Pilot Blogbook

Friday, April 20, 2007

Pilot Blogbook - Part II

It has been eight months. It is time for the Blogbook to come back to life.

Besides the stories posted, there were about ten others nearly ready. But these were just too long and time-consuming. Pilot Blogbook - The Second Coming, as I like calling it, will be a collection of short stories from my daily routine. By keeping the posts shorter, I will have the chance to tell you more and to do it more often.

Hope you all stop by. I will be around...

Smooth landings,

Pilot Flying.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


One of the things I noticed when I started flying the Airbus was the number of people that like to have a look in the cockpit. Unfortunately, nowadays they can't do it during the flight for reasons we all know. During boarding though we always have one or two people coming in for a visit.
Why do grown adults still have this urge of taking a peek into the cockpit? Are they making sure I'm not sipping from a bottle of vodka? Are they checking if the Captain has a guide dog next to his seat?... I don't think so. I understand some of them are aviation enthusiasts and a sniff of the cockpit will make their day, but most of them are not. For some reason all those buttons and switches have a special appeal to the layman...

I was lucky enough that before 9/11 it was no problem for a 10 year old to visit the cockpit during cruise. I would sit in there for a few minutes and enjoy the view at 39,000ft. Of course, back then I had no idea what stall speed or mach number were. But I still loved being in there enjoying the view. I would chat to the pilots, take a picture with their hats on... All great childhood memories of a kid who's bedroom walls were covered with cockpit pictures.

Now that I'm lucky enough to be sitting in the cockpit everyday, I enjoy flying in the cabin. And I actually do it quite often (the wonders of commuting!!). I could join the pilots up front, but I would rather sit in the back. Just like passengers enjoy having a look in the cockpit, I now like sitting in the cabin. We actually forget there's so much going on in the back while we're closed in the cockpit. Plus, the flight attendants take good care of us when we're sitting there...
I have to say it's funny hearing some of the passengers' comments during the flight. From the"know-it-all" who's trying to explain to his wife what's going on, to the ones that hold on to their seats during turbulence. The frequent flyer who reads his newspaper during take-off and the one who says the pilot is a rookie. They're all sitting in the cabin, on every single flight!

On my last commuting flight, the aircraft was empty as I walked in during pre-boarding. I took one of the over wing emergency exits. Usually if there's an extra-crew on board (who's familiar with door handling and evacuation procedures), they'll take one of the emergency exits. Whether it's on an act of good will or just for the extra leg-room, remains a mystery...
So that day, a young girl sits next to me; only the two of us were on that row. Her english wasn't great, but then again, neither is mine. She kept looking at me wondering why I already had a can of Dr. Pepper on my tray table, since everyone was still getting seated and obviously no service had taken place. After a couple of minutes we are chatting about the company's unpopular weight limit policy for checked-in luggage. Then one of the flight attendants comes to the emergency exits to give us the safety briefing. She asks this new friend of mine to please read the Safety Card and not to worry about the door, that I would know what to do, and just left. Needless to say, now the girl was just staring at me. So I decided to put down my glossy magazine and go back to small talk. After a short while I learned Marie wasn't a big fan of flying. She tried to explain to me this irrational fear she has. The whole subject is pretty interesting. They will tell you they know it's statistically much safer than any other mean of transportation but, they will still cringe on every little noise. I tried to chat to her during take-off and landing but at times, I don't think she was paying much attention to me. And her smile after we landed said it all, "We're back on the ground!!". When we said our goodbyes she mentioned that me talking to her and explaining a couple of things actually had helped. She had a trip back four days later... I wonder how that went.

So just as a visit to the cockpit can be exciting to a passenger, a couple of hours in the cabin can also be pretty interesting for a pilot

(Photo courtesy of Ben Pritchard)

Smooth landings,

Pilot Flying.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Always late...

Whether you've flown on domestic or transatlantic flights, big or small aircraft, jet or propeller engined, your flight has been late! It's funny, when I started working as an airline pilot, I expected friends to ask me about aerodynamics or whatever technical things they wondered about while flying as passengers. But the most popular question is "Why are you guys always late?".
Why indeed...

