Month: May 2010

Safety Pilot

It was last year in October that I was in the same position as the newly-rated pilot for whom I was sitting in as for safety pilot, yesterday. It felt a little out of routine for me, as I usually organise the paperwork, and this time I only had to print out the voyage report, which has details such as the names of the crew, number of passengers booked on the flight and flight schedules. I read through the flight plans and weather once he was done, and helped out where he asked me to and answered any questions he had.  I hadn’t been in the jumpseat since October, so it was nice to take a back seat for this time and observe procedures from there.  The session was useful to me as well, as I picked up some additional tips from the line training Captain and also refreshed my knowledge as I followed through the discussion topics in cruise.

As I watched the first officer, it reminded me of the similar, if not, the same challenges and teething problems that I faced when first starting.  A lot of the procedures and flying skills are taught during the type rating, so the challenge then is to combine all of this with working in a live environment where you have to complete paperwork, communicate with various people such as ATC, cabin crew, the dispatcher, fueler and other ground staff.  The biggest challenge that I found was the time pressure, which you quickly begin to manage by being better organised and experienced as time goes by!  The aim is to stay ahead!  This is especially important with sectors as short as Liverpool to Dublin, where we could be airborne for less than 30 minutes – where we have to squeeze in completing the flight plog, getting destination & alternate weather, notifying handling of any special information, setting up & briefing for the arrival and approach… We do the route quite often, so after becoming familiar with it, it’s become a lot easier!

The Mistral

I had the pleasure of visiting Marseille for the second time and was flying from there over the last few days.  Unfortunately there’s no direct connection to Marseille from my base, so I had to travel to Stansted Airport to pick it up.  I opted to take the train this time, and the journey was far more pleasant – no waiting in traffic or having to concentrate on the road and it took 2 hours less in time to get there!

The first day of flying involved a flight to Eindhoven (Holland) and then to Malaga (Spain).  The winds were quite light in comparison to the strong winds I had encountered earlier in January and the temperatures were much more pleasant – around 20C or more by mid-day.  I had never been to Eindhoven before and there were some other destinations on my roster that I had never been to either, so it was quite exciting to explore these from another base.  Eindhoven is in the South of The Netherlands, near the Brussels and Germany border. The terminal looked fairly new and it has a viewing deck with seating areas, binoculars and a restaurant area behind it for aviation enthusiasts/spotters!  I wish we had something like that in the airports in UK.  Despite this facility, we even caught well equipped spotters/photographers perched up on step-ladders by the airport perimeter so that the fence would not be caught in between the aircraft and the lens!  Malaga’s new terminal is now open and we were connected to the air-bridge of this new terminal, which looked significantly larger than the older terminal.  The passengers had a good view of the flight deck and crew as they board the aircraft and we got quite a few waves from children (and some adults) and their teddy bears!

As soon as I thought I had gotten away with it, the mistral gave us a sudden visit!  The mistral is a strong northerly wind and often gusty as it reaches Marseilles.  Here are some metars (weather reports) from the days and times I was flying:

LFML 151230Z 32030G41KT 9999 FEW046 17/07 Q1004 NOSIG
LFML 161500Z 33029G39KT CAVOK 19/04 Q1013 NOSIG
LFML 171330Z 32024G37KT 9999 FEW040 20/05 Q1019 TEMPO 33025G35KT
LFML 180730Z 34018KT CAVOK 17/08 Q1022 TEMPO 34033G45KT
LFML 181300Z 32025KT CAVOK 22/07 Q1019 TEMPO 34030G50KT
LFML 161500Z 33029G39KT CAVOK 19/04 Q1013 NOSIG

The reported winds were often a little tamer than what we actually encountered and winds of over 30 mph gusting to over 50 mph were common, and it made the landings challenging – especially with the addition of a 4 degree glideslope and the turbulence that the wind brought along with it!

