Wednesday, December 28, 2005

WestJet Wing

According to a not-very-informative wire story WestJet B737 whacked a wing on the runway while landing at Halifax this evening. No one was hurt.

I was watching a landing once when a company plane hit a wingtip on landing. The fairing ripped off the wingtip and the airplane righted itself. No one was hurt, but all the passengers looked kind of gray as they walked off. I don't remember how many thousands of dollars it cost to inspect and repair, how many days the airplane was offline, nor whether flights had to be cancelled because of it. I remember the captain shaking his head and trying to find some point in the chain of decisions that everyone makes every flight where he could have taken a different path.

"I should have taken control earlier." [The FO was flying.]

"I should have gone around."

"I should have written up the airplane for the spool up delay on the left engine." [Turbine engines throttled back to idle never respond immediately to throttle movement, but on this one the left engine had become slower than the right engine. We solve this problem at takeoff by getting both to spool up from idle before setting take-off power.]

I know that feeling. If anything, anything goes wrong on a flight, you seek back through the decisions you made, trying to find where you could have avoided it, or at least to confirm that every decision you did make was the right one at the time. And then you wish you'd had more information. You make the conservative decision and you're wrong, you cost the company a lot of money. You make a different decision and you're wrong, you can hurt people as well as costing money. That makes it sound like a no-brainer, but there are rarely just two choices, and if you always took the most conservative path you would never go flying.

It's a horrible sick feeling to realize that you should have made a different decision, either way. And I'm talking about comparatively tiny things. We pilots are supposed to be infallable, right? Poor WestJet guys.

Monday, December 26, 2005


I like to talk to the people who maintain our airplanes to learn more about the aircraft and to see their side of the story. And I'm trying, chip-by-chip, to break down the wall that exists between the two sides of the operation.

Some maintenance people seem to think all pilots are ignoramuses who have no idea how their aircraft work, and simply spend their day breaking airplanes. And I can understand that viewpoint. The people who disassemble and reassemble a system are going to know it better than the people who just pull the levers. And no matter how thoroughly they fix the airplanes, whenever they let the pilots fly them, the airplanes eventually come back broken.

When I do a test flight with an AME on board watching, sometimes I feel like they're going to say, "well no wonder it keeps breaking, if you're going to fly it like that." So far they haven't, though. And for some repairs, the airplane can't be officially released from maintenance without my signature under a rubber stamp confirming that I have flown it and that the aircraft conforms to the standard of the type. Meaning that no significant parts came off in my hands during the test flight.

This is where the pilots who think maintenance are stupid get their side of the story. Pilots tell maintenance that the gear won't stay up, or that the ammeter spikes for no apparent reason and then the mechanics sign it off and send it back online. The problem recurs, and the pilots think the mechanics are incompetent. Sometimes it takes a few iterations to identify the root cause.

And some things are hard to understand. An apprentice was telling me how the steering works on an Airbus. He described a linkage and then said, "Everything inside is PFM."

Aviation is rife with acronyms and terms, and Airbus has been keen on reinventing existing terminology, so I wasn't too surprised not to recognize the term. "PFM?" I asked.

He explained. "Everything inside is pure magic." I so walked in to that one.

And I know a pilot that got back at an arrogant AME by asking him about the flux capacitor. The AME was happy to tell the pilot it was located in the wing. He was, of course, thinking of the flux gate compass, but the pilot got a good laugh out of hearing the mechanic bluff on about the crucial component of a fictitious time machine.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Santa Enters Canadian Airspace

According to NORAD, Santa Claus has just arrived in Newfoundland and will be making his way across the country over the next few hours. I thought NORAD reported on Santa's progress simply because NORAD tracks all airspace incursions, but according to the history on the noradsanta site, there's another reason. Apparently, in 1955 a store misprinted a telephone number for kids to "call Santa" and Colonel Shoup, then commander-in-chief of NORAD predecessor CONAD received and accepted the calls, reporting on Santa's progress for the children of the nation.

I haven't noticed any Santa-related NOTAMs, PIREPs or other Canadian aviation data, but I'll check again in the morning. Good night!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Paying Attention?

Typically when clearing an IFR airplane to take off, a tower controller asks the pilot to contact the next air traffic controller when reaching a particular altitude, or just "airborne" (right after take off). Sometimes that instruction is given after takeoff, but it's easier and safer to talk to us before we have advanced the throttles to take-off power. If the departure airport is uncontrolled, we'll check in with the first available IFR controller, as soon as we are clear of aerodrome traffic we may need to talk to, and reception altitude permits.

We have an expression "aviate, navigate, communicate" that reminds us that flying the airplane and being where we're supposed to be is more important than talking on the radio, so that altitude may come and go, and we may be aviating or navigating instead of making that call. The system allows for a fair amount of ambiguity here, as we may take off, change to the next frequency, and find it congested with other traffic checking in and receiving instructions. We have an assigned departure route, and in fact a whole route to destination to fly without ATC assistance, but we are expected to call promptly when able. The other night we heard a controller looking for an aircraft that had taken off but not checked in with him yet.

"Northflight 27 on frequency?"

The "on frequency?" question is a pretty common call. You might switch to a busy frequency and not have had a chance to get a word in edgewise before the controller wants to alert you to traffic or give you a descent, so the controller elbows a path through the crowd of calls for your response. On this occasion, though, the frequency was quiet. It was night, and an efficient controller was just trying to get every blip on his screen going in the proper direction.

There was no response to that call, so the controller tried again a short time later.

"Northflight 27, Sumspot Departure."

Still no response. "Sumspot" isn't the name of the agency any more than "Northflight" was the actual carrier, but you get the idea. The call that finally made us laugh was:

"Northflight 27, are you paying attention yet?"

Northflight wasn't. I suppose a controller has to watch how cute he is with these wake-up calls, because if Northflight 27 had departed from Fleabush runway 17 and then turned left instead of right and come to an untimely end smeared against a hill, the controller's cute remarks would be part of the accident investigation. I find it chilling to read the transcript of the Egypt Air 990 communications as ATC does their job, trying to re-establish communications with an aircraft they don't yet know has been destroyed.

In this case, the pilot of Northflight 27 innocently checked in a minute later and was given instructions with no hint of the amusement the controller had provided for the frequency, at his expense.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Sign Language

Sam's rant involving poorly trained ground crews who didn't recognize the hand signal for "connect ground power" reminded me of all the times I've wished people on the ground or in other cockpits spoke sign language. I have learned some sign language in order to communicate a deaf relative, and it is infinitely frustrating when all the tools I need to transmit a message are literally at my fingertips, but the recipient doesn't have the information required to decode the message.

So I have to resort to more primitive forms of sign language. Pilots, imagine you were in the run-up area or in a traffic jam on the taxiways and another pilot, stuck her hands out of the cockpit displaying in sequence:

The splayed fingers of one hand, plus the thumb and finger of the other

The splayed fingers of one hand, plus just the thumb of the other

The fingertips of one hand all curled to touch the thumbtip, leaving a round gap through the middle of her fist

The third gesture repeated

If she repeated this sequence a few times, would you have any idea what she was indicating?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

ALSF-2 Category II and III High intensity

ALSF-2 is big airport approach lighting. It has white centre bars starting 2400' from the runway. It has sequenced flashing lights. It has red bars flanking the centre, and extra little white bars five hundred feet from the threshold. It would probably have naked dancing girls, too, if it weren't for the problem of fitting them into the forest of lighting fixtures. That and the pilot distraction factor.

Further back from the runway, the lights are on towers, up to about ten feet or so tall. Sometimes the towers are sticking out of the water when the approach is over the shore. In a smaller airplane the lights are so bright you can get to thinking that you are going to hit the towers, but you don't, and the specifications have allowed for that, requiring the towers to be frangible. That means that they're supposed to break off easily if you hit them. Don't tell your local vandals.

Now I'm completely dazzled by all the different sorts of lights. There are only two things left. One is the code RR, which represents the lowest of low tech runway lighting: retroreflective markers. Yes, you're allowed to land on a runway that is delineated only by reflectors.

The other sort of lighting that I've always skimmed over with a mental "whatever" turns out to be heliport lighting. If it starts with F it's floodlighting: high mount (FH), low mount (FL) or portable (FP). If it starts with R it might be yellow take-off and landing area lights (RY), white arrival and departure hover area lights (RW) or take-off and landing area floodlighting (RF). DR represents a line of five yellow or white lights leading into the landing area. One of the good things about not being licenced to fly a helicopter, is that no one ever expects me to land a helicopter in an unfamiliar area in the dark. I think I would hate that.

That's all the lighting types I know about. If anyone knows the history of what happened to lighting types AB, AG, or AH, I'd be happy to hear about it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Women's Pilot Shirts

Someone recently e-mailed me to ask for a source of women's pilot shirts, but she didn't get my reply because, according to the bounce I received, "The message was rejected because it contains prohibited virus or spam content." So I'll have to post it here.

Pilot uniform shirts are generally pretty well designed. They have epaulettes on the shoulders to hold our insignia. They have big pockets in the front, large enough to hold a Canadian passport and licence wallet on one side, and an oversized pair of aviator Ray Bans on the other side. There's also a little separator thingy on the left pocket, that holds a pen effectively. Or a tire pressure gauge, but then there's no room for your pen.

Men's shirt sizes are based on neck size. Women, in case you live in a monestary and have never seen one, tend to be smaller than men, and even big women tend to have smaller necks than men. If you're a small woman, you have to special order shirts to get a small enough neck size, and some manufacturers don't cater to pencil-necked pilots, so you're out of luck. The smallest men's size available is usually a little loose around the neck on me, but no one, especially me, has ever complained about the gap between my tie and my throat, so I get away with it.