There's a lot more going on around a simple flight than most people think. There's a million reasons for a flight to be delayed. It might sound funny to you but, talking about medium-haul, the main reason for a flight to be late is that the previous flight was late! That might've sounded confusing but let me just tell you that, if you're getting on an evening flight, that aircraft has probably flown about 7 or 8 legs already. Now, because time is money, the scheduling doesn't allow for that much time on the ground between flights. If the plane is on the ground, it's not making money! So, if one flight gets delayed, there's a fair chance all the following flights on that aircraft that day will be late. Official reason for delay: "late arrival of incoming aircraft". You've probably heard that one before...

But let's see, why would that initial delay happen in the first place. As I said before, the whole process of getting an airplane down on the ground and ready to get back in the air is quite complex. First of all, it involves ATC (Air Traffic Control) allowing us to approach the airport and land. Sometimes, because there's too much traffic arriving to that same airport, we have to circle around and wait for our turn to shoot the approach. The so called holding. Then, after we've managed to land and get to the gate, the rush beggins for the ground staff. All the luggage has to be offloaded and directed to the right area of the terminal, luggage from the new passengers has to be loaded, fuel truck must fill up our tanks, the cabin and lavatories have to be cleaned up, catering truck quickly refills the stock, etc etc...

Don't think that, while all that is going on, the pilots are having a coffee and reading the newspaper. We're not. The next flight has to be prepared. All the info has to be loaded into the aircraft's Flight Management Computers (route, weights, speeds, fuel details, expected winds, etc). While one of the pilots is doing this, the other one will do the external check of the aircraft and make sure everything's OK on the outside. Once all that is done, it's time for the departure briefing and we're ready to go! The problem is, most of the times, no one else is! The passengers are still boarding the aircraft, the fuel truck isn't finished with the refueling and the ground staff hasn't finished loading all the luggage and cargo. And, you know what? It's rarely their own fault! The passengers are still boarding because there weren't enough buses available to drive them to the airplane, the fuel guy did everything as quick as he could but he had to refuel other aircraft first and started late with us, the ground crew is still loading the luggage because the company simply doesn't have enough staff and things go slow... etc, etc!

So now we finally have all the passengers seated, their luggage in the cargo holds and full tanks. We're on our way!!!... Actually, not just yet. We still need our ATC clearance. And, just as with the arrival, we might get a delay. There can only be so many aircraft in the air and in the same area at one specific time. If any point on our route is already saturated at the time we're supposed to be there, we'll get an ATC delay. Which actually happens quite often in busy areas such as England or Central Europe, for example. They will give us a new time for our departure, the so called ATC Slot. These delays can be of 10, 20, 30, 60 minutes... whatever ATC needs to get their airspace saturation problems solved.

Right, so now our slot time is coming up and we are about to push-back and start the engines. All of a sudden we get a call from the cabin. The purser has bad news. A passenger is getting anxious and decided he doesn't want to fly today. Now his luggage has to be found in the cargo holds and taken out of the aircraft, and everyone has to de-board the aircraft and take their hand luggage with them. This is to make sure this anxious passenger doesn't leave any "unfriendly" packages behind him on the overhead bins. If they are all empty after everyone's out, we're safe and everyone can board again... Of course, now we've lost some 30 minutes and will not be able to make it into the air during the original time slot ATC gave us. And, just as with the initial ATC slot, our new one can be in 10... or 50 minutes... who knows!

So, as you can tell, a lot is going on during a turnaround. All you need is one of these things to go wrong and we have a delay. Now, if it happens in two consecutive turnarounds of the same aircraft, God knows how much delay you can expected on your flight at the end of the day. Next time the crew apologizes for the delay, please, be nice. They want to get home just as much as you and probably have no responsibility whatsoever for the delay.

(Photo courtesy of Ismael Jorda)

Smooth landings,

Pilot Flying.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Beggining

Hi everyone!

I was wondering what was the best way to start this blog. I thought about explaining why I've decided to become an airline pilot or how great it actually is when when you get there... but I won't. I'll leave all that for later.

I'm leaving you with a picture that is worth a thousand words. The beautiful Mont Blanc at dawn...

Smooth Landings,

Pilot Flying.