On my second day of flying, we returned to Eindhoven and everything was going as planned and was routine up to the point a baggage belt was driven with some force into the aircraft by mistake!  We were told that the brakes had failed on the truck and so it ploughed with force into the aircraft.  I was setting up the aircraft for departure at the time and felt the aircraft shake and heard a startling bang!  I stepped out to investigate, and saw that one of the VHF radio antennas had been damaged and other than that the structure of the aircraft seemed in-tact.  We called operations with the help of a very apologetic head of the airport authority and they sent an engineer over from one of the bases to investigate and fix the aircraft. After a few hours, we were on our way back to Marseilles, once the engineer had fixed the aircraft.  However owing to the technical delay, my flights to Madrid were cancelled as a result of duty time limits and standby crew were called in to take on those flights.  A shame, as I was looking forward to visiting Madrid for the first time – I still got that chance on my fourth day though!

New Airbus aircraft still with covers on in Porto

The third day went without a hitch – we flew to Porto (Portugal) and then to Tanger (Morocco).  The flight to Porto was pleasant and on arriving we noticed brand new Airbus aircraft, still with covers on!  The weather was brilliant – clear blue skies and the yellow colour theme of the airport services brightened the airport up even more.  The way to Tanger was quite scenic – we passed Valencia, Barcelona and were flying along the Mediterranean coast, then  passed Gibraltar and were quite literally flying between Europe and Africa!

Gibraltar - visited many times during my time in FTE for its curries and British food products!
Africa on the left, Europe on the right.

On my 4th day of flying, we visited Beauvais (just outside Paris) and Madrid. The controllers gave us a very early descent to Beauvais to keep us out of the congested Paris control area. Would have been far more fuel efficient if they would have had the capacity to be able to handle us!  I did eventually get the chance to visit Madrid Barajas Airport.  It has 4 runways and very long taxi times – up to 15 minutes!  We requested 33L since that runway was closer to the terminal, which would give us shorter taxi times and less fuel burn.  Unfortunately the controller could not accommodate us due to other traffic inbound, and so we were given the parallel runway, 33R.  They were conducting parallel approaches into Madrid using 33L and 33R, leaving the other two northerly facing runways (36 L & R) for departures.  The Captain remarked that the airport was unusually quiet and could be due to the aiport/airspace closures due to the volcanic ash.  I was lucky enough not to be affected by it, as I was flying from Marseille – I had heard that some airports in UK had been closed at the time including London Heathrow.

Nador Airport, Morocco

On my final day of flying, I visited Tours and Nador (Morocco).  I once again enjoyed the beautiful views on the way down to Morocco and for the last time I enjoyed a challenging landing into Marseille.  Runway 31R was out of use, so we had to establish on the procedure for 31R and then side-step onto 31L.  This was quite challenging with the weather conditions and the approach itself – we break off soon after we establish, so there’s not much time!  I had a great time in Marseille, visiting new destinations, having a go at landing in windy & gusty conditions and spending time with friendly crew.

Blast from the past (and the Volcano again)

I recently visited Seville – the first time I’ve flown back myself since flight school.  I have sat in the jumpseat whilst observing flight deck procedures to Seville during my training and it felt equally nostalgic.  During flight school, we used to visit Seville often on our training flights and my IR exam involved flying down the same ILS that we did on our scheduled flight a few days ago!  Unfortunately I didn’t get to bump into any former instructors as there wasn’t much training activity going on at the time, as it was a Spanish holiday.  Coincidentally, a friend of mine, who had also trained at FTE landed just a few minutes behind me, and only a couple of years ago we were doing the same in Warriors or Senecas!

Sevilla Airport

I do miss Spain – I miss the laid back lifestyle, the beaches, the weather and even seeing the orange trees in the street!  I do get to fly over, or at least the vicinity of Jerez on my way to Morocco or other parts of southern Spain, so it’s nice to admire the familiar view from a few thousand feet up in the air.

Unfortunately, as soon as I thought the volcano wouldn’t be causing much trouble anymore.. it did! It hadn’t caused as widespread chaos as it did last month, but it did cause to a fair few cancellations again, including my flight to Tenerife, which I was looking forward to!  I’m hoping that someone thinks up a better way of managing these volcano ash events!  I’m working out of Marseille again next week, so I should escape any disruptions!