I was recently positioning and had my iPad switched on because I was reading a book as we were taxying out towards the runway. The lights were dimmed, and I was just relaxing and getting into the book when I heard an annoyed lady exclaim “switch you computer off!”. It did startle me a bit and so I turned to my left to see an annoyed expression on the passenger who had instructed me to put my iPad away. I politely explained to her that we are now allowed to use these portable devices as long as they are in airplane mode and I pointed to the airplane symbol on the top corner of my iPad. It didn’t seem to satisfy her and she sharply turned her gaze away.
“Surely these multi-million dollar airplanes can handle any interference from these relatively cheap devices?”
So, why do we need to switch off electronic devices or at least put them on airplane mode? Surely these multi-million dollar airplanes can handle any interference from these relatively cheap devices? I always get asked this question from baffled passengers, friends and family members. I can think of two reasons to why we are asked to switch these devices off. One reason is that there is the potential for interference with the aircraft systems, and the other is so that passengers can pay attention to the safety demonstration and be alert of their surroundings during critical phases of flight (take off and landing)! I always find it disrespectful when I see passengers ignoring the pleas of cabin crew to switch off electronic devices and generally ignoring the safety demonstration. I am sure many people may have seen the safety demonstration repeatedly if they are frequent fliers, nonetheless, a refresher that will take only couple of minutes is always good!
In the case of interference, though there’s been no clear scientific study, there is anecdotal evidence that points to electronic devices being the culprit. There was a discovery made recently during testing of an onboard wifi system, which showed that wifi signals interfered with display screens in the flight deck, causing them to blank for up to 6 minutes. This is quite critical because the display screens give pilots vital information such as the airspeed, altitude and the attitude of the aircraft. This can be especially dangerous during take off or landing, if it were to occur. The FAA has mandated a fix to the systems to avoid this though.
The FAA has since 2013 allowed the use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) – at least in airplane mode. Similarly, on the other side of the Atlantic, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), has approved the use of PEDs in all stages of flight. Initially, after a safety assessment process, EASA allowed the use of PEDs in airplane mode during any stage of flight in December 2013. Then from 26 September 2014, EASA permitted the use of PEDs whether in airplane mode or not (so they can transmit) during any stage of flight. Though EASA permits this, each airline can make the rules more restrictive, so airlines can still enforce electronic devices to be switched off. This is generally the case worldwide – the regulator such as EASA makes the rules, however operators (e.g. airlines) can be more restrictive. Ryanair currently allows small PEDs to be switched on during all stages of flight, but must still be in airplane mode (to ensure there’s no transmission).
My first week back started with relatively calm weather and the approach to Palermo (one of my favourites) was absolutely gorgeous. “Nice and easy”, I thought, but it was not to stay this way! The wind was blowing quite strongly from the North for the rest of the week, and as it was passing through mountainous terrain, it caused quite a bit of turbulence. During take off the first couple of hundred feet above the ground was okay but as we got higher, the aircraft got caught in the rough air. We decided to climb a little faster by delaying acceleration, for the safety and benefit of our passengers and crew. Once we were a few thousand feet above the mountainous terrain, the air smoothed out, though with occasional bumps reminding us of the rough air below. My roster this week took me to a mixture of flights to the UK and Italy.
“This was my first max-crosswind landing from the left seat…”
The weather in Sicily in the middle of the week was not particularly good – heavy rain and crosswinds approaching our limits! The problem down the line is that the crosswind limit for take off is more stringent. This makes it possible to land at a destination, but then unable to take off till the wind dies down. This was my first max-crosswind landing from the left seat, and though I felt confident, it was still a good challenge. My muscle memory has now established itself. As a First Officer, I flew from the right-hand seat and my left hand was used to operating the thrust levers, whilst my right hand was controlling the yoke. Now that I’m a Captain, and I’m seated on the left, it’s the opposite way around! So it takes a bit of getting used to!
I was pleasantly surprised at how appreciative our passengers were this week, and some even came into the flight deck to visit us and shake our hands! We don’t always get face-to-face contact with passengers, so it’s nice to see them come in and thank us, or even to have a look to satisfy their curiosity to see what goes on in the front! Although we don’t get much time during a turnaround, I’m still interested to see and ‘people-watch’ and even occasionally be a bit nosy and ask passengers about their travels. I find the best opportunity for this is usually either if I’m positioning (i.e. sitting in the cabin en-route to the airport I will be operating from), when passengers visit us in the flight deck, or when I’m coming back onto the aircraft after doing the walk-around. I don’t do this all the time, however, when I do, there’s always an interesting story to be heard!
Children are of course the most entertaining passengers and always welcome to visit us – especially when they have produced a drawing for the crew!
It’s been a while since I last flew since I’ve been on leave. I’ve had a great time being at home and on holiday, but I think I’m ready to go back.. I do miss it! I miss the strategy game of getting an efficient turnaround and the satisfaction of winning. (Sarcasm)
In reality, what I do miss are my colleagues, the children that draw me pretty pictures of aeroplanes, and of course the gorgeous views. The photo you see is over the alps, with the sun setting on the other side, and the moon rising on the side photographed. The view was interesting, especially because the moonlit alps were partly shrouded in a blanked of cloud, with the tops curiously peaking out.
The month ahead isn’t as busy as it has been so far, and it’s welcome by me, since I want an easy roster to start with! I’ve decided to pack as light as possible for my trips down to the base. I used to carry 3 bags with me, one for my luggage, one for my food, and one was my flight bag. I cut it down to just my flight bag and my backpack – I managed to pack efficiently. It’ll give me less stress, and ensure less energy is required without dragging all that around with me! Other things I’ve done to prepare are to import my roster and positioning flights into my calender, which is much more handy than carrying a paper around, and to charge my work iPad up and update it! I’ve not used the iPad we use as an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB), so it had numerous updates available which I had to install. I wanted to get it done now, so that I don’t waste time when I arrive on my first day back.
The iPad is a fantastic tool. It makes it much easier to search through manuals quickly, and have them, conveniently, with you at all times. We also do our performance calculations on the iPad, which calculates the thrust settings and speeds to set according to the conditions, for take off, and runway distance, etc for landing. This is an accurate and time-saving tool which makes the operation more efficient, and also saves money on things on engine maintenance by reducing wear and tear with more accurate calculations to ensure so. We will also be eventually be using these iPads for our charts and it will certainly make it easier to ensure they’re all up-to-date and much more convenient to use than paper plates. This is really true for airfields like Madrid or Barcelona where they have a huge number of pages available! The iPad will make it easy by allowing you to bookmark the relevant pages to be used for the day and then you are able to go directly to those without a bother! I can imagine an older generation of pilots finding it a bit more work to adapt to the EFB, but it’s where we are headed and many airlines are using tablets – both for safety and commercial benefit.