I have experimented with buying women's shirts. The first one I ordered was the Van Heusen Aviator did have a neck that fit me, but it had a little cute collar that looked dumb with my tie. It also had itty bitty front pockets. Completely useless front pockets. No room for sunglasses. I don't even think there was space for a pen. Another shirt, I gave away, so can't look up the type. It was too short from neck to tails, so it came untucked while sitting in or crawling underneath aircraft. Also the manufacturer believed that women have very short arms. And all women's shirts button the wrong way. I suppose it's the right way for women's shirts, but it's the wrong way for the shirts I'm used to.

I wear men's shirts.

If you are a short-armed, short-waisted woman who doesn't keep her sunglasses in her breast pocket, try Tally Ho (service was slow, but they sent me the stuff eventually and apologized for being slow). If anyone else has shirt vendor suggestions, please brave the captcha and leave a comment.

And if your ISP has paranoid restrictions on incoming e-mail, whitelist a person who is using a free web e-mail account, if you want to receive a reply.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Licence Wallets

Every Canadian pilot must be accompanied by three official pieces of paper. There's the medical certificate: printed on a kind of drab beige piece of paper, pre-embossed with lines showing where you fold it into four, to make it wallet-sized. There's the licence itself: the same size and grade of paper as the medical, but blue in colour. All the airplanes and types of flying that a pilot is qualified to do are printed on the front of the licence. And there's the radio operator's certificate, a really cheap bit of white paper that declares our competence to operate an aeronautical radio station.

Most pilots keep these important documents together in a licence wallet, like the thing that cops and FBI agents keep their shields in, to flip open authoritatively. Most licence wallets are black, made of plastic or leather. They are often embossed with the words PILOT LICENCE or COMMERCIAL PILOT LICENCE (I never noticed anyone vain enough to upgrade to one that said AIRLINE TRANSPORT PILOT LICENCE, after getting the ATPL), and inside they have pockets with clear plastic windows so you can see the licence and medical without taking them out of the wallet.

This is actually kind of stupid, for two reasons. One is that the licence and medical are, as mentioned above, both folded into four, along the embossed lines, so in order to actually see that my medical has been renewed, or that I am licenced to fly multi-engine seaplanes, you have to pull the pieces of paper out of the wallet anyway. And it's stupid because, like most plastic-against-printer-ink combinations, the toner from the printing on the documents transfers to the inside of the plastic windows, leaving my licence number permamently legible on the window where I keep my licence, even when the licence has been removed.

As you could guess, other important bits of paper accumulate inside the licence wallet, too. A PPC card, dangerous goods handling certificate, elementary work certification: all the personal documents that any particular operation requires its pilots to hold. And then we add a few personal touches.

Recently, an impromptu "what's in your licence wallet?" session revealed photos of kids, a photo of a former colleague killed on the job, an inspirational poem, a safety maxim, and a spare car key. We laughed at the variety of things we carried around with us, and that prompted me to write this entry.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


The names of the lighting systems get longer as the lights get more complicated. I realize now that the reason I didn't know the differences among these types is that they are very similar. MALSR and SSALR consist of a 1000' centre row of sequenced flashing lights leading in to a wider and 1400' long array of non-flashing white bars. There's a good diagram of the MALSR layout here, on a manufacturer's website.

MALSR apparently stands for "Medium Intensity Approach Lighting System with Runway Alignment Indicator Lights". I guess they realized that MIALSRAIL wasn't credible as a cool aviation abbrevitation. There's also the "Simplified Short Approach Lighting System with Runway Alignment Indicator Lights" or SSALR, which has a pretty much identical layout, but is apparently more intense. Which is odd, because all of these have adjustible intensities.

MALSF, Medium Intensity Approach Light System with Sequenced Flashing Lights, sounds as if it describes MALSR, but has a slightly different layout, in that the initial string of sequenced flashing lights alternate with steady bars. It's also shorter, coving only 1400' all together, so basically the sequenced flashing lights are incorporated into the 1400' of wider bars, instead of leading up to it. I suppose these can be used in places where the MALSR or SSALR can't be, because of terrain or space considerations. I have a link to a manufacturer's diagram of the MALSF, but it's a pdf.

One more sort of lighting to contend with, before I go back to amusing stories about parts falling off my airplane while I am flying it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Prestige & Responsibility

It came to pass that I needed a toilet plunger, for what I suppose is the usual disgusting reason for needing a toilet plunger. I didn't have one, so before leaving for work I made a couple of unsuccessful toilet-plunger-less attempts to clear the blockage, and then I abandonned the task and went to work, because I'm a responsible person who is on time for work, no matter what is wrong with my toilet.

During the moments at work when I wasn't being responsible for an airplane, my mind every so often returned to that other less pretigious responsibility, lurking in my bathroom. The hardware stores would be closed by the time I got home, but there was one not too far from the airport in a small town along the way. I arrived at that hardware store at 5:28 pm and the sign on the door said they were open to 5:30. But the door was locked, and a much larger sign on the door said "CLOSED."

The proprietor heard the door rattle and opened it to confirm that the store was closed. "Everything's closed. The till's closed. What do you need?"

"A toilet plunger," I confessed, conveying a bit of the pathos that accompanies the situation that calls for one. "Is there anywhere else I could get one?"

He recognized me. "You're the pilot aren't you? You made a big impression on my daughter. Come on in, because every pilot needs a toilet plunger." A handful of loonies later, I had a new possession.

I think that's the first time the prestige of being a pilot won me any favours. And yes, the toilet works fine now.

And this utterly unrelated seagull picture is cuuuute.

Monday, December 05, 2005


The AO lighting code is easy to remember, because it stands for ODALS, which in turn stands for "you know, that flashy light thing." Or in official language "omni-directional approach lighting system."

ODALS consists of a sequence of five flashing lights, 300 feet apart, leading in towards the runway. They flash in sequence, leading the eye towards the runway, then the two runway identification lights at the threshold flash together. The effect is like the flashing squiggly arrow on a neon sign luring you into a strip club or a lousy restaurant.

As I understand it, the difference between ODALS and SF is that ODALS is the very specific seven light system in the 1500' before the runway, while SF can refer to any sequenced flashing light system.

I love the way it looks out the window in the snow when it's so white that you can't tell if you're in cloud, in staring into falling snow, or parked inside a snowdrift. And then you see the little flashing lights and the runway magically appears in front of you.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Staying Alive

I was wondering last night what makes the difference between someone who wastes her life pursuing a dream that she never realizes is beyond her reach, and someone who achieves what she wants because she believes in herself and never gives up.

If it were a movie, I could tell because the first one would be in some Eastern European language, with subtitles. The Hollywood movie would always have a happy ending. I can't read the DVD jewel case on my own life, but take away the sets, wardrobe and pacing isses, and it comes down to how far the heroine gets before she dies.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

AE & AF - More Centre Row Lighting

AE lighting is at least 2400' of light bars leading up to the threshold, beginning with white bars, and then with the closest thousand feet being red bars, and then green bars that divide into a V right before the threshold. Fort McMurray has this kind of lighting on runway 25, so I'll remember Fort McMurrAE to remember the code. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of the approach to runway 25 at Fort McMurray at night, so this mnemonic won't work for you.

I have found a picture of type AF lighting, here. As you can see, there are bars running across the white lead in lights every five hundred feet (I'm not certain about the 500'). According to the notes here, at military airports, like Cold Lake, the green threshold lighting wraps around the end of the threshold but I'm tired from looking for pictures of Fort McMurray so I'm not going to find a picture of Cold Lake. AF lighting may or may not include SF lighting in the first 2000'.

The picture of AF lighting also shows PAPI lights, probably P3 for eye-to-wheel height up to 45'. That's the set of four lights you see either side of the runway, partway along the runway. Each light shines red through lower angles and white through higher angles such that if you are on the proper approach slope, you will see two white lights and two red lights, where if you are low you see more red lights and if you are high you see more white lights. In the winter, ice can form on the PAPI lights and act as a lens that refracts the light through the wrong angle, giving erroneous indications. To combat this problem, in the winter the airports are supposed to leave the PAPI lights on all the time to keep them warm, instead of hooking them to the ARCAL, but electricity is expensive, so you can't count on that.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

AC - Centre Row High Intensity

AC type approach lighting is suitable for category II low visibility operations. The kead-in lights are at least 2400' of white bars, with the last thousand feet flanked by red bars, and with green threshold lights. This is a very common system and there is a great picture of it here. I'll remember AC lighting by thinking of the three columns of light in the last thousand feet before the threshold as "A B C".

In the picture you also see lights on the runway itself. There's a line of lights running right down the middle of the runway, that's CL, runway centreline lighting. The CL lights are white at the beginning of the runway, alternating red and white when there is two to three thousand feet of runway left, and all red in the last thousand feet of the runway. The picture also shows a wide bar of white lights either side of the centreline for the first 3000' of the runway. Those are TDZL, touchdown zone lighting.

By the way, if you go and look at the approach lights you will see that each one is a heavy duty lamp up on a pole. The poles get longer as you get further from the threshold. Often the lights extend beyond the airport fence, so you can walk up to them and look at them. The lights in the runway itself are recessed, and do not stick up at all, so it's not bumpy landing on them. It can be distracting, though, when you're used to hicktown runways with only paint and coyotes on them.

Reader Blake provided another picture of AC lighting, here.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

More Silly From the Radio

All these lighting systems have scared one of my readers, so here's an even lighter post.

