Month: January 2010


Approaching Marseille - stunning views!
I was rostered to fly out of Marseille last week, so it was a welcome change of scenery from the dull weather and I enjoyed it.  Though it was sunny everyday there, it was rather cold, and on some days quite windy with the mistral!  The mistral is a northerly wind, which can reach really high speeds (we experienced over 50mph and it can go higher) as it accelerates through the Rhone valley.

I made my way to Marseille the night before, so I was ready and well rested before my early start the next day.  Unfortunately, there were no direct flights from my base, so I had to travel to Stansted and take one from there.  I met a couple of colleagues there – another first officer and a captain whom were also being rostered in Marseille for a week.  We found it interesting to view the operation in the cabin and as passengers, we don’t really take notice of the procedures cabin crew must follow, so it was interesting to see it from a different perspective and appreciate what they do in the cabin – and it can be very busy during boarding!  I think just observing this will help us better co-ordinate our tasks between us  (flight crew), and cabin crew.  It’s difficult to appreciate and co-ordinate tasks with cabin crew when you’re new to the job and getting the hang of the basics and it’s easy to fall into the trap of interrupting cabin crew unintentionally, for example by making a PA whilst they are in the middle of one already.  We also realised how noisy it really is in the cabin, so it’s important to speak up when making passenger announcements!
Marseille Airport - the control tower from the hotel room window!
We arrived in Marseille and it was a short walk to the hotel and I went to bed right away to get enough rest.  The first day was a flight to Lille, followed by Nantes for the other 4 days and Fès (Morocco) on two other days.  The views coming into Marseille were amazing and two of the Marseille based captains demonstrated a visual approach which was amazing to see.  Marseille has 2 parallel runways, facing North-West and South-East – ideal when the mistral is blowing, leading to a strong wind down the runway.  The Alps are nearby and were often seen on approach.
Stunning view of Marseille.
Whilst I was there, 31R was in use, so if we approached from the North, it took us over the airfield via a continuous descent approach (CDA), out to the Mediterranean Sea, and then with a left turn, back towards the airport to intercept the ILS.  The glidepath for 31R is 4 degrees and is much steeper that what we’re used to, which is 3 degrees, so it can be tricky if there’s a tailwind on approach or a gusty wind.  We opted for flaps 40 most of the time, especially if heavy and got away with flaps 30 if we were light and the weather was gusty.  Flying the 4 degree glidepath felt odd at first since the runway perspective, power settings and descent rate on approach were not what I was used to, however it didn’t take long to get accustomed to it.
Flights to Nante and Lille took just over an hour and Fes took around 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Sierra Nevada near Granada enroute to Fès.
The flights to Fes were always interesting – not only because of the stunning views along the way, but also because of the passengers!  On the flight to Fès, I saw 4 mountain ranges along the way, starting with the Alps, then the Pyrenees as we flew along the coast of Spain, then the Sierra Nevada near Granada and on flying over Morocco, the Atlas mountains.  On my first trip to Fés, it was cloudy most of the way, so unfortunately didn’t get to see as much as I wanted, however on my second trip, the clouds gave way and I enjoyed the view!  Fés was very quiet – we were the only aircraft there at the time of arrival and departure and the weather was pleasant – sunny, and relatively warm – a nice break from the cold and dull weather back in UK!
Flying over the Atlas Mountains towards Fès.
Narrow streets in Aix en Provence
Whilst I was in Marseille, I took the opportunity to visit Marseille city and Aix en Provence with the new friends I had made at Marseille!  We used the airport bus to travel to Marseille – costing €8.50 single!  Marseille is a very busy city with parts of it looking a little run-down. The bus and train station looked new and the city’s high street and shopping district was only a walk away.  The port was not far either, also a walk away, lined with restaurants that were selling sea food.  Aix en Provence was a little further away than Marseille, and it was much more pleasant and well-kept.  The centre had plenty of narrow streets with shops and restaurants and friendly locals.
Taken from my phone from the bus/train station in Marseille

From -7 to 20+ºC in 5 days!

