual FAF, F/O Paula calls it out and I read off the required altitude we should be flying at. One last confirmation that we are exactly where we’re supposed to be. On a day like this where the ground has been in sight for a while already, there is an element of over-kill in these procedures because they are essentially what we’ll do when landing in poor weather. But the goal is consistency. Pilots know that nothing results in embarrassing events like gear up landings more than unexpected breaks in our routine.

Aside from a fully visual approach to a runway that has no electronic landing aids, we carry out this pre-landing dance the same every time.

I’ve cross-checked our altitudes crossing the final fix, and I reset the altitude alert window to the altitude we’ll aim for in case of a missed approach. Now I need to report our position to Vancouver tower.

“Goose Air One Eleven, you’re number two on the approach. Traffic short final. Altimeter setting two-nine, decimal nine five.”

Meanwhile as if I’m not busy enough, F/O Paula wants a piece of me too. “Flaps 3,” She commands. I comply and barely have time to make the required calls before she commads, “Flaps Full,” She obviously wants to keep our distance from the traffic ahead. I reply quickly to Vancouver tower’s landing sequence, reading back the altimeter setting information while making the final flap setting, observing the indicators and finally call out the confirmation of our last flap increment.

“Flaps Full, Vee App 139, Autothrust.” This last call is a challenge to the pilot flying to double check that the automatic thrust system is in the desired status. “Speed,” F/O Paula responds.

One last referral to Macdoo’s status list and I’m done: “Landing Memo - No Blue.” Then I notice the engine anti-ice annunciators. A quick check on the temperature outside and I reach up to switch the engine heaters off. “We don’t need this any more - engine ice going off.” I look to make sure F/O Paula heard me. It’s not a big deal but it will have a small effect on the need for braking after touchdown.

We’re at 800 feet above the ground as the speed settles onto the target, the engines spool up to maintain that, and I spot the traffic ahead just touching down. He should have ample time to clear at the high speed taxyway before we need to do something drastic like break off our approach. Cool.

Time: CYVR Arrival minus 0H01M


Yishi said...

Great post. I love reading these series, always entertaining, yet informative.

Keep it up!!!

Dan said...

I really hope that traffic clears off the runway. I'd hate to see you have to do a go-around ;)