I was being vectored once for a visual approach to a runway. The controller is probably fifty miles away in an underground bunker, looking at my airplane's image on his radar. He tells me what heading to fly, and what altitude I may descend to, then asks me if I have the airport in sight. Seeing as we were about four miles from the airport, and the visual approach is only used in relatively good weather, the controller was quite surprised to hear the reply "In IMC." That meant I was inside a cloud, and unable to see much of anything beyond my windshield.

"Really?" he said. "I thought it was pretty much clear everywhere."

"It is," I replied truthfully. "You managed to vector us into the only cloud within fifty miles."

The cloud was a little puffball, probably less than a thousand feet thick, and narrow enough that by the time I had finished laughing at the puzzled controlled we were out the other side and visual with the airport.

My other silly for the day is a story someone else told me, coming into an uncontrolled airport, while a GA pilot had a stuck mike. The guy was running through checklist items aloud, but he had some unorthodox names for his checks. He was heard saying, "... pointy dials ... flashy lights ..." Hey, whatever gets you on the ground right side up.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

AD & AJ - Low Intensity Centre Row Lighting

If you were to duplicate the AA lighting, including the green threshold lighting, except align the yellow lights with the centreline of the runway, you would have AD lighting. The string of yellow lights is supposed to consist of at least twelve lights (i.e. be 2400' long), but at some aerodromes it is shorter, and still called AD, just with a notation showing the actual length of the string of approach lights. AD and its non-standard variants is quite common.

I'll remember the name for this type because in aviation an AD is an Airworthiness Directive, an instruction to modify or inspect something on an aircraft, and the AD lighting is effectively AA lighting modified to be in the middle, where any sane person would have wanted it in the first place.

AJ lighting resembles AD lighting, but 1000 feet from the runway there is an additional bar of white lights, and there may also be sequenced flashing strobe lights (SF) in the outer 2000 feet. I spent a while looking for a picture, or for an example of an airport that has AJ lighting, but I can't remember or find one. I'll try to remember it anyway.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Pilots Are Control Freaks

Coming down a slippery hill recently, I needed to brake. I could feel the car just about to skid, but just as I was about to let up on the brake pedal, there was a whap-whap-whap pulsing and the anti-lock braking system cut in. I knew I had this in this car, but it's the first time it has cut in. I've never landed an airplane that had ABS, either.

So did I marvel at its efficiency? Did I say to myself "what a cool safety feature!"? No, for that moment where the automated system effectively took control from me, my reaction was irritation. "Hey!" I said internally, "I was handling it!" No braking system is going to take over from me without my explicit permission.

The ABS system did do a good job, though.

Back to lighting systems next time I blog.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

AA - Left Single Row

All legal aerodrome lighting includes lights along both edges of the runway. There must be at least eight pairs of lights, opposite each other, and no more than 200 feet apart along the edges. Any additional lighting is optional, and has special codes.

The first one alphabetically is AA - Left single row. It consists of a row of supposedly yellow (they look orange to me) of lights leading up to the runway and aligned with the left edge of the runway, not the middle. Odd. I can't remember ever seeing ligting like that. The spacing between "yellow" lights is 200 feet. I'll remember this code because the off-centre line, suggests a light installer who missed his AA meeting.

The CFS diagram for AA lights includes a bar of green lights across the threshold, too. By themselves, the bar of green lights is coded T for threshold. Frequently you see lights that are split half and half: green on the approach side and red on the runway side, so that no matter which end of the runway you approach, you see green at the beginning of the runway and red at the far end. That sort is called threshold and runway end lighting, and coded TE.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Better Than This ...

I'm taking a break now from trying to craft the perfect cover letter for a job application that really does need a bang up cover letter, because it's corporate, and personality and professionalism will make or break it.

I often fear as I submit a job application that I've not researched the company properly, or made myself sound too intellectual, or too perky, or too serious, or too keen or ignorant or ... well you know. I once heard a story of a crew house entirely papered with "cloud paper" resumés. (Cloud paper is blue stationary with white puffy clouds printed on it. It might be good for sending party invitations or for putting up notices at your local flying club, but no one will ever hire you based on a resumé printed on cloud paper). Hundreds of well-intentioned individuals spending printer ink and a stamp on a message so wrong it was ludicrous. I wonder who is mocking my job applications and where. But I keep sending them.

Today someone sent me a job application. Top marks for looking for a job outside of the Nigerian spam e-mail market, but zero marks for research and presentation. It's obvious that he doesn't read this blog, so I've no qualms about posting the application here.






If any of my readers has an opening for an individual who specializes in welding, computer engineering and general alertness, but not spelling, contact me for Daniel's personal details.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


There are a whole series of codes that on approach plates and in the CFS to designate aerodrome lighting styles. A pilot briefing an approach when poor visibility is expected will included in the briefing, "and we'll be looking for the AC lighting." Most of the time I go into airports I know already, so I know exactly what the lights will look like, so I don't know the codes all that well. Heck, there are individual airplanes around here that I can recognize in the dark, just by the position, flash frequency, and hue of their anti-collision lighting. But it would be good for me to memorize the codes for the aerodrome lighting types, so I don't have to look them up. I have, in a different area, been surprised by an unexpected set of lights. So today I'll educate myself.

At some aerodromes the pilots have to turn on the lights as we approach. We do this by clicking the microphone with the radio tuned to the same frequency on which we announce our presence to other traffic. A good rule is to turn on the lights when you believe yourself in sight of the aerodrome: the illumination zippering along the runway is a good confirmation that you are lining up for an approach to an aerodrome, and not an old bowling alley. The timer usually keeps the lights on for fifteen minutes, so you key the sequence again as you turn final. For departure, key the lights on before taxi--that tests that your radio is working--and just before starting the takeoff roll.

This pilot activated lighting is called ARCAL, which stands for Aircraft Radio Control of Aerodrome Lighting. We just pronounce it Arr-Kal, rhymes with "bar pal" and we rarely know the correct sequence, so we just click the microphone a whole lot of times to turn it on. This is supposed to be educational, though, so I'll try to come up with a way to remember. To activate Type J ARCAL, click the microphone five times within five seconds. This turns all the lights on for fifteen minutes. To activate Type K ARCAL, click the microphone seven times within five seconds. The trick with Type K is that they are special, like Special K, the breakfast cereal (that's our new mnemonic). If you click the button three more times while the lights are already on, you can turn them down to minimum intensity. Five clicks turns them to medium and seven clicks turns them back to high, and restarts the fifteen minutes of fame.

If the runway is equipped with runway identification lights, bright strobe lights on the corners of the runway, directed towards the pilot landing at that end, then the three click low-intensity setting, extinguishes those lights, called AS.

So that's my lesson for today. Type J ARCAL is the Junior sort that only turns on. Type K is the Special sort that can be turned to different intensities. And AS is the code for the runway identification lights because "as if I want bright strobes in clear weather on short final."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Thump Thump Silence Thump

You're going to think that I fly poorly maintained airplanes, but I don't, really. We have well-paid maintenance whose word is law when it comes to acceptable parts and standards. A Transport Canada auditor said that he wished all companies met our standards. But just as fit athletes sometimes get sick, well-maintained airplanes sometimes malfuntion.

We're flying along, minding our own business, and a red light comes on on the dashboard. It's not the friendly blinking interrogation light of the transponder, occasionally frightening to passengers, but really just assuring us that ATC radar is reaching us, and that our airplane is answering back with its proper code and altitude. It's the gear transit light. The one that comes on in between moving the gear handle to a new postion, and having all three wheels either down and locked, or neatly stowed inside the airframe. And that's odd, because the gear has been up since just after take-off, and that's where we wanted it.

It's not that odd, though, because it turns out that the gear is transiting. A moment later there is a thump, and immediately afterwards a second one. But no third one. We now have three lights: a green one for the right main, a green one for the nosewheel, and a red one indicating an unsafe gear state. I know that with the gear extended and the gear handle in the up position, a motor will run continuously, so I ensure that the aircraft is below gear extension speed and select gear down. We still have only two green lights. I consider how much damage would be done to the airplane and company reputation by a landing rollout that occurs on two wheels and a wingtip. This wasn't in my plans for tonight. But after the airplane discovers that it can't scare me, it deigns to release the third wheel.

We check to ensure that the emergency release hasn't accidentally been pulled, and then we slow the airplane further and attempt to raise the gear. This isn't tempting fate as badly as it sounds: it is pretty much a gravity-driven extension system. Hydraulic pressure in the system holds the gear up. An electric motor maintains hydraulic pressure, and switches surpress the motor when the gear has finished a transit, so that the motor doesn't run continuously. The deployment is likely caused by a leak in the hydraulic system, but maybe it's a slow leak and the gear will stay up for a while more. But nothing happens. I don't want the motor to run continuously and burn out or cause a fire, so I select the gear down again and it stays down. No surprises there.

Landing uneventful. Comments from colleagues regarding "better stuck down than up" as predictable as the "doing mine next?" comments you get whenever you wash your car. Journey log annotated with the complaint. And that's the end of my day.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Camping Chicks

This story takes place at a logging camp, somewhere in Canada. Logging camps are almost exclusively populated by burly men, and they tend to be in remote locations, because close to civilization, all the trees have already been cut down, or landscaped. This logging camp has a rugged road running to it, but it is also serviced by helicopter. The helicopters are also flown by men.