This week I went to Riga (Latvia), Kaunas (Lithuania), Lanzarote and Malaga.  Riga and Kaunas were still winter wonderlands with plenty of snow and a biting cold temperature to go with it!  I didn’t have to stay in the cold for long in Riga since I was just doing a walk-around, however in Kaunas, we have to operate the fueling panel since the fuelers do not do it there.  So, I had to stand outside for around 15 minutes in total in -7ºC which was not pleasant at all – my face had gone numb by the time I had finished!  I will have to bear this in mind if I go to Kaunas again and either choose to fly the outbound sector or come with warm hat!

After flying in the cold for two days, I was looking forward to my trips to Lanzarote and Malaga which invited us in with much kinder weather!  My flights on the 3rd day were cancelled due to a strike by the Irish controllers, which has been covered in the news recently.  So I woke up and called in to confirm the flights were not going and was told that I was on standby instead. I woke up anyway to ensure I kept my sleeping pattern consistent with my early shift.  It’s very tempting to sleep in – but it then makes it difficult to sleep at a time that’ll allow you to get enough rest before working the next day. Sleep management is especially important when it comes to earlies.

Approaching Lanzarote
A lone volcano off the coast of Lanzarote

It took us just over 4 hours to fly to Lanzarote and other than monitoring, I used the cruise to refresh my technical knowledge in preparation for the simulator training and check that I will be having next month.  The approach to Lanzarote was similar to Gran Canaria in the sense that ATC vectored us downwind and eventually onto base and final to intercept the ILS for the runway.  However, the runway in Lanzarote is shorter than Tenerife and Gran Canaria, so we had to ensure we were within landing weight limits and we took out flap 40 as our landing flap.

Arrived at stand at Lanzarote Airport

Once we arrived at stand, I went ahead and proceeded with the walk-around and fuel supervising (where we have to be in communication from the outside with the flight deck whilst fueling & boarding at the same time).  This was a pleasure in the sunshine and temperature over 20ºC in comparison to the freezing temperatures only a couple of days earlier!  It’s almost surreal when you come from winter conditions a few hours away and you’re in beautiful summer-like conditions all of a sudden!  It took us about the same time to return – just over 4 hours again, back to the winter!

On the last day of flying, we went to Malaga and Cork.  For this flight, I had a guest in the flight deck – a pilot that was recently type rated and was rostered for a jumpseat with us to observe line flying.  I was doing this only a few months ago before line training began.  We get rostered for 3 days out of a base, which is not necessarily the base we line train from.  The weather in Cork did not look promising, it was windy, raining and the visibility was low.  The same weather I had experienced when I went their during line training.  As we approached Cork, we go the latest weather and there was the possibility of going into the hold if it deteriorated further.  We planned for both a CAT I approach and a CAT II auto-land, and initially setup for a CAT II approach.  However, as we got closer, the wind was out of auto-land limits, it was 20kts down the runway and gusting higher.  We then setup for a CAT I, monitored approach.  The approach lights came into view just before minimums and we made a successful landing.  I was looking forward to the nicer weather in Malaga even more by now!

Beginning our descent to Malaga - plenty of high terrain ahead!

I’ve been to Malaga before, when I was training.  I took a trip to Malaga twice during IFR sorties – once in a PA28 and another time in a Seneca, so the area was familiar to me.  Our descent and arrival took us over plenty of high terrain, which we had to be aware and be careful of.  ATC did suggest a direct routing, but we opted to stay on the arrival to ensure our terrain clearance and reduce our workload by keeping to the planned and briefed routing.  The approach was to the southerly facing runway, which was as amazing as I had remembered it from my training days.  We descended down through the valley with mountainous terrain on either side, looking ahead towards the runway with the Mediterranean sea just off the end of the runway.  Clear skies, sunny and beautiful weather!

Arrived at stand at Malaga Airport

Once we arrived at stand, carried on with the setup, allowing the pilot jumpseating our flight to help me.  It was only a few months ago that I was jumpseating and trying to taking in as much as I could, so I knew how he felt!  Before we knew it, we were lining up for departure back to Liverpool.  The views out of Malaga were amazing again – we could see the Sierra Nevada mountains, capped with snow and the coastline.  The departure initially took us out to the Mediterranean sea and once we were above MSA, we took the direct routing ATC gave us out to the North.

