Aug 6, 2008

A Day in the Life (35) Taxi! Taxi!

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 - Runway 26 Rollout YVR

Time: CYVR Arrival minus 0H00 or Sked plus 0H30

F/O Paula pulls the thrust levers into the reverse detent and eases the nose of the big bus towards the horizon. As the buckets* deploy she catches the nose-up pitching moment with slight stick pressure. The nosewheel settles to the pavement, increasing the commotion in the flight deck.

The runway is long and our best exit point is about halfway along so she let’s the plane roll, leaving the reversers at idle. Forward thrust is blocked off we’re decelerating and fuel is expensive. That’s fine. The autobrakes gradually begin dragging at the wheels.

“Eighty knots,” I call. This is her signal that it’s time to put the reversers away. She slides her feet up to the brake pedals to apply pressure. Auto-halt goes away and leaves the stopping to Paula.

“GooseAir One Eleven, contact Vancouver ground on 127.15 when clear.”

“GooseAir One Eleven. Wilco.”

We’re down to a safe speed by the M4 exit and F/O Paula guides us into the off ramp as she clicks the thrust levers to the forward idle detent. While we’re on a straightaway I take back control of the airplane with the standard signal: “I have control,” adding “Nice job,” as we switch roles. Good work deserves to be recognized. At some of the less busy airports I enjoy letting the F/O taxi the plane into the gate. But this is a complex airport and today we’re running late. Time to keep it simple.

F/O Paula checks in with the ground controller, then sweeps her left hand across the panels accomplishing the post-landing drill. She calls company to let them know we’ll be at the gate in five minutes. They confirm our gate is available, which is good news. We’re running about a half hour behind schedule and the use of gates is timed so closely that there’s little slack in the system to compensate for changes. With a few quick key taps on MacDoo she pulls up the latest weather reports for Montreal, double-checking our departure gate and time. As suspected we’ll have a long jog over to the other terminal. The departure time is still showing “sked” so there’ll be no time for a sit-down lunch today.

As we turn into the ramp, I slow the aircraft to a crawl. Our gate is waiting for us, but I can’t see any ground crew. This is another problem with running behind schedule. Ground crews are a precious resource and we don’t have extra folks just hanging around waiting for us. Our original crew is now busy getting another flight ready for departure. If I stop the aircraft I know many passengers will assume we’re at the gate and begin standing in the aisles, anxiously opening the overhead bins.

I’m reaching for the PA mike, preparing to make the standard, “Please remain seated,” announcement which everyone will ignore anyway. Then FO Paula notices a tractor roaring around the corner on two wheels. “They’re here,” she calls. It’s great to see a crew hustling like this. Few things are as frustrating for pilots as working for several hours to save every possible minute and then watching with brakes set short of the gate as our ground crew slowly saunters over. Almost as frustrating as it is for our passengers. Today we’ve obviously drawn the “A Team.” Yes!

The Lead agent snaps me the required hand signals indicating all is prepared for arrival and I continue turning on the yellow lead-in line. I gently play the brakes against the remaining engine thrust. The delay between pedal application and result makes it a bit of an art. The goal is to run out kinetic energy at exactly the right spot - and no sooner because it’s a nuisance, and even a hazard to add break-away thrust to get moving again in this confined space. Some gates have depressions or cracks in the pavement as well that can suddenly accelerate or slow the plane, making the task trickier. Today, our vertical front window post stops a half-inch short of the horizontal bar marking the ideal spot. Sweet.

I set the brakes and note the official arrival time. Our scheduled turn-around would normally leave us an hour and ten minutes for flight planning and dining. Today we’ll be in scramble mode with just thirty-five minutes before we’re on our way again.

Time: CYVR Sked plus 00H35M. Next Departure 00H35

*note: "Buckets" - I'm dating myself with this anachronism, but I like it too much to let it die. Reverse thrusters used to actually look like big buckets that snapped out around the rear of the engine to block the thrust and redirect it. Now, the high-bypass engines do most of their reverser magic where we can't see it happen. But somewhere inside, the forward thrust channel is still being blocked by something that I imagine looks like "buckets." Besides, I'm running out of synonyms for 'reversers!' ...


yoh-there said...

Thank you for your always easy to read posts from an aviation enthousiast.

Dan said...

Sweeeeeet. That was the LONGEST landing I've ever seen! Nice to see you back on this series Aluwings.

I can't stand it when all the passengers jump up as soon as the plane comes to a stop. Where do they think they're going to go? And what's up with these jokers in the rows behind you that come running up as fast as they can to squeeze themselves into the aisle as far up as possible?

Drives me nuts!

Soaring Student said...

I check your blog daily for updates - thanks for this series, I find it fascinating.

If all goes well, and the Wx cooperates, I solo this coming Sunday!