The logging camp is near a lake, and four sporty, adventurous women have chosen to go camping at the lake. They are well-employed at a major airline, and one of them has a new SUV with four-wheel drive, heated seats and all the coffee cup holders you could ever want. They load up this expeditionary vehicle with camping gear and a full tank of gas, and drive up the logging road in search of the perfect campsite. One of the bridges is washed out, so they have to go the long way around, but eventually they find a spot. The weather is a little chilly, but they are fairly experienced campers and can keep warm without all the comforts of civilization. It's nice to have a few of the comforts of civilization, though, and it seems that one of the four hadn't brought enough batteries for her MP3 player, or perhaps she wanted to listen to it through the stereo speakers instead of the headset. She sat in the vehicle to do so. A little power for a radio shouldn't have been a problem for a new truck battery. It was more likely the electrically heated seats that did it. In the morning, the truck wouldn't start.

These are resourceful, highly trained women, accustomed to team work in a fast-paced (and I mean above Mach 0.8) environment. This shouldn't be anything they can't cope with. Civilization proper was many kilometres away, but they knew there to be a logging camp within 20 km. That's a couple of hours jog for a fit person, and two of them set off in that direction for help. I assume they took something with them to ward off wildlife.

Meanwhile, the two who had remained at the campsite spotted a helicopter and managed to attract the pilot's attention. It doesn't usually take much for a good looking female to attract a pilot's attention, let alone two. The campsite and rugged road did not constitute suitable landing areas for the large helicopter, but the aircraft hovered nearby while one of the stranded engaged in elaborate charades in an attempt to inform the helicopter pilot that four women were stranded with a broken truck. The message that he inferred from the dancing, waving and hair flipping was slightly different, but still resulted in his returning to the logging camp to send assistance.

By that time, the runners were almost at the camp, so the truck that was sent out on the rescue mission picked them up. They breathlessly smiled and thanked the men, who jumpstarted the truck and went back to the camp with the news of the day that two hot, scantily clad, chicks came running into the camp from the middle of nowhere. By the time the helicopter pilot returned again, the tale had spread to the farthest reaches of the bush: the four were reported to be airline pilots, flying heavies no less, and of course working as lingerie models in their spare time.

Any story is enhanced a little by throwing in a grateful lingerie model or four, but take that away and it's still unbelievable. What is the chance? Four hot chicks, in the middle of nowhere, ditzy enough to run the battery flat on a new truck, and they are airline pilots? They must have been having the guys on. Four flight attendants, more like it.

Time passed, and the helicopter pilot moved to a new job, where he was trained on type by another aviatrix. She happened to chat about her plans for her time off, involving four airline piot friends. The new co-pilot looked at her askance. "They wouldn't happen to own an SUV, and have gone camping at the lake by ..."

Wait until the guys at the logging camp find out that they really were airline pilots. I'm pretty sure they aren't lingerie models, but then I don't look at that many lingerie catalogues.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Approach Plate Effective Dates

Before a pilot descends through clouds or poor visibility in search of an airport, she reviews, with herself or her co-pilot, the procedure she will use. That procedure is very specific, including minimum altitudes, tracks, directions of turn and so forth, and it is published on a document known as an approach plate. The approach plate is about 15 cm by 23 cm and comes in a spiral bound booklet between 8 and 20 mm in thickness, depending on whether you're looking at CAP1, the booklet for Nunavut or CAP4 for Ontario. We just call the booklet "the CAP."

In Canada, the CAP is republished every 56 days, but the approach for a particular airport may not change substantially in years. Usually the plate doesn't change at all from update to update, and when it does it is usually no more than a litle note somewhere, a comma, or a couple of feet of altitude here or there.

It's still important to verify that the plate is up to date, so the pilot confirms the effective date, at the bottom left corner of the plate. I've never been very impressed with this as a check, because it's not an expiry date: it's the date the plate was last revised and released for use. The entire book of plates has both an effective date and an expiry date printed on the cover, but the plate itself has only an effective date. I don't believe you would ever see an effective date on a plate that was after the effective date on the cover of the booklet. The publishers might know an approach would change as of a particular date that was in between issues of the CAP, but in that case they would issue the change as a NOTAM. I have a couple of plates in my current CAP that have handwritten amendments because of current NOTAMs.

They can't print an expiry date on the plate itself, because they don't know when the plate will be amended next. I suppose they don't print the effective date of the entire CAP on each plate, because then they would have to change each plate every issue. The American plates do have the effective date of the entire booklet (I don't know the slang name for their booklet) printed on each plate, so they may have a different printing system. The US goverenment plates also display an amendment number, such as Amdt 19B and another number that isn't explained but that appears to start with the last two digits of the year the plate was amended. Most Americans don't use these government issue approach plates: they pay more for plates from Jeppeson, a private publisher. I don't have any Jepps with me right now, and I can't remember the system they use.

You might think that the dates on the cover would suffice to identify the plates within, but the problem is that the book isn't especially useable in flight. The plates are printed both sides, and it's difficult to flip through to find the plates you want while flying. So we tear the pages out, or photocopy them, or tear the pages out of the previous expired book after verifying that the effective dates haven't changed, and that way we can have the plates for our current trip stacked up in the order we expect to need them. And there's no firm check that the effective date on the plate in my holder matches the one in the new CAP tucked away behind the seat.

My company forbids photocopies of plates, but most people do it anyway, because it works much better when you're flying. Every time a new CAP comes out, I check for revised ones, and if I'm pulling out previously made photocopies for a trip, I check them against the current CAP, but still it's a risk. Does anyone have a system that keeps the approach plates organized and accessible, yet provides positive confirmation that the plate in your holder is the current one?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Square Pegs, Round Holes

I saw a clever design for a general aviation GPS the other day. Normally a GPS unit is a rectangular box, the same size and shape as other electronic gear, like nav/com radios, and transponders. Like a car CD player: a rectangular face on a long box that slides into the appropriate spot in the radio stack.

Not everyone has room in their avionics stack for another box, even when they want a GPS. But a lot of airplanes have spots for extra round gauges. The GPS display that I saw was designed to fit and bolt into a round dashboard hole that had previously accommodated an ADF. The ADF is a venerable navigation instrument, still very much in use, but not nearly as accurate, easy to use, or as sexy as a GPS. I'm sure they've been around for years, but it was the first I had seen and I applaud cleverness, even belately.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Career & Children

This is one of those issues that exists in all professions, not just piloting, but is maybe a little more extreme here. It doesn't really affect me, but maybe it does without me knowing.

These days it seems that everyone at my workplace has or is expecting new babies. When a guy is about to become a parent, the employer knows the guy will lose a bit of sleep, but that he really depends on the job now and is unlikely to move on unless he gets a much better job, but will have a harder time moving his family. Having kids is a sign of responsibility and permanence, so the guy is likely to get corresponding promotions. Never mind the fact that sometimes the little one is testament to a moment of irresponsibility, or some woman's last ditch attempt to make a flaky guy's presence permanent. I'm not implying that either case applies to any of my co-workers: it's a general statement.

Meanwhile, if I were to be expecting a child, my employment would quickly terminate. I would likely keep it secret as long as possible, so as not to lose out on promotions and other considerations given to employees considered keepers. But no matter what I said or did, thirty weeks into the pregnancy I would be legally forbidden to fly. Thenceforth I would be legally and morally required to care for the child, and I just don't see that matching a pilot's schedule in any way. (Whether it's possible is not the topic of this blog. If I had a child it would be my full time responsibility).

So what is the controversy if I'm not arguing that a woman should be able to juggle work and baby without penalty? It's that men are allowed to, and even get a bonus for it. When a man becomes a family guy, he's taken more seriously. Some beliefs hold that a woman's primary role is in the home, administering to her babies and husband. If you believe that, then you can stop reading, and probably already have.

But what can a woman do to demonstrate to her employer her maturity and committment? What is the occurrence whereby a woman can get the same nod from authority, recognizing her seriousness? Do you see it happening because she has reached menopause, sworn an oath of chasity, or had an abortion? You're probably snorting in derision at the ludicrousness of the very idea, and you're not the one who stopped reading during the last paragraph. She shouldn't. Everyone should be evaluated as an employee for the dedication and ethic they have demonstrated.

I don't have kids and am not planning to, but as long as I am female, I may lose out to the fathers, because they are regarded as more stable, and the childless males, because they have the potential to become stable fathers, while I don't. Heh. Least of my worries. Just something that occurred to me to say.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Being Prepared

When I was little, I read a book entitled Scouting for Boys, written by Lord Baden-Powell. Lord Baden-Powell was a British officer who fought in, I believe, the Boer War, and there he discovered that without engaging in actual combat, boys could usefully be employed as scouts to spy on and delude the enemy. He returned to Britain and launched a training campaign to ready boys for such a role. Be Prepared was their motto, and that was the beginning of the Boy Scouts.

Despite the paramilitary intent, the book introduces a lot of basic skills related to survival, clean living and general preparedness for life. The chapter that made the greatest impression on me urged me to all times consider what urgent situation could arise, and devise in advance a plan to cope with it. Thereby while those around me were wondering what to do, I would already be launching into my prepared course of action, and saving the day. Excellent advice generally, and especially for pilots, but the 1908 context of the book introduced a twist. Baden-Powell explains the recommended actions for common emergency situations, such as a runaway horse. Horse-drawn carriages may have been common in 1908, but were pretty much reserved for parades and fancy weddings by the time I came along. (If one does happen to bolt, you should "race alongside it, catch hold of the shaft to keep yourself from falling, seize the reins with the other hand and drag the horse's head round towards you, turning the horse until you can bring it up against a wall or house, or otherwise compel it to stop.") But this exotic example engendered in me the habit of continually examining my surroundings and concocting the most bizarre and improbable emergencies in order to devise heroic solutions. Such a permanent impression did this imagined runaway horse make on me, I am today surprised to discover that it is only a single short paragraph in the book.

