Monday, July 05, 2010

Coffee & Anarchy

I'm on my way to work. The coffee should be cool enough to drink right now, but I have put the lid on the travel coffee mug backwards, so it's hard to drink. I try to fix that, which results in my spilling coffee all over myself. At least I can verify that it is now not too hot to put in contact with my lips. I stand up and shake some of the liquid off my jacket, but that doesn't do anything about the part that is all over the front of my pants. An observer with a poor sense of smell and an imperfect grasp of female biology might think I have wet myself. I could change into one of the other pairs of pants in my suitcase before I check it in for departure, but then all my luggage would become coffee scented. I'm not in uniform, so have no one in particular to impress. I'm not worried about horrifying the biology impaired. In fact, horrifying the biology impaired could be legitimately listed as a hobby of mine. I decide to run with Mark Twain's live toad theory and look forward to the rest of my day.

Boarding the flight there's someone ahead of me in the jetway, also not in uniform, but his luggage includes a familiar rectangular leather case with B737 stickers on it, so it's pretty obvious where he works. The case has been almost completely destroyed through use, with giant holes in the bottom. I comment on its state of dilapidation and the pilot says he bought it eight years ago to celebrate his upgrade. By the look of it, the reasonable lifespan of a pilot brain box is about five years. I thought they'd last longer. I used to think that the very young guys with tattered cases were toting hand-me-downs.

I have one, as a result of it being abandoned at an office I worked in once, and me being the only one patient enough to pick the combination lock. I don't use it at work because I don't have the cockpit space for it, and I prefer a bag with a zillion pockets so I know where to find everything. We keep the charts on board the airplanes.

During the flight I complete my company annual exams, verifying that I still know things like how to operate the emergency exits, how to extend the gear if the regular method fails and what types of deicing fluid are appropriate for my airplane. Coffee wouldn't be a good idea, but there is some flexibility.

In the following report, the flight crew of a U.S. air carrier landed at a Russian airport on a scheduled flight only to find that ice had formed on the upper surfaces of the wings due to fuel cold-soak. Perhaps because it was June, the Russian ground crew didn't have deicing fluids available -- but they did have another kind of solution -- and it worked to Absolut Perfection. The Captain's story: "...upper wing ice formed due to fuel cold-soak. No glycol at airport... [Airport] possessed no fluid as well...So, had Russian ground crew spray wings with hot water, then immediately sprayed 25 bottles of Russian vodka on top of wings...[with] garden sprayer. Wings were subsequently checked, they were clear of ice. Normal takeoff."

From NASA.

At destination I meet with my chief pilot and we go over my exams. I've specified the wrong position for the fuel to tee off from the fuel system to the heater, I've chosen the less perfect answer to a question on why we don't use pure glycol, and I didn't have a list of the specific operational specifications my company has. Op specs are deviations from the CARs (Canadian Aviation Regulations), approved specifically for individual companies. For example we have one that allows me to work a fifteen hour duty day instead of the regular fourteen.

When I studied for my commercial pilot written exam, back in the ancient times of the 20th century, I noticed that almost every rule that governed commercial flying concluded with "unless otherwise authorized in the air operator certificate." In fact, when I wrote flashcards for studying, I made up a special symbol, I think it resembled the anarchy symbol: a capital A in a circle, to represent that phrase. Aviation, more than anything else I've done seems to be actually concerned with safety over rules. If an air operator can demonstrate that they can do something safely in a way that is not in strict accordance with the rules, they can get that op spec. It encourages innovation but not anarchy. If as a pilot you're in a dangerous situation you can disobey the rules to get out of it. There will be paperwork, but not blood.

We go over everything that I have wrong, then we both sign the exams and my chief pilot puts them in a file. See? Anarchists don't keep files.


Flygirl said...

This reminds me of a quote I saw recently.
In an emergency, f*ck the checklist and fly the plane!

Syrad said...