View on departure from Malaga - the coast line and the Sierra Nevada.

Battle of the Weather Systems!

The high pressure system has brought a lot of cold and snow to UK recently, and I took a couple of quick snaps to show the snow cover over UK:

Snow as far as the eye can see!
Iced with snow!

I am getting tired of the cold weather now though, and looking forward for it the ice and snow to all melt! There’s a really incredible photo taken by a NASA satellite of UK in snow here.

Lately, a low pressure system has taken hold, bringing with it some warmer air, so a lot of it has melted.  However it brought some strong winds!  I was flying between England, Ireland & Northern Ireland all day a few days ago in winds up to 20kt and gusting up to 40kt!  Not pleasant when it’s a crosswind and turbulent!

Enroute to Bergamo, over the Alps, during sunset.

I flew down to Bergamo (near Milan) this week for the first time.  We passed over the Alps just as the sun was setting – unfortunately the picture above doesn’t do justice to the amazing view we had!  As we were descending we got a nice view of the city of Milan, which looked like a web of lights since it was night-time by then.

Next week I’m visiting Latvia, Lithuania, Lanzarote, Ireland and Spain (Malaga).  I’m looking forward to Lanzarote and Malaga in particular as I’ve not been there before other than Malaga, for which the last visit was when I was doing my ab-initio training at FTE.

Happy 2010, Snow & Winter Ops!

Contrails from a jet passing over us, with 1000ft separation.

There’s been plenty of snow recently – and unfortunately it seems Britain isn’t very well prepared when it comes to weather!  This causes delays and just slows everything down, since we have to ensure the airport is safe to operate and the aircraft themselves are safe and de-iced before we go.  We recently had a winter ops roadshow at our base, which discussed winter ops and a handy manual was handed out which I read during cruise to just brush up on the winter operations.  This means knowing what the different types of fluids are, and procedures related to de-icing, and cold weather operations.  We have to add temperature corrections to the altitudes on the plates, since there will be a significant error when the temperature drops below zero celcius.  Since the air is colder, the aircraft will actually be at a lower altitude than registered on the altimeters, so this must be compensated for with a correction.

Wales snowed in - enroute to France
Wales snowed in!

The lowest temperature I’ve experienced so far outside UK is -7 Celsius, which was in Torp, Norway – my colleagues have experienced as low as -17, so I’ll count myself as fortunate!  December wasn’t as windy though – just lots of snow and ice, so it was a bit calmer in the air with high pressure systems moving in and November was rather windy with plenty of low pressure systems making their way across from the Atlantic.  I’ve been lucky enough not to experience any major disruptions such as airports closing for an extended length of time to add considerable delay to flights – that has happened on my days off!

Flying over Lisbon, enroute to Gran Canaria - experienced moderate CAT turbulence here due to a jetstream.

With all this winter weather, I was rather excited to be rostered to fly to Gran Canaria!  I flew there a few days ago, and it took just over 4 hours to get there, and another 4 to get back – so quite a long, but enjoyable day.  The weather, as expected, was beautiful there – 21C and it felt warmer and was refreshing after enduring the cold weather for a few months in UK!  It really felt great – in 4 hours we had gone from Winter to Summer!  The view coming in was amazing – it was clear and I could see the other Canary Islands, and this was my second time over to the Canaries, the first time being to Tenerife.  I have Lanzarote rostered as well, and I’m looking forward to it!  The controller vectored us over the ocean, and around the island, towards the South – giving us a fantastic few of the airport and its two 3100m long runways!  The runways are so long that it is actually an emergency landing site for the space shuttle.

I’m being sent to Marseille for a week at the end of January, so looking forward to that!  Will be interesting to see operations at another base and also tour Marseille.  I’ve got a few days off at the moment, and will be flying to Girona, Bergamo and then ending with a busy 6 sector day to Dublin & Belfast!