Two days ago I was waiting in line on a taxiway and determining my course of action should one of the aircraft on the apron break loose from the restraints of its crew and gallop wildly through the queue, wreaking mahem and havoc. (You thought I was exaggerating when I said the runaway horse had a disproportionate influence on my fantasy life, didn't you?) As any good heroism fantasy demands my role involved not only compelling the runaway aircraft to stop, but instructing ATC as to the best method of redirecting traffic around the pile-up. I came up with a diabolical combination of taxiways and runway backtracks that I've never seen used at that airport, and then went on to prepare myself for the serious likelihood that an earthquake open a chasm in the runway surface during my take-off roll.

The very next day I tuned the ground frequncy in time to hear an aircraft given a taxi clearance almost exactly matching my imaginary recommendation. Just before I had arrived there had been a taxiway-blocking incident (I believe no runaway horses were involved) and the controllers were dealing with it just as I would have advised. They're so clever.

After a lengthy traffic jam of wrong way taxiing, we took off, switched to the departure frequency, and had an instrument failure that legally required us to return to land. We adviced the departure controller, who switched us back to tower, and appears to have called ahead to tower to let them know we were coming back. I'm betting he said something ambiguous like "The IFR you just released to us is returning with a failure." The tower controllers were absolutely bouncing with emergency preparedness for us. I'm sure they imagined that at absolute minimum we had lost an engine, but were all set for us to have lost an entire wing, or to have been hit by a meteor. Despite the huge back up of traffic from the earlier incident, they offered us our choice of runways and emphasized that we should let them know if there was anything they could do for us. The failed instrument was completely irrelevant for the return to the airport, so we declined priority and taxiied back to maintenance. And I guess they can't give me back half an hour of my life.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

My Life on Reality TV

I remember twice today having cockpit conversations that made me look at the transmit light on the radio stack, and mentally reassure myself that we didn't have a live mike and we don't have CVRs in our operation. It's funny how you'll talk about things you oughtn't talk about, just because you're in a little box with everyone else sealed out.

And then I caught myself picking my nose in front of a security camera while entering an access code. Sorry security monitoring people. In real life women accidentally pick their noses in fromt of security cameras far more often than we dance naked.

Aren't you glad that there isn't a daily highlights and bloopers segment from your life shown on TV every night?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Emergency Vehicles

This isn't about airplanes, but it's about following rules, ceding the right of way to emergency traffic, and not being a complete idiot. There must be some connection.

I was driving in the United States a while ago, on a road with several lanes of traffic. I heard emergency sirens and could see the flashing lights well behind me, so I braked, signalled right and tried to pull over. The stream of traffic to my right continued unabated, oblivious to the fact that they were preventing me from getting out of the way of an emergency vehicle. Ambulances and firetrucks were threading their way through traffic like idiots in Camaros. No one else appeared to be making any attempt to pull off to the side and stop. I was utterly bewildered. I honked at the unyielding drivers, but short of ramming someone, I wasn't getting out of my lane. I incredulously asked my passengers, resident in the US, "don't you have to give way to emergency vehicles here?"

"Yeah," they said, "theoretically."

Am I that naive? Since then, back in Canada, I've been paying attention. And when the sirens wail, everyone pulls over and stops. No one enters an intersection, even if the light is green, so that the cars on the red light side that are blocking the firetrucks can pull forward to let them through. After the emergency vehicles pass, you're on your own trying to get back into the lane you wanted, but no one stops you getting out of the way of an ambulance or firetruck.

Is the place I live an aberration? Was I in a particularly obnoxious US city? Do you stop for sirens? You should. It's the law, and you don't know for whom the siren wails. It could be someone you know who has a serious emergency and can't afford a single second delay for the paramedics to arrive.

This has been a public service rant, and an excuse for me to type my favourite word, firetruck.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Dancing Seagulls

Dancing seagulls

A student pilot in Vancouver, British Columbia captured this image of two seagulls appearing to dance on the balcony of his apartment. His blog, happylife, is worth reading just for the photographs, but his insightful observations on Canadian life also make me smile. Only a foreigner really notices what we're like, and Mochi has a very keen sense of observation, plus is unashamed of absolute honesty about what he sees.

And I have to like someone who likes seagulls. Sometimes I feel like the only person who likes seagulls, especially among pilots. Yes, they're a hazard, and yes they earn the nickname "shithawks" every day. But I'm glad someone else can appreciate their intelligence and flying skills. I remember when I was a student pilot someone telling a story that began with "The wind was so bad that even the seagulls weren't flying ..." That made me realize that not much stops them. What is the maximum demonstrated crosswind capability of a seagull, anyway? Greater than their stalling speed, for sure.

Also, as this entry demonstrates, despite my every attempt to return to my own voice, his syntax is weirdly infectious.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Simulated Injuries?

The downtime on the airplane I mentioned the other day resulted in an administrative assignment that put a simulator manual in my hand. Just as the simulator would be set up to resemble the cockpit of a real airplane, the manual was set up to resemble the flight manual for a real airplane, including flap and gear speed limitations, positive and negative G-limits, prohibitions on aerobatic flight, and power setting limitations. I was amused by the following disclaimer:

These limitations are simulated for training purposes only. They may be exceeded without risk or damage to the flight simulator, however they may not be exceeded in the aircraft without risking injury or damage.

"But I flew the simulator through several outside loops with the gear extended, and nothing happened at all when I pulled out and did a whip stall at a hundred and ninety knots. I don't see why you're so upset about me doing it in the actual aircraft!"

Lawyers, eh?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Letters Behind My Name

Just as I was opening Firefox to make this blog entry, I received the junk mail quoted below.

Have you ever thought that the only thing stopping you from a a great job and better pay was a few letters behind your name?

The advertiser offers me the opportunity to receive verifiable genuine degrees in two weeks with no study required. I don't need that. It's the letters already behind my name that are stopping me now.

I have verified with another employer that while he thinks I'm wonderful, I'm not getting a job there because I'm bright, educated, female, and have a goodly accumulation of flight hours. If I'm good enough for Air Canada, I'm not acceptable anywhere else. It's a bit like the discrimination suffered by an over-fifty who has been laid off. Nothign wrong with me, per se, just that I'm not the best choice for an employer protecting an investment.

The twist is, that people who really should know these things are continuing to tell me that Air Canada will take me from where I am right now. "Look, Aviatrix. Air Canada doesn't give a toss for 2000 hours flying a King Air around. They want smart, professional people with no bad habits whom they can train exactly to their standards. You fit." They are describing the fantasy world inhabited by deluded student pilots. It's not believable. I should probably take everything but high school off my resume. Then I can wear too much makeup and carry a pack of cigarettes (Air Canada won't hire smokers) to meet my next prospective employer.

But what if these people are right? I'll just pretend they are for a while.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Say Again?

In Canada it is illegal to disclose the contents of station to station radio transmissions. In effect, this means that when I tell you about the guy in the Luscombe trying to sell a used boat to the ground controller over the radio, or the tower controller telling an pilot arriving to no traffic and calm winds to "pick a runway, any runway" that I am technically in violation of a law whose name and number I don't know.

No one seems to mind, although I suppose it might be enforced if a newspaper reporter monitored transmissions from an aircraft in distress and used them to file a story that was not otherwise available. It's not illegal to listen to the transmissions: plenty of people without aeronautical radio licences buy scanners and listen to the voices of pilots and controllers. It's interesting to hear different accents and different styles, and part of my job is to build a mental picture of where everyone is based on their position reports and the clearances they have received.

"Alfa Bravo Charlie you are cleared to land runway 07. Hold short runway 18."

"Alfa Bravo Charlie cleared to land 07, hold short 18."

"Foxtrot Golf Hotel continue number one runway 18, expect clearance short final."

"Foxtrot Golf Hotel"

"Romeo Sierra Tango cleared takeoff runway 18, traffic landing 07 will hold short, no delay, traffic on final."

"Romeo Sierra Tango rolling 18"

I can see the picture, with traffic operating on intersecting runways, and the controller fitting them in between one another in different directions, like the RCMP musical ride. It's fun to be on top of it, and know who is going to get the next call, what you are waiting for before you get your clearance, and it's a matter of safety to know where everyone is. If the pilot of RST above hears ABC call an overshoot, he should realize that could be relevant to him. If FGH hears RST reject the takeoff, then FGT knows he's going around.

All this is interesting enough that some people listen to it for fun. Sites like this one, hosted at Futura Studios have live radio feeds so you can listen to the chatter from various parts of the world. At Dallas Fort Worth you'll hear the word "bridge" in clearances a lot. It's not special jargon: DFW actually has taxiways that cross bridges over the highways coming into the airport. It will help your listening if you get an airport diagram and a local terminal chart.

Enough of my readers thank me or ask me for funny ATC stories that I thought I'd post this link so you can listen to live ATC and discover some gems of your own. Just not from Canada. I remember when I was a student pilot there was a radio feed available from a Canadian tower, for a while, but it was shut down.

In an additional note, Eric, Director of Futura Studios Digital Design Studios, noticed some flaws in the airplane image I use on this site and in my profile. He sent me some great corrected images, and they should now be the ones you see at top left and in the sidebar. What do you think?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Kids These Days

There's no question that the industry is picking up right now. My company hired a whole bunch of people into their first commercial job recently. In a manner of speaking I supervise some of them. That manner being that I can get in trouble if they screw up, I can tell them not to do things, but don't have any real authority to order them to do things. They got these jobs without any trouble, and it shows.