My latest flight case was bought as a temporary replacement. I needed one fast, so I went to the nearest OfficeMax and bought a black catalog case (what nonpilots call the souped-up briefcases we use to haul our manuals). It had canvas-type cloth sides instead of leather and a plastic handle, but it looked similar to other cloth-sided flight cases and it was only $30. That was six years ago, and except for some slight wear it's holding up just fine. Also, it has pockets on both sides that don't take up nearly the room that similar leather pockets do. My only gripe with it is that the stickers required to be a cool pilot won't stick to the canvas, depriving me of the ability to express support for my union/aircraft/home state/hockey team. Thus, I'm stuck with being uncool but smug in my thriftiness.

A Squared said...

In an emergency, f*ck the checklist and fly the plane!

Yeah, lemme know how that works out in your next sim eval.

A Squared said...

It's my understanding that the Vodka story resulted in violations.

Anonymous said...

"It's my understanding that the Vodka story resulted in violations."

Most likely because some people understood it to spray their stomach lining with vodka?

Sarah said...

Yeah, lemme know how that works out in your next sim eval.

Well, sure. If there's time run the checklist, even if you're in a Piper Cub. In a surprise situation, I'm sure I'd be tempted to forget stuff like "ensure primer is in & locked".

But in an emergency, I try to have the "red list" memorized. Things like fire, engine failure ...

For routine single pilot flying, I have routine "flows" memorized. Looking at paper in the pattern is not a good idea.

So yeah, "fly the plane".

Traveller said...

Isn't "aviate" the first order of business?

Aviatrix said...

A memory checklist is still a checklist. I don't know anyone who isn't required to know at least portions of certain checklists by heart. You'll be penalized if you don't do the memory items from memory and you'll be penalized if you don't use the checklist for the non-memory items. That penalty can come from the examiner on a ride, and from the airplane in a real emergency.

A Squared said...

Most likely because some people understood it to spray their stomach lining with vodka?

No, for using an unapproved de-icing program. Air Carrier de-icing programs are very heavily regulated.

Anoynmous said...

I am confused about the reason for reprimanding the airline. The vodka wasn't being used as a de-icing fluid; they used warm water for that. The post-treatment with vodka was to wash away the water.

Aviatrix said...

And I'd would have thought that since the issue was cold soaking and not anything that a deicing programme would mandate a fluid with holdover time for, that if you took off with clean wings it didn't matter whether you used sunlight, a heated hangar, thousands of tiny octopuses or ten gallons of Stoli to get the job done.

A clean wing is a clean wing, n'est-ce pas?

A Squared said...

I'm not trying to argue in favor of it. I'm merely reporting what I heard happened.

One thing to consider, the fact that it was June doesn't mean that it was summer. I beleive (although I'm not positive) that this happened in Providenya, which is at about the same latitude as Nome. One can not necessarily assume that the ambient temp would necessarily be above freezing.

Along that same direction of thought; The fact that they used vodka would seem to indicate that there was a concern about re-freezing. (If not, why then did they use the vodka?)

So if we agree that re-freezing was a concern in the situation, then the bureaucratic mind will then ask:

Do you have data which supports the suitability of vodka for preventing the re-freezing under these circumstances.


Do you have data which shows that vodka will not adversely affect the aerodynamic properties of an airfoil?

I'm guessing that the answer to both those questions is no.

Now, I don't for a moment believe that vodka would change the aerodynamics of a wing, but of course some anti-icing fluids do, and I suspect that part of the process of getting a fluid approved is demonstrating that it doesn't. (or if it does, quantifying how much.)

Taking a look at my airline's Deicing Manual, I find this: ".....the only methods acceptable to the Administrator are those defined in the Company manuals."

I suspect that the Deicing manual of the carrier in question has a similar statement, and I'd bet long odds that using vodka is not a method defined in their manual.

Anyway, to reiterate, I'm not defending this, I'm just saying that knowing what I know about the FAA and Air Carrier de-icing programs, I find it completely unremarkable that a passenger jet airline got some unwanted official attention for using an unapproved fluid for de-icing.