We had an airplane break down in one of those places you can tell from the name you don't want to be. Ever noticed that when a Canadian placename starts in Fort or ends in River, it is in the boonies? When a place becomes civilized, it loses the Fort or the River and stands on its own. The dispatcher had made the phone calls and schedule adjustments to determine that we couldn't get a mechanic into Fort River until the morning, but could get the people out tonight, we just needed a pilot. I was there, but the trip conflicted with my schedule, so she started looking for someone else.

The next pilot in the door was greeted with "where are you going now?" When he responded "home" the dispatcher cheerfully made a game show 'wrong answer' buzzer sound and informed him that his next destination was in fact Fort River. And he said no. He wasn't dutied out; he wasn't fatigued; he just wanted to go home and see his girlfriend. He's worked for the company for about three months. Two of the new hires turned down the trip like it was some kind of joke. I wanted to throttle them. I wanted to bloody their snotty little noses.

The third pilot in the door started the same day as I did, one seniority number above me. This is beginning to sound like an episode of Wings, but the dispatcher greeted him with "You've just won an all expenses paid trip to ..." and everyone else chimed in with "Fort River!" He has a work ethic, or maybe his girlfriend was away, because he just checked the weather and went.

And then another new hire refused to come back in to sign a journey log, and tried to get the dispatcher to forge it. How do I list this difference in attitude that distinguishes me from the other idiots the employers I want to work for are considering hiring? Anyone can say he is responsible and committed. You can't prove it on paper. You have to prove it at the end of the day.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Our Replacements

I was discussing GPS with a colleague who is preparing for the exams to upgrade his commercial licence to an airline transport licence. I mentioned that they like to ask us to recall the frequencies on which GPS operates: 1575.42 and 1227.60. He asked why there were two frequencies, and I started to explain about standard and precise positioning service, and then realized that my explanation was out of date. "You know, I'm not sure how many frequencies there are any more. Every time I read about GPS it gets more advanced, and I don't honestly know what level of technology is experimental, cutting edge, or actually installed in our airplanes. It's not like I'm ever going to be in a position to either tune the frequency, or build a GPS unit out of stone knives and bearskins. I know how to turn on the box and get it to tell me the right direction to fly."

"And," he concluded, "this is how we will be replaced."

For all we can argue that a cockpit must have a skilled pilot or two in it, automation is increasingly able to do most of our job. Automation is far better than people at monitoring a situation that rarely goes wrong, over a long period of time, and then, hours later, doing a task that requires alertness and precision. I told the pilot that he wouldn't be out of work. He'd sit on the ground monitoring five or ten flights for any abnormalities. If the landing gear failed to retract or an elevator trim jackscrew appreared to be misbehaving, the normal flights would be transferred to another operator and he would focus all his attention on the affected flight, landing it by telemetry. Yep, there are situations where only a real live pilot in the cockpit could save the day, but there are also plenty of situations whe real live pilots have messed up where automation wouldn't have.

He got into the speculation. (Anything is better than studying for an exam). "And they'd all have TCAS, but instead of saying 'Climb, Climb,' they'd just climb. The airplanes in communication with each other."

"And with automated ATC."

"And mostly I'd just watch them. And pat the dog that was there to bite me."

We concluded that for every Sioux City there are a dozen Everglades, Silk Airs, or Little Rocks, and that that would be the new price of air travel. And then we went back to work.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

But It Could Have Been Me

Sorry for the long gap in posts. Someone asked me about my silence and I admitted that every time I went to blog I looked at the last entry and didn't feel like blogging anymore. Why does this death bother me more than the last aviation funeral I attended?

Partly it's my ability to identify with Nancy Allan more than with a male pilot that is affecting me. If you aren't a white male in the prime of your life, you may have discovered the importance of role models: the more similar someone is to you, the more you realize that you could achieve what they have achieved. Or that what happened to them could happen to you. Before her death in Winnipeg last week, Nancy logged about the same number of flying hours as I have. Some of her background is similar to mine. Someone even e-mailed me asking me to assure them it wasn't me.

Sometimes when someone dies, we use a little of the Right Stuff tactic. You think to yourself, "the company he flew for had poor maintenance," or "I've seen him do a skimpy walkaround," or "they had some pretty dangerous operational procedures." You come up with just the right balance so that you aren't mentally slagging the other pilot, but you maintain a reason why it can't happen to you. Not here. Morningstar is an excellent company. The Caravan is known to be not-so-good in ice, but it's certified and there was no reason I wouldn't have done the same scheduled take-off if it had been mine. The airplane she regularly flew was out getting painted. Yeah, she was covering for someone else who was on vacation: wasn't even supposed to be in that horrible Winnipeg weather.

I can explain that anyone could be killed crossing the street, but you see, pilots and elementary school teachers and computer programmers and legal secretaries all cross the street. I told a friend once in all seriousness that "it's not that that many pilots are killed at work, it's just that we all know one another and there's such a network of communication, and when we die at work it makes the news, so it seems like more." He nodded sagely, and managed to pretend that it was probable that Canadian office workers die in gruesome filing cabinet and stapler-related accidents every month, but that the media just doesn't report it, because it's not glamourous like an airplane crash.

So I have to resort back to knowing that we all die in the end, thus I might as well do what I like doing in the meantime.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

It Wasn't Me

This morning the radio reported the crash of a FedEx cargo flight, a Cessna 208. The initial radio report had far fewer details, and simply led with the fact that the "female pilot" was killed. I won't jump on a feminist soapbox to claim that inclusion of her sex in the report equates to condemnation of her abilities. I don't believe that. It may add sensation to the story, but that's the job of the news media. I can't blame them for trying to sell radio advertising, any more than they can blame me for cancelling flights when the fuel pump doesn't work. I don't think there's anything wrong with including someone's age, race, sex, hair colour, or fashion statements in an article about them. It makes it more interesting. But no one should learn of the death of a friend or relative in between jokes and stock prices on the radio morning show. In this community, by naming the company, the route, the type of aircraft and specifying that the pilot was female, you pretty much identify her, at almost any company.

It sounds as though she encountered in-flight icing and picked up more than the aircraft could endure before she could get back on the ground. I hope the TSB figures out what happened.

Aircraft Snag

Every aircraft logbook page has a space to report snags (problems), and each snag has to be numbered to correspond to maintenance rectifications and deferrals. Sometimes there are little jokes hidden within.

At the end of a particularly hot week, an airplane might turn up at the maintenance hangar, logbook annotated with:

Air conditioning u/s

If the head of maintenance is in the right mood, some poor apprentice may be sent to diagnose the unserviceable air conditioner. The game is to see how long it takes him to figure out that the aircraft never had air conditioning installed.

Cosmetic problems in the cockpit don't get rectified quickly. It's amusing to see how many executive transports sport brand new leather interiors in the passenger cabin, while the pilot seats are ratty cloth partially recovered in ratty sheepskin. Its not worth writing up a snag for a coffee stain. Unless the right opportunity presents itself.

1. Left engine stopped producing power immediately after take-off.
2. Aircraft landed over max certified landing weight.
3. Brown stains on pilot seat.

It's all about context.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Sting

Two Transport Canada officials came by one day, and planted themselves in a public area in our lounge, with a good view of the ramp. No one likes to see Transport swoop into the company unexpectedly, and it was amusing to see pilots swerve away from them, and find another direction to walk in.

"What are they doing here?" I asked a colleague.

"They're going to do an enforcement action on Air Raccoon," he replied.

"How do you know?"

"I heard them discussing it next door."

There they were, clearly keyed up with anticipation of triumph, grinning and sidling up to each other, as the Raccoon-marked airplane taxied in and parked. ID badges carefully adjusted, windbreakers zipped up and clipboards at the ready, they strolled out through the security doors to the tarmac, towards the offending aircraft. The mood evoked drawn guns and the bulk of bulletproof vests. We all craned our necks around the corner and hummed the theme song from COPS. Apparently the aircraft had been loaded so obviously over its gross weight that someone had reported it. I'm not sure what the fine or penalty was.

As I write this, I realize that it's really rather nice that aviation enforcement doesn't actually involve armed takedowns. Two badges and two stern looks almost certainly brought that pilot to the professional equivalent of being handcuffed face down on the pavement. Whatcha going to do when they come for you?

Friday, September 30, 2005

Stripes and Buttons

The stripes you see on a pilot's shoulders as part of our uniform are attached to a flat tube (is there such a thing as a flat tube? or do tubes have to be cylindrical?) that slides over a flap of fabric on the shoulder of the shirt. The flap buttons down to hold the stripes on. There's a word associated with all this: epaulettes, but I'm never sure whether the flap of shirt, or the stripes themselves are called epaulettes. The stripes are ludicrously expensive. If you ever have a job where you have to go to a pilot supply store and buy the correct colour of stripes for yourself, you'll find it runs you $15 to $25 for the pair. When you get a new job, or especially an upgrade to captain, it's important to leave your stripes in a sunny window so they will fade quickly and make you look more experienced.

When you're done flying for the day, and have to walk around in public, you take the stripes off and stuff them in your breast pocket, along with your pen, and your oversized aviator sunglasses. Stopping in to the grocery store while wearing your stripes ranks right up there on the dorkiness scale with tripping over your own shoelaces. I typically rebutton the flap, so it isn't just flapping around. Some companies don't have you wear stripes, just the shirt with the little flaps on, so that everyone knows you're a pilot. Either way, at the end of the day, when I get home and take off the shirt, the little flap is buttoned up.

Technically, according to pilot laundry lore, you're supposed to unbutton the flap before putting the shirts in the wash. I'm not sure where I learned this. It wasn't in flying school. The theory is that if you leave them buttoned, they will catch on something and the buttons will rip off. I think I did it for a while, then stopped bothering, and discovered that the buttons never ripped off.

Until today. A shirt came out of the laundry separated from one of its buttons. I think that's a pretty good average. If I took all the time it would have taken me to unbutton and rebutton shirts over the years, I think that would equal to more than the time it's going to take me to reattach this one button. So I come out ahead.

Someone is probably thinking at this point, "but she has to unbutton it eventually to reattach the stripes, so why not do it before the laundry rather than after?" Except that I want the flaps fastened while the shirts are on the hangers in the closet, so I would have done them up again, anyway. For no particular reason. And if you add in the time I just spent blogging about it, I really have wasted a phenomenal amount of time in buttoning, unbuttoning, rebuttoning, mending and talking about buttons.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Being Responsible is Less Fun

During the pre-take-off checks, the fuel pressure on my right engine was high. Not just a little higher than normal, not just touching the red line on the gauge, but right through it. With the electric fuel pump turned off (leaving just the engine-driven pump supplying fuel to the engine), the pressure fell to normal. I turned the pump back on again. The needle went back through the red line. What to do?

The high fuel pressure probably would not do any harm. What's going to happen? It's not as if the pressure is going to get so high the engine explodes. It would be different if it were low fuel pressure. This airplane was needed for multiple flights. The weather was good. We had a clearance. A number of people, not to mention my entire day's income, depended on that airplane flying. Other pilots would also lose income, as would the company, if the airplane didn't fly. Maybe it was just parallax error that made the gauge appear to read in the red. Maybe I didn't notice it during take-off. The electric fuel pumps would be selected off during the flight, anyway. Yeah, right.

When I have a borderline serviceability issue, I ask myself: if I did this flight, and something happened, how would I feel explaining my decision to take off to Transport Canada, or to a passenger's family. I said out loud, "There's a reason why the manufacturer painted a red line on that gauge." We taxied back, and I recorded the problem, in ink, in the aircraft journey log. No changing my mind.

The required part was on order stock. The airplane is off line. The ripple effect is going to carry right through the week, disrupting schedules and disappointing people. No one gave me a word of criticism: not maintenance, not the customers, not my co-workers, not even management. But I didn't get to go flying today, received no flight pay, and I'm sure someone was pissed off.

It's just like being a responsible teenager. Safe decisions result in lower popularity, and missing out on the fun.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Prada or Polyester?

I picked up a novel, The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. I don't recommend it. It's about a new college grad enduring her first job as assistant to a ridiculously demanding fashion editor. The editor piles her with ludicrous and poorly defined tasks and then becomes furious when they are not done to her exacting standards.

Many of the episodes in which the protagonist gets in trouble involve her being sent on an errand and not returning in the expected time, usually because she is talking on her cellphone, smoking a cigarette or otherwise dawdling. So this is supposed to be a story about the most unreasonable boss ever, but I can't sympathize with the girl, because she's wasting time. If you're supposed to have the engine started and be off blocks at 05:23, you're off blocks at 05:23. That means you get in as early as you have to in order to be fuelled, loaded, preflighted, deiced, started, briefed and trundling towards the appropriate taxiway at the exact prescribed time.

In another episode, the boss's commercial flight out of Miami is cancelled for weather, so she demands that her assistants get her a private charter. I laughed a bit reading that part, because weather is weather and if one pilot won't take off through Miami weather in a commercial airliner, there's not a good chance of another pilot planning into it in something smaller. But that wasn't the problem encountered by the assistants. In this fictional account of the aircraft charter industry, charter companies don't work nights. "I called every single private charter company in the state of Florida and, as you might imagine, they weren't answering their phones at midnight on a Saturday." Someone else told her she had, "a better chance of getting hit by lightning twenty times than I did of securing a plane and a pilot at that hour." Then I really started laughing. What does Lauren Weisberger think that charter companies do? They take people from Florida to New York on short notice in the middle of the night. That's what they're there for. Limosines of the sky.

This young author acts like she doesn't realize that people really do have jobs that require them to be on call twenty-four hours a day, to make all problems, even caused by the weather, their own responsibility, and to let their boyfriends know that if their pager rings, nookie is over. The protagonist of the novel gets free designer clothes as a job perk. I get a free polyester blend shirt and tie. But she also has to wear high heels. I've got her there. Sensible shoes all the way.

Perhaps I should be worried that the only favourable point of comparison between my working conditions and a fictional hell-job is footwear. But I'm not. I'm committed to my job, and I like it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Optional Procedure Turns

The most awkward part of a hockey stick procedure turn is transitioning from crossing the beacon, to tracking outbound along the shaft of the hockey stick. If you arrive via a heading that is close to the outbound heading, then you only have a small turn to make passing the beacon, and can line up quite easily. But if you are approaching the beacon from the inbound heading, you have to do a full 180, and then have to make quite a large cut to intercept the outbound track. It may be more convenient to use another form of procedure turn.

If you arrive at the beacon via a heading that is close to the inbound heading, the racetrack may be the easiest. After crossing the beacon, the pilot makes a turn towards the protected airspace side, to the outbound heading, and simply parallels the outbound track for a couple of minutes, before making a one-eighty in the same direction to interept the track. It's shaped like a hold. In still air, this should work out nicely, but with wind you might not end up where you think you are. One of the dangers is that with a strong wind blowing from the protected side, you could be blown through the track so that when you made your turn, you were actually turning away from both the inbound track, and the protected airspace. You must pay attention to the instrument indications of your position relative to the track, even though you aren't tracking. The wind could blow you sideways, pushing you towards the inbound track, so that when you turned around and tried to intercept it inbound, you would overshoot it during the turn. If that started to happen, you could intercept the track outbound and then switch to a hockey stick procedure turn. If you caught it early and really had your heart set on a racetrack, you could switch to a modified racetrack.

You might choose a modified racetrack if you were approaching from the unprotected side at an angle that might put the outbound leg of the racetrack too close to the inbound track. So crossing the beacon, you turn to a heading that is about forty-five degrees from the outbound heading, towards the protected side. You fly that heading for a minute, then turn to the outbound heading for a minute or two, and then turn 135 degrees, to intercept the inbound heading at 45 degrees, just like the corresponding part of the hockey stick PT.

Coming from the protected side, some pilots do an S-turn: crossing the beacon, turning immediately to a heading 45 degrees to the protected side of the outbound, flying that heading for a couple of minutes, then turning around to intercept the inbound. It's kind of like a modified racetrack for people arriving from the protected side.

There's also a 90-270 rapid reversal that starts out like the hockey stick, but instead of turning forty-five degrees off track and then doing a one-eighty, the pilot turns ninety degrees off track and then almost immediately whips the rest of the way around to intercept it. I suppose it's faster.

The hockey stick (or the faster varient) procedure turn does have one huge advantage, and that is that while flying outbound, you are tracking, following the needle indications that tell you that you are exactly on the outbound track, and not confusedly flying the wrong way, nor being blown by strong winds out of protected airspace and into a mountain. I favour the hockey stick or the racetrack. My philosophy is that if you have to cross through the outbound track anyway, you might as well intercept it.

I believe that in the United States (and someone will correct me if I'm wrong), this thing is called a course reversal, instead of a procedure turn, and you're only allowed to fly it as depicted on the plate, and those are usually hockey sticks. I doubt Americans do them much at all: radar coverage is almost universal in the States.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Tribute to the NHL

When you are flying IFR (i.e. in clouds) in a busy, radar-controlled environment you normally receive radar vectors to intercept the approach. The controller tells you what heading to fly and you keep following her instructions until you have intercepted an electronic line in the sky, and you can fly straight in and land. But not all airports have radar coverage, and some approaches are not appropriate for radar vectors. You have to turn around and line yourself up to land.

An instrument approach normally has a radio beacon of some sort (NDB or VOR) either right at the end of the runway, or pretty much lined up with the straight in path to the runway. Lets say that you want to fly an approach to runway 18, so that to be lined up perfectly you have to be flying on a heading of 180, or due south. You have to work out some way to be exactly north of the beacon, pointing south. If you were looking out the window to plan this, you'd just fly to a point a few miles north of the beacon, turn around, and line up, like widening out and planning a turn with your car into a parking stall. But the point is that IFR you're in cloud, so you can't see to line up. And there is not usually another beacon ten miles north and exactly aligned with the first, so you can't fly there to turn around and line up. You have to fly to the beacon that is there.

Reaching the beacon, you're either directly overhead the runway or within a few miles. Either way, if you try to turn around and point at the runway to land, it's not going to work. So you when you reach the beacon you turn away from the runway and then later turn around and come back: a procedure turn.

There are various flavours of procedure turn, and in Canada you can choose any one you want for an approach, or make up your own, provided that you remain within protected airspace. Approach designers typically protect airspace 10 miles back from the beacon (it wil say on the plate exactly how far), 5 nm on the procedure turn side, and a mile and half on the non-turning side. Protection implies that if you fly at the published altitude you will be one thousand feet above the highest obstacle, and that ATC won't allow others to fly there while you're using it. Take a piece of scrap paper and draw a vertical line near the bottom, then a small circle further up the page in line with your vertical line. That's your runway, with the beacon to the north. Now draw a big rectangle, such that the beacon is near the bottom right hand corner of the rectangle. That rectangle represents the protected airspace for a left procedure turn. (A turn might be left or right, depending on what mountains, airspace or enormous TV antennae the designers had to contend with).

The standard procedure turn is called the hockey stick. Imagine a hockey stick (the Canadian kind, for real hockey, played on ice, not the little curly kind for grass hockey) with the butt end at the beacon and the blade turned off to the left, all inside the protected airspace. The airplane will follow a path down the shaft, left around the top of the blade, right along the bottom of the blade (where it would be resting on the ice) and back down the shaft to the beacon, and hence the runway.

So you fly directly to the beacon, from whereever you are, descending to the higher of the altitudes specified by the approach plate and ATC. When you reach the beacon, you turn, left or right, whichever is the shortest turn to the outbound heading. And then you turn a little bit more. Why? Because you were moving forward while you turned around, so if you turned due north you would be paralleling the shaft of the hockey stick and not flying along it. The outbound heading is written right on the approach plate, so that pilots don't have to worry about difficult math like adding or subtracting 180 degrees from the inbound heading.

You continue flying that little-bit-more heading until you are almost on the shaft of the hockey stick (correctly set and interpreted instruments will let you know when this happens). I say "almost on" it, because if you wait until you are exactly on it, you will overshoot it while you are making the turn. You don't want to be zig-zagging back and forth like a drunk driver trying to stay on the road. You want to establish yourself, with the minimum amount of zig-zagging, on an outbound track along the shaft of that hockey stick.

You fly along the hockey stick for a minute or two, doesn't really matter exactly how long, so long as you remain within protected airspace and have a plan. If my co-pilot has a thing about flying one minute and thirty seconds exactly, that's okay with me. We just want to get far enough out that turning around and lining up is easy, and so we have enough time to descend. After that agreed upon amount of time, you make a 45 degree turn to the left (or to the right, if the plate specifies a right PT, but my example is to the left). You're following the blade of the hockey stick. The heading to fly to get a 45 degree turn is also printed on the plate. After one minute (more or less if you know there's a strong wind affecting your progress towarads the tip of the blade) you turn right one hundred eighty degrees and head back towards the shaft of the hockey stick. Approaching the shaft (needles tell you when) you turn to the inbound course, timing it perfectly so that you roll out wings level, exactly aligned with the inbound course. Failing that, you make an appropriate correction to get on track, and start descending, according to the limitations on the plate. When you get back to the beacon at the butt of the hockey stick, you descend further, in the hopes of actually seeing the runway.

I could probably get an account that allowed me to put pictures up, but then I'd have to draw them, and scan them. Describing things in words that really ought to have pictures is kind of fun. I'll describe more procedure turns later. For those of you who know what it means when I write about holds: no this isn't a "holds" blog entry. I'm glad hockey is back. I'll describe other procedure turns later.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Bits and Pieces

I saw a quote earlier, ostensibly what the Long Beach tower controller said to the pilots of JetBlue 292 after their gear inspection flyby. Something like "Your landing gear is turned ninety degrees the wrong way," but I liked it better. ATC have a talent for saying things that are amusing in their succinct simplicity. I couldn't find the quote again, but I found a few other things I wanted to share.

"You never really read the pamphlets or pay attention to the flight attendants, but everyone was listening to every word they said."
---JetBlue Flight 292 passenger Pia Barma

Grrr. Listen to the briefing, people. We don't do it for our own amusement.

"There were a lot of people in our office that were really stunned about how perfect that landing looked."
---FAA spokesman Donn Walker.

Good when the FAA has something nice to say about what a pilot did.

(Both of those from the LA Daily News. BTW, correction to my previous blog entry: the A320 can't dump fuel in flight. The fuel load was reduced solely by burning it off. Don't know why I wrote that. Must have repoter genes.)

And here's an ATC trainee who singlehandedly made up for all the odd clearances, poor sequencing and confused silences I have ever received from ATC trainees. Note that trainees are very closely supervised, for a surprising amount of time.

Newark Tower, July 26, 2004:

"Scott Dittamo was in the final stages of his trainee program at the busy Newark Tower, receiving training on the local control position. The weather conditions were ideal; clear skies. Dittamo was looking out the window. 'We had a [Boeing] 747 coming in,' he said. 'You can point out a 747 easily on a clear day.' It was Air India Flight 145, with 409 passengers aboard.

"'He was on five-mile final approach,' Dittamo remarked. 'I saw him but I couldn't see gear.' With his [instructions] in his head - 'Always look for feet' - Dittamo glanced in a different direction and then turned back to the 747 to look again. No gear. 'I thought, something just doesn't seem right,' he said. 'In my mind, I said I would pick it up in my next scan. But then I looked up and the plane definitely had no gear.'

"By this point, Flight 145 was on a half-mile final at an altitude of 600 feet. 'I was surprised he didn't go around,' Dittamo stated. 'I was going to let it go for one more second, because this was a critical phase of the flight for the crew. But then I just said to myself, I'm not going to let this go for any longer.'

"Dittamo keyed the mike, 'Air India 145, check gear down. Gear appears up.' The pilot acknowledged the transmission with a calm, 'Air India 145.' Down came the gear and the 747 landed safely on Runway 4R.

"'Holy cow!' said another controller in the tower, realizing that Dittamo had just prevented a possible disaster. Several other pilots on the frequency, taxiing or waiting to take off, heard the transmission and instantly knew of the importance of Dittamo's actions to catch a very rare occurrence. One pilot ... offered a succinct compliment: 'Hey tower, good catch.' "

"Holy Cow." Yeah, that's what air traffic controllers say.

And the last one, which I have a much easier time believing an ATC actually said:

"Hey Al, are you okay with that SKW6100 (4,000 feet) and that VFR at 3,399 (feet)?"

I initially misread the second as "and that VFR at 3,999" which would have been funnier, assuming it worked out. Both of those are from an Air Safety Week article on awards given to air traffic controllers for especially astute saves.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

JetBlue Flight 292

If you want spectacular news footage or wild speculation about flight 292, check your local TV station. This entry is about how pilots react to news such as today's emergency landing of an Airbus A320, with an abnormally positioned nose gear.

First, we tell each other. Someone in the crewroom received a text message. He read it aloud, "turn on CNN now." There was a quiet moment where many of us thought about another time we'd all watched airplanes on CNN, but we a quick check of revealed that the Airbus was circling near LAX with a gear problem. We started my mocking reporter-speak: the "front landing gear" was stuck sideways, so the pilots were going to try landing on the the "back landing gear." I suppose those terms make a lot more sense to the public than "nose gear" and "main gear." But perhaps they could mention that pilots usually aim to land on the mains. It's bad form (as in serious aircraft damage) not to.

There was a TV available so we proceded to watch live coverage of the aircraft circling, dumping fuel, and no doubt allowing the pilots to conference with company maintenance and Airbus technical staff. They kept cutting back to earlier footage where you could see that the nose gear ("the front wheels") were turned completely sideways: ninety degrees to the direction of travel. We drowned out the repetitive, information-free media commentary ("no doubt a very stressful situation for the pilots and passengers, Bob") with our own voiceovers: mock PAs, mock cellphone conversations by the passengers, mock French-accented technical recommendations from Airbus techs, and armchair quarterbacking ("they should go to Edwards Airforce base" and "they should have more flaps down by now").

On final approach, it came down to: would the gear shear off or just catch fire? Either way it would be a shower of sparks, followed by a closed runway, and a flurry of passengers complaining about their luggage and calling lawyers.

If you didn't see it, it was a beautiful landing, with the airplane perfectly centred on the runway, the mains touching down at about the thousand foot marks and the gear skidding, smoking, flaming, blazing right down the centreline to a full stop. It didn't collapse, and neither did Airbus Industries. I hope I would do as well with an equivalent emergency in what I fly. And no doubt tomorrow it will be heralded in the papers as a miracle, rather than design and skill.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Night Currency

CARS 401.05 Recency Requirements states in part that:

(2) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Subpart, no holder of a flight crew permit or licence, other than the holder of a flight engineer licence, shall exercise the privileges of the permit or licence in an aircraft unless the holder

(b) where a passenger other than a flight test examiner designated by the Minister is carried on board the aircraft, has completed, within the six months preceding the flight,

(i) in the case of an aircraft other than a glider or a balloon, in the same category and class of aircraft as the aircraft, or in a Level B, C or D simulator of the same category and class as the aircraft, at least

(A) five night or day take-offs and five night or day landings, if the flight is conducted wholly by day, or

(B) five night take-offs and five night landings, if the flight is conducted wholly or partly by night,

The short version of that is that in order to carry passengers at night, you have to have done five take offs and landings by night in the last six months. The idea is that if you've forgotten how to land at night, you're only going to terrify yourself.

Yes, the rules for night in Canada are substantially different from the United States, whose licence holders require three night landings and take-offs to a full stop in 90 days. I'm not sure the purpose of the full stop part, and whether that would be served by doing stop-'n'-go landings (where you brake to a complete stop on the runway and then take off again from the same runway without exiting). The ninety day versus six month thing is easily explained though: in Canada darkness becomes so short in the winter that it's possible for someone working a regular operation to go four or five months without conducting many take-offs or landings at night. The rules avoid penalizing those operators and pilots in the fall when the evenings darken.

I'm flying two classes of aircraft for my current job, and recently I realized that I was night current on only one class, yet scheduled to fly the other class on a flight that would end after official nightfall. How to gain currency?

We don't have a class B, C, or D simulator, so I did the same thing that dozens of pilots do every fall. I started up an airplane with no passengers on board, and taxiied out for five circuits. A circuit consists of a take-off, a neatly flown rectangle around the runway, and a landing. If runway length and local rules permit, you can immediately take off again into the next circuit. Americans call the circuit the pattern, but they would say they were going out to fly touch and goes, not "patterns." Canadians would also use that terminology, but it's more slangy.

Many operations have more stringent requirements for take-off and landing currency, but ours doesn't. Now I'm legal.